Petticoat Rulers: 1920 All Women Jackson Town Council Inspires Women Today

Jun 5, 2020

Early May, the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum hosted virtual beers and banter over Zoom.

"I'm excited that we're able to come together and celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the first all women council," said Morgan Jaouen, the executive director of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.

In attendance was longtime former State Legislator Clarene Law, former Jackson Mayor Sara Flitner, current Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson and Teton County Commision Chairwoman Natalia Morton Macker.

Macker had never really considered getting involved in politics. But she said when she was part of Leadership Jackson Hole, she went down to Cheyenne.

"There was a legislator with his cowboy boots up, his cowboy hat tilted over his face and a half eaten donut on the desk, snoozing, I guess," recalled Macker. "And I remember having this moment of like, 'Where are the women? Where are all the women?'."

Turns out, having a lot of women in office is actually part of Jackson's history.

"On May 11, 1920, the town of Jackson voted for an all women town council ticket," Jaouen said. "Grace Miller was elected mayor."

The town council went ahead and appointed women to all the municipal positions. Jaouen said according to archived town minutes, the petticoat rulers, as they were dubbed, got things done.

"First for collecting overdue taxes, they completed road grading and improvements, they expanded electricity, and they even passed an ordinance that made littering a misdemeanor," she said. "So they were really focused on cleaning this place up and making it a respectable Western town."

Despite this, Jackson did not elect another woman until the 1980s. And Jaouen said it's really hard to say why.

"But I think there were a variety of motivations and other things going on. And we really just focus on them being in office, but don't ask those other questions of, 'Man two years later, and she [Grace Miller] was out of there. So what went wrong?'"

Today, there are a few women in Teton County's government. County Commission Chairwoman Natalia Morton Macker is pleased with this but would like to see more.

"I think the potential is there to be intentional and turn the tide faster, and I think there are people that want to do that," she said. "But we just have to accept that we have to be intentional and that there are going to be some structural things that we need to consider."

Jackson Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson agreed. She said she ran for the town council because she didn't see any young people or women represented.

"The systems are set up by men and that's because they've been the ones who have served. And it's, you know, no fault of their own. But when the systems are set up that way, it then makes it harder for women to serve. And it kind of perpetuates that inequality or that lack of representation."

One difficulty, , she said, is that town council meetings are at night, which make it hard for mothers to attend. Levinson said it's more about changing the narrative so that it's ok if a councilwoman attends a meeting with her baby. Levinson attributes varying perspectives to the recent completion of a child care needs assessment.

"It feels like because myself and Natalia Macker, who's on our commission, we're pushing for that. We are on our way to figuring out or helping with childcare for our working families in Jackson."

Macker said making sure the community's diversity is represented requires being proactive.

"As opposed to just saying, 'well, women are choosing not to run, or people of color are choosing not to run.' And it should be important to us about why that is. Because the policies that we make will benefit everyone," she said.

That means working to help women and other underrepresented groups in the community realize they can run for office and help them run when they decide to.

"We need to provide support to nontraditional candidates, and, or understand what those barriers are," said Macker.

For Levinson and Macker, the petticoat rulers and the Wyoming suffrage movement are feel goods. But it is an interesting angle to where the community is today and where they hope to be in the future.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.