First Woman Juror in America

L BrodayThere were so many “firsts” in our country in the 1800’s. Some came about quietly and some to great fanfare. The one I’m going to talk about today didn’t get a lot of attention except in the Wyoming Territory twenty years before they achieved statehood.

Eliza Stewart was born in 1833 in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest of eight children. Her father was Scots Irish and when her mother died in childbirth, Eliza took on the role of raising her seven siblings. Despite all of her responsibilities, Eliza continued to attend school. She was an excellent student. She graduated from the Washington Female Seminary as valedictorian. Upon graduating, she began teaching school. Eight years later, she decided to go West. She arrived in Laramie, Wyoming just as the town was about to open its first public school. Seeing as how Eliza held such glowing credentials, they quickly hired the unmarried woman as their first teacher. The first classes began in February 1869.

(That same year Wyoming granted women the right to vote and hold office.)

eliza-stewartBut, Eliza didn’t stay single too much longer. She met Stephen Boyd and fell in love. In March 1870, a few months before they were married, Eliza, at the age of 36, received a summons to serve on the grand jury.

I couldn’t find any information about the kinds of cases they heard, but it is known that they were highly praised for their work. And more importantly, it opened the door for other women to do things that before were limited to men.

I’m sure Eliza was thrilled to have blazed the trail. That was quite an honor.

She didn’t stop there though. Two months after her marriage, Eliza helped organize the Wyoming Literary and Library Association. She was instrumental in establishing the first library in Laramie.

And in August 1873, she became the first woman to be nominated to run for the Territorial legislature. However, she withdrew her name from the ballot. I’m not sure that anyone knows the reason why. Eliza did remain interested in politics though and got involved in the Women’s Temperance movement a few years later. In fact, she served several terms as the organization’s secretary and traveled to the party’s national convention in Indiana in 1888.

Meanwhile, she and her husband opened a “notions” shop and shoe store in downtown Laramie. They sold boots, shoes, sewing machines, and a variety of household goods.

Also, Eliza and Stephen had three children, one of whom died in infancy.

Eliza slipped on a patch of ice during the winter of 1912 and broke her hip. The pioneer who had lived such a vital interesting life died a week later at the age of 79.

Because of her and women like her, the frontier West became a more civilized, much better place. She reminds me of the strong heroines we like to portray in our books. And here, readers think we craft these characters from somewhere in our brains!

We owe a lot to Eliza Stewart Boyd. Where would we be if women like her, Susan B. Anthony, and others hadn’t blazed the trail for us? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Comments

First Woman Juror in America — 8 Comments

  1. Linda- Wow, what an amazing article. Yes I agree, women who came before us and held their heads up high and were brave enough to stand up against an all men “society” and let their voices, ideas, & dreams be heard, paved the road for all women of today.
    In Syracuse, KS., when you enter town there is a sign that says, First All Woman Town Council, 1888. I’m now not sure if that date is correct, because I’m going off memory, but I’ll double check the next time I drive through Syracuse.

    • Good morning, Tonya…….I hope you’re having a good day. If those women hadn’t had the guts to stand up and say women matter, we wouldn’t be able to vote, buy land, own businesses, and a whole lot of other things. I often wonder that if I’d lived back then, would I have had the courage to stand tall and say, “This is wrong.” Men ran everything and told the women what to do. Glad it’s changed. How interesting about Syracuse! Yes, please check on that. I’d like to know.

      Love you, sister friend!!

  2. Women have had to scratch and claw for every ounce of ground they’ve gained, and it is strong, educated and determined women like Eliza that proved what can be accomplished. Great post!

    • Good morning, Jan…..Glad you liked my post. You’re right about us scratching and clawing for the same rights as men. It was very, very difficult and the journey was long. I’m so glad they stood against the injustice. Like I told Tonya, I wonder if I’d been strong enough to join their fight. I don’t know. They suffered immensely.

      Have a great day! I love you, sister!

  3. What a great post. Yes women like her had to fight to get where they were going. Yes it has gotten better but we still have to fight for what is right for us.

    • Hi Quilt Lady……Thank you so much for coming. I totally agree with you. Things are better than they were but women still fall short in a lot of areas. The fight is ongoing and sadly there are those who constantly try to take away what we’ve gained.

      Big hugs!

  4. Fascinating lady! We need more in our history books about women who were instrumental in our country’s growth and development and involved in so many ways. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Elisabeth……Yes we do need more like Eliza and so many others in our history books. We get overshadowed by men, but the accomplishments are just as great and in many instances the changes women bring about have a far-reaching effect.

      Hugs and much love!