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Esther Hobart Morris

Esther Hobart Morris Symbolizes Equal Rights

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Esther Hobart Morris
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By Nancy Guthrie, Mary B. Guthrie, and Rosalind Routt Schliske

This year, three noteworthy events occurred in Wyoming—the celebration of the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the designation of 2019 as the “Year of Wyoming Women,” and the reopening of the newly renovated Wyoming Capitol.

The July 10 celebration of the reopening of the Wyoming Capitol was an extraordinary event. Wyoming residents are rightfully proud of the fine work done on that special building. 

However, the project is not finished because the heroic bronze statue of Esther Hobart Morris, the “Mother of Women’s Suffrage in Wyoming” and first woman justice of the peace in the world, has been banished to the basement connector between the Capitol and Herschler Building. 

It is unfortunate that the statue was not restored to its proper place in front of the Capitol. 

Since 1963, the large statue of Mrs. Morris has been a reminder to all who visited the Capitol that Wyoming was the first governmental entity in the world to grant women the right to vote and to hold public office.

We have driven by the Capitol thousands of times and have been thrilled to see the statue of Morris, an important reminder of Wyoming’s history and the strong women who settled this state. Regardless of the time of day or weather conditions, visitors posed with and took photos of the imposing statue while marveling at the historic 1869 decision to give women the right to vote.

The state is missing an opportunity to educate visitors about our history and the accomplishments of Esther Hobart Morris and other Wyoming women pioneers. It is shortsighted to consign her statue and all it symbolizes to the basement of a state office building that is only open during business hours on weekdays.

We respect the hard work and dedication of the members of the committee that oversaw the Capitol renovation. Indeed, they are to be commended. But the decision to remove our Esther from the front of the Capitol should be revisited.

While we have heard several reasons for the statue’s removal, including fear of vandalism and aesthetics, these concerns can be addressed by experts.

In this “Year of Wyoming Women,” it would be fitting to celebrate Wyoming women by moving Esther back outside the Capitol where she belongs so that everyone who sees her would be reminded about Wyoming’s  contribution to women’s rights.

We are not the only people who would like to see the statue moved outside. Many have expressed the view to us that Esther should be visible to all at all times.  

The Capitol is lovingly referred to as “the People’s House.” State leaders should listen to and address the concerns of Wyoming people who treasure its rich history.

LET’S BRING ESTHER HOME.

(Note: Nancy Guthrie, a retired state district court judge, was Wyoming’s first female county attorney.  Mary B. Guthrie was the first woman to serve as Cheyenne City Attorney. Rosalind Routt Schliske is professor emeritus of mass media at Laramie County Community College, where she taught journalism for 40 years.   As members of the Cheyenne League of Women Voters, Mary and Rosalind co-wrote the play marking Wyoming’s 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage and performed it at the grand reopening of the Wyoming Capitol on July 10.)

Some question Hobart Morris, Chief Washakie statue move

in News/Community
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By Cowboy State Daily

Some Cheyenne residents are questioning a decision to remove a statue of the nation’s first female justice of the peace from in front of the newly refurbished Capitol.

The statue of Esther Hobart Morris, which stood in front of the Capitol for 60 years, has been moved to a space in the hallway between the Capitol and the Herschler Building.

The Capitol Oversight Committee, which has overseen the multi-year effort to renovate both the Capitol and adjacent Herschler Building, voted recently to permanently put the two statues in the hallway, which is to become a gallery and interpretive center in the future.

But longtime Cheyenne resident Mary Ostlund said Morris’ statue has become a fixture people expect to see when they visit the Capitol.

“I don’t know how people can think that she belongs inside,” she said. “She’s more visible and accessible where she is and she’s been there for 60 years. People are there all the time taking pictures of her and the (Capitol’s) golden dome. That’s what they remember about this complex, the golden dome and Esther.”

Cheyenne attorney Mike Rosenthal said Morris’ place in state history as a symbol of Wyoming being the first state to grant women the right to vote makes it important to leave her in front of the Capitol.

“Maybe Wyoming’s greatest achievement in history was granting women the right to vote,” he said. “And to bury Esther Hobart Morris … in the bowels of the Capitol is offensive.”

But Tony Ross, a former legislator who chairs the Oversight Committee, said the move was hoped to give Morris and Chief Washakie even more visibility.

Ross said the hallway will become part of an interpretive center that will feature static and digital displays about both individuals and the state.

“Actually, Esther and Chief Washakie are in a place of great importance,” he said. “We in no way ever thought that moving her to the (hallway) was in some way diminishing her importance. In fact, we believed it raised her prominence.”

Ross noted the State Museum recommended the statues be moved inside in the interests of preservation and said that throughout the discussions on the Capitol renovation, no one opposed moving the statues inside.

The State Building Commission, made up of the state’s top five elected officials, will now decide whether the statues will remain inside the Capitol.

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