August 18, 2020 is the hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits state and federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.

In fact, some women had previously had that right – and had it taken away. 

Five Generations of Voting Mormon Women. Woman’s Exponant

Jean Bickmore White in the Utah History Encyclopedia writes: “Women’s Suffrage—the right of women to vote—was won twice in Utah. It was granted first in 1870 by the territorial legislature but revoked by Congress in 1887 as part of a national effort to rid the territory of polygamy. It was restored in 1895, when the right to vote and hold office was written into the constitution of the new state.” 

All of this decades before Senate passed the much-contested Nineteenth Amendment. 

Abigail Adams was one of the first advocates of women’s equal education and property rights. In a letter dated March 1776, she wrote to her husband at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia: “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.”

In spite of this, New York removed female pronouns from its voting laws in 1777. Massachusetts followed suit in 1780, New Hampshire in 1784. The last state to disenfranchise women voters was New Jersey, in 1807. 

An 1880 engraving by Howard Pyle from Harper’s Weekly, captioned “Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Times.”

By the mid-nineteenth century organizations supporting women’s rights had become more active. In 1848, the Seneca Falls convention adopted the Declaration of Sentiments, including a resolution urging women to secure the vote. The first women’s rights convention to be organized on a statewide basis was the Ohio Women’s Convention at Salem, April 19–20, 1850. This was followed by the National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts October 23–24, 1850.

Wyoming Territory was first in the nation to give voting rights to women citizens on December 10, 1869. 

In late 1869, Congress attempted to eliminate polygamy in Utah Territory by proposing the Collum Act, denying the vote to men who supported plural marriage. On January 13, 1870, three thousand Utah women gathered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle at a “Great Indignation Meeting” to protest. Eliza Snow deemed it “as necessary to vote as to pray.”

Just a few weeks later, on February 12, 1870, the Utah territorial legislation passed a law “That every woman of the age of twenty-one years who has resided in this Territory six months next preceding any general or special election, born or naturalized citizen of the United States, shall be entitled to vote at any election in this Territory.”  This gave the vote to 17,179 Utah women, and two days later, twenty five women did just that. 

Seraph Young, a schoolteacher, was the first woman to vote under a women’s equal suffrage law in the United States, in the Salt Lake City municipal election on February 14, 1870.

On August 14 two thousand Utah women voted in the state election. 

In 1878, Sarah M. Kimball wrote in the Woman’s Exponent: “Our sisters in the States are seeking to improve their condition. Miss Anthony, one of the leading women among them, well known everywhere, has written to Mrs. Wells, Editor of the Exponent, saying the women of Utah as a body MUST fight for the maintenance of the right to vote, and also to get national guarantee for all women in the nation.”

But these rights were not to last.

In 1882 Congress passed the Edmunds Act disenfranchising all polygamous men and women, followed in 1887 by the Edmunds-Tucker Act which took away the right to vote from all women in Utah Territory. 

Utah suffragist Charlotte Godbe with Belva Lockwood, one of America’s first female lawyers, lobbied against the bill. When it passed, Utah suffragist and editor of the Woman’s Exponent Emmeline Wells wrote that it “wrested from all the women, Gentile and Mormon alike, the suffrage which they had exercised for seventeen years.” 

In response, many women worked hard to win back their right to vote. On 10 January 1889 Emily S. Richards, wife of the Mormon church attorney, Franklin S. Richards, founded the Utah Woman Suffrage Association, affiliated with the National Woman Suffrage Association

Emily S. Richards, Sarah M. Kimball and Phebe Y. Beattie.
Photo: Utah State Historical Society.

Local units were quickly formed, often drawing membership from the women’s auxiliary organizations of the church, especially the Relief Society

On May 30, 1889 the Summit County Women Suffrage Association was established in the Coalville Tabernacle. Forty women joined. 

Still, it took the issuing of the 1890 Manifesto officially declaring an end to plural marriage, before Congress passed the 1894 Enabling Act, opening the door to Utah statehood.

On April 18, 1894 delegates voted in favor of including in the proposed Utah state constitution an article stating “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 equally enjoy all civil, political, and religious rights and privileges.”

And on January 4, 1896 President Cleveland signed the act admitting Utah as a state. 

On November 3, 1896 Sarah E. Nelson Anderson and Eurithe K. LaBarthe were elected to the Utah House of Representatives. Dr Martha Hughes Cannon was elected Utah’s – and the nation’s – first female state senator (beating her husband). 

The Utah State Senate in 1897, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon standing to the left of center

By the time the Nineteenth Amendment became law in 1920 – giving all white women over 21 the right to vote – more than 120 Utah women had served in public office.