Long before most of the nation, Western states and territories gave women the right to vote. But as for who was first—that gets a little more complicated.
Technically, New Jersey was the first to allow women to vote, in the 1790s, but that right was revoked in 1807. The territories of Wyoming and Utah extended the right to female citizens in December 1869 and February 1870, respectively (although both laws included rights for all women, there were significant barriers to voting for women of color). Women actually went to the polls first in Utah, thanks to the timing of elections (they also had the right revoked by an act of Congress in 1887). Meanwhile, Wyoming signed the suffrage clause into its constitution in 1890, earning its Equality State nickname.
The Centennial State has its own claim to leading the way. In 1893, Coloradans granted women suffrage through the popular vote. Not long after that, Colorado women began running for office—and winning.
Three Republican women served in the state Legislature in 1895. And, proving that representation matters, one of those women, Carrie Clyde Holly, sponsored several bills targeting women’s rights. To wit: She passed one that established the age of consent as 18. “Basically, it’s a statutory rape bill,” says Judy Gaughan, an associate professor of history at Colorado State University–Pueblo. “The ‘Holly law’ was written about in papers across the country.” While women didn’t—and still don’t—necessarily vote as a block, their participation in politics brought additional attention to family medicine, charitable giving, and education.
Coloradans continued to advocate for women’s suffrage on a national level, and the state’s influence was apparent in the region. Women in every Western state except New Mexico were voting even before the 19th Amendment was ratified, says Rebecca Hunt, a retired associate professor of history at the University of Colorado Denver. So, while blue ribbons may be nice, more important is that those early victories helped move the country toward increased voting access for all Americans.