Women in Government: Nellie Tayloe Ross

Many early women who entered public office, often did so as surrogates for their husband. Either because their husbands had died and they were appointed or elected to their office, or because their husbands were ineligible to run again for that office.

Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman Governor in the United States when she was elected by the people of Wyoming in 1924, whose husband Governor William Bradford Ross had died suddenly during his two year term as Governor. Although she had been elected simultaneously with Texas’ Miriam A. Ferguson, Ross took the oath office on January 5, 1925, fifteen days prior – making her the official first woman Governor of a US State. Wyoming was also first to grant women’s suffrage in 1869 (when it was still a territory), earning it the nickname “The Equality State.”

Upon William Bradford Ross’ death, Wyoming Secretary of State Frank E. Lucas succeeded him as Governor (Wyoming does not have a Lt. Governor). Nellie Tayloe Ross won a special election to succeed her husband, following his death in October of 1924, she had refused to campaign for herself but was easily elected. Governor Nellie Ross’ continued her husband’s policies, including several reform acts for financial institutions. She was also strongly supported prohibition.

Refusing again to campaign for herself, Ross lost re-election in 1926. In 1928 she received 31 votes from 10 states for nomination to be Vice-President alongside Governor Al Smith D-New York, who she campaigned heavily for. Staying active in Democratic politics during the Hoover Administration, Ross won appointment as Director of the United States Mint by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. Ross served in that capacity for 20 years (the entire Roosevelt and Truman Presidencies). She was the first woman Director of the Mint. She is to date the longest serving Director of the US Mint.

In 1953, Ross retired from public life. She died in 1977 at the age of 101.

Further Reading:

Nellie Tayloe Ross.Com

Wyoming State Archives

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