A first for Wyoming: a woman is elected to the state legislature

It must have been an exciting day on Tuesday, November 8, 1910, in the Charles and Mary Bellamy household on 10th Street in Laramie.  Election returns were just coming in, though it would be days before all precincts reported.

 Finally, official tallies were published in the Laramie Republican newspaper on Nov. 11.  Mary G. Bellamy was declared one of the five Albany County Democrats who swept into office, all winning seats in the Wyoming House of Representatives.  She made history as the first woman to be elected to that office in Wyoming.

 The next day, the same paper reported that four women had also been elected to the Colorado Legislature. However, it didn’t indicate that the first women in the Colorado legislature were three who had been elected in 1894, the year after Colorado had given women the right to vote.  So while it took only one year for Coloradans to elect a woman after suffrage, it took Wyoming 41 years to elect a woman after gaining suffrage.

 “Fluent public speaker”

In 1910, Albany County also had three elected state senators—all men and all Democrats:  Henry Maynard, Jacob Berner and holdover William H. Holliday who had been elected two years previously.  However, Republicans controlled the majority of seats in both the Wyoming House and the Senate.

 There was no primary election in Wyoming until the elections of 1914. In 1910, party leaders announced the candidates they would put forth. When Mary Bellamy won, she was elected from a roster of 15 candidates, 5 each from Republican, Democratic, and Socialist parties—all vying for the five seats available.  

 Just prior to the election, on November 2, 1910, the Laramie Daily Boomerang reprinted a story about Mary Bellamy from the Woman’s National Daily, a newspaper published in Missouri with a focus on progressive and women’s issues.  The paper reported: “Mrs. Bellamy is a fluent public speaker and her campaign is attracting unprecedented interest among Wyoming women who hope to elect her as an incentive to greater efforts on the part of feminine voters.  Wyoming has enjoyed equal suffrage for forty years, but no woman has ever occupied a seat in the state legislative councils.” 

 A practical woman

“She does her own housework,” the Rawlins Republican newspaper proclaimed in a story on page one of the November 24, 1910, issue.  The account of her historic election went on to say:  “Although intellectual in make-up she has always been known as being particularly practical in all affairs and views.”

 The Rawlins paper added that she “once had the distinction of being nominated for mayor of Laramie.” The paper overlooked the fact that she had been elected in 1902 as Albany County Superintendent of Schools.  The paper did point out that she had a husband, successful engineer Charles Bellamy, and two sons, Benjamin and Fulton, with the latter still in high school at the time of her election.

 “Mrs. Bellamy is the very opposite of the popular conception of the new woman,” the Sheridan Post proclaimed on December 30, 1910. “She is neither forward, large, mannish nor aggressive…Mrs. Bellamy is a womanly woman, rather shy and retiring, who loves her home and does not desire notoriety,” the paper went on to declare. 

 Some might debate the description of “shy” since she often gave talks to groups like the Laramie Woman’s Club—she served as president of that organization at the time of her election to the state house.  And she first ran for county school superintendent in 1888.  Unlike a shy person who might accept defeat, when she lost, she regrouped and was successful in the race for that office in 1902.

 What men want, and then some

At the time of her 1910 election to the Wyoming House, the Sheridan Press asked her what particular measures she was interested in. Her reply was succinct: “Why, I think I am interested in every measure the men are, and then some.”

 When pressed for specifics, she named “all the progressive measures advocated, such as direct primary, commission form of government and recall, [and] reformatory methods in running our penitentiary.” She also indicated support for giving more power to the pure-food inspector, and opposition to selling state lands.  About the latter, she said: “if retained until the state is developed, their value would be greatly enhanced.”

 She also indicated an interest in the revision of property laws as regards the rights of married women.  “They are not clear nor satisfactory,” she declared. “A general revision should be made, making the husband and wife co-partners in community property, and giving the wife equal rights with the husband.  Married women should also be allowed to act as administrators of estates, or guardians to minors.”

 Rehabilitation for juveniles a priority

When she served in the legislature, the website “Wyohistory.org” states that she sponsored or supported “bills that created industrial education programs and raised the mill levy for the University of Wyoming.  She also supported legislation to implement changes in the treatment of both female and juvenile prisoners incarcerated in Wyoming penal institutions.” 

 Looking back on her service just before the next legislative election in 1912, she edited a page called “Women in Political World” for the Weekly Boomerang.  In that issue of October 31, she said: “The last legislature made an appropriation to build [a juvenile reformatory institution] but the people of the state have to vote just where it is to be placed.” Her preference was Worland, where “climate, soil, and elevation combine to make it the most fertile part of Wyoming. ”

 Passage of that appropriation for the “Wyoming Industrial Institute” in 1911 was clearly one of Mary Bellamy’s proudest accomplishments in the Legislature. It was eventually located in 1915 in Worland as she predicted and is still in operation, though now called the Wyoming Boys’ School.

 The website, “Her Hat Was In The Ring,” a compendium of women who ran for political office before 1920, quotes from a speech Mary Bellamy gave saying: “Men are usually willing to elect those [women] that run.  You see in Wyoming, when it comes to politics, the men don’t think of women as women but as citizens….there is no sex antagonism here and consequently no opposition to women’s holding office.”

 Wins again in 1918

Mary Bellamy sat out the 1914 and 1916 elections for the Wyoming House, but decided to run again in 1918, and was successful.  This time, among the bills she agreed to support was ratification of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution on prohibition of alcohol. Wyoming did ratify shortly after she took office, the 38th state to do so on January 16, 1919.

It was eventually repealed in 1933 after it proved to be very difficult to enforce.

 While her service to state government ended in 1920, Mary Bellamy continued to be a force to reckon with in service to the community.  She had been very active in campaigning for a national suffrage amendment to the US Constitution, attending meetings and campaigning along with Grace Raymond Hebard of Laramie at both the local and national audiences.  No doubt she was as ecstatic as Dr. Hebard was on learning that the 19th Amendment had passed on August 18, 1920.

 The Laramie Boomerang featured her on her 90th birthday in December of 1951, with a story headlined: “Pioneer Woman Vigorous, Active On 90th Birthday.”  In that report, the paper gave her credit for “saving” the University for Laramie—there was considerable pressure in the Legislature to move the campus to Lander, Douglas or other towns vying for the honor. The University of Wyoming gave Mary Bellamy an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree in 1952.  She died in Laramie on January 28, 1955, at the age of 93.

 Wyoming Pioneer

She truly was a Wyoming pioneer, arriving here in 1873 with her widowed mother, Catherine Horine Godat, when the town was just five years old. Bellamy family sources report Catherine came with her youngest daughter, Marie, (later known as Mary or “Mollie”) to care for a two-year-old grandson, Louis Murphy, whose mother (Catherine’s daughter, Alice) had just died.  In Catherine’s 1910 obituary, five other women besides Mary are named as her surviving children.

 By 1874, Marie was enrolled in the public school in Laramie, and from then on her name was given as Mary Godat.  A sister, Olympia Louise, who was three years older than Mary, was also enrolled in the same grade in 1874.  Olympia left school, went to Rawlins and married, but Mary continued on to graduate with the first high school class in Laramie. With that diploma, she was able to teach primary grades, and accepted a teaching job in Nevada near where her sister Eliza Godat Page lived.  In 1883 she moved back to teach in Laramie’s West Side School.

 In 1886, she married Charles Bellamy, a civil engineer originally from Massachusetts, who eventually received the first license to practice engineering in the state of Wyoming.  For a brief time the couple lived in Cheyenne so that Charles could work under famed State Engineer Elwood Mead.  A surveyor, Charles Bellamy named a number of features in the Snowy Range, particularly “Lake Marie,” which he named for his wife. 

 UW legacy spans four generations

Sons of Mary and Charles Bellamy were Benjamin C. Bellamy (1887-1977) and twins Fulton Dodd (1895-1978) and Freeman Godat Bellamy (1895-1896).  Freeman died at 8 months, and is buried in Cheyenne.  Apparently Fulton (a construction engineer at the time of the 1930 census) had no children, meaning that Ben’s son John C. was their only grandchild.

 As a poignant side note, in 1896 while still living in Cheyenne, Mary won the $500 first prize out of 10,000 entries in a Denver News contest, for giving the best solution to a mystery story that had been published—her solution involved the guess that the two boys featured in the story were twins.

 While they lived in Cheyenne, Mary helped found the Cheyenne Woman’s Club, and when they came back to Laramie she became very active in the Laramie Woman’s Club that she had helped to form and she continued as an active member throughout her life.

 Benjamin Bellamy and his son John Cary Bellamy (1915-2005), and John’s sons John C. Bellamy II (1941-2011) and William D. Bellamy (1947- ) plus daughter Louise Bellamy Richardson (1942-) all attended UW.  So did William’s children John, Michael, and Elizabeth, making four generations in the Bellamy family to receive their degrees from UW, with six of those degrees from the College of Engineering. 

 Mary Bellamy’s great grandson William D. (“Bill”) and his wife Cheri, also a UW graduate, have moved back to Laramie and live in the greatly remodeled original Bellamy home on 10th St.

By Judy Knight

Caption:  Marie “Mary” Godat Bellamy  (1861-1955) Laramie pioneer and in 1910, the first woman elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives.