A Woman to Know: Nellie Tayloe Ross

As long as my husband lived, it never entered my head, or his, that I would find any vocation outside our home. — Nellie Tayloe Ross

As long as my husband lived, it never entered my head, or his, that I would find any vocation outside our home. — Nellie Tayloe Ross

(image via The University of Iowa)

October 1924 was a huge month for Nellie Tayloe Ross. First, her husband, the then-governor of Wyoming, passed away suddenly. William had been governor less than two years, and much of the reform and progress he and his wife had dreamed of threatened to die along with him — unless, as one of his consultants urged her on the day of the funeral, Nellie decided to run for his open seat.

In the weeks after her husband’s death, Nellie contended with the decision. On the one hand, she knew no American woman had ever before run for the office of governor; but on the other hand, with the support of her late husband’s team, she knew she had a decent chance at winning. Plus, after she settled all of William’s outstanding debts, she realized she had another problem to solve: she needed money.

Still, her brother and other friends (“friends,” we should say) tried to discourage Nellie from running, arguing that it wasn’t a fit job for a woman. “No one ever wanted it more,” her brother wrote to his wife.

Later that October, less than a month after William’s death, Nellie declared her candidacy. In November, she was declared the winner, becoming America’s first-ever female governor — winning even more votes than her husband had in his own run two years earlier.

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