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Utah women voted earlier than most in U.S.

Utah women won the right to vote early, and they won it twice.

They were the first women to vote in a national election, and later, when Utah became a state, it was the second state to extend the right to vote to women, following behind Wyoming.

Photographs weren't a prominent part of the newspaper in the late 1800s, but photo researcher Ron Fox has searched through the Deseret News archives and other sources to find photos of Utah's suffragists. Many of these can be found at the newspaper Web site.

For 17 years, from 1870 until 1887, women were granted the right to vote in the Utah Territory, thanks to the support of opponents of polygamy who reasoned that extending the vote to Utah's women would be a blow to the practice of plural marriage.

An article in the Denver Tribune-Republican, reprinted in the Jan. 19, 1886, Deseret News, called for the repeal of suffrage:

"It was believed at one time that if the ballot were placed in the hands of the Mormon women they would seek their own redemption by voting with the Gentiles. The result proved that this was based upon a false assumption."

A dispatch from New York, printed in the Dec. 6, 1882. Deseret News, reported on an interview with former senator and Utah Commissioner Algernon S. Paddock, who claimed:

"What may be said in favor of female suffrage elsewhere cannot be applied here. It is certainly odious as practiced here. The women are completely controlled in their action by the church authorities."

The newspaper refuted the claim:

"The whole story about control of votes by Church authorities is moonshine and balderdash. Conversation with intelligent 'Mormon' women would soon dissipate such a notion."

Congress revoked the right of women to vote in 1887, a provision of the Edmunds-Tucker antipolygamy act, That prompted a large number of intelligent women, Mormon and non-Mormon, to become active in the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Writing from New York City, Emmeline B. Wells, who later served as president of the church's Relief Society from 1910 to 1921, sent the following dispatch from a meeting of the association, and it was printed in the March 21, 1888, Deseret News:

"In the call made by the officers of N.W.S.A. it is stated very tersely, 'such a council will impress the important lesson that the position of women anywhere affects their position everywhere.' "

Wells, who edited the pro-suffrage/pro-polygamy newspaper "The Woman's Exponent," became one of the country's leading spokeswomen for women's rights from 1872 to 1914.

In 1888 Emily S. Richards, wife of Mormon Church attorney Franklin S. Richards, approached church officials with a proposal to form a Utah suffrage association affiliated with the National Woman Suffrage Association. The territorial association was formed on Jan. 10, 1889.

National suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony came to Utah at least twice in support of woman's suffrage. The Deseret News on May 13, 1895, reported one 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."

The question of votes for women was one of the most hard-fought issues of the state constitutional convention in 1895.

Arguing against the proposal was Mormon scholar B.H. Roberts, who "spoke for two days against including women's suffrage in the constitution. On the other side, Franklin S. Richards stated that he would "rather remain in territorial vassalage" than deny women equal political standing.

"Overnight, women on both sides of the issue gathered petition signatures, with 24,801 favoring a constitutional guarantee of women's votes and 15,366 supporting a separate election on the issue. In the end, those delegates present for the April 18, 1895, vote were unanimous for suffrage."

Some of the prominent women in the movement, in addition to Wells and Richards, include Sarah M. Kimball, Phoebe Y. Beatie, Emily Richards, Zina D. H. Young, Jane S. Richards, and Bathsheba Smith, to name a few.