- Beyond Suffrage
by Sarah Langsdon, Head of Special Collections
While searching for women who were against suffrage in the late 1800’s, I came across a quilt that was made by women of Ogden and sent to Senator George Edmunds in appreciation of his attempt to get polygamy outlawed in Utah. Part of the request included disenfranchising Utah women because the view was that they were just voting the way their husbands and the Church told them to. Turns out that the women who created the quilt were from the Woman’s Home Missionary Society that was a part of the United Methodist Church. The group of women and some men had their names added to the quilt.
In 1879, the Methodist Church meet in Salt Lake City to address the polygamy issue. The church claimed that Mormons were bringing in immigrant women and marrying them so that they could vote. Most of the women had no knowledge of the laws, politics or even spoke English. The claim of the church was that by removing the woman’s right to vote, they would disenfranchise 12,000 women and Gentiles could be voted into office that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
The meeting ended with the following resolution passed with the Woman’s Home Missionary Society:
“Resolved, that a committee be appointed to confer with civil and religious authorities at Salt Lake City, and make careful investigation of the relation of the ballot in the hands of the women of Utah to Territorial legislation to Congressional representation at the national capital and above all, to its power to perpetuate the religious bondage and domestic slavery of the women so enfranchised: and if they shall find the facts to warrant, they shall draft petitions to be circulated for signatures, which shall be presented to the Congressional committee at Washington, asking for the disfranchisement of the women of Utah, or for a radical change of the whole form of government.”
The group felt that suffrage in Utah was problematic and sent petitions nationwide for signatures. The petitions were signed by 250,000 Christian women and then sent to Congress. “Woman suffrage in Utah only means woman’s suffering which has led any true woman to advocate its suste
ntation. The franchise conferred by a theocracy, exercised under its dominance, made to conserve its power, to perpetuate polygamous life and to clothe lawlessness with authority is not the franchise of a Christian republic. Let the act be repealed in the grant of a legislative commission, otherwise in the passage of section 7 of the Edmunds bill for righteousness’ sake, for humanity’s sake and in defense of liberty protected by law, the only liberty under the flag.”
The women of Ogden who signed the quilt in 1882 that was sent to Edmunds included Sally Goodwin, Martha Skewes, Martha Meloney, Kate Adkinson, Rebecca Daily, Lizzie Stevens, Anna Chapman Smith, Ellen Munger, Julia Atwater, Lillie Negus, Retta Leland and Alice Peden. The women also included Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, who was the national president of the society.
M. Elizabeth Little had an interesting take on the anti-polygamy petition and the views of the Gentile sisters in The Woman’s Exponent in 1879, “Men from the first have signally failed in their attempts to put down plural marriage; now they have called to their aid some foolish women- for foolish they are in this respect, no matter how wise and intelligent they may be in others. By flattery and poor pussyism they have so blinded these women that they fail to comprehend the motives of these unprincipled men and are led on to become traitors to their fellow sisters, to their own good common sense and to themselves as ladies of this enlightened age.” The Edmunds-Tucker act was passed in 1887 and outlawed polygamy and disenfranchised Utah women until 1896 when the right for all men and women to vote, run and hold office was written into the state constitution.
The quilt is currently on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake as part of their suffrage display.