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.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of assembly and peaceful protest. Many Utahns and individuals in other states continue to march and peacefully protest for various causes in their local, state, and national communities.
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 served as president of 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.
For nearly forty years, Emmeline B. Wells and other suffragists published a newspaper advocating women’s rights, called the Woman’s Exponent. Emily S. Richards founded the Utah Woman’s Suffrage Association and organized local chapters throughout the territory. Utah’s suffragists held meetings, distributed pamphlets, signed petitions and wrote memorials (resolutions) demanding women’s voting rights in Utah and the nation.
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.
Utah suffragists, who had voting rights, often traveled from Utah to the East (and sometimes even to Europe!) to lend their support and speak about what it was like for women to exercise their voting rights. In 1916, the Suffrage Special, a private train car carrying twenty-three suffragists chosen by her state’s suffrage organization to represent that state toured Utah and other Western states for 38 days to organize western women voters to form a National Woman’s Party.