In her grim-faced photos and her devotion to serious causes, Susan B. Anthony may not seem a very warm person.
Yet, whenever her speaking tours brought her to Utah Territory, the occasion was marked with laughter and pleasantries. She seems to have made warm friends among Utah suffragettes.Local historian Carol Cornwall Madsen says Susan Anthony had many friends among Utah leaders of the National Women's Suffrage Association, who were also leaders of the LDS Church's women's organization, the Relief Society.
Eastern feminists in the late 1800s thought Mormon women were repressed. And maybe some still do. However, Utah women were the first in the nation to vote in a national election.
Says Madsen, "Susan Anthony did hate polygamy, but she was very supportive of the Mormon women who were working to get the vote."
For their part, members of the Relief Society presented Susan B. Anthony with a bolt of Utah-woven silk on her 80th birthday. Anthony had it made into a dress and said of the black brocade gown, "This is the finest dress this former Quaker lady has ever owned."
And after Anthony's death, her secretary sent a copy of her biography to Relief Society leaders, inscribed with the words, "To the women who were loyal and helpful to Miss Anthony to the end of her great work."
Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820, to a Quaker family in Adams, Mass. By the time she was 19 years old, she was active in local temperance movements. She eventually learned that men did not want women to lead the fight against alcohol, so in 1852 she formed a women's temperance society.
Before and during the Civil War, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton co-operated in a fight against slavery. Both women, as well as many other abolitionists, were disappointed when the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave the vote to black men - and once again excluded women.
After that, and until she died in 1906, she fought for the right to vote.
Anthony - along with Stanton - first visited Utah Territory in 1870. Utah women were first in the nation to cast a ballot that year, and there was cause for celebration.
It might seem, says Madsen, that Stanton would have had more in common with Mormon women than Anthony did, because Stanton - who thought all forms of marriage were equally restrictive - was not offended by polygamy. However, when Stanton and Anthony spoke in the Tabernacle on that first visit, Stanton praised divorce. "She neverPhoto courtesy LDS Church Archives/ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
came back," says Madsen.
But Anthony did.
Utah women lost their right to vote in 1887 when the U.S. Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act. The intent of the act was to punish polygamists. What it did was disenfranchise all women while still allowing polygamist men to vote.
Then the work for Utah suffragettes began in earnest. And it was Mormon women, says Madsen, who led the fight. Non-Mormons tended to think there was something unladylike about demanding to vote.
By the time Susan B. Anthony came again, in 1895, it was clear that Utah would become a state, and Utah women would get the right to vote as part of the state's constitution.
The Deseret News on May 13, 1895, reported her visit this way:This has been an eventful day in the history of the woman suffrage movement in Utah. . . . This morning the three-day conference of the Women's National Suffrage Association commenced in the convention hall in the joint city and county building, being presided over by Susan B. Anthony, ably and actively assisted by Mrs. E.B. Wells.Emmeline Wells for many years edited the Women's Exponent newspaper, the most widely read Western woman's newspaper of the time. At about this time in her life she began to travel, first to the nation's capital representing her church and her territory in the quest for statehood, and later to Europe as an emissary of the LDS Church.
Later, Wells became president of the Relief Society. She was perhaps Susan B. Anthony's best friend in Utah.
Anthony brought the Rev. Anna Shaw to Utah on this visit. The Rev. Shaw, an ordained Methodist minister, had a folksy, humorous speaking style. She was a great favorite at the convention. In fact delegates from various Western states and territories plus many local women made up such a large crowd that, after the first day, the conference moved to the Tabernacle.
Quoting again from the Deseret News of May 1895, the Rev. Shaw talked about a local antisuffragist:"He thought a girl should be born with a burning desire to wash dishes. I never did like to wash dishes, but I do like to chop wood" (laughter and applause).
Miss Shaw advised men who wanted women to do thus or the other should "go soak their heads till they were blessed with a little sense" (laughter).On the last day of the convention, the Deseret News reports, Dr. Mattie Hughes Cannon assured women that developing themselves physically would not make them masculine. Susan B. Anthony complimented Utah on having a cosmopolitan and well-educated population. The delegates and guests adjourned for the afternoon to Saltair where they had lunch and looked out over the Great Salt Lake.
At the evening's concluding session the women passed a resolution expressing profound gratitude to the men of Utah who "so unequivocally and practically witnessed to their faith in the principle of exact justice to all the citizens of this new and glorious commonwealth."
In her eulogy of Susan B. Anthony, Emmeline Wells wrote, "There are men and women born into the world at certain periods of time for distinctive purposes, with a mission to fulfill for their fellowmen. . . ."