Nellie Tayloe Ross

Nellie Tayloe Ross
Nellie Tayloe Ross
14th Governor of Wyoming
In office
January 5, 1925 – January 3, 1927
Preceded by Frank E. Lucas
Succeeded by Frank Emerson
Personal details
Born November 29, 1876
Andrew County, near St. Joseph, Missouri, USA
Died December 19, 1977(1977-12-19) (aged 101)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) William Bradford Ross (1902-1924) (his death)
Children Four sons: George Tayloe (1903-91), James Ambrose (1903-28), Alfred Duff (1905-06), William Bradford (1912-97)
Profession Teacher, Politician
Religion Episcopalian

Nellie Tayloe Ross (November 29, 1876–December 19, 1977) was an American politician, the 14th Governor of Wyoming from 1925 to 1927, and director of the United States Mint from 1933-1953. She was the first woman to serve as governor of a U.S. state. To date, she remains the only woman to have served as governor of Wyoming. She was a staunch supporter of prohibition during the 1920s.


Early years

Nellie Davis Tayloe was born near Amazonia, in Andrew County, Missouri (now part of the St. Joseph Metropolitan Statistical Area) to James Wynn Tayloe, a native of Stewart County, Tennessee, and his wife, Elizabeth Blair Green, who owned a plantation on the Missouri River. In 1884, when Nellie Ross was seven years of age, her family moved to Miltonvale in Cloud County in northern Kansas. The relocation happened after their Andrew County home burned, and the sheriff was about to foreclose on the property.[1][2]

After she graduated from Miltonville High School in 1892, her family moved to Omaha, Nebraska. During this time she taught private piano lessons, and also attended a teacher-training college for two years. She then taught kindergarten for four years. Nellie was sent on a trip to Europe in 1896 by two of her brothers.[1][3]

In 1900, while on a visit to her relatives in Dover, Stewart County, Tennessee, she met William Bradford Ross, whom she married on September 11, 1902. Ross practiced law and planned to live in the American West. He moved to Cheyenne and established a law practice, bringing his wife to join him there. Ross became a leader in the Democratic Party in Wyoming. He ran for office several times, but always lost to Republican candidates.

Wyoming politics

In 1922, William Ross was elected governor of Wyoming by appealing to progressive voters in both parties. However, after little more than a year and a half in office, he died on October 2, 1924, from complications from an appendectomy. The Democratic Party then nominated Nellie Ross to run for governor in a special election the following month.[1]

Nellie Tayloe Ross refused to campaign, but easily won the race on November 4, 1924. On January 5, 1925, she became the first female governor in the history of the United States. As governor she continued her late husband's policies, which called for tax cuts, government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform, and laws protecting children, women workers, and miners. She urged Wyoming to ratify a pending federal amendment prohibiting child labor. Like her husband, she advocated the strengthening of prohibition laws.[citation needed]

Ross ran for re-election in 1926, but was narrowly defeated. Ross blamed her loss in part on the fact that she had again refused to campaign for herself and the fact that she supported prohibition. Nevertheless, she remained active in the Democratic Party and campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election though the two disagreed on prohibition. At the 1928 Democratic National Convention, she received 31 votes from 10 states for vice president on the first ballot. She also gave a speech seconding Smith's nomination. After the convention, she served as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and as director of the DNC Women's Division.[1]

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as the first female director of the U.S. Mint on May 3, 1933, where she served five full terms until her retirement in 1953, when Republicans under Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon regained the executive branch of government.

Retirement and death

After her retirement, Ross contributed articles to various women's magazines and traveled extensively. She made her last trip to Wyoming in 1972 at the age of ninety-six. Five years later, she died in Washington, D.C., at the age of 101; at the time of her death, she was the oldest ex-governor in the United States. She is interred in the family plot in Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne.[4]

Ross in retrospect

The Rosses lived in Cheyenne in a picket-fenced, gardened, porched, and gabled house at 902 E. 17th Street. Their home, now the residence of Larry and Marti Bressler, is included in the National Register of Historic Places. The Bresslers received the 2008 Dubois Award from the City of Cheyenne for their efforts in restoring the structure. The honor is named for William Dubois, the architect who designed the legislative chambers of the Wyoming state capitol as well as other buildings in Cheyenne. Marti Bressler told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle: "This is Nellie's house. We're just the caretakers."[5]

Visitors, who are allowed to tour the residence on occasion, are reminded that two governors, William and Nellie Ross, lived there. Marti Bressler says Nellie Tayloe Ross has disappeared from American history textbooks, but she is working to keep her legacy alive. The house has few artifacts from the time the Rosses lived there. The kitchen is the original, even the cabinets and sink. The dining room table, fireplace coverings, the European sideboard, and light fixtures are all antiques of the proper period. The Rosses were not wealthy. William Ross had to borrow money against his life insurance policy. When he died, and his wife became governor, her brother had to supply the money to buy her clothes.[5]

Nellie Ross was not a feminist and did not identify with suffragists in her era. Nevertheless, her biographer, Teva J. Scheer, points out in her biography, Governor Lady: The Life and Times of Nellie Tayloe Ross, that Ross was in fact a modern figure. "While [she] did not begin her adult life intending to 'do it all', she ended up successfully managing a family, the governorship, lecturing in the Chautauqua circuits, a role in national politics and a federal career because her life was divided into several distinct periods that allowed her to concentrate on and enjoy each aspect of her life in turn."[5]

  • Note: Miriam Ferguson was elected governor of Texas on the same day as Nellie Tayloe Ross won her election. However, Ross was inaugurated fifteen days prior to Ferguson.


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Frank E. Lucas
Governor of Wyoming

Nellie Tayloe Ross

Succeeded by
Frank Emerson
Government offices
Preceded by
Robert J. Grant
Director of the United States Mint
May 1933 – April 1953
Succeeded by
William H. Brett

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