Wednesday, February 18, 2015

1920: The Petticoat Government of Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery, Victory Tales Press, Prairie Rose Publications and Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press, imprints of Prairie Rose Publications. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

 The 1920 Petticoat Government 

The 1920 Jackson Town Council

I’ve said before that one of the reason I chose Wyoming in which to write my western stories besides its awesome beauty, is because of its attitude toward women. Long before the rest of the United States, Wyoming gave women the right to vote. My grandmother, Matilda McNeal, was a women’s activist who dedicated herself to working for women’s suffrage. She would have been proud of Wyoming. I know there are some naysayers out there who might say the state legislature gave women the right to vote in  order to drawn more women into the state, seeing’s how Wyoming had a lack of female population. They also wanted to get some attention to advocate their desire to become a state. Well, I recently read an article by Ronald Diener titled “The Year of Women: 1920 Petticoat Government In the Town of Jackson” that proved to me Wyoming really is the equality state.
In his article written in 1996, Mr. Diener states that for weeks after the 1920 election in which Jackson elected an all female city legislature, the Jackson Hole Courier, a local newspaper, reprinted articles that had appeared in other newspapers throughout the United States that Women’s suffrage as an aspect of Wyoming’s statehood had brought about a great deal of political and philosophical discussion and debate. The mountain town of Jackson’s Petticoat Government received both high praise and contentious ridicule.

So, what about that election held on May 11, 1920 in Jackson, Wyoming? Well, after the final count was verified on June 8, the Town Council of Jackson swore in the mayor and four council members, all five of them women. These women were not little Betty Homemakers, but leaders and movers of the community who had no problem expressing their opinions with firm articulation. They didn’t just win by meager leads, either, but by an outstanding landslide. Here’s how the votes came down:
Mayor Grace Miller won with 56 votes over her male opponent, Fred Lovejoy with 28
For 2-year council positions:
Rose Crabtree, 50 votes; opponent William Mercill 34 votes
Mae Deloney, 49 votes; opponent Henry Crabtree, 31 votes
One-year council positions:
Faustina Haight, 54 votes; Maurice Williams 31
Genevieve Van Vleck, 53 votes; T. H. Baxter, 28

Just a word or so about these women.

Grace Miller and her husband, Robert, were not only civic-minded individuals and significant benefactors, but they were also astute in business. Grace Green from Ottawa, Illinois, married Robert Miller in 1893. They established their famous home with 2,000 acres of land which they sold twelve years later to the Federal government to establish the National Elk Refuge.
In 1901-1902 Robert and Grace, along with the Simpsons, plotted out original town of Jackson. A look at the original drawings shows conclusively that the drafting effort was hers, not his.
Robert Miller was the founder and president of the Jackson State Bank with $230,000 operating assets. Not only did they assemble parcels of land to be turned over to the National Park Service to expand the Grand Teton National Park, but they also deeded over property to be used for the elementary and grade schools. When Robert died, the schools closed to allow the children to follow his casket to his final resting place. The couple only had one child, who sadly, died in infancy.
As Mayor, Grace Miller went to work securing title to the town cemetery and made great strides in fixing the streets and roads of the town to help business thrive in the town.

 Henry and Rose Crabtree

Rose Crabtree's election to a two-year term on the Town Council got special attention, because she out-did her husband, Henry, in the process and Henry was the sitting mayor at the time of this election.
When ``Ma'' Reed left Jackson on October 5, 1917 and asked Rose and Henry Crabtree to look after things for her; the Crabtrees had no idea they would become the owner- operators of a hotel. They would become well known for the fine food Rose prepared, for the comfort and hospitality of their hotel, their generosity to those down on their luck, and for not only surviving, but thriving in good times and bad. The good townsfolk loved them. According to the news papers and other writings of the day, the Crabtree Hotel was the favorite spot for dignitaries and visitors to share their stories.
They didn’t mind getting their hands dirty and working. Henry's trade was carpentry and woodworking. With their dedication to hard work and their generosity for others, it’s no wonder  the townsfolk found it easy to cast their votes for Rose.

Mae Delaney (I could not find any information on Mae—bummer)

Faustina Forrester moved to Jackson from Iowa, a recent college graduate, and became a school teacher at the Frank Woods School, the Kelly School, the Ditch School and at other schools in Zenith and Jackson, beginning in 1902.
She married Dan Haight and became a homesteader's wife. Her three sons and daughter-- Don, Duke, Donald and Donna--enjoyed young lives of learning in an extraordinary home.
Not only was Faustina a college educated, but she was also highly respected for her opinions on many topics. Often friends and former students came back to her for her sage advice. She grabbed the chance to serve on the Town Council.

Genevieve Van Vleck
In 1906 Roy Van Vleck and his brother Frank moved to Jackson and opened a store, the Jackson Hole Mercantile. For a time, they lived in the back room, took their meals at Reed's, then Crabtree's, hotel. Roy brought Genevieve Lawton from Michigan to become his wife in 1911. Roy and Genevieve had two daughters.
Genevieve enjoyed her duties with her family and with the store. May 9 to May 12, 1920, would become life changing days for her. In her daily journal she wrote:
May [1920]
9, Sun - planted sweet peas
10, Mon - Roy painted kitchen
11, Tues - Village election.... men furious
12, Wed - Roy painted bathroom and pantry
She led a busy life and occupied herself with organizations and meetings. She was active in all manner of social and business and political life. When the opportunity came to serve the Town of Jackson in public office, she did not hesitate to join in.

Besides these five elected officials in the Petticoat Government of 1920, there were other women involved as well: Edna Huff served as health officer, Marta Winger as clerk, and Viola Lubeck as treasurer. Best of all, was the town marshal, Pearl Williams, a petite woman of twenty-two who was eager to confront trouble with a sword or a pen.

Marshal Pearl Williams

Pearl Williams gave an interview in which she exaggerated her physical prowess, her shooting skills, her undefeated fist-fighting record, her stamina and resilience riding the desert wastes. Only the locals of Jackson Hole knew her slight frame, her charm, her ability to move on and against people without giving them opportunity to resist or to protest.
Wyoming had known women's suffrage for decades, but only Jackson Hole showed Wyomingites how to practice it. And these strong and capable ladies of the town set, in their term of office, outstanding records of service and achievement. My Grandmother Matilda would be proud. Is it any wonder that I chose Wyoming to write about my spirited and courageous Wilding women? Make me proud, Wyoming!

My Grandmother, Matilda Saphrona McNeal

(Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia public domain/ except the picture of my grandmother, thanks to my dad's family album)


  1. Excellent, Sarah, and I love the vintage photo of your grandmother.
    Yeah, for Wyoming. I knew women had the vote in Wyoming long before any other state, but I had never read anything about particular women. Fascinating. The women who made their way to Wyoming were indeed exceptional and fearless. The diary one wrote about planting peas one day, campaigning the next was typical, I'm sure of these women's lives. They did not shirk any other duty they had.
    Did I miss this...Could these women own property when single? And if so, did they have to turn their ownership over to the man?
    Thanks for the information about the Petticoat Government.
    I see why other like you love to set your stories in Wyoming. It was truly a fair state--even though the men didn't like it.

  2. I always love hearing about the history of the West your family grew up in. The authenticity comes through in your writing, like the love of my own family's Appalachia roots shows through.

  3. Celia, I really don't know if these western women were able to own property or not. I should look that up.
    Yes! I do love to write my westerns in Wyoming because that state had free-thinking, equality minded people so far ahead of their time.
    Thank you so much for coming and leaving your comments.

  4. Gerald, I think I gave the wrong impression by posting my grandmother's picture. She was not from Wyoming, but Numidia, Pennsylvania. The reason I posted her picture was because she was an activist for women's suffrage. She would have been so proud of those women in Jackson, Wyoming for their accomplishment.
    Appalachia is more like home to me, as it is for you.
    Thank you so much for reading my blog and commenting. It makes me so happy that you visited.

  5. Sarah,
    A post near and dear to my heart, the story of the Women who populated the West and their contributions. I too love Wyoming, but not as much as Colorado. (Which of course had her fair share of amazing women, GRIN). I thank you for sharing this great story. I will have to re-read it again when I'm feeling blue. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

  6. Another comment--In Texas, from the time when Texas was a Republic, a single woman could own property, enter into contracts, and sue. But she couldn't serve on juries.
    When she married, she reverted those rights to her husband--however, this process was slow in making this clear because Spanish women typically owned the property--not the man. It's a little complicated and drawn out.
    In the Dime Novel I wrote titled Kat and the US Marshal, Kat owned a house in San Antonio, all her own. One reader told me I had made an error, making Kat a property owner. But no, I was right.

  7. Doris, isn't great to know women have been such an important part of our American history? Women are strong and smart, and yet, they have been suppressed and treated like secondary citizens throughout history. Are men afraid of us? LOL
    Thank you for coming today and commenting.

  8. Celia, I think I just recently read an article (probably by you) about Mexican women having the right to own land outright. They had the right idea. Just says to me Mexican men must not be greedy enough to want the land rights to their wives' properties.
    Someone corrected your historical accuracy? Do they still have hair and eyes left? LOL When it comes to Texas history, I trust your word completely. I'm glad you came back with that tidbit of historical fact.

  9. Loved this post, Sarah. What a nice legacy for your grandmother to pass to you.

  10. Caroline, I wish I could have known my grandmother McNeal. She died before I was born. I missed getting a chance to talk to her and learn all the interesting things I'm certain she had to say. I only know about her from my dad.
    Thank you so much for coming. I know how busy you are, so I appreciate it all the more.

  11. Great post, Sarah! I admire those women and the men who helped elect them. You're lucky to have had an activist grandmother. Both of mine were ruled by dictatorial husbands. They probably didn't dare voice their opinions on political matters.

  12. Lyn, as I have mentioned a few times in the past, my family is full of eccentrics and odd balls. I think my dad got many of his ideas about women from his mother. He encouraged us to be self-reliant, educated, and free thinking. My own mother was a soft spoken, shy person who came from a family quite different than my dad's. Her mother ruled the house and divorced my grandfather who was actually a great man with a personality and charm like warm sunshine when my mother was very young. There was nothing subservient about my mother's mother for certain. Unfortunately, my maternal grandmother was manipulative and controlling and mean spirited. However, many women in those days followed in the accepted roles of that time. Mine probably didn't get the memo.
    I am so happy you dropped by and shared a bit about your history. Thank you.


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