Esther Hobart Morris was born in Tioga County, New York, on August 8, 1814. Orphaned at age 11, she was apprenticed to a seamstress and became a successful milliner and businesswoman. As a young woman she was active in the anti-slavery movement. In 1841 she married Artemus Slack; after his death in 1845, she moved to Peru, Illinois, to settle the property in his estate but faced considerable difficulty because women were prohibited from owning or inheriting property. She married John Morris, a prosperous merchant, in 1850.
In 1868–1869 the family moved to a gold rush camp at South Pass City, Wyoming Territory. On December 10, 1869, Wyoming passed a law guaranteeing women's rights to vote and to hold office. In addition to this legislative milestone, laws were also passed affirming married women's control of their own property and providing equal pay for women teachers.
When appointed justice of the peace for the South Pass District in 1870, Morris became the first woman to hold judicial office in the modern world. During the statehood celebration in 1890 she was honored as a suffrage pioneer. In 1895, at age 80, she was elected a delegate to the national suffrage convention in Cleveland. She died in Cheyenne on April 3, 1902, and is interred there at Lakeview Cemetery.