3¢ Wyoming Statehood
Issue Date: July 10, 1940
City: Cheyenne, WY
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforations: 10.5 x 11
Color: Brown violet
U.S. #897 was issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Wyoming’s statehood. Since the Idaho statehood stamp (issued just one week before) pictured that state’s capitol building, President Franklin Roosevelt suggested that the Wyoming stamp should picture something else. The Wyoming State Seal was selected. The seal pictures a female statue draped with a banner reading “Equal Rights,” representing the rights of women following the territorial suffrage amendment in 1869. The two men and their respective banners symbolize the state’s long history in livestock and mining.
How Wyoming Became America’s 44th State
In the mid-1700s, French trappers probably became the first whites to enter Wyoming. However, the area remained unexplored until after the 1800s. Most of Wyoming was purchased by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. American trappers then came to the area. In 1807, John Colter became the first European to travel across the Yellowstone area. A party of fur traders led by Robert Stuart found an easy way to cross the mountains, which became known as the South Pass.
In 1833, while leading a fur-trading and -trapping party, Captain Benjamin L. E. de Bonneville discovered an oil spring in the Wind River Basin. Traders William Sublette and Robert Campbell established Fort William in eastern Wyoming. This fort was later renamed Fort Laramie, and was the area’s first permanent settlement.
Lieutenant John C. Frémont explored the Wind River Mountains in 1842 and ’43. The famous scout Kit Carson served as Frémont’s guide. Based on Frémont’s report, Congress decided to build a series of forts along the Oregon Trail to protect settlers moving west. In 1849, the government bought Fort William, which was later renamed Fort Laramie.
Sections of present-day Wyoming had been part of the territories of Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Dakota. Part of southern Wyoming belonged to Spain from the 1500s to the 1800s. Spain lost control of this territory to Texas in 1836. All of Wyoming became U.S. territory when Texas joined the Union in 1845.
During the 1840s, many settlers traveled across Wyoming, heading to the West. Travelers utilized three famous trails: the California Trail; the Mormon Trail, which went to Utah; and the Oregon Trail, to the Pacific Northwest. All three trails used the South Pass through the mountains, but separated after crossing. Settlers traveling through southern Wyoming used the Overland, or Cherokee, Trail. This trail joined others at Fort Bridger. Thousands of people passed through Wyoming, but few stayed.
At first, the Plains Indians were tolerant of the wagon trains crossing their land. In fact, Indians often assisted the travelers. But by 1849, the number of settlers began to alarm the Indians. Whites killed or frightened away the wild animals, created massive grass fires on the Prairies, and introduced diseases. Some fighting broke out between Indians and settlers, and the U.S. Army often intervened. During the 1860s, settlers were using the Bozeman Trail to reach Montana, where gold had been discovered. This increased the Indian attacks. Fort Phil Kearny was built in 1866, to keep the Bozeman Trail open. Sioux warriors led by Chief Red Cloud laid siege to the fort, forming what came to be known as the Circle of Death. Hundreds of soldiers died before a treaty was signed. The U.S. gave up Fort Phil Kearny and two other forts. Then, the Indians agreed to allow the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad in southern Wyoming.
Wyoming’s mineral resources, especially gold, attracted many settlers even before the Indian fighting had ended. The growth of towns was fueled by the Union Pacific Railroad, which entered the area in 1867. In 1868, the Territory of Wyoming was created.
On July 10, 1890, Wyoming achieved statehood. This attracted many settlers to the state. Most of these people started small cattle ranches.
Wyoming Grants Women’s Suffrage
On December 10, 1869, the Wyoming territory became the first government in the US to grant women the right to vote.
Since the 1840s, there was a growing movement to grant women the same rights as men. As early as 1854, the Washington Territory attempted to give women the right to vote but was unsuccessful. Nebraska tried as well in 1856. A bill was even introduced to Congress after the Civil War to give women in all the territories the right to vote, but that failed as well. A similar bill was also brought before Congress in 1868 that would have extended the right to women in all states and territories. In 1869, the Dakota Territory came within one vote of passing a women’s suffrage bill.
Meanwhile, in Wyoming, women’s rights and women’s suffrage were also on the minds of the territory’s government. Earlier in 1869, they had passed laws allowing women to sit in a special area where the lawmakers met. They also passed a law guaranteeing teachers (which were mostly women) would be paid the same whether they were men or women. And they gave married women property rights separate from those of their husbands.
One of the driving forces behind the move to grant women’s suffrage in Wyoming was to help the territory gain good publicity. They also wanted to attract more women to the territory. At the time, there were about six adult men for every adult woman, so they believed granting women the right to vote would encourage them to move there.
While some of the people behind the bill had good intentions, believing that giving women the vote was the right thing to do, others had more dubious intentions. For some of the bill’s backers, it was a political stunt. They had supported the bill because they believed the governor, a member of the opposing party, would reject it and it would reflect poorly on him. However, the bill passed through the house and Governor John Campbell signed it into law on December 10, 1869.
Early the following year, Esther Morris was made justice of the peace, making her the first woman to hold a public office. Later that year, about 1,000 women turned out for their first vote in Wyoming. However, after those elections, the legislature felt that women shouldn’t have had the right to vote and submitted a bill to repeal the law. But governor Campbell vetoed it and they made no further attempts to repeal it.
When Wyoming applied for statehood in 1890, it insisted that it would only be admitted as long as the state’s women retained their right to vote. So that year Wyoming became the first women’s suffrage state. In 1924, Wyoming voters elected Nellie Tayloe Ross as the governor. She was the first woman to achieve that office in the United States. With this history, Wyoming earned the nickname of “The Equality State.”
Click here to read the act that granted women’s suffrage in Wyoming.