Hebard’s impact on Wyo., women’s history on display at local museum

A display about Grace Raymond Hebard will continue at the Uinta County Museum through March. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment for the month of March, the Uinta County Museum is featuring a display on Grace Raymond Hebard has been noted as a prominent Wyoming historian, suffragist, pioneering scholar, prolific writer, political economist and University of Wyoming educator.  

Hebard served as secretary on the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees, established the university’s first library, and served as a professor of politics and history for 28 years. She also became the first woman admitted to the Wyoming State Bar Association, was admitted to practice before the Wyoming Supreme Court and appointed by her peers as vice president of the National Society of Women Lawyers.

Born in Clinton, Iowa, on July 2, 1861, Hebard suffered chronically ill health as a child so she was homeschooled by her mother.  Later, the family moved to Iowa City, where her father was a territorial legislator and a minister.  

Grace attended the University of Iowa and received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1882.  She was a member of the Pi Beta Phi Women’s Fraternity.  According to documents at the University of Iowa Library, she became the first woman to graduate from the civil engineering department of the University. After graduation, Hebard came west with her family and was hired to work for the United States Surveyor General’s office in Cheyenne, surveying and mapping Wyoming Territory.  

Realizing that the job would not last indefinitely, she went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1885 and later her Ph.D. in political science from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1893.

Hebard was appointed to the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees in 1891. She moved to Laramie and began her 45-year association with the school. Hebard soon secured a paid position as the board’s secretary. After earning her Ph.D., she was appointed librarian for the university and continued to serve on the Board of Trustees.

It was often said of Hebard that she ruled the university and that no employee or professor could hold a job there without her approval. She was a strong-willed woman who gained significant power at a new institution run by men.  

In 1906, Hebard was appointed associate professor of political economy and later was named the head of the Department of Political Economy and Sociology.

Hebard was a long-time suffragette, and much of her writing and published books dealt with her perception of strong women in the West. Two of her most famous works were on Sacajawea and Esther Hobart Morris. In spite of the later controversy over what some historians saw as her romantic view of these women and her lack of facts and supporting documents, her books on Washakie, Sacajawea, the Bozeman Trail and Oglala Sioux war leader Red Cloud are still in print almost 80 years after her death.

As a dedicated suffragette, Hebard petitioned the Wyoming Constitutional Convention to adopt a suffrage clause in advance of Wyoming entering the Union on July 10, 1890. National suffragists asked Hebard to participate in the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and she was among the select few to speak at the 1920 suffragist celebration in Chicago following passage of the 19th Amendment. She was a longtime friend and associate of Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and famous suffragette.

Included in all of Hebard’s many achievements and causes was her work as a founder of the Wyoming Oregon Trail Commission, her participation in the Wyoming Historical Association, and her involvement in the state chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she helped to erect and dedicate historic markers at sites throughout Wyoming.

Hebard was also a dedicated activist for the naturalization and Americanization of immigrants. She took a leadership role in organizing a statewide program with subjects she believed should be taught and tested in schools, courts and individuals teaching citizenship courses, including the U.S. Constitution and early U.S. history.

She also worked hard toward the adoption of child labor laws to keep children in school and to prevent abuse of children in the workplace.

Hebard retired from teaching in 1931, but continued with her historical research and writing.  She died in 1936 at the age of 75. The University of Wyoming held a memorial in her honor with many famous politicians, state historians, former students, and Carrie Chapman Catt giving tributes and eulogies.  

Hebard’s accomplishments were substantial and extraordinary for a woman at the turn of the century. Her talent and ambition made her a pioneer for women’s rights in the West.

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