Liz Byrd: Pioneering Stateswoman, Educator, and Advocate

Photograph of Elizabeth Byrd, ca. 1960, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Harriett Elizabeth Byrd Papers, Accession Number 10443, Box 3, Folder 6.

Photograph of Elizabeth Byrd, ca. 1960, Harriett Elizabeth Byrd Papers, Collection Number 10443, Box 3, Folder 6. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

This week, Wyoming had to say goodbye to one of its heroes: Elizabeth (Liz) Byrd passed away Tuesday at her home in Cheyenne.  Byrd was the first African-American woman to serve in the State Legislature.  It was due to her tireless efforts over almost a decade that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day/Wyoming Equality Day is celebrated in the state.  Byrd also worked to promote the interests of children and teachers in the state, which was what compelled Byrd to first run for office.  Politics was not her first career; she had been a teacher for many years before her election to the State House of Representatives in 1980; she later won a seat in the State Senate in 1988.  She worked in education for 37 years in all, an impressive career on its own, but also advocated for children and their educators in her political capacity as well.  Byrd lived a life that was full of milestones and will be greatly missed.

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Happy Holidays from the American Heritage Center!

The American Heritage Center will be closed from December 24th until January 1st.  We will reopen on January 2nd.  See you in the New Year!

Winter solitude in the Tetons showing a cabin covered in snow with the Teton Mountains in the background. Taken from the back: Snowbound in the Tetons. Fritiof Fryxell Papers, Collection #1638, Negative #22587. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center.

Click on the image to see it in its full glory! Winter solitude in the Tetons, showing a cabin covered in snow with the Teton Mountains in the background. Taken from the back: Snowbound in the Tetons. Fritiof Fryxell Papers, Collection #1638, Negative #22587. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center.

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AHC Receives Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund Grant to Digitize Women’s Political Collections

The American Heritage Center is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund for the 2015 calendar year.  The grant will fund the digitization, preservation, and online access of four collections from the theme “Wyoming Women in Politics and Leadership.”  As a part of the only university in the “Equality State,” the AHC is continuing a long tradition of collecting and making available material on women’s issues and political accomplishments—and indeed, we already have digitized the papers of Wyoming’s and the nation’s first elected woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, in conjunction with the Wyoming State Archives

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For this project, we are digitizing the League of Women Voters of Wyoming records, as well as the collections of Edith K. O. Clark, Sheila Arnold, and Harriett E. Byrd.

Edith K. O. Clark was a schoolteacher who became Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction, a position in which she served from 1915 to 1919.  She also served as Sheridan County school superintendent, volunteered with the YWCA in France following the First World War, and later retired and homesteaded in Johnson County until her death in 1936. Her daily entries and photographs detail her time as Superintendent in Cheyenne, and include pasted in newspaper clippings, drawings, photographs, and notes. The diaries continue with her volunteering after World War I, and her time as a homesteader.

Harriett Elizabeth Byrd was a public school teacher elected to the Wyoming State House in 1980, and became the first African American legislator in Wyoming since statehood as well as the first African American woman to ever serve in the Wyoming State Legislature. After serving eight years, she ran for and won election to the Wyoming State Senate in 1988, where she served four years. During her legislative career, Byrd was the prime sponsor of legislation to create Martin Luther King, Jr./Wyoming Equality Day.

Sheila Arnold was a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1978 to 1992.  While a State Legislator she was a member of the Joint Interim Mines, Minerals, Industrial Development Committee, Committee on Revenue, and the Committee on Rules and Procedures, the Governor’s Council on Disabilities, and the Governor’s Committee on Health Insurance.

The League of Women Voters of Wyoming records span the postwar years to the dawn of the millennium, and detail the organization’s ongoing advocacy and outreach to women in clarifying election issues, sponsoring voter registration drives and debates, and raising awareness of voter fairness issues such as apportionment, initiatives, referenda, and balloting.  Records from the local chapters include Laramie, Cheyenne, Casper, Teton County, and Yellowstone.

In recent years the AHC has dramatically expanded the reach of its unique holdings through the digitization and online hosting of collection materials. With generous support from the Cultural Trust Fund and private funding, the AHC now hosts over 111,000 digitized collection items totaling over 3,200 gigabytes of data, with material from over 110 of our most prominent collections, making the AHC one of the largest providers of digital cultural material in the state.

Two recent grants from the Cultural Trust fund have supported the digitization of the films of Adolph and Olaus Murie, noted naturalists, and the interviews of Wyoming pioneers and early state residents. This collection material, along with a wide variety of other documents, photographs, and films, are available on our digital collections website.

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Fall 2014 edition of “Heritage Highlights” hot off the presses!

The latest edition of Heritage Highlights shares a bit about what’s been happening at the American Heritage Center lately.  You’ll find some great information about the Immigration Symposium, the Klausner Fellow’s lecture, and a note from our director Mark Greene about the AHC’s day to day operations and how these fit into the University’s strategic planning process.

Read on!


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#AskAnArchivist Day is October 30th!

“What Is #AskAnArchivist Day?” You might be wondering exactly that!

Well, it’s an opportunity to:

  • Break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.
  • Talk directly to the public — via Twitter — about what we do, why it’s important and, of course, the interesting records with which we work.
  • Celebrate American Archives Month!
  • Hear directly from YOU about what you’re most interested in learning about from archives and archivists.


How Does It Work?

On October 30, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Contact the American Heritage Center @AHCnews!  If you have a question for another institution, you can browse a full listing of all the archives that are participating, too.

No question is too silly! No question too technical/practical/small!  Ask us how to store family photographs, or if there’s an archivist uniform, or if we all wear glasses and cardigans!  Inquire about our collections, or how they’re stored . . . let us know what you’d like to know more about!

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“I didn’t know how much I didn’t know: AHC perspectives from the immigration symposium

When I read that convoluted quote I gave to the Laramie Boomerang, I thought to myself, “Now why did they print that?  I sound like an idiot.”  But then I realized it is the only way to describe it.  The immigration symposium has me thinking about immigration issues from angles I’ve never considered before.  The event humanized the issues for me in a way I’ve never experienced, but also revealed the tremendous complexities.  I know I’m not alone in my impressions, so I set about this morning to poll my AHC colleagues who attended sections of the symposium.


Jose Antonio Vargas and former U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson share a laugh over lunch.

Details from the morning panel struck a chord with AHC Associate Director Rick Ewig and recalled to him that immigration is nothing new to Wyoming. During that panel, UW History Professor Phil Roberts spoke of the roles Wyoming U.S. Senators John B Kendrick (D – 1917-1933) and Francis E. Warren (R – 1890-1893, 1895-1929) had in encouraging immigrants to come to Wyoming for agricultural labor, especially in the sugar beets fields.  And Dr. Roberts reminded us that Europeans, Blacks, Asians and Hispanics comprised 40.5% of the total population in 1870; 29.6% in 1880; and 26.1% in 1890 at the time of Wyoming statehood. As of 2010, 3.2% of Wyoming residents were foreign-born.

Particularly moving to AHC Director Mark Greene was the personal testimony of José Rivas, Bertine Bahige, and Jose Antonio Vargas.  Mark noted that “all of them had different perspectives on the process and dilemma of being an ‘alien,’ documented or undocumented, in the U.S.”  Jose Antonio Vargas’ candid and engaging presentation manner impressed AHC Accounting Associate Meghan Monahan. “I liked his personal touch in that he took the time to research Wyoming statistics when it came to immigration, especially since he does so many talks around the country.”

Panelists for morning session

Panelists for the morning session of the symposium.

Arrangement and Description Head Claudia Thompson noticed that although U.S. Senator (Ret.) Alan K. Simpson made the point in his presentation that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts, speakers on the afternoon panel “asserted contradictory facts, each in perfect faith that their facts were right.” After the symposium, she concluded, “Many people have much to gain from reform, and reform is possible if everyone is willing to look for common ground and compromise. Without compromise, nothing can be changed. Senator Simpson said it would take another thirty years to find resolution…I don’t think we can wait another thirty years. The current situation isn’t fair to anyone.”

It was a great day of dialogue, and we hope the dialogue will continue.  Thanks to all of you who were part of it!

–Leslie Waggener, Simpson Institute

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From Storage to Stage: Using Archives to Research, Create, and Perform

Join us on October 14 for the Klausner Lecture!  This year’s Klausner Fellow is Jeanine Thompson and she’ll be talking about Marcel Marceau!


Posted in events, popular culture | Tagged , , | 1 Comment