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Franklin S. Richards, A Defender of Equal Suffrage

1849-1934

Franklin S. Richards
Illustration by Brooke Smart

“Equal Suffrage will prove the brightest and purest ray of Utah’s glorious star.

 

By Ami Chopine

 

During Utah’s 1895 Constitutional Convention, two highly respected and talented orators debated over whether to include equal suffrage in the constitution Utah Territory would propose in its bid for statehood. Though LDS Church leaders were generally supportive of women’s suffrage, a Mormon general authority named B.H. Roberts argued against including the clause that would enfranchise Utah women. Strongly opposing him and supporting constitutional enfranchisement was Franklin Snyder Richards, an attorney for the LDS Church.

A young Franklin S. Richards

Over the preceding decades, Congress had already denied Utah’s several petitions for statehood, and Roberts maintained that an equal suffrage clause would risk Utah’s 1895 attempt. Franklin Richards, a delegate at two previous failed attempts and a former Utah legislator, knew this well, but believed that the merits and justice of equal suffrage overruled other considerations. “If the price of statehood is the disfranchisement of one-half of the people,” he contended, “if our wives and mothers, our sisters and daughters, are to be accounted either unworthy or incapacitated to exercise the rights and privileges of citizenship, then, however precious the boon may be, it is not worth the price demanded.” [1]

Another common argument of the time was that women were morally superior. Both men argued this to different conclusions. Roberts believed this moral superiority was a fragile thing to be protected in domesticity, while Richards contended it was a source of strength that should be tapped and used in an equal partnership with men. “While men admit the superiority of women in many respects,” he stated, “ the latter do not care so much for this admission as they do for an acknowledgement of their equality, and that equality we are bound in honor to concede.” [2]

Emily and Franklin Richards. Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

Franklin’s progressive views are not surprising, considering he was the son of early Utah suffragist Jane Snyder Richards and the husband of another leading suffragist, Emily S. Richards.

After the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker anti-polygamy act rescinded women’s suffrage in Utah, Emily and Franklin worked to restore women’s voting rights. In 1889 she established the Utah Woman Suffrage Association, an affiliate of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Though women could not legally serve as delegates at Utah’s 1895 Constitutional Convention, she actively lobbied the delegates to support women’s suffrage.

In his arguments to the convention, Franklin presented a sweeping vision of the human race progressing towards an ideal society in which women stood equal to men. To him, the principle of equality was as universal and eternal as a mathematical axiom or a law of physics. He argued that the same natural rights invoked by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution must extend to all people, not just some of them, otherwise men were guilty of tyranny. He insisted that women shouldn’t be put on a pedestal or protected from the harsh world, nor did they want to be. Modern civilization could only succeed if women worked side by side with men to build and create society in active and public ways. Women contributed equally to society both materially and culturally, were of independent minds and, in many cases, independent means, and paid taxes. Therefore, women deserved equal representation.

Utah Constitutional Convention Delegates in 1895. Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

During the constitutional convention, a Salt Lake Tribune editorial suggested that Utah would be one of just a few “freak” states to adopt women’s suffrage. To this, Franklin Richards countered that “Equal Suffrage will prove the brightest and purest ray of Utah’s glorious star,” and that Utah would become “a beacon light on the tops of the mountains” to other states, inviting them to “the fuller measure of civil and religious liberty.” [3]

Franklin S. Richards. Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

In the end, Franklin’s arguments carried the day: the equal suffrage clause was included in Utah’s constitution, Congress approved Utah’s bid for statehood, and Utah women reclaimed their voting rights–and gained, for the first time, the right to hold public office.

The clause, which remains in Utah’s Constitution to this day, states that “the rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.” [4]

Ami Chopine is a writer and currently a student of history at Utah Valley University. She lives with her husband and four children in South Jordan, Utah.

 

Footnotes

[1] Franklin S. Richards, “The Suffrage Question, (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Women’s Suffrage Association), 1895.

[2] Richards, “The Suffrage Question,” 1895.

[3] ibid.

[4] Utah Constitution, www.archives.state.ut.us/community/exhibits/Statehood/1896text.htm

 


Sources

“Death Comes to Utah Dean of Attorneys,” Salt Lake Telegram, September 7, 1934. D. Michael Quinn, “They Served: The Richards’ Legacy in the Church," Ensign, January 1980. Jean Bickmore White, “Woman's Place is in the Constitution: The Struggle for Equal Rights in Utah in 1895,” Utah Historical Quarterly 42, no. 4 (Fall 1974): 344-69. Jean Bickmore White, “Women’s Suffrage in Utah,” Utah Education Network. “State of Utah Constitutional Convention: Day 26,” Utah State Legislature.