Today we honor the birthday of the “Mother of Women Suffrage”. No, not Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. ESTHER HOBART MORRIS was born on this day in 1814.
Orphaned at 11, she learned millinery and was a successful businesswoman by her 30s. Upon her first husband’s death, she moved with her son to Illinois to claim land left by her husband to her, only to be denied the right to claim her inheritance—very possibly the beginning of her activism. An abolitionist in Illinois, she spearheaded the first women’s suffrage campaign in the country after moving with her second husband to Wyoming in 1869.
Knowing the territory needed more women, and not wanting the long delays the Eastern women were experiencing, she invited two opposing candidates for the new territorial legislature to tea and got their promises to support suffrage if they were elected. The winner kept his promise, and the women’s right to vote and hold office became law—the first in the country.
Despite threats that the territory would be denied statehood unless they reneged on the women’s vote, territorial leaders telegrammed back to DC: “We will remain out of the union a hundred years rather than come in without our women.” The statehood narrowly passed in 1890, with Susan B. Anthony and other prominent feminist leaders watching in the galleries. When the current justice resigned in protest over the passage of women’s suffrage, Esther became the nation’s first woman justice of the peace. (Funny how that works sometimes, eh?)
In 1960, Wyoming designated her the “Mother of Women Suffrage”, and statues stand at the entrance to the state’s capitol and in the National Statuary Hall in DC.
She was 6’ tall, smoked cigars, and held her own in the Wild West. Esther Hobart Morris, trailblazer and Mother of Women Suffrage, happy birthday and thank you for furthering the rights of women.