Wyoming proudly became the first and only state to have a fully trained women’s militia in the late nineteenth century. While never officially mustered into service, Companies K and H of the Girl Guards — composed primarily of young women in their teens — were “the pride of Cheyenne,” according to the April 20, 1890 edition of Cheyenne Daily Sun. They were masters of military drill, training in the manual of arms and conducting marching movements and skirmish drills. Their proficiency was lauded in newspapers from Wyoming to other states, including Nebraska, Wisconsin, California, Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and even Quebec, Canada. Wherever they performed, praises of their performance soon followed, often regarding the Girl Guards as better at drill than seasoned regular soldiers.
In Wyoming, the women’s militia traced its history back to “broom brigades.” These groups of women organized to form military drills and marches holding brooms instead of rifles, typically as part of fundraising events for their local churches. The first such event in Wyoming occurred on June 22, 1883, at Library Hall in Cheyenne for the Strawberry Festival to raise money for furnishing the Congregational Church. On Oct. 22, 1889, six years later, Company K of the Girl Guards debuted at Keefe Hall in Cheyenne for the Merchant Festival. Commanded by Civil War veteran Frank Stitzer, the young women of Company K performed their drills so well that infantrymen in attendance from Fort D.A. Russell commented that “such drilling as this company did is seldom seen anywhere.”
Company K performed several more times throughout the year at events such as Grand Army of the Republic banquets and even made a trip down to Greeley, Colorado, to perform. The Daily Sun reported that the Girl Guards won “rounds of applause and extravagant encomiums from the Greeley people.” Earning fame and applause throughout much of Wyoming, the Girl Guards added another unit, Company H, on April 4, 1890. Their debut appearance would also be at Keefe Hall on May 15, 1890, where they performed an hour-long drill for Rev. Robert Field, the stand-in for the commander in chief of the state militia Gov. Francis E. Warren.
Perhaps their most notable appearance came in July of 1890 after President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation turning Wyoming from a territory into a state. The circular advertising the Statehood Parade on July 23 mentioned the Girl Guards as one of the main features to see, regarding them as “the only thoroughly trained and fully equipped companies of Girl Guards in the world.” Companies K and H would march in the second division of the parade, and once at the Capitol building, Company K stood behind the speaker’s platform while Gov. Warren received the statehood flag.
After an invocation by Reverend J.Y. Cowhick, Theresa Jenkins took the stage. In her speech, she mentioned the young women’s militia of Wyoming, saying, “And this young girl guard of honor, picked from the flowers of the state, who today have walked through the dusty streets that they might be beside this beloved flag, may well emulate these examples, preferring ever to sacrifice personal comfort to duty and pride to patriotism.”
Companies H and K of the Wyoming women’s militia continue to be an inspiring and proud part of the Wyoming National Guard’s early history. Company K disbanded after the statehood parade, and Company H would continue to drill at events until they disbanded on Oct. 1 of the same year. While short-lived, the Girl Guards of Wyoming represented the territory and state remarkably in its early days. News of the Girl Guard’s professionalism and talent reached across the nation and into Canada.