Nellie Tayloe Ross (November 29, 1876 – December 19, 1977) was an American politician, the governor of Wyoming from 1925 to 1927, and director of the National Mint from 1933-1953. She was the first woman to serve as governor of a U.S. state. To date, she remains the only woman to have served as governor of Wyoming. She was a staunch supporter of prohibition during the 1920s.
After she graduated from Miltonville High School in 1892, the family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where she attended a teacher-training college for two years and then taught kindergarten. While on a visit to her relatives in Dover in Stewart County in northwestern Tennessee, she met a young shopkeeper named William Bradford Ross, whom she married on September 11, 1902. William Ross engaged in the practice of law and wanted to live in the American West. The young couple hence moved to Cheyenne. William Ross was successful there and soon became a leader of the Democratic Party in Wyoming. He ran for office several times, but always lost to Republican candidates.
In 1922, William Ross was elected governor of Wyoming by appealing to progressive voters in both parties. However, after little more than a year and a half in office, he died on October 2, 1924, from complications from an appendectomy. The Democratic Party then nominated Nellie Ross to run for governor in a special election the following month.
Nellie Tayloe Ross refused to campaign, but easily won the race on November 4, 1924. On January 5, 1925, she became the first woman governor in the history of the United States. As governor she continued her late husband's policies, which called for tax cuts, government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform, and laws protecting children, women workers, and miners. She urged Wyoming to ratify a pending federal amendment prohibiting child labor. Like her husband, she advocated the strengthening of prohibition laws.
Ross ran for re-election in 1926, but was narrowly defeated. Ross blamed her loss in part on the fact that she had again refused to campaign for herself and because she backed prohibition. Nevertheless, she remained active in the Democratic Party and campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election though the two disagreed on prohibition. At the 1928 Democratic National Convention, she received 31 votes from 10 states for vice president on the first ballot. She also gave a speech seconding Smith's nomination. After the convention, she served as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and as director of the DNC Women's Division.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as the first female director of the U.S. Mint on May 3, 1933, where she served five full terms until her retirement in 1953, when Republicans under Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon regained the executive branch of government.
After her retirement, Ross contributed articles to various women's magazines and traveled extensively. She made her last trip to Wyoming in 1972 at the age of ninety-six. Five years later, she died in Washington, D.C., at the age of 101. She is interred in the family plot in Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne..
The Rosses lived in Cheyenne in a picket-fenced, gardened, porched, and gabled house at 902 E. 17th Street. The house, now the residence of Larry and Marti Bressler, is included in the National Registry of Historic Places. The Bresslers received the 2008 Dubois Award from the City of Cheyenne for their efforts in restoring the structure. The honor is named for William Dubois, the architect who designed the legislative chambers of the Wyoming state capitol as well as other buildings in Cheyenne. Marti Bressler told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle: "This is Nellie's house. We're just the caretakers."
Visitors, who are allowed to tour the residence on occasion, are reminded that two governors, William and Nellie Ross, lived there. Marti Bressler said that Nellie Tayloe Ross has disappeared from American history textbooks, but she is working to keep her legacy alive. The house has few artifacts from the time the Rosses lived there. The kitchen is the original, even the cabinets and sink. The dining room table, fireplace coverings, the European sideboard, and light fixtures are all antiques. The Rosses were not wealthy. William Ross borrowed money against his life insurance policy. When he died, and Nellie became governor, her brother had to supply the cash to buy clothing.
Ross was not a feminist and did not identify with suffragists in her era. Her biographer, Teva J. Scheer, points out in her book, Governor Lady: The Life and Times of Nellie Tayloe Ross, that Ross was a modern figure. "While [she] did not begin her adult life intending to 'do it all, she ended up successfully managing a family, the governorship, lecturing in the Chautauqua circuits, a role in national politics and a federal career because her life was divided into several distinct periods that allowed her to concentrate on and enjoy each aspect of her life in turn."