In honor of Women's History Month in March, today's post is on Nellie Tayloe Ross,
the first and only woman to serve as Governor of Wyoming.
Ross was also the Director of the National Mint for twenty years.
Nellie Tayloe Ross (1876-1977)
Nellie Tayloe Ross was a kindergarten schoolteacher married to a lawyer and politician. When her husband died, she was nominated for governor with hopes that she would continue his policies. She refused to campaign, but easily won the election, which was only the beginning of a long and successful political career.
Ross's Childhood Years
Nellie Tayloe Ross was born on November 29, 1836 to James Wynn Tayloe and Elizabeth Blair Green near Amazonia, Missouri. The family struggled financially and in 1886, their house burned down, so they moved to Miltonvale, Kansas. Ross attended Miltonvale High School and after graduation, moved to Omaha, Nebraska. After two years of college, she began work as a kindergarten teacher.
Marriage and the Move to Wyoming
Ross met her husband, William Bradford Ross, in Tennessee while visiting relatives. The couple married on September 11, 1902. William Ross was a shopkeeper when they met, but it was his dream to practice law in the American West, so they moved to Cheyenne where they raised four sons.
William Ross also had political aspirations and was soon the leader of the Wyoming Democratic Party. Although he ran for office on numerous occasions, the Republican candidates consistently won the elections. He finally won the election for Governor of Wyoming in 1922, but died two years later during an appendectomy.
Campaign for Governor
Wyoming law required that Ross’s successor be elected at the upcoming general election because he died so close to election time. Wyoming’s politicians offered Nellie Tayloe Ross the opportunity to fill the remainder of her husband's term so she could continue his policies. Ross did not reply, and Party officials understood this to be an acceptance and she officially ran for office against Republican Eugene J. Sullivan of Caspar, Wyoming.
Nellie Tayloe Ross won the Wyoming Gubernatorial election on November 4, 1924, and on January 5, 1925, she was sworn in as the first woman governor in the history of the United States, and fifteen days later, Miriam Amanda Ferguson became the second woman governor in the history of the United States when she won the election in Texas. This was definitely a good year for women and politics!
Ross Loses Bid for Re-Election
At first, Ross’s political stance was a continuation of her late husband’s, but eventually she made it her own. She dismissed a few of the politicians appointed by her husband because they did not meet her expectations. She did, however, continue her husband’s demand for tax cuts, assistance for farmers, and reforms on banking institutions. She fought for legal reforms to protect children, women laborers and miners, issues that were hotly debated at that time. She fought hard for a federal amendment prohibiting child labor. She was also a staunch prohibitionist.
Ross did run for re-election, and although she was considered a successful and competent governor and could have easily won a second term, she once again refused to campaign. It is believed that she lost because of her strong support of prohibition, which did not make her popular with many residents in Wyoming, but the facts that she once again refused to campaign and was a Democrat in a primarily Republican state were also believed to be causes for her defeat.
Further Work in Politics
Ross later served as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Director of the Democratic National Convention Women's Division. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, one of his goals was to be the first president to appoint women to cabinet positions. Roosevelt appointed many women to federal offices, including Nellie Tayloe Ross who was appointed to the position of Director of the United States Mint on May 3, 1933--another first for American women.
Nellie Tayloe Ross inspecting nickel designs on April 20, 1938.
In this position, Ross was in charge of the American gold and silver bullion reserve, as well as the minting of coins for the United States and foreign governments. While serving in this position, Ross changed the system from manual labor to automation. Her focus was on efficiency and she reduced costs tremendously.
In fact, to further support her belief in efficiency, in 1950, Ross told the Congressional Appropriations Committee that she was returning approximately $1 million of her budgeted $4.8 million appropriations because the increased efficiency of the system reduced her budgetary needs.
Nellie Taylor Ross served successfully and admirably as the Director of the United States Mint for five full terms. She retired in 1953.
After retirement, Nellie Tayloe Ross continued to stay active in politics, writing articles for numerous women’s magazines. Many of her speeches and writings can be viewed at the Rocky Mountain Online Archives. Ross also traveled extensively, lecturing at universities and meetings for women’s organizations. She died on December 19, 1977 at the age of 101 and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne, Wyoming.