Governor Lady: The Life and Times of Nellie Tayloe Ross

Governor Lady: The Life and Times of Nellie Tayloe Ross

Governor Lady: The Life and Times of Nellie Tayloe Ross

Governor Lady: The Life and Times of Nellie Tayloe Ross

Excerpt

A Century of Change for Women

"DEAR MISS Ross," wrote a Wyoming junior high school student on the celebration of Nellie Tayloe Ross's centenary birthday, "you must be kind of proud of yourself because you've done so much for women's lib and everything."

No doubt Nellie received this letter with her characteristic southern courtesy, but the truth is that she and her young admirer were living in different worlds. "I have no interest in women's lib," she said bluntly when asked about it in the early 1970s. "I've always thought candidates for public office should not be chosen on the basis of sex. Being a woman should not mitigate for or against someone," she told People Magazine the year that she turned 100. In truth, Nellie was supportive of the advancement of women, but she believed that she could best serve that cause by demonstrating that she was an effective public administrator without specifically drawing attention to the fact that she was a woman.

When Nellie died the following year at the age of 101, the New York Times obituary described her as "ever feminine, never a feminist; a woman in politics who had not lost her womanliness." Nellie's image as a dignified lady served her well in the male-dominated political world in which she made her career. Working-class women had always been present in the workforce, but when increasing numbers of upper- and middle-class women began to enter colleges and seek employment during the first decades of the twentieth century, many Americans became deeply concerned that women's emergence from the home would defeminize them. Their exposure to the "immoral" public sphere would render them coarse and mannish and make it difficult if not impossible for these women to lead "normal" lives as wives and mothers.

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