Louisa Anne Swain

First Woman to Vote in America

1869 – December 10 – The Wyoming Territorial legislature passed a bill that meant The Old West was changing is ways that most could not have imagined only a few years earlier.  The legislation gave everyone woman living in the Territory of Wyoming the right to vote in all election held in that Territory.  The legislation was entitled “The Female Suffrage Act 1869″.

1870 – March – In Laramie in the Territory of Wyoming, a Grand Jury had been impaneled with 6 women.  Eliza Stewart was the first woman elected to the panel.  Eastern newspapers ridiculed the women jurors but pragmatic news operators eventually realised that women were a significant part of their readership and the practise stopped.

1870 – September 6 – Louisa Ann Swain post the first vote ever cast in a public election in the Territory of Wyoming.  She was aged 70 and her vote was note only the first vote by a woman in Wyoming, it was the first vote by a woman anywhere in the world:-

Mrs Swain was born and named Louisa Gardner.  Her father was a ship’s captain who was lost at sea when she was very young.  She moved with her mother to Charleston in South Carolina where her mother died and she was left alone. 

Louisa moved to Baltimore and lived with her uncle and it was here that she met and married Stephen Swain, the owner of a chair factory.

Louisa and Stephen, with their 4 children. moved to Zanesville, Ohio, the to Indiana.  Their son, Alfred, moved with his family to Wyoming in 1869.  Louisa and Stephen soon joined them.

On September 6 the following year Louisa Swain was out walking early, apparently intending to purchase supplies.  She passed a polling station that was not yet open and officials invited her in.  A local newspaper, the Laramie Daily Sentinel described here the following day as:-

“A gentle white-haired housewife, Quakerish in appearance.” Laramie Daily Sentinel. September 7, 1870.

She was 69 years old.  Louisa died in 1880 on January 25.

Please note that there are several other claimants to be the first woman to vote in the Unites States or in an area that later became part of the USA.  There included Native American women who had some rights to vote, women who voted but claimed to be a man, votes in non public elections etc.  I have included Louisa Swain because she was the first to vote in a public election under formally enacted legislation.  I believe the action recorded below supports this view:-

2008 – September 6 – This day was recorded by the United States Congress as “Louisa Ann Swain Day” in honor of her historic vote.

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