This Shall Be the Land for Women!- Journalist Caroline Nichols Churchill, 1893 after Colorado victory for women's voting rights.
Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.- Abigail Adams to her husband, 1776
While the Women Suffrage Movement in America goes back to the country's founding, no single event was more influential on the women's suffrage movement than the Homestead Act. The West offered women, much like American Homestead's heroine Mary, unprecedented opportunities to do what so many men did: to reinvent themselves. While the Homestead Act's language omitting gender definitions enabled women to purchase land from the government in 1862, it wasn't until December 10, 1869 that Wyoming Territory approved full and equal suffrage for approximately one thousand women.
The success of women's suffrage in the West was no accident. Partly in the effort to settle the American empire by attracting more women to the West, Western territorial and state legislatures enacted measures that led the way in numerous areas of women's rights. Single women (like Mary) made up approximately 5 per cent of homesteaders in the late 19th century and one in five by 1900 and states had to answer to the growing number of women acting as head of the homestead.
When it came to women holding political office and wielding political power, the West was far in the vanguard of the nation. By 1920 when nationwide suffrage was passed, women had already been voting for half a century in many states in the West. In fact, Montana gave women the vote in 1914 and proceeded to elect the first woman, Jeannette Rankin, to the United States Congress in 1916.
Whether it be an oversight that omitted gender in drafting the Homestead Act or a more liberating Western mentality, women of the frontier had a major impact on the national suffrage movement for years to come.