Being in Jackson feels a bit removed from the issues of the day; at first glance, life here can seem all about powder and pitches, guns and gear. It’s a landscape of extremes -- home to North America’s apex predators (grizzlies and wolves), some of the steepest mountains in the Rockies and lots of opportunities for an adrenaline rush. So it may come as little surprise that Wyoming’s male-to-female ratio is second highest in the United States (with 104.3 males for every 100 females), after Alaska, which has 108.9 men for every 100 women.
But the women who are here tend to be pretty remarkable -- setting records, breaking barriers, cleaning up shop, and just all around kickin’ ass. So on this 31st anniversary of MLK Day I am going to write about some of the equality issues that have been on my mind since moving to the West.
Wyoming’s first black female legislator, Liz Byrd, sponsored a bill nine times to make Martin Luther King day a state holiday before it was finally adopted in 1990.
While machismo may be the veneer in this western town, an undercurrent of progressivism runs through this place. Jackson women have been making waves since at least May of 1920 when this tiny frontier town of 300 elected an all female city council, months before even the US Congress passed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Wyoming gave women the right to vote -- and property rights separate from their husbands -- in 1869, partially as a way to lure more women to the region, during a time when there were six adult men for every adult woman, and very few children.
Jackson’s all-woman town council was made up of Mae Deloney, Rose Crabtree, Grace Miller, Faustina Haight and Genevieve Van Vleck. They served from 1920 to 1923.
The years leading up to the 1920 petticoat takeover were the epitome of the wild west, with laws going unenforced and taxes and fines unpaid. The town’s coffers were drying up and streets were swimming in mud and garbage. Instead of a Wyatt Earp figure who could put a stop to the lawlessness and decline, Jackson stumbled on a radical solution to its problems: female rule. One of the new Councilwomen, Rose Crabtree, bested her own husband by 19 votes! These newly elected officials also appointed women to additional administrative positions, including a 22 year-old town marshal with a pearl-handled gun.
So I thought this “Equality Day,” which in Wyoming is a shared holiday with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, might be an opportunity to write about some of this history of this place -- and highlight some contemporary women here making waves, especially as today Wyoming ranks dead last in its percentage of female state lawmakers at just 13 percent.
So here are three women that I’m inspired by, one from each of the worlds that shapes Jackson -- the public sector, athletics, and the environment.
Hailey Morton Levinson
The youngest person elected to the Jackson Town Council, Morton Levinson earned the most votes in both the 2012 primary and general elections. She’s been an advocate for affordable housing, mass transit and pedestrian/ bicyclist safety. She also went to college in DC, so gets a few bonus points for that.
At age 8 Kira had her leg amputated due to a rare birth defect that deformed her pelvis and hip. But that didn’t stop her from excelling at skiing... or yoga...or swimming...or equestrian sports. Kira makes the most of what she was given, the epitome of grace and strength.
Kate Wilmont manages the Wildlife Brigade, a team of Grand Teton National Park staff and volunteers, that attempts to mitigate encounters between wildlife and humans before they become problematic. You don’t wanna mess with a grizzly mamma, or Kate Wilmont.