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Nellie Ross Bio

Nellie Ross
Nellie Ross

There’s another famous “Nellie” besides singer Nelly Furtado: Nellie Ross, who was the first woman to become a state governor in the United States.


Early Years

Nellie was born in Missouri in 1876 to plantation owners. After their house was destroyed in a fire, Nellie and her family moved to Kansas. She then went to a teacher-training college in Kansas before starting a career as a kindergarten teacher. While visiting relatives in Tennessee, Nellie met a young shopkeeper named William Bradford Ross, who she married on September 11, 1902. William went on to become a lawyer and then a leader of the Democratic Party in Wyoming. He ran for office several times, but always lost to Republican candidates.


Wyoming Politics

In 1922 William was selected governor of Wyoming. Tragically he died after having his appendix removed in 1924. The Democratic Party then nominated Nellie to run for governor in a special election the following month.


Though she refused to campaign Nellie won the race on November 4, 1924. On January 5, 1925, she became the first woman governor in the history of the United States. As governor she continued her late husband's policies, which called for tax cuts, government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform and laws protecting children, women workers and miners. She urged Wyoming to help the federal government pass an amendment prohibiting child labor. Like her husband, she advocated the strengthening of prohibition laws.


Ross Remembered

Nellie lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in a picket-fenced, gardened, porched and gabled house at 902 E. 17th Street. The house is included in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors are allowed to tour the residence on occasion. The kitchen is the original – even the cabinets and sink. The dining room table, fireplace coverings, the European sideboard and light fixtures are all antiques.


And here’s an interesting fact: Miriam Ferguson was elected governor of Texas on the same day as Nellie Ross won her election. But Nellie was inaugurated 15 days before Miriam, technically making her the first woman governor in the history of the United States.


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