“The Governor Lady”
Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected governor of Wyoming in 1924 becoming the first female to hold the position in the United States. Born in Missouri, she grew up in Kansas, became a teacher in Nebraska, and continued west to settle in Cheyenne, Wyoming at 25.
Nellie’s husband, Governor William Ross, died in office in October of 1924, and the Democratic party nominated Ms. Ross to take his place on the ballot in November. Savvy to politics, as her late-husband consulted her throughout his term, Nellie accepted the nomination just before the deadline.
“I had long realized that the strong, good man at my side was the vital influence in the molding of my character and thought, and I had begun to think that my individuality was almost submerged in his. But when all at once I found myself standing alone, facing an unknown future, I knew that there had been no submergence, but that because of that association, there had been developed a more clearly defined and independent individuality with real self-reliance based upon convictions and experience.” — Nellie Ross, Good Housekeeping, 1927
She promised voters that she would “devote myself, heart and soul, to public service so that never, through failure of mine, could it be truthfully said that women should not be entrusted with high executive office.” And November 7, she won by an impressive margin, despite Calvin Coolidge’s landslide victory in the presidential race
During her bid for re-election in 1926, her opponents argued that “no matter how well Governor Ross had done, the Gov’s office is no place for a woman, but is a man’s job.”
Her party countered that her detailed schedule was “more strenuous than any man candidate ever had, because the people everywhere took matters in their own hands and arranged for two or three extra meetings each day—they say they are sure it is not a man’s job, for no man could stand up under such a strain, and no one but a woman could meet all the requirements placed on her everywhere.” (Cecilia Hendricks)
Despite success in office, Ross narrowly lost reelection after serving for two years but remained in politics serving as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In 1933, she was tapped by FDR to direct the U.S. Mint — also the first woman to hold this position. She served in the role for 20 years.
She is remembered not only as a trailblazing governor who fought for tax cuts, government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform, and laws protecting children, women workers, and miners — but one that lead with intelligence and authentic ambition.