The irony wasn’t lost on Jackson women celebrating 150 years of women’s suffrage in Wyoming on Tuesday.
Wyoming became the first state or territory to grant women the right to vote on December 10, 1869. But some women said they weren’t necessarily celebrating that. Instead, they were using the day to reflect on how to make the “Equality State” truly equal for women and other groups that have been systematically marginalized. That means getting more women to run for office, Teton County Commissioner Natalia D. Macker said.
“I hope that we can help inspire women to know that there are other women around the state who will support them if they want to put themselves out there,” she said.
For that reason, Macker organized several commemorative events in Jackson this week. Jackson’s pioneering women are reasons to reflect too, Macker said, “because of our history. Because our community specifically has an important role in that history and in moving the needle on women’s representation.”
In 1920, Jackson became the first town governed solely by women. The press called the women mayor, three women town councilors and woman town marshal the “petticoat government.”
But petticoats no longer rule this land.
Locally, just one woman, Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson, sits on the Jackson Town Council. And Macker, chair of the Board of Teton County Commissioners, happens to be the only woman on that governing body. It is worth noting, however, that women have dominated other elected positions in the county, like treasurer, assessor and the county and court clerks. And in 2018, Erin Weisman became the county’s first woman prosecuting attorney.
At the state level, the legislature’s numbers are grim. Wyoming ranks near the bottom for its percentage of female lawmakers. Just 15% of state legislators are women. Wyoming did elect the first woman governor in the nation, Nellie Tayloe Ross in 1925. But it hasn’t elected another woman since.
‘Wonderful Wyoming Women’ Unite
Nearly 50 women and a few men attended a reading of the play “Wonderful Wyoming Women” at the Historical Society on Tuesday. The play features Wyoming’s key suffragettes.
Jessica Jaubert played suffragette Julia Bright. You could say the part was in her wheelhouse. Jaubert supports women running for office both through her work with the Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus and her public relations firm.
“I’m very passionate about getting women in leadership roles and getting them elected to office,” Jaubert said. “I believe in the adage you can’t be it unless you see it and so it’s very important that women and people of color across the state are being represented.”
Among the audience members watching Jaubert summon her best suffragette was Sandy Shuptrine. She sat on the Board of Teton County Commissioners for 11 years, from 1991 to 2002. Before she and fellow woman commissioner Dale Barber were elected, only three women had ever sat on that board.
Shuptrine says she ran because she was paying attention. “I was watching and listening and I thought, I’m not hearing what I really care about or my perspective is not being represented in some of the decisions.”
After she was elected, Shuptrine knew she was part of the minority, and felt it too. “For statewide meetings, I’d walk up to register and I would be asked who am I registering for.”
Women, and especially women of color, are no strangers to such experiences. For her part, Jaubert sees one way to make politics in Wyoming a more welcoming domain for women and other marginalized groups.
“For a lot of people who are considering running for office or asking someone to run, it’s all about stepping out into that arena,” Jaubert said. “It’s hard work and there’s going to be triumphs and failures, but you are effecting change just by having your voice out there. We need people to tell their lived experiences, to tell their stories.”
The way to get the “best laws on the books,” Jaubert added, is by inviting more people to the table who represent different ethnicities, races, religions and economic statuses.
Of course, there are barriers for Jackson women considering statewide office. For one thing, the 6.5-hour drive to Cheyenne and the long days and weeks spent away from home during legislative sessions preclude a lot of women who are juggling careers and family life. (Two seats representing Jackson/Teton County, Reps. Schwartz’s and Yin’s, are up for re-election in the state legislature come 2021.) But for women considering a run for local office in 2020, Seadar Rose Davis said she’s got you covered.
Davis played suffragette Amalia Post in the play reading Tuesday. She also ran an impressive yet unsuccessful bid for county commissioner in 2018. She said she might run again, though not next year. “But I am hopeful I will be helping other women run in 2020.”
Her message to women who are contemplating such a step: “contact me.”
“I’m happy to help and I want to see more and more women run. When more and more women run, more and more women win.”
Two seats on the Board of Teton County Commissioners and three seats on the Jackson Town Council, including Mayor, are up for re-election in 2020. People like Davis hope women will be vying for those spots.