"He's the kind of man a woman would have to marry to get rid of."
I wish William Bright (above) had been more of a hero. In reality he was racist, and with such bad timing that he struggled his whole life against his own bigotry and bad timing. First, he was a Democrat, which in the late 1860's was the definition of political irrelevancy. In 1867 Bright emigrated westward, to South Pass City, a sort of rest and resupply stop astride the 7,500 foot high wagon route through the Rocky Mountains. The transcontinental railroad was in the process of making the town and the pass irrelevant. What had drawn the 44 year old William and his new wife, along with 2,000 miners, to South Pas was the nearby discovery of gold. Not that William was much of a miner, but the he used what little he had made trading in mining claims to buy a saloon...just as the gold was running out. By the end of the year South Pass City had a total population of just 60 people, and a disturbing number of them were temperance supporters, making even Mr. Bright's saloon irrelevant..
"The only good woman I can recall in history was Betsy Ross. And all she ever made was a flag."
Nationally, by 1869 the Democrats were an endangered species on the national stage. Victorious in the Civil War, the party of Lincoln dominated the 41st Congress, controlling the Senate - 57 Republicans to just 9 Democrats, and 150 Republicans to just 65 Democrats in the House of Representatives. Thus it was no surprise that newly selected first governor for the new Wyoming Territory, he would be a good Republican – Ohioan John A. Campbell. Arriving in the railroad town of Laramie, the new Governor promptly called elections for the Territorial Legislature to be held on Tuesday, August 3, 1869. And shortly thereafter the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the territory, another good Republican Joseph Carey, issued a legal opinion that because of the new 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, no person could be denied the right to vote because of their skin color. And that was the start of all kinds of Wyoming insanity
"Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly."
The turnout on election day was disappointing. Only 5,266 men showed up to cast ballots. More might have voted but for the gangs of drunken Democrats flashing guns and knives around all the polling places because they did not believe blacks or Asians or people who thought blacks or Asians should be allowed to vote, should be allowed to vote. Still, it seems unlikely better order at the polls would have significantly changed the outcome. The census taken the following year found only 6,107 men in the entire territory. And when the new legislature convened in Cheyenne in October of 1869 it consisted in total of 12 Representatives in the lower house and 8 Councilmen in the upper house - and they were all Democrats.
"A man in the house is worth two in the street."
One of the most prominent Democrats elected was the racist from South Pass City (above), William Bright. He was so respected by his fellows that he was named President of the Council (the upper house) before the legislature got down to work. And they were very busy, passing 86 laws and 13 memorials and resolutions by mid-December. One law ensured that male teachers should not be paid more than women teachers, while another guaranteed that wives would retain property rights after separating from their husbands. And then there was the “Act to Prevent Intermarriage between White Persons and those of Negro or Mongolian Blood,” which was self explanatory. Governor Cambell vetoed that one, but the legislature passed it again over his veto. And then, wrote the Wyoming Tribune, “amid the greatest hilarity, and after the presentation of various funny amendments and in the full expectation of a gubernatorial veto, an act was passed enfranchising the women of Wyoming.”
"Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often."
William Bright introduced the measure, labeled Council Bill (CB) 70 on November 30th. It read, in full, “Section 1. That every woman of the age of eighteen years, residing in this territory, may at every election to be held under the laws thereof, cast her vote. And her rights to the elective franchise and to hold office shall be the same under the election laws of the territory, as those of electors. Section 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.” And according to his supporting speech, William's primary reasons for introducing such a revolutionary measure – there were only about 1,000 females over the age of ten in all of Wyoming - was that, as an unnamed Councilman said, “if you are going to let the n--gers and the pigtails (Chinese) vote, we will ring in the women, too.” Three members of the council disagreed on grounds that even as a joke, neither women nor Negros nor Chinese should be considered intellectual or moral equals to white men. But CB70 passed the same day, 6-2 with one abstention.
"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."
"Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from."
When the debate was resumed, opponents tried moving to adjourn three times in a row, hoping to catch somebody in the outhouse or off sneaking a shot of whiskey or a beer. All three attempts failed. Then it was moved that CB70 should be reconsidered on July 4, 1870 – seven months after the house permanently adjourned. Amid all the laughter and snickering, that maneuver was also defeated . But Sheeks did finally amend CB70, raising the voting age for women from 18 to 21. After all a joke's a joke, but let's not go crazy here. And then, finally, at 8:20 that night the house approved CB70, 7 to 4. It was immediately moved to reconsider the issue, but that was just as quickly defeated. And with that, finally, the issue of female suffrage was dumped into the lap of the Republican Governor, with a snicker..
"The score never interested me, only the game."
Governor John Cambell was a bit young, but he was nobody's fool. He knew this bill was intended to mock Republicans for giving the vote to African-American males, and because Edward M. Lee, the appointed Republican Territorial Secretary, was an ardent supporter of female suffrage. As the measure had moved through the legislature, Cambell had asked advice from everybody he knew, looking for the least embarrassing option. And in the end, he decided the best thing to do was to not take the bait, meaning not fight the issue as he had with the mixed race marriage bill. After considering the matter for a few days Governor Cambell decided to simply sign it without comment, which he did on December 10, 1868. In Wyoming, females now had the right to vote.
"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
Back in South Pass City, Justice of the Peace R.S. Barr decided to deliver the punch line to Mr. Bright's joke. On Valentine's day 1870 he placed an ad in the newspaper, offering to resign his position “whenever some lady elector shall have been duly appointed ti fill the vacancy.” Ha, ha, and no lady appeared. But they did serve on a grand jury, and they did vote at the next territorial election, in 1871. And the world did not dissolve into an estrogen mush
William Bright would not stand for re-election. His bar went bankrupt in 1870, and he moved to Denver, and from there back to his hometown of Washington D.C. On May 3, 1912 the Cheyenne State Leader ran his obituary. “Mr. Bright was 86 years of age, and had been for twenty years past an employee of the government printing office...(He) moved to Wyoming and...drew up and fought through the bill for woman suffrage, which was the first law of its kind ever presented to a law-making body in the United States.” And often, that is how you become a hero - in retrospect and with heavy editing
In 1871, at the next meeting of the Territorial Legislature, the male politicians, led again by Mr. Sheek, passed a bill to overturn female suffrage. Governor Cambell vetoed it, and the attempt to override by a two third margin failed, but only just barely. Women in Wyoming retained their voice in their government by one slim vote. But it would be 1910 before a woman would be elected to serve in the Wyoming legislature, and into the 1950's they were routinely blocked from serving on juries. And yet, Wyoming insists on calling its self the “Equity State”. It seems to me, that is something of an gross exaggeration.