“Nellie Tayloe Ross” is a part of the Capitol Avenue Bronze public art collection . . donated to the City of Cheyenne by private individuals, organizations or companies. For more information about the Capitol Avenue Bronze Project, visit Deselms Fine Art at https://deselmsfineart.com
Nellie Tayloe Ross, was elected, at age 48, as the first female Governor in the United States on November 4, 1924. She took the oath of office January 5, 1925, four years after women were given the right to vote in the United States. Newspapers covered her election from all over America, and this made her one of the most famous political women of her time.
This sophisticated, blue-eyed, five foot tall, southern woman decided to run for office after the sudden death of her husband, William Bradford Ross, only two years into his term. She had worked closely with him as Governor, and her campaign promised to complete the policies of his administration and complete his agenda. While she was devastated by his death, she faced the reality of trying to find a job that would provide for her and her sons. She was too proud to accept a sympathetic appointment or charity.
As governor, she stressed the need for tax relief for farmers, and proposed legislation to require counties, school boards, and the state council to prepare budgets and publish them before levying any taxes. She opposed legislation to empower the state bankers’ association to appoint state bank examiners, instead backing a measure designed to prevent bank failures while making examining officials responsible to the governor. She was also a strong supporter of prohibition. She was known as “frugal” and focused throughout her lifetime. As a minority Democrat, she spent the next two years battling the Republican dominated House and Senate, and was unable to pass the legislation she had worked so hard to pass. Governor Ross did succeed in not letting the Governor’s power be depleted by legislation. She did not win reelection because of her prohibition support, and unwillingness to campaign emphasizing the female. No female has been elected as Governor in Wyoming since Nellie Tayloe Ross.
The National Press descended on Wyoming as soon as Nellie Ross decided to enter the election, and many stayed throughout her tenure. There was a fascination with Nellie Ross that enabled her to make a good living from the speaking circuit and writing after she left office. She had no formal business or leadership training, but developed them through on-the job training throughout her lifetime.
An interesting aside on female Governors, when Ella Grasso was elected in Connecticut in 1974, the national press declared she was the first woman to be elected and serve as a State Governor. Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming, and Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson of Texas, were both elected on the same day in 1924, but Nellie Ross took the oath of 15 days before Governor Ferguson of Texas. This was long before Ella Grasso in 1974.
Ross was appointed vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 1928. She made one of the nominating speeches that year as well as receiving 31 votes for herself as vice president. She directed the DNC’s woman’s division for the next four years, including directing the campaign for women’s vote.
In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, appointed her as the 28th Director of the US Mint, the first woman to receive this appointment. She is known for establishing the Franklin half dollar, and started the making of proof coins for public sale. As acknowledgement of her dedication and effectiveness, she was appointed three more times by Roosevelt and Truman, and retired in 1953 with 20 years of service at age 76.
Nellie Tayloe was born November 29, 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and lived during the entire span of the Twentieth (20th) Century of the United States. She was the sixth child, and first daughter, of James and Lizzie Tayloe, born just outside of St. Joseph Missouri. Nellie’s mother’s family were wealthy land owners and owned slaves. As a child, she and her siblings watched their home destroyed after the civil war; burned to the ground by “home guards” because her home was suspected of being sympathetic to rebels. The family went from wealth to poverty in the years following the end of the war. She was raised as a southern Victorian woman where there were clear lines on how a lady should conduct herself. After high school, her family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where she participated in a two year teaching school. She taught kindergarten for four years before her marriage.
She and William Bradford Ross married in 1902, and she joined her husband in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he had opened a law practice the previous year. They had four sons, George, Ambrose, Arthur, and William.
During her life, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; she saw the administrations of 21 Presidents; in her late 20’s, Orville and Wilbur flew their plane at Kitty Hawk; she saw prohibition; the struggle for women’s rights; the Great Depression; the end of Indian Wars, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Cold War. She saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
According to “Governor Lady” written by Teva Scheer, “During Nellie’s lifetime, women experienced the greatest advancement in their rights and opportunities that the world had ever seen, and Nellie Tayloe Ross was a pioneering representative of that experience. Nellie’s narrative, her environment, her life’s circumstances, can be used as an example for exploring the social and cultural context that helped to create the modern American woman—the evolution from an undereducated, sheltered dependent to an individual generally accepted in the public sphere, to whom a universe of opportunities lies open.”
The following excerpt was also taken from the preface of “Governor Lady” written by Teva Scheer, “The term “new woman” does not fall pleasantly upon my ears,” wrote Nellie in the late 1920’s, “for I do not think the so-called “new woman” is as new as she seems. She is merely adjusting herself to the changing conditions of a new era…What woman does want(,) and all she wants, I think, is better to meet the responsibilities that are essentially hers as a woman and at the same time to have a chance to develop the faculties with which she as an individual has been endowed.”
After retirement she traveled abroad extensively, lived in Spain for a short while, and took her grandson on an around the world tour in her eighties. She continued to travel abroad into her mid nineties.
Nellie Tayloe Ross died at age 101 on December 19, 1977 in Washington, D.C., and was buried with her husband and two sons at Lakeview Cemetery in 1977. The New York Times obituary said she was “ever feminine, never a feminist”.