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Zion’s Suffragists podcast: Episode 3 — Woman will be restored

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The cover art for “Zion’s Suffragists,” a Deseret News podcast that tells the story of how Utah women became the first to vote in the United States.

The cover art for “Zion’s Suffragists,” a Deseret News podcast that tells the story of how Utah women became the first to vote in the United States.

Jeremy Ames, Boncom

(Subscribe to Zion’s Suffragists on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get podcasts.)

Dianna Douglas: In 1892, a woman named Margaret Salisbury spoke to the territorial legislature of Utah. She came with a big ask.

Actor portraying Margaret Salisbury: In behalf of the women of Utah, thousands of petitioners have sent their appeals for an appropriation of $100,000 to properly represent our territory at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

DD: Her speech is read by an actor. One hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. 2.8 million dollars today. But the World’s Fair was going to be huge! The industrial and artistic achievements of American women were going to be on display at a Woman’s Building. With a little money, Utah women could create some gorgeous silk and publish books about Utah. They could set up a spectacular display at the Utah pavilion. They could travel to Chicago. . 

MS: The women of Utah wish to make the best possible showing of their achievements in every line of labor; educational, artistic, literary, benevolent, economic. The women of Utah will meet their sisters of the different states and territories in a manner highly creditable to the energy, intelligence and talent which characterize the women of the West. 

DD: Then, Margaret Salisbury explained why Utah women were unusual. 

MS: Of the women of Utah there are twelve who have published books. Two newspapers are published by women. The Salt Lake Tribune, [the] Herald, the Standard of Ogden, employ women writers. 

DD: I love this speech. Utah women were working. And they were proud of their participation in the labor force. 

MS: There are lawyers and physicians, also thoroughly educated women teachers in the public and denominational schools. 

DD: And then, Margaret Salisbury sneaks in this kicker, about one way in which Utah is totally different from any other state or territory. 

MS:  We would add that women pay a fair proportion of the taxes. 

DD: Since the official end of polygamy, two years earlier, Utah was full of female-led households.

MS: In consideration of the earnest work being done in all these branches by women, we again urgently request that the legislature will generously enable Utah to make a creditable exhibit of her wondrous products and industries at the World’s Fair in 1893.  

DD: Women in Utah didn’t like how people outside the Great Basin thought of them. They saw in the World’s Fair in Chicago a chance to flip the script.  

I’m Dianna Douglas, and this is Zion’s Suffragists, a podcast from the Deseret News about how Utah pioneered voting rights for women in the United States. If you missed the first episodes, here’s a quick recap: Women in Utah first began voting in 1870, fifty years before most women in America. But the U.S. government took the vote away from them, ostensibly trying to end polygamy within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Women in Utah began a long campaign to get the vote back. Today, how they did it, in Chicago and beyond.

Andrea Radke-Moss: A World’s Fair was a 19th century invention by Prince Albert of Great Britain. He wanted to bring together the best minds, the innovators, the thinkers, the inventors. That becomes the model for other countries to follow. Like, we want to do this too. We want to show off what our countries have done in terms of technology. 

DD: Like South by Southwest?

ARM: Yeah. And they become massive events. 

DD: This is where the Eiffel Tower came from?

ARM: Yeah, that was one of the fairs of the 19th century, the Paris exposition. 

DD: Andrea Radke-Moss is a historian of Women in the West in 19th and 20th century America, and an expert on the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. It was going to be the biggest, greatest world’s fair of all time. 

ARM: Fair planners had been wanting to do this as a 400th anniversary commemoration of Columbus’s “discovery” of America. 

DD: So, how many people come to this world’s fair?

ARM: They estimate around 30 million. 

DD: People in the U.S.? 

ARM: Globally. People came from other nations as well. They estimate one out of every three Americans. 

DD: Went to World’s Fair? 

ARM: A lot of people went. And famous people went. There’s a long list of famous people who made an appearance at the Chicago World’s Fair. 

DD: Let’s see: Frederick Douglass, Alexander Graham Bell, Helen Keller, Buffalo Bill, Harry Houdini, Ida B. Wells.  

And at this fair, women would take center stage. In the years before this, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the famous women’s rights activists, had created National and International Councils of Women. They got an offer from a World’s Fair organizer.  

ARM: Would you like to hold your annual meeting, your congress, in conjunction with the World’s Fair? 

DD: Yes, they would. Women would come to Chicago from all over the world to plan equal rights. And Utah women were in. They had become very active members of these national and international groups.  

ARM: They are invited to come and do a session at this fair. This is a big deal, in 1893, for them to get this kind of a public venue. 

DD: They have so much at stake because they must have been so isolated for so long in Utah? 

ARM: Isolated, yeah. Mormon women know the stereotypes about themselves, they know that they’re portrayed as these degraded women who are dragged around by their hair — they’re oppressed. So they know that this is a PR opportunity. This is an opportunity to go to Chicago and to portray their own culture and their people as progressive, and advanced, assimilated, patriotic.

DD: But the Utah legislature didn’t give Margaret Salisbury the money. Utah was still reeling from the Edmunds-Tucker Act. A lot of men were in jail, or in hiding, on missions, or had fled to Mexico. Women in Utah would have to get the money the old-fashioned way — fundraisers, dinners, donations. They were determined to make a grand showing at the Chicago World’s Fair. So, they had their dinners. And raised enough money to bring a spectacular collection of Utah women’s handiwork to the Fair, including enormous white silk curtains — portieres — that opened the great hall of the women’s exhibit — embroidered with the Utah flower, the sego lily.  

ARM: So if Mormon women are wearing and displaying silk, it lends itself to that image that they’re trying to portray. We’re not these degraded, country bumpkin polygamous wives. Look at how assimilated we are into this larger Victorian refinement. 

DD: They also put together a Utah building, showing off Utah’s mining wealth and other wonders of the West. 

ARM: Two young women were assigned from Utah to come out and they would just sit there and weave silk all day. The visitors to the Utah building could walk by them as a live exhibit.

DD: That was cool. And then, the Woman’s Congress. Susan B. Anthony wanted one of her close friends to preside over the conference for a day. She chose Utah’s leading suffragist, Emmeline B. Wells. Emmeline was editor of the suffrage newspaper in Utah. She was an expert at turning women into voting rights activists. 

ARM: High-profile suffrage activists and leaders went to the Mormon women’s meeting. Susan B. Anthony is there. It’s this interesting dynamic where, you now have the stage, we want to hear you talk. That had never happened before.

DD: A young doctor named Martha Hughes Cannon spoke about how women had built a society from the ground up in Utah. She was stunning. The Chicago Record called her “one of the brightest exponents of woman’s cause in the United States.”

Another leader of the suffragists in Utah, Emily S. Richards, spoke that day about the wild history of women in Utah voting. Here’s her speech, read by an actor.

Actor portraying Emily Richards: Woman suffrage was conferred by an act of the legislative assembly in 1870. This privilege was taken away by an act of Congress in 1887. Though repeated efforts have been made to restore the franchise, they have thus far been unavailing, as Congress has the exclusive power to change the law. 

DD: Emily Richards was incensed about losing the right to vote. She had formed the Utah Woman Suffrage Association — an outpost of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Then she formed local suffrage associations in every little town in Utah. Restoring the right to vote for women was her life’s mission. In front of a crowd at the World’s Fair in Chicago, Emily Richards took a minute to prophesy.

ER: The sentiment in the Territory favoring woman suffrage is believed to be as strong now as when we were enfranchised, and it may be confidently predicted that when the local government regains the power to do so, women will be restored to their political rights and privileges. 

ARM: People were gobsmacked. It boggled their minds. Everyone had this image of what Utah women were like. And then here they are on stage in front of you. They always commented, “She looks so poised, so well-dressed. They’re better looking than I thought.” Odd, Mark Twain-comments. 

DD: One of the women in the audience said, “if half of what she heard was true, she wanted to come to Utah and remain”. . . Susa Gates Young said the change in how she was treated when people found out that she was from Utah was “marvellous.”

ARM: I see that as this important public relations miracle. 

DD: After their big win at the World’s Fair, Congress invited Utah to apply for statehood again. Come join the United States! As a state! 

The women of Utah saw an opening — they could join as an equal suffrage state — like Wyoming and Colorado. If they were going to get the right to vote, if Emily Richards’ prophecies were going to come true, it would be now or never. 

SONG: The Battle Hymn of the Republic

DD: Tiffany Bowles is an educator at the Church History Museum. She is looking at a book published in 1891. 

Tiffany Bowles: It’s quite small, just a little pamphlet size. It has about 20 songs in it, and they were written by Utah women. And many of them were written to be sung with tunes that people were familiar with.

SONG:
Woman, rise, thy penance over;
Sit thou in the dust no more.
Seize the scepter, hold the van, 
Equal with thy brother, man.   

DD: This is the Utah Woman Suffrage Songbook. It was pulled out at meetings all over Utah, and all over the West. The suffrage songbook is in the Church History Museum because it was published by the Relief Society. 

SONG:

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! We’ll light the way with song.
Come brothers, sisters, join the strain and swell it sweet and strong. 
We’ll wave the flag of equal rights in Utah.

DD: Do other states have suffrage songbooks?

TB: I’ve seen general suffrage songbooks from the era, but I haven’t seen another state specific one. 

DD: The Relief Society, the women’s organization inside The Church of Jesus Christ, turned out to be a perfect way to organize women into activists. 

ARM: Send out all these newspapers, and boom, You’ve got a little Relief Society in Northern Cache Valley are suddenly suffrage activists. Other states didn’t have that.

DD: Pray for the right to vote, sing about the right to vote, plan with neighbors and friends how to get back the right to vote. In the rest of the country, getting women and men to support voting rights was a slow, tedious slog. In Utah, women’s right to vote was religion.

SONG:

Hark! The sound of myriad voices
Rising in their might;
‘Tis the daughters of Columbia
Pleading for the right
Raise the flag and plant the standard,
Wave the signal still;
Brothers, we must share your freedom;
Help us, and we will.

DD: Getting back the right to vote was a full-time, all-hands-on-deck mission for the women in Utah by the 1890s. They were working for one goal: get it written into the new state Constitution. 

Katherine Kitterman: Susan B. Anthony wrote a letter to Emmeline Wells, which was published in the Woman’s Exponent and other newspapers, saying, Whatever you, you cannot have suffrage left out when the state constitution is formed. 

DD: This is historian Katherine Kitterman. She’s a Ph.D. candidate at American University. Here’s what applying to be a state of the United States looked like: Utah would have to write a constitution, send it to Washington, and Congress would decide yes or no. Utah had tried this six times before. So they knew the drill. 107 men were elected from all over Utah to write the constitution. The women got to work on all 107 delegates. Put equal voting rights in the party platforms. Ask the men to sign a pledge. It was a massive grassroots drive.

KK: The women were pretty sure going into it that they woulde have widespread support. As things got closer, there were a few cracks that appeared. 

DD: Why were there cracks in the men’s commitment to women’s suffrage in Utah?

KK: In some non-[Latter-day Saint] circles, the was feeling of, there are a lot more Mormon women than non-Mormon women This will increase the church’s political power.

DD: Sorry, but this has been an issue in Utah politics forever. What else? 

KK: There were people who were worried that including women’s suffrage in the constitution would imperil the chances of statehood. That that would give Congress a reason reject Utah statehood once again. 

DD: Women really didn’t vote in America. So, yeah, it was risky. 

KK: It was a really dramatic convention. The delegates were meeting in the newly completed City and County Building, downtown in Salt Lake City, and women were there and were watching. They couldn’t speak on the floor because they weren’t delegates. They had prepared ahead of time that if there were problems they were going to circulate petitions in favor of suffrage. So they were ready, they were watching. 

DD: The room was suffocating. Standing room only. Women in the galleries, silent. Men down on the floor, debating. A young man from Davis County named B.H. Roberts spoke up — he was a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ, part of the governing body, the Quorum of the Seventy. And an eloquent orator. 

KK: He started arguing against including suffrage in the Constitution.

DD: Emmeline Wells’s eyes must have narrowed to little slits. Roberts was supposed to be on the team!

KK: Many people were ticked. Even though he’d floated these sentiments before, this started a real debate, back and forth. 

DD: The feeling among the delegates was turning. Maybe we should worry about women’s suffrage later. One of the delegates, a theologian named Orson Whitney, said some things were “higher and dearer than Statehood.”

KK: Orson F. Whitney said that this movement of women to vote and hold office was one of the ways that the Almighty was lifting up the fallen world and making it a better place. 

DD: Women’s voting rights became the biggest issue at the convention. They debated this question for a full week. Then two weeks. 

Women across Utah watched as their rights hung in the balance. They sent petitions to each delegate, some with thousands of signatures. And still the debate dragged on. 

One delegate, Franklin S. Richards argued that “equal suffrage will prove the brightest and purest ray of Utah’s glorious star.” His wife, by the way, was Emily Richards, making sure that her prophesies from Chicago would come true. 

KK: Franklin S. Richards said, I have never known a woman who felt complimented by the statement that she was too good to exercise the same rights and privileges as a man. 

DD: Franklin argued that new constitution should simply say: the rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex, but that male and female citizens of the state shall equally enjoy all civil, political, and religious rights and privileges. After two weeks of debate, it seemed like every person in Utah had weighed in on this.

KK: The final tally was about 25,000 signatures for including suffrage in the constitution, and about 15,000 asking for separate submission.

DD: All the singing, praying, signing petitions.. all the mass meetings would have to stop, because it was time to vote. 

KK: The vote was 75 in favor, 14 against, and there were 12 people absent.

DD: Women won. Utah was going to draft a Constitution and send it to Congress with these words: 

The rights of citizens of the state of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of the state shall enjoy equally all civil, political, and religious rights and privileges. 

DD: Next week: what happens when women can not only vote, but run against men for public office?

(Subscribe to Zion’s Suffragists on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get podcasts.)