Nellie Tayloe Ross
On January 5, 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first female governor in U.S. history. Ross's election in Wyoming occurred less than five
years after U.S. women were granted the right to vote by the NINETEENTH AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution. As governor, Ross was known as an exceptional administrator and a polished public speaker. Although she lost her bid for reelection, Ross's single term as Wyoming's top official led to other important state and federal positions.
Ross's date of birth is unclear. It is thought that she was born in 1876 in St. Joseph, Missouri. She married William Ross, an attorney, and in 1902 moved with him to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ross's husband had political ambitions and was elected governor of Wyoming in 1922. In 1924 he died unexpectedly while in office. Ross was approached by the DEMOCRATIC PARTY to run for the remaining two years of her late husband's term. Although Wyoming was a Republican state, Ross won the election by 8,000 votes.
Ross's victory came on the same day that Miriam ("Ma") Ferguson was elected governor of Texas. Because Ross was sworn into office two weeks before Ferguson, she is recognized as the first female governor in the United States.
As governor, Ross backed progressive public education measures. She also managed to reduce the state debt by more than $1 million. Ross supported PROHIBITION and opposed professional prizefighting, two unpopular positions that contributed to her defeat in the 1926 gubernatorial
election. Her affiliation with the Democratic party was also a factor in her loss.
Ross later was elected to the Wyoming state legislature and remained active in Democratic politics at both the state and national level. In 1928 she was an influential supporter of unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee Alfred E. Smith.
In 1932 Ross scored another first for women when she was appointed by President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT to head the U.S. Mint. Ross became the Mint's first female director. She stayed there for 20 years, overseeing the Mint during the economic throes of the Great Depression and throughout a critical paper shortage during WORLD WAR II.
Ross also supervised the construction in 1937 of the U.S. Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky. She is honored on the cornerstone of the fortified building. Ross was also the first woman to have her likeness printed on a medal made by the Mint. In 1953 she retired as director after Republican DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER was elected president.
An early role model for women in government, Ross served both Wyoming and the United States with distinction. She died in Washington, D.C., in 1977, at the approximate age of 101.
Sherr, Lynn, and Jurate Kazicka. 1994. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women's Landmarks. New York: Times Books.
Weatherford, Doris. 1994. American Women's History. New York: Prentice-Hall.