On March 7, 1870, for the first time in the world, women served on a formal jury. It happened in Laramie because passage of the Suffrage Act by the Wyoming Territorial Assembly in December of 1869 gave women the right to vote and hold office.
Why They Served
Various reasons have been suggested for why the women were called to serve as jurors. One was that the county commissioners were opposed to the 1869 Suffrage Act. They hoped that the women would do a poor job and advance the case for repealing the Act.
Another reason offered is just the opposite—that in the previous session of the court, men in the jury box were inattentive and reluctant to convict their friends. Perhaps women would do a better job.
The more likely reason is that the two judges who presided over the grand jury felt that the 1869 Suffrage Act, which allowed women to hold all public offices in the Territory, also pertained to jury duty.
Therefore, the names of citizens were put into the pool. Those also included were women who said they would become citizens and qualified to vote by being 21 years of age. There was no voter registration at the time and the pool was further restricted to women of “good character.” According to one of the women jurors, Sarah Pease, six men also served on that first historic grand jury which assigned a man for trial for murder among other cases.
The first women jury members
Six women were called to serve on that grand jury: Eliza Stewart, Mary Mackle, Annie Monehan, Amelia Hatcher, Jane Hilton and Agnes Baker. Mrs. Baker asked to be excused and was replaced by Sarah Pease.
Mrs. Pease wrote that the women were reluctant to serve but Judge John Howe, with Judge John Kingman concurring, convinced them to do so. They served honorably and were highly praised by Judge Howe, who wrote about their stellar service in the Chicago Legal News.
The first woman called was Eliza Stewart. Research by UW professor emeritus Phil Roberts gives the most complete picture of her life—a summary from his account in wyomingalmanac.com is below. Information about the others is gleaned from contemporary sources.
Eliza Stewart, schoolteacher
Eliza Stewart (later Boyd), the first woman’s name to be drawn, was born in Pennsylvania in 1833. While her “first” makes Miss Stewart noteworthy in history, it does overshadow her many other accomplishments. She cared for her seven younger siblings after their mother died soon after the birth of the last child.
She graduated in 1861 from Washington Female Seminary in Washington, Pennsylvania, as class valedictorian. Her valedictory address was a long poem. For the next eight years, she taught school in her native Crawford County, PA.
In December 1868, at age 35, she decided to move to the West, arriving in Laramie just as the town was about to open its first public school. When it was learned she was a veteran teacher, she was hired—the first teacher in the Laramie public schools.
First classes began in February of 1869. Shortly after that she met Stephen Boyd, a machinist in the Union Pacific car repair shops. He had come to Laramie before the first train arrived in 1868; they would soon wed.
Becomes a celebrity
Before her marriage, however, Miss Stewart received the call to serve on the jury. Her unique position as the first woman selected gained worldwide fame and made her a celebrity. But when jury service ended, she returned to teaching.
Two months after her marriage, Eliza Stewart Boyd was named to the organizing committee for the Wyoming Literary and Library Association. It was one of the first groups in Wyoming to promote libraries and the arts. She also continued to write poetry.
In August 1873, she became the first woman in Wyoming (and probably the entire United States and Territories) to be nominated to run for the territorial legislature. She declined the nomination, withdrawing her name from the ballot but retained an active interest in politics.
In 1883, Mrs. Boyd was a charter member of the newly organized Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Laramie, serving for many years as the organization’s secretary. In the Prohibition Party’s state convention in February 1888, she was selected as one of two Wyoming delegates to their national convention in Indianapolis.
In the winter of 1912, she read a paper at ceremonies opening Whiting School in Laramie, in honor of Miss Whiting, a long-time teacher and administrator. Three weeks later, Eliza Stewart Boyd slipped on a patch of ice in front of her home and broke her hip. On March 9, 1912, the 79-year-old pioneer died from complications related to her fall.
Amelia Hatcher, milliner
Amelia Hatcher (later Heath) was born in England in 1842 of Scottish parents. The 1870 census shows that she was in Laramie and living in the house of her father Robert Galbraith with her 8-year-old son Robert. She moved here after the death of her first husband.
While in Laramie, she was the owner of a millinery (women’s hats) store located on 2nd St. She listed $1,000 as the value of her estate in the 1870 census, making her one of the wealthiest women in town. She owned the shop through the summer of 1871.
Mrs. Hatcher married Nathan A. Heath not long after her jury duties ended. He was a conductor on the Union Pacific Railroad for many years and thereafter ran the drug store at the corner of 2nd and Thornburgh Streets (now Ivinson Ave.). They lived at the corner of Fremont and 3rd Streets.
The family left Laramie in the late 1880’s and moved to Hebron, Nebraska, where Mr. Heath was a banker. From Hebron they moved to Ogden, Utah, where both of them died in 1921.
Mary Jane Mackle was born in New York City on Christmas Day, 1847. She was the wife of Joseph Mackle, a clerk at Fort Sanders, whom she married in 1862 at Leavenworth, Kansas around age 15.
Little is known about her time in Laramie. Both Mackles appear in the census of the Fort in June 1870, and the Laramie Sentinel newspaper listed Mr. Mackle as serving on a jury in March of 1871. They relocated to North Platte, Nebraska in 1873. Her husband died in 1882 and in 1885 she married John Neary. His two children, ages 18 and 21 were with them at the time of the 1900 census. While in North Platte she operated a millinery store. Mary Jane Mackle Neary died in 1915.
Jane Hilton was born in 1829 in New York. In 1870 she was living with her husband George F. Hilton and daughter Nellie Hilton in Laramie. They arrived in 1868 and her husband, a physician and a minister who organized the Methodist church in Laramie. She served again on a grand jury in Laramie in February of 1871.
Her husband also ran a drug store in town through 1873 but then the family dropped out of local newspaper accounts. It appears that they moved on to California. Brief local newspaper accounts indicate that she died in 1883 in San Francisco.
Sarah Pease (1840-1909) moved to Laramie from Crystal Lake, Illinois in 1869 with her husband Lorenzo Dow Pease, whom she had married in 1867. Mr. Pease was a prominent attorney and judge during his time in Laramie and was deputy clerk of district court.
Subsequent to her jury duty, Sarah ran for superintendent of public schools in 1884 on the Democratic ticket. She was defeated by Helen Bradshaw. However, shortly after the death of her husband, she was nominated again in 1892 on both the Democratic and Populist tickets and won a two-year term. She ran again as a Democrat in 1894 and was re-elected.
Of note, her election in 1892 resulted in a lawsuit brought by her defeated opponent, Mrs. Lizzie Sawin, because Mrs. Pease received votes as both a Democrat and a Populist. The case was eventually heard by the Wyoming Supreme Court, which rejected Mrs. Sawin’s complaint.
After completing her last term, Sarah Pease moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1900. There she was also elected superintendent of schools. She died in April of 1909. Mrs. Pease was the only member of the original grand jury who wrote an extended firsthand account of those momentous events. It was printed in the Laramie Boomerang on October 16, 1889.
It is through that account that historians can accurately judge the tenor of the community and the nation as the women served their community. Mrs. Pease made it clear that the women took their charge seriously, despite the ridicule and rancor that they faced. She noted that the women carefully studied the laws that they were asked to rule on and were not reluctant to correct the jury foreman, Mr. Frederick Laycock, when he misinterpreted the territorial statutes.
Mrs. Annie Monehan was born in Ireland in 1845. Although not listed in all reports of the first women on the grand jury, in her very detailed 1889 personal remembrance of the jury, Mrs. Sarah Pease stated that she looked up the court record of the jury proceeding and found Mrs. Monehan as one of those who served.
It is possible that this is the Anna “Monnahan” listed in the 1870 census as living in Laramie with her two-year-old daughter, Frances, in the household of John and Louisa Franz. No further information on Mrs. Monehan has been found.
Prevented from further service.
Wyoming women served on juries in 1871, but then a different judge decided the Suffrage Act did not apply. With one brief exception, women never served on juries again in Wyoming until the law was changed in 1949—78 years later.
As we note with pride the foresight of the Wyoming Territorial Legislative Assembly to give women similar rights as men, it is worth noting that like all statutes, the Suffrage Act was subject to interpretation.
After the first juries with women, Wyoming judges ruled that only men could serve because an earlier Territorial Act mentioned only “men” for jury duty. This was a legal interpretation that stood for over 75 years—probably because no one contested the ruling of the judges barring women from service.
By Kim Viner
Caption: Pictured are three of the six pioneer Laramie women who served on the first jury in the world to include women. It was held 149 years ago in Laramie. The women included (from left) Sarah Wallace Pease, Amelia Hatcher, and Eliza Stewart. The latter was the first to be called. Mrs. Pease wrote the most comprehensive account of the jury proceedings. Pictures are not available for the three other women: Mary Mackle, Jane Hilton, and Annie Monahan
Sources: Left and center, UW American Heritage Center; right, courtesy photo.