January 1925: Nellie Tayloe Ross Becomes the First Female Governor in the US

Nellie Tayloe Ross, much like Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in Texas, found entry into the then male-dominated world of politics through her husband.  In Nellie’s case, her husband, William B. Ross, the sitting governor of Wyoming had recently died of appendicitis.  For Ma Ferguson, her husband had been removed from office through impeachment.

Nellie was asked by the Democratic party in Wyoming to run shortly after her husband’s passing and accepted, according to relatives, in part because she needed the job.  She was easily elected even though Wyoming at the time was a predominantly Republican state and she was subsequently inaugurated on January 5, 1925, just days before Ma Ferguson was sworn in.

Within her first few days of leadership, she shocked the New York Times when on January 16, 1925, she wore her hat and gloves while addressing the Wyoming legislature and “defied precedent.”

Her time as governor was short-lived.  She finished her husband’s term, and did her best to further the populist agenda he had introduced, which included, according to the  Wyoming State Historical Society, issues like spending cuts, state loans for farmers and ranchers, prohibition, school budgets, stronger bank regulation, funding for universities, safety for coal miners and for women in industrial jobs among several other pursuits. Nellie lost re-election in 1926, but that was not the end of her political career.  

A campaign card, from Gov. Ross’s 1926 re-election campaign. American Heritage Center.

In 1928-29, she moved to Washington to work full time as a Director at the Democratic National Committee, and helped to drive women to vote for presidential candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Nellie to a position as the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, which is a government agency responsible for printing and distributing currency.  She served in this role for the next 20 years having been appointed to three, five-year terms by Roosevelt and one, five-year term by his successor, Harry Truman.  She retired in 1953 and spoke and wrote widely until her death at 101 years old!

Some critics felt like Nellie did not do enough to help other women get ahead in politics, but whether she was as woke as she could have been, Nellie still seized opportunity when it fell in her lap and helped to break a key glass ceiling in the United States.

Want to know more about Nellie?  Here are some sites to visit: