Nellie Tayloe Ross – The First U.S. Female Governor

Nellie Tayloe Ross

Nellie Tayloe Ross (American Heritage Center)

On this date (Jan 5th) in 1925 Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first female governor in the United States when she was sworn in as the 14th governor of Wyoming. She handily won a special election to finish out the remaining term of her predecessor, who happened to be her husband, who passed away from complications with an appendectomy just 1.5 years into his elected term.

Her platform of tax cuts, government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform, and laws protecting children, women workers, and miners and the strengthening of prohibition laws were in lockstep with her late husbands.

Women had only had the vote nationwide for just over 4 years when Ross became governor.

Her strong support of the prohibition laws likely led to defeat in her bid for reelection in 1926. She served as governor from 1925 – 1927.

In 1928 she was a strong supporter and campaigner for Al Smith‘s presidential bid. Despite their diametrically opposed views on prohibition, Ross received 31 votes from ten states for vice president on the first ballot at the 1928 Democratic National Convention. She is believed to have been the first female given serious consideration for the position of Vice President of the United States, although Joseph Smith from Arkansas ultimately received the nomination.

When Smith lost to Herbert Hoover, Ross was offered the  job of director of the Women’s Division of the National Democratic Committee, which she accepted and moved to Washington D.C..

Nellie Tayloe Ross on her Mint medal designed by Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock

Nellie Tayloe Ross on her Mint medal designed by Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock

Ross was appointed director of the U.S. Mint by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 making her one of the first women to hold a federal post of that importance. During her 20-year term the mint introduced the Roosevelt dime, the Jefferson nickel, and the steel penny, the latter an emergency measure during World War II.

Roosevelt appointed her to (3) five-year terms in the job, and President Harry Truman appointed her to a fourth term, a role which she served in until her retirement 1953.

After  retirement,  she made a number of profitable real estate investments, contributed to a number of magazines, traveled extensively and spent time with her children and grandchildren.

Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross lived to the age of 101 (11/29/1876 – 12/19/1977), she passed away in Washington D.C.

Footnote: Ross had the distinction of becoming the first woman governor by a small margin; Miriam Ferguson was inaugurated governor of Texas just 16 days later.


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