Region 8 Building Named to Honor Historic Pioneer
by Rich Stebbins
A crowd of nearly 60 people gathered on a sunny, brisk afternoon in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to honor a pioneer that made her mark on the history of this country.
Louisa Swain was the first woman to vote in the United States and the federal building in downtown Cheyenne was renamed in her honor during a ceremony on October 27.
David Brackenrich, Community Business Center Manager for the Wyoming Field Office, served as the master of ceremonies for the event that included speakers Senator Cynthia Lummis, Mary Mountain, Executive President of the Louisa Swain Foundation, and Leigh Ann Bunetta, Regional Counsel for GSA Region 8. Also attending was Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins, and representatives from the Cheyenne League of Women Voters who dressed in attire from the 1920s and are known as “Suffragettes.”
“Louisa Swain was specifically chosen to cast that first vote because she was considered an upstanding woman,” said Lummis. “It is only fitting that this building be dedicated to honor Wyoming and its first woman voter.”
Lummis sponsored the bill that eventually was signed into law by President Biden to officially designate the federal office building as the new Louisa Swain Federal Office Building.
Swain grew up in Virginia. Later, after she married her husband, Scott, they eventually settled in the city of Laramie, then part of the Wyoming territory, around 1869. On September 6, 1870, Swain cast the historic vote some 20 years prior to Wyoming becoming a state and 50 years prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote everywhere in the U.S.
Ironically, Wyoming was initially asked to take away a woman’s right to vote to be admitted to the union but it refused to give up that right. Most people call Wyoming the Cowboy State but the official nickname is the Equality State for its support of equal rights.
A statement from Senator John Barrasso, a co-sponsor of the bill, was read to the crowd which stated “She [Swain] changed American history and paved the way for women, not only in Wyoming, but all over the nation. The Equality State is proud to be home to strong female leaders who continue to shape our state and country. Their courage, leadership, and dedication will be remembered for generations to come.”
The newly named Louisa Swain Federal Office Building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is the first building in the Region 8 footprint to be named for a woman.
“This building will serve as a reminder of the strong leadership of women throughout the course of our country's history, and especially in Wyoming,” said Bunetta. “It is an encouragement that everyone can make an impact or be a catalyst for change using the power and strength of our diversity of talents to support this great nation.”
Swain died in 1880 and is buried in a Quaker cemetery near Baltimore, Maryland. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Benjamin Cardin, both from Maryland, co-sponsored the bill with Lummis.
The Louisa Swain Foundation in Laramie continues to tell her story as well as the significance and history of the first woman to vote in their museum.