Born this day in 1876: Nellie Tayloe Ross (1876–1977), first woman to be elected governor in the United States
Ross was married to Wyoming governor William Bradford Ross. He died in 1924, two years into his term. Nellie Tayloe Ross ran for the office in the special election that followed. She won the election, becoming the first woman governor in the United States. While in office, Ross’s priorities included mine safety, enforcement of Prohibition, protection of irrigation waters, and protecting bank deposits, which were being threatened by bank closures.
As the nation’s first woman governor, Ross had a delicate balancing act to perform. She knew many eyes would be scrutinizing her femininity as well as her abilities as an executive. She was not a feminist per se and did not court the women’s vote, a political misstep she later concluded hurt her chances at re-election. She also faced organized opposition from the Ku Klux Kan. Ross narrowly lost re-election in 1926 (she lost by 1,365 votes). Still, she had more than earned her political chops. She became the vice chair of the Democratic National committee and gave the seconding speech for Al Smith at the Democratic National Convention of 1928. An able public speaker, Ross was also a popular lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president, Ross directed the campaign for the women’s vote. In 1933 President Roosevelt appointed her to head up the U.S. Mint. Ross was the first woman to hold that position. She served as director of the U.S. Mint for 20 years. The mint expanded greatly during her tenure. The U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, the U.S. Bullion Depository at West Point, the Mint building in San Francisco, and the Denver Mint were constructed during her term. Ross is also responsible for, among other coins, the Roosevelt dime. Ross retired from public office in 1953, when she completed her term at the U.S. Mint.