Immerse yourself in stories of women who shaped history
Wyoming Territory was the first to grant women voting rights, in December 1869. Utah Territory granted women the vote several weeks later, on February 12, 1870. Women in Salt Lake City voted two days after that, making them the first women to vote in the modern nation. Many women in Utah were like Esther Morris, fighting for their rights, running for and serving in political offices, and involving themselves in their local communities.
Many young girls in Utah watched their mentors, aunts, mothers, and older sisters fight for suffrage. The road to the passage of the 19th Amendment took 72 years, so these young girls grew into adults who continued the fight for women’s voting rights. For example, Annie Wells Cannon was eleven years old when women in Utah were first granted suffrage in 1870. Her mother, Emmeline B. Wells, was Utah’s leading suffragist and good friends with Susan B. Anthony. Annie not only helped her mother write and edit the women’s rights newspaper, the Woman’s Exponent, she grew up to be a suffragist and a Utah state legislator.
Cows were the motivation for the Smith sisters to become politically active in their community, and cows were the motivation for five women in Kanab, Utah, to also get involved in local politics. In the early 1900s, women in Kanab were frustrated by the mess being caused by cows and other farm animals running loose around the city. It was dirty, smelly and made it difficult to walk down the street or drive a wagon on the road. Men had always been in charge of running the town, but they weren’t doing anything about the problems in Kanab. So women in Kanab decided to run for office to make changes, and they won they mayorship and all four town commissioner seats! The women took their new leadership roles seriously. They passed laws to punish animal owners who didn’t keep their animals fenced in and did many other things to clean up their town. Like the Smith sisters, the Kanab women weren’t afraid to stand up and make a difference.
Utah women also were not happy about being taxed without the right to vote. Taxation without representation was one of the main arguments given by pro-suffragists for including equal suffrage in the Utah State Constitution in 1895.
Even though laws are written and passed, sometimes these laws aren’t fairly enforced. In the case of voting rights, throughout history many states and the federal government have passed restrictive laws and practices making voting difficult if not impossible for various groups of people. Examples: 1) after the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1870, giving black men the right to vote, some states and counties still prevented African Americans from voting by passing their own restrictive laws. 2) Congress passed laws in 1924 that granted U.S. citizenship (and voting rights) to all American Indians, even those living on reservations under sovereign indigenous nations. But American Indians in Utah could not vote because they were not considered “residents” of Utah but “residents” of their own tribal nations. In 1957, the Utah State Legislature passed a law that allowed all American Indians in Utah to vote regardless of whether they lived on a reservation or not. 3) In the late 1800s, Congress passed anti-polygamy laws. The Edmunds-Tucker Act took away the voting rights of polygamous men and all Utah women.
In January 1910, fourteen immigrant ‘chocolate girls’ at the McDonald Candy Company in Salt Lake City went on strike after the firm refused the workers’ request to increase their wages. The strikers organized the Chocolate Dippers’ Union of Utah No. 1, the first union of women workers in Utah. Unfortunately, the union was short-lived, and the strikers did not achieve their goal of higher wages. Instead, they lost their jobs. But the efforts of these women to improve their work situation in one of Utah’s major industries made them exceptional.
From Kathryn L. Mackay, “The Chocolate Dippers’ Strike of 1910,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 1, 39-51.
Nettie Grimes Gregory was a native Tennessean who moved to Salt Lake City in 1913 with her husband, William, a railroad employee. They quickly adapted to life in Utah and Nettie sought to make herself useful to the community. She was especially concerned about the lack of wholesome recreation for young people living on the city’s west side. She and her husband began some activities at the Calvary Baptist Church but found that the number of young people wanting to participate exceeded the capacity of the church’s facilities. The answer was obvious to the Gregorys. Their neighborhood needed its own building with adequate space for a variety of community activities, including weddings, socials, and youth programs. William Gregory donated a small parcel of land, and…Nettie “recruited black women belonging to the Salt Lake Community Club and the Nimble Thimble Club to act as leaders in the fund-raising drive.” They held dinners, bake sales, and bazaars.
In 1959 construction of the first civic building in Salt Lake City built by African Americans began. The project required 5 years to complete, but the idea had been in Nettie’s heart for almost 20 years. Although Nettie had died of a stroke on July 6, 1964, those preparing to use the building recognized her by naming the new structure at 742 West South Temple the Nettie Gregory Center. The needs of African American youth had spurred the drive to build it, but the Gregorys always envisioned it as a place where people of all races and creeds would be welcome. Nettie was a person who believed that even young people could make an impact and difference.
Adapted from Utah History to Go: https://historytogo.utah.gov/people/utahns_of_achievement/nettiegrimesgregory.html
Mignon Barker Richmond was the first African American woman to graduate from a Utah college (Utah State University), in 1921. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, Mignon worked to improve the lives of African Americans in her community. She enjoyed a lifelong association with the YWCA and volunteered with the Salt Lake Chapter of the NAACP. She helped found the Nettie Gregory Center, the first civic building in Salt Lake City built by African Americans, in 1964.
From the book’s author’s note: “The sad coda to this story is that in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, eliminating federal oversight of states’ election processes. Since that decision, many states have created ‘voter ID laws,’ which require all citizens to present a state-issued photo ID when voting.” Utah has a voter ID requirement.
Many Utah suffragists worked closely with national suffragist leaders. They held meetings and suffrage celebrations, generated petitions, paid dues to national suffrage organizations, and created items like the Utah Woman Suffrage Song Book to raise money and awareness for their cause.
Utah suffragists Lavern Robertson and Minnie Quay were so committed to fighting for the national suffrage amendment that they joined one of the most famous protests by the National Woman’s Party and participated in picketing the White House in 1917, ultimately becoming victims of the infamous “Night of Terror.” For two and a half years, almost 2000 women from around the country took turns picketing outside the White House six days a week until the suffrage amendment finally passed both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on June 4, 1919.
A man riding across the country on a bicycle passed through Utah in 1884. Utah’s Ute Indians first saw a bicycle in 1892 when a man from New York got lost on reservation lands. The Utes called the bike an “iron pony.” They thought it was part of a scheme to compete with and cheat them out of their beloved horses.
Two years before Susan B. Anthony illegally cast her vote, Utah and Wyoming women received voting rights and were able to legally cast their ballots. In 1871, Anthony passed through Utah, where she spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and congratulated Utah on extending voting rights to women. She became friends with Utah suffragists, championing their voting rights. In turn, Utahns adored Anthony and supported her efforts to win national women’s suffrage.
Sara Bard Field and Frances Joliffe transported a suffrage petition and resolutions cross-country by automobile–collecting additional signatures along the way to present to Congress and the President. The automobile was driven by Swedish women Ingeborg Kinstedt and Maria Kindberg. Mabel Vernon traveled ahead of envoys by train and helped organize autocades, parades, meetings, and petition drives at various stops. In addition to stopping in Salt Lake City twice, the envoy visited San Francisco, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.
For nearly forty years, Emmeline B. Wells and other Utah suffragists published a newspaper advocating for women’s rights, called the Woman’s Exponent. Emily S. Richards founded the Utah Woman Suffrage Association and organized local chapters throughout the Utah Territory. Utah suffragists held meetings, distributed pamphlets, signed petitions and wrote petitions demanding women’s voting rights in Utah and the nation.
In 1895, Utah, Colorado, and national suffragists met in Salt Lake City at the Rocky Mountain Suffrage Convention after Utah delegates and male voters elected to include women’s suffrage in the proposed state constitution that year. Colorado had granted women’s suffrage on November 7, 1893.
Emmeline B. Wells was a Utah woman who worked for decades to promote women’s rights. She first met Susan B. Anthony when Anthony visited Utah in 1871 to celebrate Utah women gaining suffrage, and Wells slowly built a friendship with the leader of the national women’s movement as she attended several national suffrage conventions. Anthony visited Utah again in 1895 to celebrate the inclusion of women’s suffrage in the proposed state constitution, and she even bequeathed a gold ring to Wells when she died in 1906. Anthony and Wells were unlikely friends given that Anthony did not personally support polygamy and Wells was a polygamist wife. However, Anthony believed that women should be granted voting rights regardless of their marital statuses and included polygamous Mormon women in the National Woman Suffrage Association when others did not want to include them.
In 1869, at age 27, Phoebe Couzins began her studies at Washington University Law School in St. Louis, Missouri, and earned a Bachelor of Laws Degree in 1871, becoming the first female graduate of Washington University School of Law and one of the first women in the United States to graduate from law school. After passing the bar exam, she was licensed to practice in the federal courts in Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, and Kansas. After her father died in 1887, the U.S. government appointed her as the first female in the U.S. Marshal Service, and she finished her father’s term of service.
“The Utah Bar admitted [Georgianna “Georgia” Snow] Carleton in 1872, at the age of thirty. Before her admission, Carleton studied the law for three years with her father, Zerubbabel Snow, who was then the Attorney General of the Utah Territory and later a territorial Utah Supreme Court Judge. A committee appointed by Chief Justice McKean of the territorial Utah Supreme Court examined and approved Carleton’s application for admission and her legal qualifications. Carleton served as territorial librarian, later moving to Wyoming and entered politics. She served as an alternative delegate to the 1892 presidential convention. Carleton later moved to San Diego, where she was a member of the Board of Education. She died in 1915.” From Women Trailblazers in the Law: Utah’s First 100 Women Lawyers.
Like Belva Lockwood, Utah women understood that suffrage was just the first step in political engagement. Even before statehood and suffrage were secured, three Utah women attempted to run for elected office in 1895 but were ultimately barred from running because of their gender. After Utah’s constitutional convention adopted women’s right to vote and hold office, controversy arose regarding whether women would be eligible to vote in the ratifying election. Although the federal Enabling Act specifically limited voting on the constitution to male citizens, some Utah delegates argued that women should at least be able to vote for state officials under the rights guaranteed in the new constitution. Accordingly, the Republican party nominated Emmeline B. Wells to run for the Utah House of Representatives, Lillie Pardee for the State Senate, and Emma McVicker for state superintendent of schools. Shortly thereafter, the territorial supreme court ruled that women did not have the right to vote in the ratifying election. Although the ruling did not explicitly address women’s right to run for office, many extended the court’s reasoning to bar the three Republican women candidates. Emma McVicker and Lillie Pardee soon dropped out of the race, but Emmeline Wells fought to maintain her candidacy as long as possible and finally capitulated only weeks before the election. Although women could not vote in the election that ratified the new state constitution and restored their voting rights, several women successfully ran for office in the election the following year.
Charlotte Godbe Kirby was one of the first people to speak about women’s suffrage and rights in the Utah Territory. She was a woman of strong opinions who shared them openly. Even though many Mormon suffragists excluded Charlotte after her polygamous husband was excommunicated from the LDS Church (she would later divorced him), she was well known within the national suffrage movement, associated with many national leaders, and considered herself the leading spokesperson of Utah women’s concerns. She was selected by the National Woman Suffrage Association to speak to a U.S. Congress committee about women’s suffrage and spoke to thousands of suffragists in Boston’s Fremont Temple.
In 1871, a year after Utah women gained suffrage, national suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. They congratulated Utah women on their voting rights and spoke about their hopes that all women in the nation would soon enjoy them as well. This visit began a long friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Emmeline B. Wells. However, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was barred from speaking from Mormon pulpits because she advocated ideas such as birth control that were at odds with Mormon church teachings of the time.
Although the 19th Amendment granted women’s suffrage nationally, the fight for universal suffrage in the United States was not over. Not all women residing in Utah were granted the vote in 1870 or with statehood in 1896 or with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Though the 14th Amendment had earlier defined “citizens” as any person born in the United States, the amendment was interpreted to restrict the citizenship rights (including the right to vote) of many. For example, since Native Americans were not considered U.S. citizens during this time period, they were excluded from women’s voting rights in Utah in 1870 and 1896, and nationally in 1920. Legal barriers enacted in numerous states effectively made it impossible for African Americans to vote. Many Asian immigrants in the United States were legally prohibited from applying for citizenship (and voting rights) simply because of their countries of origin. Imagine a conversation between the people in Utah fighting for their voting rights after 1920 and the women who were able to vote at this point.
Since the women’s rights movement spanned several decades, many older suffragists mentored younger women who became suffragists. For example, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon was mentored by Emmeline B. Wells when Mattie worked as a typesetter for the Woman’s Exponent, the women’s rights newspaper that Emmeline edited. Additionally, since women in Utah were first given voting rights in 1870, several generations of Mormon women voted by the time the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women’s suffrage at a national level, in 1920.
In October 1873, Young announced he was sending Utah women to eastern universities to train as physicians. Some of the most remarkable women in the territory answered the call, and the next fall Romania Pratt, widow of LDS Apostle Parley P. Pratt, enrolled in the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Ellis Shipp joined her in 1875, working her way through school as a seamstress until graduation in 1883.
Pratt later ran a school of obstetrics for 20 years as a resident physician at the Deseret Hospital, which the LDS Relief Society operated from 1882 until 1894. Shipp trained nurses and midwives throughout the territory and gave birth to 10 children of her own, four of whom died in infancy.
Martha Hughes Cannon studied medicine at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania. Her degree from the National School of Elocution and Oratory helped her become the first woman state senator in the U.S. in 1896.”
From Will Bagley, “Despite Today’s Legislators, Utah on the Forefront of Women in Medicine,” The Salt Lake Tribune, September 1, 2002.