Mrs. Swain Steps Out of Her Time

History doesn’t know much about how Louisa Ann Swain spent her time.

She was the mother of three children, maybe four. Accounts vary. Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1800. Twenty-one years later, she married Stephen Swain, the owner of a Baltimore chair factory.

We know that she, like most women of her time, didn’t go to college, couldn’t vote. We can speculate that she, like most women of her time, did stay home with the children, tended the house.

At some point, the Swains went West, ending up in the territory of Wyoming to be with one of their children.

The times were changing in the territory of Wyoming. The railroad was building its way across the prairie. The cattle industry was growing and growing. The territorial legislature was the first to give women the right to vote – perhaps to promote fairness, perhaps to lure women out west, historians remain divided.

But there is one day in the territory of Wyoming that we do know something about how Mrs. Swain spent her time.

It was a Tuesday. September 6, 1870. Mrs. Swain, then 69 or 70, lived in Laramie, population 2,957. And it was a rough and tumble population. The town was a railroad stop in the middle of the prairie and it was filled with saloons and gambling halls, riffraff and outlaws.

But by all accounts in the history books, Mrs. Swain was an upstanding citizen. A respected woman of her time.

And on September 6, 1870, the respected Mrs. Swain woke early in Laramie. She put on a bonnet. And she headed downtown.

She was the first individual to arrive at the polling booth. And when they opened, Mrs. Swain was the first person to vote in Laramie. And the first woman to ever vote in a US general election.

Fifty years later in 1920, the 19th Amendment would pass in Washington.

But on that early September morning in Laramie, Mrs. Swain, a respected woman of her time, stepped out of her time and made history.

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