Buffalo Bill believed in women.
He was not without some of the chauvinistic overtones of his era. But he was raised by a strong mother, was close to his sisters, and recognized Annie Oakley represented good business.
So when a female Brooklyn, N.Y., newspaper reporter asked him in 1894 if he supported a woman’s right to vote, he said he was in favor. It was working in Wyoming.
In connection with Wyoming’s 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage, coming Dec. 10, Dr. Jeremy Johnston, curator of the Buffalo Bill Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, recently discussed the man and Wyoming’s pioneering role in the movement.
Wyoming has promoted itself more as the Cowboy State than the Equality State, but Johnston suggested it might be good to promote that equality image a little more.
“I am in favor of women voting,” Cody told that newspaper reporter. “Why not?”
Women would bring more responsibility to the task than most men, he said. As long as they retained their femininity. He pretty much frowned on bloomers.
Johnston spoke at the Pahaska Corral of Westerners International meeting at the Irma Hotel and explored what was the hot political issue until Constitutional ratification in 1920.
In “The Virginian,” the milestone western novel by Owen Wister, published in 1902, the female teacher said she instructed children on equality. Her beau, the main character, replied a man had to prove he was equal to another, not merely have equality bestowed on him. It was a way of looking at things.
Wyoming has earned bragging rights for being the first state to give women the vote, though it was a territory at the time. But the more reasons are scrutinized, Johnston pointed out, it was less about altruism than one might think. Yes, it would be nice to believe Wyoming’s leaders of the time granted women the vote because they instinctively knew it was the right thing to do. But alas, not quite.
One reason given was that if African-Americans, no longer bound by slavery, could vote, then white women should be allowed to do so, too. Another reason was that Wyoming hoped to attract more people because, then as now, the population was low, and bodies were needed to attain statehood, which came in 1890.
However, there were apparently some folks who admired the hard work women put in on ranches, demonstrating, a la “The Virginian” their equality.
Little remembered, Johnston noted, was that a year after approval, in 1870, the territorial government tried to take it back, repeal women’s suffrage. The move barely failed. When Susan B. Anthony, the nation’s champion of suffrage, came to Wyoming that year, not all greeted her warmly. The Cheyenne Leader referred to her as “The old maid whom celibacy had dried blasted and mildewed until nothing is left, but a half crazy virago.”
“Wow! Equality state,” Johnston said.
Meanwhile, back to our friend Buffalo Bill. He remembered when he was young he took all of his troubles to his mother and she displayed as much common sense as any man could have.