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Utah Legislature Celebrates Historic Achievements In Women's Suffrage

On Feb. 14, 1870, a young Utah woman made history.

Two days after the Utah territorial legislature granted Utah women the right to vote, Seraph Young unexpectedly became the first woman in the nation to cast a ballot.

“I was only the first because I had to go to work—I'm a school teacher, and so I wanted to make sure that I was on time for my students," an actor portraying Young said. "But I also wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of voting, so it was an amazing experience, and I'm so lucky to have been the first.”

On Friday, the state celebrated Utah Women’s Voter Registration Day, in honor of the 150th anniversary of Utah women’s suffrage. Utah led the nation in women’s suffrage 50 years before the United States granted white women the right to vote through the 19th Amendment. Earlier in the week, thousands of school children visited the state capitol to learn about women’s suffrage. Actors dressed as leaders in Utah’s women’s history told their stories.

Sarah Kimball was born in New York, close to Seneca Falls, where the first national women’s rights convention was held in 1848. At the time of the convention, though, Kimball lived in Nauvoo, Illinois, where she established a women’s sewing club that would grow into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Relief Society, the church’s official women’s organization. Kimball served as a delegate to the National Woman Suffrage Association and as president of the Utah chapter.

“It wasn't until I got here to Utah many years later that I was finally able to vote, when the Utah Territorial Legislature passed the law allowing us to vote in 1870," Kimball said. "And at that time, I openly declared myself to be a woman's rights woman.”

Another trailblazer in Utah history was Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. In 1887, Utah women lost the vote as a result of congressional anti-polygamy legislation. They gained suffrage again in 1896, when Utah became a state—and that meant Utah women could hold office. Cannon and another Utah suffragist, Emmeline Wells, ran for state senate that same year—along with Cannon’s husband, Angus.

“Luckily, I got more votes than Angus and enough votes that I was put into office," Cannon said. "I would become the first female state senator in the United States, and I was proud of that, but more proud of what I was able to do as a state senator. I started the Department of Health. I started the school for the deaf and blind. I wrote legislation for cleaner water and the kinds of things that would benefit our families.”

On Wednesday, the state legislature passed House Joint Resolution 12, celebrating women’s suffrage in Utah. Sen. Deidre Henderson, a Republican from Spanish Fork who is one of six woman senators in the legislature, presented the resolution.

“Women's suffrage and political rights were made possible because of the leadership of visionary Utah women and men, who understood that our nation prospers when each citizen has the opportunity to participate in the public sphere,” Henderson said.

For more information about women’s suffrage in Utah, visit betterdays2020.com.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.
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