Governor Ladies: The Failed Experiment of the First Two Woman Governors
This paper chronicles the background, election, administration, and subsequent defeat of the first two woman governors in American history—Nellie Taylor Ross of Wyoming and Miriam Ferguson of Texas—and examines the reasons why each woman lost her bid for reelection. While there were many disparate reasons causing each administration to falter, one mistake the two women held in common was that each, by virtue of being long-standing wives and mothers with little or no interest in the women's movement, failed to ingratiate herself to progressive women voters. Both women were elected to their positions, at least in part, by virtue of the fact that they were wives of former governors—Ross's husband died in office, and Ferguson's was impeached and unable to seek office—a fact which likely did not appeal to progressive women who wanted a woman to succeed in her own right rather than on the shoulders of her husband.
Ross stated on many occasions that she considered work in the home to be every woman's greatest path to happiness and fulfillment. She stated that she was in office only to finish her husband's work, and that her administration should be judged on its own merits rather than the fact she was a woman. She ignored women's issues, causing women to turn against her. A last ditch effort, as it was clear that she was losing, to appeal to women as women, probably seemed like desperation and only hurt her more.
Ferguson was perceived, almost from the beginning of her administration, to be entirely controlled by her husband, a mere figurehead in the job. Texans elected her while giving her the benefit of the doubt, hoping that she would take charge as governor. As it became clear that that was not the case, Ferguson's subservience to her husband, together with rumors of corruption, turned both women and men against her, preventing her even from getting her party's nomination in the primary election.
Both women also faced larger societal issues. Thrust into the political arena only four years after national suffrage, they were placed in an untenable position, where it is unlikely that any woman would have been able to succeed. They were women attempting to enter a man's club—and while that made them too radical for many men, they were simultaneously not radical enough to please the vocal minority of progressive women.
While neither woman was a terrible governor, the expectations placed on their shoulders—particularly coming so soon after women's suffrage—were more than either woman was equipped to handle. Because neither woman rose to the mythical status of groundbreaking pioneers that many progressive women hoped they would achieve, they have instead been reduced to mere footnotes in women's history. This paper endeavors to present Ross and Ferguson as real people, with ambitions and faults, and hopes to redeem their legacies from either being sugar-coated into unreality or pushed off into oblivion.
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A WOMAN'S PLACE IS IN THE [WHITE HOUSE]: HOW THE SMITHSONIAN'S THE FIRST LADIES EXHIBIT MISREPRESENTS AMERICA'S WOMAN Tyndall, Lily (Georgetown University, 2018-04-19)In this thesis I explore the Smithsonian Institution’s (SI) changing first lady narratives through two exhibits and their catalogs. First, I examine the First Ladies Hall exhibit (1965) at the Museum of History and Technology ...