Women’s History Month 2012: Nellie Tayloe Ross

10 Mar

Today we celebrate a woman who broke the glass ceiling in two political offices, Nellie Tayloe Ross. Born in Missouri in 1876, Nellie Tayloe was raised in Tennessee and Kansas. She completed high school and teacher training school, then began teaching kindergarten and offering piano lessons. She met William Bradford Ross in 1900; they married in 1902.

The couple moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming where William established a law practice. He became very involved in Democratic politics and ran for office several times, always defeated by the Republican. Curiously, his first successful campaign was a run for governor. Pushing a progressive platform that appealed to both parties in this western state, he won and took office in 1922. Unfortunately, he died barely a year later from complications of an appendectomy.

Impressed by her support of her husband’s platform and campaigns, the Democratic party of Wyoming nominated Nellie in the special election to replace her husband. Fearing a Republican would win if she did not step up, she agreed and easily won the office. In doing so, she became the first female governor in U.S. history. She worked hard to support the platform she believed in and had supported with her husband, including government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform, and laws protecting children, women workers, and miners. Despite her success, she narrowly lost re-election, probably because of her unfortunate support for the growing prohibition movement.

She remained active in politics, however, working hard for the Democratic National Committee. These efforts included regional support for Al Smith’s 1928 run for President, a term as vice-chair of the DNC, and a term as the director of the organization’s Women’s Division. In 1933, FDR appointed her director of the U.S. Mint; she was the first woman to hold this office. She served five full terms, retiring in 1953 when Republicans won the White House. In retirement she traveled extensively and wrote articles — many about the worker’s rights causes she had championed as Governor — for the influential women’s magazines of the day. She died in 1977 at the age of 101.

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