History Snapshot: The First Female Governors (1925)

With all the talk this week of new elected officials taking office – especially the return of Jerry Brown in California –  I thought a few quick facts on the first women to be elected as  governor(s) in the United States might be in order.

In January of 1925, two women made history: Nellie Taylor Ross and Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson became the first women to hold the office of Governor. Ross took office on January 5 in Wyoming, and Ferguson took office on January 20th in Texas. And thus began the history of women in national politics. Both women succeeded their husbands in office, both were married with children, and both were right around the age of 50.

Images of Ross and Ferguson appeared regularly in the press, impacting the public perception of their personalities, politics and fashionability. These women also set examples for later generations, including notions of how female politicians should dress – a conversation that continues today.

Nellie Tayloe Ross

January 5, 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross inaugurated Governor of Wyoming, the first woman to hold such office. Image via the Nellie Tayloe Ross website.

Nellie Tayloe Ross, Image via The Autry

When Ross appeared before the Wyoming legislature for the first time on January 16, 1925, she “defied precedent” by wearing a hat and gloves. The consequence? It was covered in newspapers across the nation – including the New York Times and Chicago Tribune).

Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson

Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson Image Via Texas State Library & Archives

On January 20, 1925 Miriam Wallace Ferguson was elected Governor of Texas. The gown she wore to her inaugural ball is now held in the Texas First Ladies Historic Costume Collection at Texas Woman’s University. According to the collection, “The gown was manufactured by Samuel Kass of New York. The material of the gown is paulette crepe in a soft shade of orchid. Cost of the gown was $125.” Her clothing preferences would be written up in both small and large circulation newspapers. The Bell County Museum in Texas houses the Miriam A. Ferguson collection, including the gown she wore to her husbands inauguration in 1915.

Ferguson’s inauguration gown, 1925. Image via TWC Texas First Ladies Historic Costume Collection

Further Reading

Furguson Ball Gown Receives Conservation Treatment,” Museum Musings. Nov/Dec. 2007, Bell County Museum.

Texas: The Dutiful Wife,” Time Magazine: 7 July 1961.

Dutton, Holly “Waltzing Through Time: First Ladies Historic Costume Collection,” Denton Live.

Leidman, Mary Beth, et al. “At the Crossroads: An Examination & Analysis of Women’s Political Images on the National Stage” Presentation for the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education Women’s Consortium Conference, October 16, 2008.

Scharff, Virginia “Feminism, femininity, and power: Nellie Tayloe Ross and the woman politician’s dilemma, Frontiers, 1995.

Video: Teva Scheer speaking on her biography Governor Lady: The Life and Times of Governor Nellie Talyoe Ross

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