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Female Firsts - April 24, 2015

Sculptors from all over the country entered models in a competition conducted by the Treasury Department, Procurement Division, to select a design for a new five-cent coin to be known as the "Jefferson Nickel." Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross, (right) Director of the Mint, and Edward Bruce, Chief of Treasury Dept. Procurement Division, Section of Painting and Sculpture, look over a few of the 390 models entered. A prize of $1,000 was awarded to the winner, 4/20/38. (Photo via Library of Congress)

Q: America’s first female governor grew up in Kansas. In 1925, Nellie Ross became the nation’s first woman governor when she was elected to lead the state of Wyoming. While she wasn’t born in Kansas, her family moved to the state when she was still in grade school. Name the north-central Kansas town where Nellie Ross graduated high school. 

A: Miltonvale, Kan. (in Cloud County)

The Franklin half dollar is a coin that was struck by the United States Mint ("Mint") from 1948 to 1963. Nellie Tayloe Ross (born Nellie Davis Tayloe) was born in 1876 in St. Joseph, Mo., When she was 7 years old, her family moved to Miltonvale in Cloud County, Kan. After she graduated from Miltonvale High School, her family moved to Omaha, Neb., where she became a teacher. While on a trip to Tennessee, she met an attorney, William Bradford Ross. The two later wed and moved to Cheyenne, Wyo., where he practiced law. William Ross became active in politics and was elected governor in 1922. He died less than two years into the job. The Democratic Party nominated his widow, Nellie Ross, to run for governor in a special election. Though she refused to campaign, she easily won the race. On Jan. 5, 1925, she became the first female governor in the history of the United States. 

As governor, she pushed for tax cuts, government assistance for poor farmers, banking reform, and laws protecting children, women workers, and miners. She also supported prohibition. Ross ran for re-election in 1926, but was narrowly defeated. She remained active in politics though and in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed her as the first female director of the U.S. Mint. She served five full terms before retiring in 1953. She died in 1977 at the age of 101. 

Fun Factoid: As Director of the U.S. Mint, Nellie Ross introduced the Franklin half dollar coin and began the process of making U.S. proof coin sets available for sale to the public.

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