First In Their Field: Nellie Tayloe Ross

Nellie Tayloe Ross was the first elected women governor in the US.

Ross was born in 1876. She moved around from Missouri, Tennesse, Nebraska and finally to Wyoming with her husband, William Bradford Ross. William was a lawyer and was elected Governor of Wyoming in 1922. Unfortunately, two years later William died of complications from an appendectomy.

William died very close to the general election and the Democratic Party had to choose his successor. nellie_tayloe_rossThe party nominated Nellie Tayloe Ross and thus the first state to grant women the right to vote also became the first state to have a women governor. As governor, Ross cut taxes, supported Prohibition, urged the ratification of an amendment to prohibit child labor, and supported government assistance for farmers, women, children, and miners.

Ross lost her re-election campaign in 1926 but her political life did not end there. Ross served as a Wyoming committeewoman to the Democratic National Committee and then as vice chairman of the DNC, in charge of activities for women. In 1933 she broke down another gender barrier when President Franklin D Roosevelt appointed her the first women dirctor of the United States Mint, a position she held until 1953.

In her later years Ross wrote for magaizines and traveled. Ross died at the great age of 101 in Washington DC in 1977, at the time she was the oldest ex-governor in the United States.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-8-30-00-amAs of today, a total of 23 states have never had a female governor and more then nine out of the 50 states have had a female governor at the same time. These states include : Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland,Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. While a lot has been accomplsihed since the days of Nellie Tayloe Ross, the path she pathed still largely goes unwalked. There is still history to be made, when every state in the union has had at least one female governor.


Melissa Jones
To learn about more women who were first in their field check out the Women’s Museum of California’s digital timeline
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