Nellie Tayloe Ross (1876-1977)

Nellie Tayloe Ross was the first woman to serve as an American governor (Wyoming, 1925-1927), the first woman to direct the U.S. Mint (1933-1953), and a powerful influence on the Democratic Party for many years.

Nellie Tayloe was born in St. Joseph, Missouri on November 29, 1876 to James and Elizabeth Tayloe [1]. “Educated in both public and private schools” [2] she trained to be a teacher and taught kindergarten for several years. She then married William Ross in 1902, moved with him to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and “for two decades Nellie Ross led a rather traditional life as wife and mother” [3]. The couple had four children – James Ambrose Ross (1903-1928), George Tayloe Ross (1903-1991), Alfred Duff Ross (1905-1906), and Bradford Ross (1913-1997) [4].

William Ross was elected governor of Wyoming in 1922, but died in 1924 before completing his first term. The state’s Democratic Party nominated Nellie Ross to be the candidate for the next two-year term, and she won the election in November 1924 [5]. In 1926, Ross lost her bid for a second term, but her political career continued. She received 31 nominating votes to be the Democratic Party’s 1928 candidate for vice-president of the United States (she lost out to Joseph Robinson) and went on to be vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee [6].

In 1932, Ross campaigned for Franklin Roosevelt and, after his victory, was chosen to head the U.S. Mint. Her nomination was confirmed by the Senate on April 28, 1933 [7]. Ross was a vigorous supporter of FDR and a harsh critic of his opponents. In 1932, she said of Herbert Hoover, “Never have we had a president more cold to the suffering of the masses. He has agreed to billions for the banks and railroads, but proposals for the relief of the people have been met by cries of ‘dole’ and ‘pork barrel’” [8]. In 1936, Ross declared that Alf Landon lacked the necessary experience to be president [9]. In 1940, she said that Wendell Wilkie possessed a “dismal lack of knowledge of public questions and a woeful lack of dignity” [10]. Ross added that big businessmen like J.P. Morgan, Jr. and the DuPonts were against FDR because they were “afraid he will make them pay bigger income taxes” [11].

Ross was an ardent supporter of New Deal policies and accomplishments, once stating: “The present administration has encouraged women to share in shaping the conditions under which we live. After all, we represent one-half of the population, but never before the present time have we been given equal representation in the social, economic and political affairs of the country. Scores of women have been given responsible positions by the New Deal, where before only a handful were given the opportunity of serving their country in responsible positions” [12].

Ross is remembered for leading the U.S. Mint through the challenging times of the 1930s and 40s. Some of her accomplishments were bringing back collectible proof sets, minting steel pennies in order to preserve other precious metals during World War II, being the driving force behind the Benjamin Franklin silver half-dollar (1948-1963), and making many administrative improvements at the Mint [13]. She ran the Mint longer than any other director in US history.

Born during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, Nellie Tayloe Ross survived to see the election of Jimmy Carter; she died on December 19, 1977, at the age of 101 [14].  

SOURCES

(1) See, e.g., “Nellie Tayloe Ross,” Find A Grave (accessed November 29, 2020).  (2) “Gov. Nellie Tayloe Ross,” National Governors Association (accessed November 29, 2020).  (3) “First Woman Governor Celebrates 101 Years,” The Daily Courier (Connellsville, Pennsylvania), December 7, 1977, p. 5.  (4) See, e.g., “Son Killed as Car Crashes Off Road,” The Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York), December 29, 1928, p. 51; “George Ross, W&M Benefactor,” Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), September 18, 1991 (accessed November 29, 2020); “Alfred Duff Ross,” Find A Grave (accessed November 29, 2020); and “Energy Lawyer Bradford Ross Dies At Age 84,” Washington Post, February 12, 1997 (accessed November 29, 2020).  (5) “State Results Stand Unchanged,” Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming), November 6, 1924, p. 1.  (6) See, e.g., “Family remembers Nellie Tayloe Ross,” Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming), June 11, 2005 (accessed November 29, 2020), and “Nellie Tayloe Ross Becomes Leader of Democratic Women in Rapid Rise,” The Independent-Record, August 12, 1928, p. 15.  (7) “Senate Approves Mrs. Nellie Ross As Mint Director,” Associated Press, April 29, 1933.  (8) “Former Wyoming Governor Terms Dry Law Failure,” Associated Press, in The Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin), October 18, 1932, p. 10.  (9) “Demo Campaign to New Peak at Rally Addressed by Ross,” The Iola Register, October 17, 1936, p. 1.  (10) “Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross Predicts Landslide Victory for Roosevelt,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), October 20, 1940, p. 5.  (11) See note9.  (12) “Speaker Praises New Deal Result,” Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, Michigan), October 12, 1940, p. 7.  (13) See, e.g., “Six Women Who Have Led the United States Mint,” United States Mint (accessed November 29, 2020), and “The Franklin Half Dollar: Coin Collecting’s Philadelphia Story,” Littleton Coin Company (accessed November 29, 2020).  (14) “The Ambition of Nellie Tayloe Ross,” The Wyoming State Historical Society (accessed November 29, 2020).

New Deal Maps

Check out our latest map and guide to the work of the New Deal in Washington, D.C. It includes 500 New Deal sites in the District alone, highlighting 34 notable sites, and includes an inset map of the area around the National Mall which can be used for self-guided walking tours.

Take a look at our previous guides, equally comprehensive, covering key New Deal sites in San Francisco and New York City.