Women's suffrage in Utah

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An Act Conferring upon Women the Elective Franchise, enacted February 12, 1870

Women's suffrage in Utah was first granted in 1870, in the pre-federal period, decades before statehood. Among all U.S. states, only Wyoming granted suffrage to women earlier than Utah.[1] However, in 1887 the Edmunds-Tucker Act was passed by Congress in an effort to curtail Mormon influence in the territorial government, disallowing the franchise of the majority of residents of the state.

Enfranchisement of women in Utah[edit]

Political and social climate[edit]

As Utah Territory grew, the Mormon church's influence over the territory increased. Polygamy, at the time, was a common practice for the Mormons. The United States Congress was concerned about the growing population and power of the Mormons. A New York suffragist, Hamilton Wilcox, proposed testing women suffrage in the territories in 1867, specifically in Utah because of the large population of females and as a "fringe benefit, the Mormon system of plural wives would be eliminated". The New York Times circulated the idea saying women enfranchisement in Utah could possibly end polygamy. Congressman George Washington Julian in 1869 attempted to pass legislature to enfranchise women in western territories. His bill was entitled A Bill to Discourage Polygamy in Utah.[2] Neither of these events led to new laws, although, these ideas suggested Congress had the power to eradicate the practice of polygamy.[3]

The first talk of women suffrage within Utah was from William S. Godbe, Edward W. Tullidge, and E.L.T. Harrison, Mormon liberals, who published the Utah Magazine which eventually became the Salt Lake Tribune. These liberals wanted the Mormon church to work with groups outside of itself to promote manufacturing and mining. The Godbe movement also encouraged women's rights activities. Later on, the Deseret News would often credit the Godbe movement with the first push for the enfranchisement of women. The group helped organize the first territory meeting on women suffrage with Eastern suffragists. William S. Godbe had four wives. When Godbe was excommunicated his wives left the Mormon church, all except Charlotte Godbe. Though she was shunned by Mormon society for her husband's excommunication, Charlotte continued to promote women's rights as a representative of the Mormon church. She often worked alone.[3][4]

As polygamous talk increased within the United States, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, a woman suffragist toured the United States giving speeches about the degrading effect polygamy had on Mormon women.[5]:22-25 Within Utah Territory Sarah Ann Cooke and Jennie Anderson Froiseth founded the Anti-Polygamy Society in response to the Carrie Owen case.[6] Their goal "to fight to the death that system which so enslaves and degrades our sex, and which robs them of so much happiness".[7]

The Chairman of the House and Committee on territories, Shelby M. Cullom, in 1869 sponsored a bill to enforce the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. The bill would increase federal authority over Utah Territory and prevent polygamists from holding public office.[8] Mormon women heavily protested the bill, rallying together in Salt Lake City to protest Cullom's legislation. During this time, the Utah Legislative Authority considered the enfranchisement of women in Utah territory. After two weeks by unanimous vote, the Utah Legislature passed a bill enfranchising women. To delegate William Henry Hooper the reason for enfranchisement was, "To convince the country how utterly without foundation the popular assertions were concerning the women of the Territory, some members of the Legislative Assembly were in favor of passing the law". Acting governor of Utah Territory, S. A. Mann, signed the law on February 12, 1870.[9] Women above the age of twenty-one were now allowed to vote in Utah Territory.[3][10]

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of the National Woman Suffrage Association visited Utah in the 1871 on the invitation of Charlotte Godbe of Godbe's wives. Charlotte Godbe wanted Anthony and Stanton to see the impact of enfranchisement in Utah Territory. The two national suffragists lectured at the "Liberal Institute."[11] Then later at the old tabernacle on Temple Square where Stanton presented the National Woman Suffrage Association's (NWSA) views on equal rights to the women of Mormonism. During this lecture, Stanton counseled the Mormon women to focus on "quality rather than quantity" when raising and bearing children. Stanton also advised bearing a child only once every five years. After this lecture, Stanton was not allowed to speak on Mormon podiums again.[3] [12]

The Women's Exponent[edit]

The Women's Exponent was founded in 1872 with Lula Greene Richards as its first editor. Emmeline B. Wells would become the exponent's next editor and publisher in 1875. The paper's purpose was to communicate with women of the Mormon church and to provide an accurate representation of Mormon women to the rest of America. The paper defended polygamy until the practice was renounced by President Wilford Woodruff in 1890. Women's rights was a continued topic in the Women's Exponent. The paper was strongly in favor of equal pay and suffrage. When women were again denied the vote in 1879 Emmeline B. Wells changed the subtitle of the newspaper to "The Rights of the Women of Zion, and the Rights of the Women of all Nations" until 1897 when women regained the right to vote. After the enfranchisement of Utah women the subtitle was changed to "The Ballot in the Hands of the Women of Utah should be a Power to better the Home, the State and the Nation."[13]

The Anti-Polygamy Standard[edit]

The Anti-Polygamy Standard was published in 1880 by Jennie Anderson Froiseth. The paper told the stories of women in polygamous marriages. It also provided more information on polygamy for the rest of the United States. The standard informed its public that woman suffrage was used by the Mormons to have an even larger majority over the non-Mormons of the Territory. Although Jennie Anderson Froiseth believed strongly in rights for women she was concerned with the polygamous activity of the Mormons. She believed Mormon women should not be allowed to vote until polygamy was outlawed. Froiseth published The Women of Mormonism; Or, the story of polygamy as told by the victims themselves during the three year span of The Anti-Polygamy Standard.[14] Froiseth's book told a different side of polygamy by the women manipulated and forced into polygamous marriages. She wanted women from all over the United States to know what was happening to women in Utah Territory[15] She traveled around the United States giving lectures on the harm polygamy causes. Froiseth eventually became the vice president of the Utah Women's Suffrage Association in 1888.[5]:65-67

Repeal by the Edmunds-Tucker Act[edit]

One of the provisions of the Edmunds–Tucker Act in 1887 was the repeal of women's suffrage. The opposition of the majority of Utahans to this act was secured by a provision that required a test oath against polygamy. This was broad enough to include the majority of Mormons who were not directly involved in polygamy. All who would not swear this test oath were ineligible to vote, serve on juries, or hold most other government offices. Belva Lockwood represented the National Woman Suffrage Association in lobbying congress to defend Utah women's right to vote.[3]:118-120

As Utah Territory was working towards statehood, women pushed to become enfranchised again. The topic was given to the Attorney-General. A test-case was brought to a judge in Ogden, H.W. Smith, who decided women should be able to vote. However, because the Edmunds-Tucker Act had not been repealed the Supreme Court of the territory rejected the lower courts decision. For women to become enfranchised the right to vote would have to be ratified in Utah's State Constitution[12]

Impact on Mormon polygamy[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Constitution Center, Map: States grant women the right to vote
  2. ^ "An Experiment in Progressive Legislation". Utah Historical Quarterly. XXXVIII. 1970. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Beeton, Beverly (1978). "Woman Suffrage in Territorial Utah". Utah Historical Quarterly. 46 (2). 
  4. ^ "Last Days of Brigham The Progress of the Revolution; The Woman Vote" (no. 9010). New York, New York : s.n. New York Tribune. February 22, 1870. Retrieved 5 February 2018. 
  5. ^ a b Beeton, Beverly (1986). Women Vote in the West: The Woman Suffrage Movement 1869-1896. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc. ISBN 0824082516. 
  6. ^ Cresswell, Stephen (June 28, 2002). Mormons and Cowboys, Moonshiners and Klansman: Federal Law Enforcement in the South and West, 1870-1893. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 9780817311865. 
  7. ^ Bennion, Sherilyn Cox. Equal to the Occasion. Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press. pp. 43–46. ISBN 0-87417-163-6. 
  8. ^ "Defenders of Polygamy". Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania : Record of the Times Pub. Co. Record of the Times Vol. 6 No. 68. January 14, 1879. Retrieved 5 February 2018. 
  9. ^ "Elmira Daily Advertiser: The Women to Vote in Utah". Elmira Daily Advertiser. February 14, 1870. Retrieved 5 February 2018. 
  10. ^ "All Sorts". Boston, Massachusetts : Beals & Greene. Boston Post. December 16, 1868. Retrieved 5 February 2018. 
  11. ^ Walker, Ronald. "Godbeites". Utah History Encyclopedia. University of Utah Press. Retrieved 27 February 2018. 
  12. ^ a b Madsen, Carol Cornwall (1997). Battle for the Ballot 1870-1896. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press. ISBN 0874212235. 
  13. ^ Bennion, Sherilyn Cox (1976). "The Woman's Exponent Forty-two years of speaking for women". Utah Historical Quarterly. 44 (3): 222–239. 
  14. ^ Anderson Froiseth, Jennie (1886). The women of Mormonism Or, The story of polygamy as told by the victims themselves. Detroit, Michigan: C.G.G. Paine. pp. 19–416. 
  15. ^ Anderson Froiseth, Jennie (1880). "The Anti-Polygamy Standard". The Anti-Polygamy Standard (Vol. 1 - Vol. 3). The Standard Pub. Co. The Anti-Polygamy Society. Retrieved 17 May 2017.