Wyoming is proud to claim their state as the first to grant women’s suffrage in the late 1800s, but Utah, even before Wyoming had officially legalized the feminine voting right, had allowed women to vote and hold public office while the area was still a Territory in 1870. Some of the non-Mormon citizenry had claimed the process had been granted merely to stuff the ballot box by polygamous wives to insure Mormon control of governmental offices. The process was thus found to be unlawful by federal authorities with the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker “Anti-Polygamy Act” in 1887.
But the women of Utah persisted.
Susan B. Anthony became a suffragette whose name was nationally associated with the movement in the 1890s. Miss Anthony was also held in high esteem here in Utah. It seemed the Utah women understood their role in civic affairs, and especially in the drive to make Utah a full-fledged state within the union. They also were determined to react against the commonly held view in other parts of the nation that Utah women were oppressed and enslaved.
To further this role, the women of the Territory invited the leader of women’s voting rights to come to the Territory in 1895, the year before the land achieved official statehood, and speak in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City as invited by the Relief Society of the LDS Church on the issue of women’s suffrage. Because of her appeal and other political reasons, full female suffrage was included in the Utah Constitution in 1896. Thus, Utah granted the vote to women two decades before the United States Constitution was changed to make the privilege available to all citizens.
Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon was the first elected female state senator in the nation. In Utah’s first election after statehood, Martha won a seat in the Utah State Senate, bringing nationwide attention to our State. Five senators were selected from a field of ten – one of the losing five was Martha’s husband, Angus Cannon.
In 1900, Utah women presented Susan B. Anthony with a bolt of fine black brocade silk they had spun from thread produced by silk worms in Utah’s Dixie. From this fabric a silk dress was made for Miss Anthony. She said it was the “finest this former Quaker lady had ever owned.” She was impressed that the silk had been made in Utah’s Dixie, and, as she noted, the women had reeled and spun, colored and wove the silk in a “free state.”
The women of Utah have continued to take leading roles in governmental and civic service for more than a century in Utah.