WOMEN TO KNOW IN WYOMING: Historian on a Mission to Debunk Cowboy State’s History

Kylie McCormick is in the business of researching, restoring and telling remarkable stories

Kylie McCormick speaks at the August 2021 unveiling of the Pomeroy Marker in front of the home of Esther Morris in Cheyenne. Morris was the first female justice of the peace in the U.S. when she began her term in South Pass in February 1870. (Courtesy photo from Kylie McCormick)

By Sarah DiMuro

Special to the Wyoming Truth

This story has been updated for clarity on July 19, 2023 as of 12:15 p.m. MT.

Kylie McCormick lives by the fundamental credo of her Jewish roots: Tikkun Olam. Translated from Hebrew, it means to focus on using the unique gifts we are given to help make the world a better place.

An award-winning public historian, McCormick, 32, has leveraged her passion for history to update and re-educate Wyoming communities about some of the state’s female trailblazers.

In 2019, McCormick established KLM Wyoming Historian and began offering public presentations on notable events in state history, such as “The Wyoming State Flag and the Women Who Made it Fly” and “Fifty-One Years of Freedom: Wyoming’s Suffrage Story from 1869-1920,” at local museums, libraries and city venues statewide. In 2021, she received the Homsher Research Grant from the Wyoming State Historical Society for her work on women’s suffrage.

Currently, McCormick is preparing to deliver her state flag presentation at the Fremont County Pioneer Museum in Lander on July 20. Then she heads to the Oregon-California Trails Association’s annual conference to speak on the monuments at the Wyoming-Nebraska border.

“When I told people that I was going to college to study history, many people warned me I wouldn’t be able to find work in my field,” McCormick said. “I could never have pictured my career and how it looks today. . .  As my great grandpa McCormick used to say, ‘You find a hobby you are interested in, advance your interest and you advance yourself.’” 

History buff from the start

McCormick doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t fascinated with history. Her mother, Ronna, was a stay-at-home-mom, while her father, Keith, worked on an oil rig for Baker Hughes in Alaska, where his schedule was three weeks on and then three weeks off. For six months every year, McCormick and her older sister, Kelsey, had two full-time parents who took advantage of that schedule by pulling them out of school for trips to museums, hiking adventures or camping throughout Wyoming.

McCormick studied American history and creative writing at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. In 2016, after earning a master’s degree in history from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, she accepted a substitute teaching job in the Natrona County School District and started to use her own personal history in her public life. 

Kylie McCormick delivers a presentation in March 2023 about the Wyoming state flag for the Sheridan Community Land Trust. (Courtesy photo from Kylie McCormick) 

McCormick was proud to be raised in Conservative Judaism and mostly embraces that movement of Judaism today. “We lit Shabbat candles, but not as regularly as I do now, and had Shabbat dinner when we were able,” she said. “I never went to school on Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year] or Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement].”

Still, McCormick became discreet about disclosing her faith after her family’s Casper home was vandalized overnight when she was in the sixth grade. The vandals left a death threat on the stairs leading up to the house, along with an incorrectly drawn swastika. The sidewalk and areas surrounding her home were also defaced with antisemitic graffiti. Her mother wanted to wash them away before McCormick and her sister woke up, but did not try to do so because she knew she needed to file a police report.  

“I do not remember having any nightmares, but I do remember feeling very angry,” McCormick said, noting that her father enrolled she and her sister in self-defense classes.

When McCormick started teaching, she didn’t reveal she’s Jewish. But as students asked questions during lessons about the Holocaust, she knew she needed to help them understand the events more fully.

McCormick developed a Holocaust lecture, presented it to ninth graders and marveled at its impact on the class.

“They didn’t just learn about a historic event, they walked out of the classroom with tools to be better citizens,” McCormick said. “I frame the Holocaust with [historian] Doris Bergen’s metaphor of a house burning down and focus on ‘dry timber,’ which is to say that my focus is on the cultural landscape that made it possible for the Holocaust to happen.”

McCormick’s presentation generated such a positive response from her students that she devised a plan to combine her passion for history with her public speaking talent—albeit outside the classroom.

Three years after becoming a substitute teacher, McCormick left her job and launched KLM Wyoming Historian. Today, she conducts 15 seminars annually, attracting audiences ranging from a half-dozen to over 75.

Jay Mahylis, who recently attended McCormick’s Holocaust presentation at the Campbell County Public Library in Gillette, was impressed with her knowledge and engaging delivery.

“She shared her own personal journey as a Jewish person, which was so inspiring to a lot of people and gave her a humanness that a lot of us don’t have the opportunity to share,” said Mahylis, noting that he shared what he’d learned with his twin sister, who was researching their own Jewish history. 

Extraordinary women

Since starting her business in 2019, McCormick has focused on the fundamental role women played in the Equality State, one of the most notable being Wyoming historian Grace Hebard (1861-1936). Hebard was a suffragist, the second female member of the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees and the first woman to be admitted to the Wyoming State Bar Association.

But historian T.A. Larson (1910-2001), author of the History of Wyoming, dismissed Hebard’s contributions to the Equality State. By reviewing firsthand accounts and other primary documents, McCormick determined that Larson’s work significantly overlooked Hebard’s impact as both a suffragist and a historian. In fact, McCormick said that when she examined hundreds of firsthand accounts and correspondence between Hebard and public officials, it became clear that many male lawmakers at the time held Hebard in high regard.

McCormick has made it her goal to “restore the truthful history of the state.” And that means ensuring the real story of Hebard — and that of other influential Wyoming women — is recalled accurately.

By studying the state’s female pioneers, McCormick herself became inspired to join the Casper chapter of the League of Women Voters and work to pass state legislation protecting the original state flags. As a contributing editor for the Wyoming Historical Society, she writes articles on a variety of topics, including Lizabeth Wiley, Wyoming bookstore owner-turned-mayor who led a crusade in Greybull against the Ku Klux Klan. McCormick also teaches Wyoming history classes at Casper College as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Lauren Cramer, McCormick’s long-time friend and business manager, applauds McCormick’s ability to make history accessible through compelling narratives that show audiences that “the journeys that women have gone through now, they have gone through them before.”

“Nothing Kylie writes is dry,” Cramer added. “Her enthusiasm pours out onto the page.”

Much like Hebard, McCormick is not about to slow down. Her business, she said, “is about [creating] a happier, healthier, more economical and successful state.”

But to do so, she is determined to set the record straight about its history. As her college thesis advisor once told her, “Never trust what somebody says about a primary source. Always look at the primary source yourself.”

And that is exactly what McCormick intends to do.

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