Nellie Tayloe Ross was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on November 29th, 1876. She was one of six children. Her father was related to the builder of the Octagon House in Washington, D.C., the home of President James Madison and his wife after the White House was burned in the War of 1812. Her mother’s family owned a big plantation before the Civil War.
Nellie’s father worked hard to farm the family’s land, but this wasn’t enough to support them. He began selling it in pieces to make ends meet. By 1884, all of the land had been sold and the family moved to Kansas. In 1889, Nellie’s mother died. Business was not doing well and her father moved the family to Omaha, Nebraska. Nellie graduated high school in 1892 and went on to complete a two-year program to become a kindergarten teacher.
In 1900, Nellie met a lawyer named William Bradford Ross while visiting relatives and they became good friends. In 1902, the couple moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming and got married. They had four sons, but one died as an infant.
William decided to pursue a political career. He considered himself a Progressive Democrat. The Progressives wanted to break up monopolies, protect the poor, improve government and provide good drinking water, food and drugs for everyone. In 1904, William ran for local prosecutor and won. He had difficulty winning other political races, because Wyoming was a Republican state and most people did not share his Progressive views. In 1922, William finally won the race for governor.
In 1924, William died of appendicitis and Nellie was nominated by the Democrats to run for governor. She ran against a Republican lawyer named Eugene J. Sullivan. She did not spend a lot of time campaigning, but she won on November 4, 1924. On January 5, 1925 Nellie was sworn in and became the first woman governor in the U.S. Nellie continued her husband’s policies on tax cuts, government assistance for farmers, and strengthening prohibition laws. She proposed her own policies on banking reform, city, county and school budgets, selling crude oil, and protecting children, women workers, and miners.
In 1926, Nellie ran for a second term and lost. Nevertheless, she became the director of the Women’s Division of the National Democratic Committee. She was in charge of the campaign for the women’s vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933, Nellie became the first woman director of the Bureau of the Mint, which made new bills and coins. She served three five-year terms in this position under Roosevelt and a fourth under President Harry Truman.
Nellie retired in 1953 and continued to live in Washington D.C. She became wealthy by making real estate investments. Nellie died in December, 1977 at 101 years old.
Rea, Tom. "The Ambition of Nellie Tayloe Ross." WyoHistory.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.
"WOW Museum: Western Women’s Suffrage – Wyoming." Women of the West Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016. <https://theautry.org/explore/exhibits/suffrage/ross_full.html>.