When one thinks of women at the start of the University of Wyoming many think of Grace Raymond Hebard or June Etta Downey. But neither were the first.
In fact, the first female faculty member is among the six who were hired to teach in 1887, UW’s first year. She was Martha Elizabeth “Bessie” Arnold Stone (1862-1932), sister to well-known Laramie lawyer Constantine P. Arnold and daughter of Presbyterian Minister Franklin Luther Arnold. Elizabeth is often forgotten when UW history is written.
Elizabeth was born in Johnston, Ohio on July 8, 1862. She was the sixth of seven children born to Franklin Luther Arnold (1825-1905) and German-born Emilie Franziska Johanna Marie Ransauer Arnold (1830-1874).
According to Ancestry.com Elizabeth attended Iowa College at Grinnell 1879-1880. Ladies’ courses she might have studied there include Metaphysics, French, Botany, Math, Philosophy, Astronomy, Latin, English language, Belles letters, Chemistry, Minerology, German, Natural History, Elocution, Theory and Practice of Teaching, History and Constitutional Law.
Family papers are held by Joe Arnold, whose grandfather was well-known Laramie resident Thurman Arnold (Elizabeth’s nephew). They show that Elizabeth continued her education for over two years in Germany. The Cheyenne newspaper mentions that she traveled with her brother, verified through Ancestry records to be C. P. Arnold.
The Arnold family came west to Laramie in approximately 1869. F.L. Arnold had been a missionary in Africa starting in 1849, and it is where his first wife died of malaria. While still in Africa he married Emilie Ransauer around 1852 and the couple left soon after for Germany and the US. Before coming to Laramie, he was pastor at churches in Ohio and Iowa. He answered a call to the newly-formed Presbyterian Church in Laramie, but stayed here only a short time before becoming the pastor in Evanston, Wyoming.
Connection to UW
Elizabeth taught only one year at UW. She was paid a salary of $800.00 as reported in the Cheyenne Daily Leader in January of 1888, though the Board of Trustees minutes claim $700.00. She did not teach the following year presumably because of her marriage to banker Charles Stone of Evanston on October 10, 1888, in Salt Lake City, according to the Western States Marriage Index.
Though Elizabeth did not continue to teach she maintained a connection with the University. The Laramie Boomerang of June 3, 1903 says she was appointed a UW trustee. She is mentioned often in the newspapers for attending board meetings and supposedly resigned in 1908. While several sources mention Elizabeth’s resignation, the Boomerang continued to report her attendance as a trustee through 1910.
Elizabeth was active in the Laramie, Cheyenne and Evanston communities for much of her life. She was a member of the Presbyterian Church, serving on their board in various functions (usually to do with writing). In 1889 she was elected as recording secretary for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Cheyenne.
She was a member of the Evanston county school board (beginning in 1909) and Wyoming State Board of Education, 1919-1921 respectively.
She was appointed in 1915 by the Wyoming State Federation of Women’s Club president Mrs. R. A. Morton to be president of the Ladies’ Literary Club of Evanston.
After America’s entrance into World War I in April of 1917, Elizabeth began a local Red Cross chapter in Evanston. She helped to organize “Registration Day” which was to celebrate the men who were to sign up for the draft.
Sometime after 1917 Elizabeth was appointed by Wyoming Governor Frank L. Houx as a representative of the State Council for National Defense. In this capacity she attended the “Win the War for Permanent Peace,” Conference in Philadelphia, May 16-18, 1918, as the Wyoming representative.
In 1920 and several years thereafter she was one of three prominent women nominated to judge Wyoming high school student papers on various subjects.
In 1921 Elizabeth was asked to aid the Wyoming State Historical Department in compiling histories for the third Judicial District, which includes Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta, Sublette and Teton Counties, according to the Laramie Republican newspaper.
Elizabeth, often with her husband Charles, was noted in the Evanston and Laramie newspapers for attending and hosting many social events. She was mentioned as visiting family and friends in Cheyenne, Laramie, Salt Lake City, New York and Chicago.
The 1900 census lists a step-son within the Stone household named Charles T. Blackburn. Charles was born in May 1885 to Dr. Charles H. Blackburn (1861-1898). His mother is unknown. After Dr. Blackburn’s death, it appears the Stone family adopted Charles. In 1903 Charles was accepted to the Naval Academy in Annapolis and went on to serve in World War I. He is the only child reported for the Stones.
Elizabeth was an avid writer. As a member of several boards she was often secretary (sometimes not) who was responsible for recording the minutes; she was also a poetess. Many of her poems were recounted in newspapers in Laramie and Evanston and she is noted in the newspapers for reciting at social functions.
Her writing traditions may have begun with her mother, Emilie (who was in poor health for much of her life, possibly from having contracted Malaria while in Africa). Emilie was known nationally through religious journals, according to the history book “United Presbyterian Church of Laramie, Wyoming 1869-1969.” Emilie’s writings brought the attention of readers to Laramie including a generous donor who gave the starting funds for the first Laramie Presbyterian Church on Second St.
In 1924 Elizabeth wrote a book on Uinta County history, “Uinta County Its Place in History,” possibly as a result of the research she collected for the Wyoming State Historical Department.
Elizabeth was a well-known figure throughout the state of Wyoming. She and her family were Wyoming pioneers and she was remembered as a leader for many organizations, according to newspaper accounts. She left her writings as testimony to her many achievements, and it is written by her descendants that she “was actively engaged in giving unselfish service to promote education, Christian endeavor and social welfare” to the citizens of Wyoming.
Elizabeth made her home in Evanston but she was well-known in Laramie for her service and family connection. After her husband’s death in 1926, family papers state that she spent her time between Evanston and Los Angeles, California. She died in Los Angeles November 6, 1932. She is buried in Evanston next to her husband at the Evanston City Cemetery.
Editor’s note: This story is one in a series commemorating Laramie’s Sesquicentennial. Konnie Cronk is the Curator at the Laramie Plains Museum. She has lived in Laramie for 7 years and received a BS degree in history from University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a concentration on medieval history.