A Helen Warren doll stands among more than two dozen miniature versions of her Wyoming first lady counterparts, who followed her over the course of more than a century of Wyoming history.
A Wyoming doll maker molded her and the others from porcelain, painted the details of their faces and recreated Warren’s wavy locks atop her head and the hairstyles for the dolls. Seamstresses from around Wyoming recreated the gowns they wore to the governor inaugurations, including the the white silk dress with a bustle that Warren wore when her husband, Francis E. Warren, became Wyoming’s first governor. She was the final first lady of the Wyoming Territory and, from 1889-90, the first following statehood.
The “Wyoming’s First Wives” exhibit at the Historic Bishop Home in Casper features the doll collection on loan from the Wyoming State Museum through Sept. 7. The “Tribute to Wyoming’s First Ladies” collection features 30 dolls, one representing each Wyoming first lady through Carol Mead in their inaugural gowns.
Historic Bishop Home coordinator and research analyst Andrew Wayland researched each, including current first lady Jennie Gordon, for information panels on display at the historic home museum’s exhibit. He also created another exhibit on display there, “Wyoming Women Firsts,” about the 150th anniversary of Wyoming’s suffragette movement and Wyoming women who made history, including first female mayor, first legislator and first woman to vote. Nellie Tayloe Ross is represented in both displays, as a Wyoming first lady and as the first woman sworn in as a governor in the U.S.
The doll exhibit shares contributions first ladies made to Wyoming during their terms and lives. It describes how Warren, for example, helped promote Cheyenne during her term and was active in community and church efforts through her life. The exhibit tells of how they collectively worked ranches, taught, held political offices, hosted state officials and U.S. presidents, and volunteered through civic organizations, social clubs and churches.
“And that’s definitely one thing I’ve learned about Wyoming women, is that they don’t just sit by the sidelines,” Wayland said. “They are in it with everybody else, which is a really great thing.”
Wayland discovered through his research how the women were affected by the times they lived in. During the Great Depression, for example, they didn’t live in the governor’s mansion so the state could save money, he said. Wives like Lucy Clark helped others during the time of hardship, and many were in auxiliary service groups during war years, he said.
Little was written about some of them, he said.
“And being able to find things that really made them impactful was really important to me,” Wayland said. “I didn’t want to just talk about how they were somebody’s wife or that they just served their term.”
Some of the first ladies’ leadership made firsts for Wyoming and even the nation. Ross’ doll stands in a replica of the beaded gown she wore to begin her term as first lady in 1923. The exhibit tells how Ross was governor of Wyoming from 1925-27 and in 1933 became the first female director of the U.S. Mint.
The doll for Nancy Freudenthal, who was first lady from 2003-11, had to remain in Cheyenne for repair. The exhibit, however, list accomplishments of Freudenthal, who became Wyoming’s first female federal judge and sits on the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.
The stories of leadership include Louisa Carey, who was first lady from 1911-15 and advocated for women’s suffrage at a time when many women outside of Wyoming couldn’t vote.
Inabelle Lucas, first lady from 1924-25, owned and operated the Buffalo Bulletin with her husband, acting Gov. Frank Lucas, and was critical to the newspaper’s success, her story reads. She became the first female judge of a city election in Buffalo.
Lorna Simpson (1955-59) worked for the Cody Enterprise newspaper and was a musician who helped create the University of Wyoming pep song “Come on Wyoming!”
Jane Sullivan of Casper was first lady from 1987-95 and worked with community groups on projects including developing the Headstart Program, according to the information with her doll.
A group called the Capitol Women Volunteers spearheaded the first ladies dolls after seeing a similar project in Colorado, according to information from the Wyoming State Museum. Carol Green of Cheyenne created the molds and then painted their face and created their wigs in details down to beauty marks. Seamstresses from around the state created the dresses in the counties where the governors and their wives were residents.
The first 27 dolls were completed in a year during the 1990s, and the collection has been updated through Carol Mead. A doll is planned for current first lady Jennie Gordon. The collection was displayed at the Herschler Building from 1994 until 2002, according to the state museum.
Through the years
The Bishop Home exhibit of the dolls describes how the gowns reflected the women’s times and the styles of their day.
Ross’ gown featured beads that in the 1920s often covered dresses, according to the exhibit. The floor-length gown of Marie Smith’s 1939-43 term reflected wartime restrictions when fashion was “frozen” and featured little ornamentation, according to the description. Smith was involved in F.E. Warren Air Force Base during the war and hosted servicemen at their home, according to the description. Simpson in the 1950s wore a full skirt associated with the “New Look” fashion.
The doll of 1959-61 first lady Winifred Hickey — who also served as a state senator and in other offices — holds one of her opera-length gloves popular at the time. Details from head to toe include wedding bands, Mabel Rogers’ 1950s-era horn-rimmed glasses and green bows on Carol Mead’s shoes that match her dress.
The hairstyles also reflected the times, from hair arranged in buns or piled atop the head in the earlier years to bobs and a bouffant hairstyle like the one Jacqueline Kennedy wore while in the White House, according to the exhibit texts.
The Bishop Home’s exhibit about women’s suffrage explores how Wyoming led the way for states to adopt women’s voting rights and features several women who made firsts in the state, Wayland.
He hopes the exhibit will spark interest to learn more and that “people can take away the idea that Wyoming was not just founded by men but also that the women were right along with them.”
The exhibits tie together in a celebration of women through Wyoming’s history and their accomplishments and contributions to the state, he said. The dolls portray women with strong personalities who have dealt with issues that came up in a frontier state and worked to build and improve Wyoming, he said.
“These women had very strong personalities and dealt with (obstacles) the way that every woman probably would,” Wayland said, “being able to step up and take charge when they need to.”