Filed Under Women and Gender

Suffrage in South Pass City

South Pass City, Wyoming, has long been considered “the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement” in the West. It is here that women first secured a codified right to vote, and it was also home to the first woman Justice of the Peace.

South Pass City, Wyoming, was the site of Wyoming’s first gold boom. In 1867, prospectors discovered gold, and soon a thousand people rushed to the area, hoping to strike it rich. Like most other gold strike towns, South Pass City boomed and then busted, and most of the newcomers abandoned the community by 1872. However, during the rush, South Pass City became one of the major sites of women’s suffrage in the United States, and is known by some as the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement.

In 1869, during Wyoming’s first territorial legislation, a saloon keeper named William Bright presented a bill to recognize and affirm women’s right to vote in the territory. The governor at that time, Otis Campbell, passed this bill in December of the same year. This, for the first time, gave women not only the right to vote in Wyoming but to also hold office. In February of 1870, only a few months after the passing of the bill, residents elected South Pass City resident Esther Hobart Morris as Justice of the Peace. She was the first woman in the United States to hold judicial office.

Because of South Pass City’s role in women’s suffrage, the National Park Service designated it a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and the Wyoming 75th Anniversary Commission purchased the town for the state citizens as a “birthday present” in 1966.  Four year later, the town was added to the National Register of Historic Places and still operates today as a state park. In 2019, the Wyoming legislature passed a joint resolution recognizing December 10, 2019, as Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the passage of the bill formally enabling women to vote. 

Images

City of suffrage
City of suffrage A cabin in an open field in South Pass City. Source:

“South Pass City 3.” Anna-Katharina Stöcklin , July 28, 2011. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:South_pass_city_3.jpg.

Prospector’s cabin
Prospector’s cabin A cabin belonging to a miner in South Pass City, a mining town. Source:

“Prospector’s Cabin from the South.” Jack Boucher, 1974. In the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS WYO,7-SOPAC,3—14). Courtesy of the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.wy0072.photos.174924p/.

Judge Morris
Judge Morris Esther Hobart Morris, the first woman Justice of the Peace in the United States. Source: “Esther Morris.” Before 1902. Via Wikimedia Commons (public domain). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Esther_Morris_cph.3a02555.jpg. Also in Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002736583/.
South Pass City
South Pass City Color photo of South Pass City, Wyoming, taken in 2011. Source:

“South Pass City 2.” Anna-Katharina Stöcklin , July 28, 2011. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:South_pass_city_2.jpg.

Location

S Pass City Rd. South Pass City, WY 82520

Metadata

Megan Salinas, Northern Arizona University, “Suffrage in South Pass City,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 16, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/614.