2020 celebrates the 150th anniversary of Utah women exercising the right to vote, the first time since ratification of the US Constitution that women in the United States were explicitly and intentionally allowed to participate in this important civic activity. 1
The most recent issue of BYU Studies covers this important history, which significantly contributed to the 1920 amendment that would give women the vote throughout the United States. The issue can be downloaded for free here.
Some fun tidbits:
- The first woman to cast her vote in the United States 2 was Seraph Young, Brigham Young’s grandniece. She voted early so she would be able to do so and still arrive on time to her teaching job at the University of Deseret.
- When Utah Territory legalized female suffrage and held the first election in the country where women were allowed to participate, there were roughly 17,000 women in Utah eligible to vote. Though Wyoming Territory had also legalized female suffrage, there were only ~1,500 women in Wyoming eligible to vote at the time and no election had been held where women were able to vote.
- After 1870, Utah women were able to testify that their participation in the vote had not led to the various ills rabid opponents had asserted would follow allowing women to vote. This helped debunk opposition to the vote in other parts of the United States.
- The United States revoked the right of Utah women to vote in 1887 with passage of the anti-polygamy Edmunds-Tucker Act. This opposition helped forge powerful unity.
- In 1895, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles voted unanimously to support restoration of female suffrage. As articulated by Franklin S. Richards during the convention to draft a Utah State constitution, “if the price of statehood is the disfranchisement of one-half of the people . . . , it is not worth the price demanded.”
- 96% of all eligible women (and 94% of all eligible men) participated in the first Utah election held after Utah was made a state in 1896.
- In 1909 Utah women provided 40,000 signatures to a petition seeking the vote for all U.S. women, fully 10% of all the signatures gained from across the entire nation. This was 200% more signatures than had been expected out of Utah.
- Though Blacks gained the right to vote 3 in 1870, Native Americans and Asian immigrants were still federally barred from citizenship and voting rights. Native Americans only began to gain access to the vote in 1920. Asians were not permitted to vote until the 1950s.
As one article concludes, “work for suffrage was predicated on a belief that God had created women and men to be equal. Latter-day Saint women believed this, and they worked to open opportunities for women across the country to participate in government and public life.” 4
Cherish the right to vote, a right that a majority of individuals did not have at the time of the Civil War. Exercise that right this November.
- Wyoming legalized female suffrage in 1869, but the women of Wyoming were not allowed to actually vote until after Utah women had already participated in elections. ↩
- The U.S. Constitutional Convention put voting qualifications in the hands of the states in 1787. Women in all states except New Jersey lost the right to vote at that time. In New Jersey, women were barred from voting as of 1807. ↩
- Blacks often faced barriers to voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, which weren’t outlawed at the national level until 1965 with the Voting Rights Act. ↩
- Katherine Kitterman, “First to Vote”, BYU Studies 59:3, 2020, p. 43. ↩