Governor Lady is the fascinating story of one of the most famous political women of her generation. Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected governor of Wyoming in 1924—just four years after American women won the vote—and she went on to be nominated for U.S. vice president in 1928, named vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee the same year, and appointed the first female director of the Mint in 1932. Ross launched her career when her husband, William Bradford Ross, the preceding governor, died, leaving her widowed with four sons and no means of supporting them. She was an ironic choice to be such a pioneer in women’s rights, since she claimed her entire life that she had no interest in feminism. Nevertheless, she believed in equal opportunity and advancement in merit irrespective of gender—core feminist values. The dichotomy between Ross’s career and life choices, and her stated priorities of wife and mother, is a critical contradiction, making her an intriguing woman.
Exhaustively researched and powerfully written, Governor Lady chronicles the challenges and barriers that a woman with no job experience, higher education, or training faced on the way to becoming a confident and effective public administrator. In addition to the discrimination and resentment she faced from some of her male associates, she also aroused the enmity of Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she displaced at the DNC.
Born exactly one hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Ross lived to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, so her long and remarkable life precisely spanned the second U.S. century. She was reared in the Victorian era, when upper- and middle-class women were expected to be domestic, decorative, and submissive, but she died as the women’s movement was creating a multitude of opportunities for young women of the 1970s. Nellie’s story will be of great interest to anyone curious about women’s history and biography. The contemporary American career woman will especially identify with Ross’s struggle to balance her career, family, and active personal life.