By U.S. Senator Mike Enzi
Wyoming’s foundation of being the “Equality State” started 150 years ago with role models like Louisa Swain, the first woman to vote, and Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first woman to be governor of a state – who both helped lead the way for future generations. On Dec. 10, 1869, the Wyoming Territory approved the first law in the history of the United States recognizing women’s inherent right to vote and hold public office – an entire 50 years before the rest of the country. The legacy of these important women lives on today through many different realms. In every corner of the state, Wyoming women are leaders in politics, education and, of course, business. The Wyoming business landscape would not be what it is today without the committed work of women-led projects and organizations.
Wyoming ranks within the top 10 states that hold the best employment vitality for women-owned businesses and businesses at large, according to a 2018 report by American Express. This influence and proof of success can be seen everywhere you look. One example is Mountain Meadow Wool in Buffalo, owned by Karen Hostetler. Her family-run mill focuses on preserving the western culture and bringing together various local ranches. The business offers quality wool products that are 100% American made and Wyoming grown. Another proud women-led business is Wyoming’s famous and beloved Chugwater Chili, which opened in 1986. This small business has fewer than a dozen employees, but its success is anything but small. Today, the award-winning Chugwater Chili Corporation is overseen by Karen Guidice and her business partner Justin Gentle, with many other women running the operations and retail. Both businesses were included in a feature from Wyoming Tourism as women-owned businesses everyone should experience.
The heritage is also carried out by programs that dedicate their work to building and supporting opportunities for women. A unique example that always comes to mind when telling others about what’s going on in Wyoming is Climb Wyoming. Their mission is to help single mothers achieve training and job placement in higher paying non-traditional jobs, with the goal of becoming self-sufficient and contributing to vital industries in Wyoming. This organization made a goal out of furthering the Wyoming legacy – ensuring women are present in our workforce. The Wyoming Women’s Business Center is also a hub for innovation as they offer trainings, counseling and other services to ensure women-led businesses stay competitive in the market. And when your business career evolves into a political career, the Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus is there to cultivate the leadership women bring to the state legislature. The caucus even hosts an annual “Leap into Leadership” conference aimed at showing women how to be the change they wish to see in Wyoming.
As the “Year of Wyoming Women” comes to a close, I am proud to sponsor the resolution declaring Dec. 10, 2019, as Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day. Wyoming not only has a rich history of leading the way to women’s suffrage, but for continuing the legacy by being home to countless women who have achieved so much and contributed to the Equality State.