First women to vote legally
Saturday’s front page event preview story concerning Louisa Swain perpetuated the myth that she “was the first woman anywhere in the United States to vote legally.”
That is simply not true.
Some women legally cast votes in New Jersey in the late 1700’s. While that right was later taken from them, other women voted legally in school district elections in several locations before Wyoming Territory passed the rightly celebrated Dec. 10, 1869, Suffrage Act. That act gave Wyoming women the same right to vote as men in all elections, a first in the nation.
The next election they could vote in was held on Sept. 6, 1870. That is when Louisa Swain became the first woman in Wyoming to vote. However, under a female suffrage act passed by Utah Territory on Feb. 12, 1870, a few women voted in a municipal election on Feb. 14, 1870.
More importantly, thousands of women voted legally in the general election in Utah Territory on Aug. 8, 1870, the month before Louisa Swain cast her vote. They voted on the same basis as men and became the first women to vote for a delegate to the U.S. Congress.
What then is the importance of the Swain vote and how narrowly should it be defined?
She was the first woman in America to vote under a law that granted women equal political rights.
Unlike Utah, the earlier Wyoming Territory Suffrage Act not only allowed women to vote on an equal basis with men, but for the first time in the United States also allowed them to hold all public offices.