LARAMIE – Celebrating the “year of Wyoming women,” the University of Wyoming, together with Wyoming Public Media and the Wyoming Humanities Council, hosted a symposium Thursday and Friday diving into Women’s Suffrage on the Northern Plains.
In honor of the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming, the day-and-a-half symposium included presentations by nationally renowned scholars on suffrage and even UW students.
Renee Laegreid, a professor of history at UW and faculty representative on the Governor’s Council for the Women’s Suffrage Celebration, said during her opening remarks Friday evening the students were “sharing their in-progress research on topics and kind of expanding the boundaries on what we’ve done on research so far – it’s been a fabulous experience.”
Laegreid added the Governor’s Council for the Women’s Suffrage Celebration is “dedicated to bringing awareness of and sparking conversation on Wyoming’s historic role on granting women an unrestricted right to vote and political equality in 1869, a full 50 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment.”
The grand finale of the symposium was a keynote address Friday evening by Susan Stamberg, an award-winning broadcast journalist with National Public Radio. A trailblazing woman herself, Stamberg became the first woman to anchor a nightly news program once she became the host of “All Things Considered” in 1972.
Stamberg noted in her address, “Inspiring Women,” she liked to think 19th century Wyoming women were likely troublemakers, so much so they were “shaping the state – that’s what interesting – in order to get what they want.”
“It wasn’t an easy road, I’m sure,” she added. “To me, it’s so moving to think I’m standing on the land of the very first place in the world who guaranteed that extraordinary privilege and responsibility.”
Stamberg also spent some time in Laramie learning about its specific history with women’s suffrage, including visiting the statue of Louisa Swain, the first woman to vote in a general election in 1870.
In her speech, Stamberg also did what many NPR listeners are all too familiar with – told dynamic stories. She shared quick anecdotes from different “modern pioneers” she’d encountered in her journalistic career who inspired and challenged her worldview, including artist Georgia O’Keeffe, disability advocate Betsy Wilson, Parisian conversation-starter Lilly Sanashi and Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide Anne Frank and saved her famous diary.
Audience members also had the chance to ask personal questions and share their stories.
During her opening remarks Friday evening, Jean Garrison, director of UW’s Office of Engagement and Outreach, said she was looking forward to taking inspiration from the conversations sparked by the symposium and channeling it into her teaching.
“Celebrations like this mark what we have done, but they also mark what we need to continue to do,” she said. “I believe this sets a tone for getting our women and our citizens involved in thinking about what we need to continue to do for the next 150 years.”
Nearly all-day Friday, the American Heritage Center hosted research presentations covering a broad range of suffrage-related topics, including suffrage strategies, the art of suffrage, Wyoming and suffrage as well as a group about native women, ethnicity and suffrage.
In addition to students, many of the presenters came from universities and publications throughout the country.
An inter-departmental effort, partners in the symposium include the Office of the President, the College of Law, the Department of History, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Honors College and the School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice.
“The support for this symposium from across the university has been amazing,” Laegreid said during her opening remarks.
The symposium is part of a year-long series of events hosted by UW around the state. Upcoming events include Science Café, a speaking event Friday featuring women in UW’s science programs at the Sublette County Library in Pinedale; Wyoming Public Media’s Day of Dedication on Dec. 10; and Bel Canto Women’s Chorus performing a composition by Anne Guzzo on Dec. 10 at the Cheyenne Capitol.
Additional events are also planned in the spring. A full calendar can be found at www.uwyo.edu/engagement/statewide-events/suffrage.html.