#lookback: Willa W. Corbitt: Riverton’s First Female Mayor
A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are looking back at Riverton’s first female mayor. Willa W. Corbitt began her first of four two-year terms after winning a surprise election in 1955. The driving issue behind Mrs. Corbitt’s victory: Paving the streets. At the time, very few of Riverton’s streets had pavement of any kind. The incumbent mayor, Esco H. Steffy favored a low-cost plan that would skip cement curbs, gutters, and sidewalks, and put a single-lane width strip of pavement down the center of most of Riverton’s streets. Corbitt, a retired RHS math teacher, favored a more comprehensive approach of installing curbs, gutters, and sidewalks, and paving the whole roadway. Her plans for the town didn’t just include pavement. She oversaw dramatic improvements to the airport, schools, and the towns’ water system.
A woman in Corbitt’s position was rare enough that a 1960 Saturday Evening Post story opens with “Riverton, Wyoming has a lady mayor….” Her election and work as mayor was unique, but it matched the town over which she presided. Her tenure as mayor occurred during one of Riverton’s most transformative time periods. Just over two years before she took office, uranium was discovered in the nearby Gas Hills. The uranium industry brought thousands of new people into the town, and Corbitt’s foresight allowed many of those people to enjoy a more comfortable life in the rapidly expanding town. More importantly, that industry brought money into the town’s coffers, which facilitated the town’s growth, and the mayor’s ambitious projects.
Instead of seeking a fifth term in 1963, the 76 year old mayor pursued other political ambitions, and was elected in 1964 to represent Fremont County in in the Wyoming Senate. She served one term before retiring from public office. She spent the rest of her life living in the community that she was instrumental in building. She ultimately succumbed to the effects of a fall at age 86, and is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery.
Next up for the Fremont County Museums
April 11, 7pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander in 1919”
Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series
April 13, 2pm at the Riverton Museum, “Paint a Bird House”
Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series
April 13, 10am at the Pioneer Museum, “Noble Hotel Walking Tour”
Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series
The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.