Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Nellie Tayloe Ross is notable as the nation's first woman governor. She was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on November 29, 1876, educated in private schools, and taught kindergarten briefly in Omaha, Nebraska. She married a young lawyer from Tennessee named William Bradford Ross in 1902, and the couple moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. William's law practice in Cheyenne was very successful, and he became one of the leaders of the Democratic Party in Wyoming and was elected governor in 1922. Nellie spent those years as a wife and a mother.

Nellie Ross entered into politics with the death of her husband in 1924. Because William had completed only the first two years of his term as governor, a special election was called to elect a replacement. The Democratic Party chose Nellie as their candidate and she won easily. She was known as a good administrator and a fine public speaker, but she had to work with a Republican-controlled legislature, which limited her achievements. She failed to win reelection by a very narrow margin in 1926.

After her defeat Ross focused on national politics. She campaigned for presidential candidate Al Smith in 1928 and became vice chairman of the Democratic Party. In 1932 she directed the campaign for the women's vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and because of her work, President Roosevelt appointed her director of the U.S. Mint in 1933. She was the first woman to hold that position, and she served four five-year terms before retiring from the U.S. Mint and politics in 1952.

Ross spent the remainder of her life traveling, lecturing, writing, and with family. She died in Washington DC on December 19, 1977, at the age of 101.

Monte G. Kniffen University of Wyoming

Ross, Nellie Tayloe. Papers. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie.

Scharff, V. "Feminism, Femininity, and Power: Nellie Tayloe Ross and the Woman Politician's Dilemma." Frontiers 15 (1995): 87-106.

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