The first female justice of the peace in the United States.
Esther Hobart Morris was in her fifties, orphaned, widowed, remarried, mother of three, with little formal education, when she was appointed to serve as a justice of the peace in Wyoming. That made her the first woman to hold judicial office in United States history.
It was less than a year since she moved to the gold-rush boom town South Pass City. The town itself was recently established and became the first territory in the US to grant women the right to vote and to hold public office. She was appointed to fill in for a male judge who had resigned in protest after the suffrage amendment passed.
Reports in the press of her first day in office were skeptical, focusing on what she wore (green ribbons in her hair, and a matching necktie), but later the reporters took her more seriously, writing that she offered “infinite delight to all lovers of peace and virtue.”
Morris served almost nine months in office and tried about 30 civil actions. She was proud of the fact that only one of her rulings was appealed. The population of the mountain community at the time was about 2,000 residents, with a ratio of 4 men to 1 woman.
After a few years in South Pass City, she left her husband and lived in New York and Illinois.
Morris ended up returning to Wyoming, retiring in Cheyenne, and when she was 80, she was a delegate to the national suffrage convention in Cleveland.
“I feel that my work has been satisfactory”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- According to an urban legend of South Pass City, she held a tea party in 1869 for decision makers, advocating suffrage to women.
- Her early professional experience included working as an apprentice to a seamstress and running a millinery business.
- A statue of her is placed in the National Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington D.C – where she is one of just nine women represented.