The Year of the Women : 1920
Petticoat Government In the Town of Jackson

by Ron Diener - April, 1996

For weeks after the municipal election of 1920, the local Jackson Hole Courier reprinted articles that appeared in newspapers throughout the United States, including New York, Boston, Oakland, Cheyenne, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City. Women's suffrage as a feature of Wyoming's statehood had brought about considerable political and philosophical discussion and debate. The Town of Jackson's ``Petticoat Government'' brought the highest praise and the foulest ridicule on the isolated mountain settlement.

The election was held on May 11, 1920, and the final count was certified with the swearing in of the officeholders on June 8 at a regular Town Council meeting. The mayor and four council members, all five of them women, were not, however, simple domestics. Both as individuals and with their husbands they assumed positions of civil leaders, movers and shakers, citizens with minds of their own and mouths to express themselves articulately.

For mayor, Grace Miller got 56 votes. Her opponent, Fred Lovejoy, received 28.

For two-year council positions the two top vote-getters won. The final counts were: Rose Crabtree, 50; Mae Deloney, 49; William Mercill, 34; Henry Crabtree, 31.

Likewise, the one-year council positions also wemt to the two top vote-getters. The tallies were: Faustina Haight, 54; Genevieve Van Vleck, 53; Maurice Williams, 31; T. H. Baxter, 28.

Thus, the election was not even close. It was a landslide for the women candidates.

Grace Green of Ottawa, Illinois, became the wife of Robert Miller in 1893. The famous Miller Home in the National Elk Refuge was theirs. The Millers were not only an astute business family; they were also civic benefactors on a notable scale.

In 1900 Robert Miller built the luxurious log cabin on his homestead. Twelve years later, he sold his 2,000 acre ranch and cabin to the federal government as the centerpiece for the National Elk Refuge. In 1901 and 1902, together with the Simpsons, Robert and Grace Miller platted the original town. A look at the original drawings shows conclusively that the drafting effort was hers, not his. Robert Miller was the founder and first president of Jackson State Bank, with assets in 1920 of approximately $230,000, operating ``on a firm financial basis.'' He was the major agent of the Snake River Land Company of the Rockefell- ers as they assembled the many parcels of land that would eventually be turned over to the National Park Service to expand Grand Teton National Park. Later he testified against the proposal to increase Grand Teton National Park in this manner.

The Millers, wife and husband, were known as civic boosters and benefactors. They deeded over to the Town the property that came to be used for the elementary and grade schools. On his death, the schools closed to allow the children of the town to follow Robert's casket to his final resting place. The marriage produced but one child, who died in infancy. But the tragic loss to the couple resulted in their adopting the whole town's children.

As mayor, Grace Miller saw to important affairs of the Town of Jackson that had simply been allowed to lapse through inaction--such as securing title to the town cemetery, programmatic efforts to fix the streets and roads of the town, a more orderly financing of town business.

Rose Crabtree's election to a two-year term on the Town Council got special attention, because she out-polled her husband, Henry, in the process. And not by a whisker, either: 50 to 31. Furthermore, Henry Crabtree was the sitting mayor at the time of the election.

When ``Ma'' Reed left Jackson on October 5, 1917 and asked Rose and Henry Crabtree to look after things for her; little did the Crabtrees anticipate that they would thereafter become the owner- operators of a hotel. Known for the fine table she could spread, known for the comfort and hospitality of their hostelry, known for their generosity to those down on their luck, and known for surviving and thriving in good times and bad, the Crabtrees had only scoundrels and varlets as enemies: the good townsfolk loved them. The literature of the day shows that the large round table at the Crabtree Hotel was the favorite spot for dignitaries and visitors to share their stories.

They were a roll-up-the-sleeves and get-the-job-done sort of folks, the Crabtrees were. Henry's trade was carpentry and woodworking. For their entire adult lives, they put forth to people the works of their hands, and so it was that they thrived. Small wonder, then, that the townsfolk found it easy to cast their votes for Rose, not so much as the competitor with Henry, but as his equal.


Faustina Forrester moved to Jackson from Iowa, fresh out of college, ready to assume duties as a school marm. She taught at the Frank Woods School, the Kelly School, the Ditch School and at other schools in Zenith and Jackson, beginning in 1902.

Jackson Hole was no place for a life-long, committed school marm, what with the shortage of marriageable women. She married Dan Haight and became a homesteader's wife. Her three sons and daughter-- Don, Duke, Donald and Donna--enjoyed young lives of learning in an extraordinary home.

Their mother was not only college educated, but also highly respected for her opinions on all manner of topics. Many friends and former students came back to her time after time for advice. The chance to serve on the Town Council she siezed as another opportunity to give of herself.

In 1906 Roy Van Vleck and his brother Frank moved to Jackson after a succession of other business ventures, some successful and some not. They opened a store, the Jackson Hole Mercantile, and lived in the back room, taking their meals at Reed's, then Crabtree's, hotel. Roy brought Genevieve Lawton from Michigan to become his wife in 1911. Roy and Genevieve had two daughters.

Her regular duties with her family and with the store were always a source of joy to Genevieve. May 9 to May 12, 1920, were only four days in her life--but what days. In her daily journal she wrote:

May [1920]
9, Sun - planted sweet peas
10, Mon - Roy painted kitchen
11, Tues - Village election.... men furious
12, Wed - Roy painted bathroom and pantry

Her life was surrounded with so much business and busy-ness. She occupied herself constantly with organizations and meetings. She seemed to be more in tune with the world when she was in the thick of things --not observing from the sidelines, not coaching others--thoroughly active in all manner of social and business and political life. When the opportunity came to serve the Town of Jackson in public office, she apparently did not hesitate long enough to become concerned or worried about what-ifs.

These five elected officials were not the only women in office this famous ``Petticoat Government'' year of 1920. There were also Edna Huff, wife of Charles Huff, health officer; Marta Winger, Richard Winger's wife, as clerk; and Viola [Mrs. Otto] Lunbeck as treasurer. But the most delightful and comic of all was the town marshal, Pearl Williams, twenty-two years old, petite, and ready to parry with sword or pen.

When interviewed, Pearl Williams exaggerated her physical prowess, her shooting skills, her undefeated fist-fighting record, her stamina and resilience riding the desert wastes--whatever it took to take in and take on the newspapermen. Only the locals of Jackson Hole, however, could see how well she succeeded in duping the reporters, because only the Jackson Holers knew her slight frame, her charm, her ability to move on and against people without giving them opportunity to resist or to protest.

Wyoming had known women's suffrage for decades, but only Jackson Hole showed Wyomingites how to practice it. And these strong and capable ladies of the town set, in their term of office, outstanding records of service and achievement.

Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum P. O. Box 1005--Jackson, Wyoming 83001-1005--(307/733-9605)

This article was written by Ronald E. Diener historian and story-teller.

Reflections on Wyoming
Copyright 1996, Ronald E. Diener
All rights reserved.