by Sarah Langsdon, Head of Special Collections
The suffrage movement in Utah has a very interesting history. The movement started well before the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Most people are unaware that Utah women actually had the right to vote starting in 1870. On February 14, 1870, the state passed a law that enfranchised women in Utah. We were the third state to grant this right. Utah women in Salt Lake City were the first in the nation to vote just two days later in the municipal elections. Unfortunately, women in Weber County had to wait another year as the municipal elections were held the week before. Voting continued in local elections until the federal government passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887 that not only outlawed polygamy but disenfranchised Utah women. Nationally, there was concern about Mormon women voting and stacking the political deck against Gentiles.
Women in Utah fought against this move. They were considerably upset when something seen as a right of all citizens was taken away from them. Emily Tanner Richards formed the Women’s Suffrage Association and became the spokesperson for suffrage. She gave speeches, attended rallies, wrote letters and worked closely with Susan B. Anthony in the fight for the right to vote. Suffrage wasn’t just a woman’s issue. Emily’s husband, Franklin advocated for women to be granted the right to vote. During the Constitutional Convention in 1895, he was vocal in his support. He stated “So I say that if the price of statehood is the disfranchisement of one half of the people; if our wives, and mothers, and daughters, are to be accounted either unworthy or incapacitated to exercise the rights and privileges of citizenship, then, however precious the book may be, it is not worth the price demanded, and I am content to share with them the disabilities of territorial vassalage till the time shall come, as it will come in the providence of God, when all can stand side by side on the broad platform of human equality, of equal rights, and of equal capacity.”
Suffrage was an issue that crossed religious boundaries. In Weber County, Kate Hilliard was very active in the movement. She fought side by side with Emily Richards in the Women’s Suffrage Association. As an ardent Socialist, Kate fought for the rights of the lesser. She was proud to be from Ogden and be a part of the county that sent the first petition for suffrage to the Constitutional Convention. During a meeting with Susan B. Anthony, she proclaimed “It was stated in the Constitutional Convention that the first gun that was fired for suffrage came from Weber County, the first petition came from there, and we are here now to ratify what our members have done for us.”
The fight was finally won in 1895, when the Utah State Constitution stated that “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this state shall enjoy equally all civil, political, and religious rights and privileges.” The women of Utah continued to fight for suffrage for all women in the United States. They served as examples of how women used their voice and right to vote to better themselves and others around them.