Wyoming and women’s suffrage: How the Equality State earned its name

Even most Americans would struggle to pinpoint Wyoming on a U.S. map. The least-populous, and second-least densely populated, of the United States is a perennial afterthought in discussions of the American union. Wyoming has much to offer outside observers, however.

In addition to Yellowstone National Park, which lies mostly within the state’s boundaries, Wyoming’s greatest claim to fame is that it was the first political jurisdiction in the world to maintain the right to vote for all women. Other political jurisdictions had introduced limited women’s suffrage, usually based upon property qualifications, and almost always relegated to local elections. Wyoming, however, has continuously maintained this fundamental right without qualification since 1869, during its first legislative session as a territory of the United States. The state’s egalitarian trailblazers refused to budge even when the its accession to statehood was jeopardized by its voting policies. When Wyoming became a U.S. state in 1890, it likewise became the first state to allow women to vote.

Wyoming’s mark on human progress did not go unnoticed elsewhere. Other American states, largely in the West, soon began to allow women to vote. New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant all women the right to vote in 1893. Norway (1913), Denmark (1915), and Germany (1918) were other early national movers in granting women’s suffrage. The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting women the right to vote in both federal and state elections in every state, was ratified in 1920.

Women’s suffrage came later in other countries. Canada established women’s right to vote in federal elections in 1918, and in all provinces save Quebec by 1922. Quebec enacted women’s suffrage in 1940, enshrining Canadian women’s right to vote across the entire country. France began allowing women to vote in 1944, and Mexico in 1953.

The United Kingdom granted limited voting rights to women over the age of thirty, subject to property qualifications, in 1918. England, Scotland, and Wales later granted all women over age 21 the right to vote in 1928. Northern Ireland, however, did not enfranchise women in UK elections until 1968, and did not allow women to vote in local elections until 1973. At that point, all women in the United Kingdom obtained full suffrage. Switzerland was the last advanced democracy to establish women’s suffrage across the country, completing the task in 1990 (women had been permitted to vote in federal elections beginning in 1971).

To this day, Wyoming’s official nickname is the Equality State, and its motto is Equal Rights. Wyomingites have done the work to earn these titles, paving the way for one of the most important advancements in the history of democratic governance.