A board sidewalk ran through Saratoga in the early 1890s. Like many burgeoning frontier towns, a general store, saloons and hotels had sprouted up, along with a livery stable, blacksmith shop, dressmaker and dairy. The southern Wyoming town could even boast of a jewelry store, a cigar factory, a Chinese laundry and a confectioner.
Some businesses operated in wooden or log buildings, others in tents or personal homes. Two brick yards and a sawmill ran nearby, and soon a few brick buildings were constructed. Ranchers and farmers were scattered throughout the Platte Valley and before the end of the decade, gold and copper miners would arrive.
In a wood-frame building at 113 E. Bridge St., two women hurried to set letter blocks, checking to make sure they had spelled the words correctly and used the proper punctuation. Then they inked the letters and pressed sheets of newsprint against them, bringing to life the stories they had written for the weekly edition of the Platte Valley Lyre.
Gertrude Huntington, 24, edited the newspaper, and her sister Laura, 22, was the business manager. The Huntingtons purchased the Platte Valley Lyre just a few months before Wyoming achieved statehood in July 1890, thus becoming the Equality State’s first women newspaper owners.
“The ‘Lyre girls’ as we were known, edited the paper, doing all the type setting by hand for there were no machines in those early days,” Laura Huntington recalled in a 1952 article published in the Rawlins Daily Times.
The women began a trend that continues to this day. Of the nine dailies published in the state, four have women editors and three are published by women, according to the Wyoming Press Association membership directory. Many of them employ women advertising directors and some have women business managers.
“Women have always played a big role in Wyoming newspapers, Press Association Director Jim Angell said, adding that their contributions are perhaps an indication of the “fierce independence” of the people of the state.
While the Huntington sisters were the first women in Wyoming to own and edit a newspaper, this was not an entirely unusual circumstance in the West. Historian Sherilyn Cox Bennion in her 1990 book “Equal to the Occasion: Women Editors of the Nineteenth-Century West” counted almost 300 women who edited 250 publications in the 11 western states between the years of 1854-1899.
According to Bennion’s research, four women worked as editors in Wyoming during the 1890s. In addition to the Huntingtons, there was Edith Chappell of the Buffalo Bulletin in 1897, Mary Parmelee at the same weekly in 1899 and Cora Preston of the Wind River Mountaineer in 1899.
The Lyre was born in 1888 and was the first newspaper to serve residents in the Saratoga area. The Huntington sisters took over two years later.
On July 10 of that year, when Wyoming became a state, the sisters published a brief news item about the statehood bill, but gave more space to the report of the recent “glorious” Fourth of July celebration, which included a fireworks display on the North Platte River and a strawberry ice cream social and dance.
Competition in the small southern Wyoming town sprouted up almost immediately. In 1891, George Canis began publishing a rival newspaper, the Saratoga Sun. He intended for it to be a daily, but after one issue, switched to producing weekly editions because he believed the area was too “docile” for daily publications.
The Huntington sisters “had lots of fun and fully enjoyed their business venture and also their rival, the Saratoga Sun, owned then by J.F. Crawford,” Laura explained. Crawford purchased the Sun from Canis in 1891.
The competition wasn’t always polite.
“At one time when the Lyre appeared with a new dress (change in type) Editor Crawford wisely announced that ‘the paper was changed in appearance as a tramp fresh washed,’” Laura wrote. “This was too much for the Lyre girls.”
Frequent exchanges occurred between two Sun correspondents with the pen names of Professor and Observer and the Lyre’s creation, Mrs. Annie Bush. Laura remembered that when Crawford explained that he was a descendant of British nobility, “our friend Mrs. Bush appeared in the Lyre and promptly gave him another sendoff and told him she was ‘looking up his pedigree, but had not found any lord yet.’”
Gertrude and Laura were the oldest of the nine children of the Rev. R.E.G. Huntington, D.D., a Civil War veteran who had gained newspaper experience prior to his marriage and his ministerial career. The Huntingtons came to Rawlins in 1886 and a couple of years later, the Rev. Huntington, who had been rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Rawlins, became Saratoga’s first Episcopal minister. In 1902, the Huntingtons sold the Lyre to W.B. Wiley, who renamed it the Saratoga State Record.
In the 1952 Rawlins Daily Times article, Laura recalled how the the Lyre had been both financially successful and a fun enterprise, remarking on the many “comic valentines picturing everything from pretty girls to old maids looking for a man” that she and Gertrude had received each year. They decorated the Lyre office with the cards.
“Saratoga has become a city, but will always be remembered for the good times in the old days,” she wrote.