Buffalo Bill Cody, Champion of Women
CODY, Wyo., October 12, 2018 – “If a woman can do the same work that a man can do and do it just as well, she should have the same pay.” Those words were uttered 150 years ago by Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, showman, scout, hunter and tourism visionary.
To many in the West – and all over the world – they were shocking words. When Cody said them, women in the United States and its territories couldn’t vote, own property or control their own earnings. Formal education was largely discouraged, and respectable women in the United States were expected to marry, produce children and run a household. That was pretty much it.
Just one year later, in 1869, the Territory of Wyoming became the first place in the country to grant women the right to vote. One by one, states followed Wyoming’s lead, but it would be another 51 years – three years after Buffalo Bill Cody’s death – before the 19th Amendment was passed, granting all women the right to vote. Cody would have been pleased.
“Though he was certainly a tough frontiersman oozing with masculinity and with a gift for swagger, he was also a reasonable, thoughtful, pragmatic man not prone to rhetoric,” said Claudia Wade, director of the Park County Travel Council, the marketing arm for the northwestern Wyoming region that includes Cody, the town Buffalo Bill founded. “He didn’t say women should be paid the same as men for the headlines. He said it because it’s what he believed, and his fair-mindedness was reflected in his employment practices and in the wages he paid.”
The female employees of the Wild West Show – and there were many, including stars like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane as well as trick sidesaddle riders, sharpshooters, actors and support staff – were paid the same as their male counterparts. Female employees of later ventures, such as Agnes Chamberlin, editor of the newspaper he founded, the Cody Enterprise, were also treated equally.
Historians believe that much of his progressive thinking about women’s rights was due to the influence of his mother Mary Ann, who was widowed when he was 11 and died when he was 18. While encouraging self-sufficiency – William went to work quickly to help support his mother and sisters – she also preached fairness. Teenage recklessness perhaps led him to join the Jayhawkers, a violent, militant gang that sought out fights with pro-slavery groups. Mary Ann forced him to leave the thuggish group, and a short time later, many of his one-time pals were killed in a raid.
Not surprisingly, Cody was also an advocate for fair treatment of American Indians and other ethnic and racial groups.
Given the thinking of its founder, the town of Cody has been shaped by many strong women since it was incorporated in 1896. Agnes Chamberlin went on to become owner and proprietress of the Chamberlin Inn, now a centrally located boutique hotel. Novelist and community leader Caroline Lockhart organized and presided over the Cody Stampede Rodeo, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019. And philanthropist Nancy-Carroll Draper promoted the establishment of the Draper Natural History Museum, one of five museums that comprise the renowned Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Nicknamed “The Equality State,” the Wyoming Tourism Office is planning a line-up of events and celebrations next year to mark the anniversary of Wyoming women’s suffrage including women-only trips, podcasts, photo exhibitions and more.
Home of the Great American Adventure, Cody Yellowstone is comprised of the northwestern Wyoming towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park. The region is known for rodeos, authentic guest and dude ranches, world-class museums and recreational adventures that reflect the adventurous spirit of the visionaries and explorers who brought the remote region to the world’s attention.
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Mesereau Travel Public Relations