‘Better Days 2020’ empowers students through women’s history

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Claire Gentry
Young volunteers Dalloway Smith, left, and Gwyneth Park express their enthusiasm for the new curriculum by learning about voting and collecting pins featuring the faces of influential Utah women. (Claire Gentry)

Better Days 2020 hosted an event in Salt Lake City on Sept. 7 to celebrate Utah women’s history. Storytellers and volunteers at The Garden Place lodge came to tell the stories of influential women throughout Utah’s history.

Women from the Utah Storytellers Guild researched, wrote and shared original stories about important Utah women like Emmeline B. Wells, a lifelong friend of national suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Storyteller Janine Nishiguchi told stories of Wells’ experiences being the first Utah woman to stand in front of the United States Congress and the first woman in the United States to advocate for equal pay.

Another storyteller, Suzanne Hudson, portrayed Eliza R. Snow. Hudson said she has a deep connection with Snow after 15 years of telling stories about the part Snow played in the formation of the Relief Society for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Despite Hudson’s experience with Snow, this was the first time Hudson said she had been made aware of Snow’s involvement in women’s suffrage.

According to co-founder and CEO Neylan McBaine, the purpose of forming nonprofit organization Better Days 2020 was to lead the way in educating and empowering future generations. She said she and her co-workers hope to do this by popularizing Utah women’s history through new lessons they have created for fourth and seventh grade Utah Studies classes, as well as supplements to fifth and eleventh grade American Studies classes, which are available on their website.

“We started this organization two years ago when we realized that Utah was the first place where a woman cast a legal ballot in the United States,” McBaine said.

Regarding the name of the nonprofit organization, McBaine said the year 2020 has special significance because it commemorates the 150th anniversary of the first female ballot cast in Utah, as well as the 100th anniversary of when the 19th amendment granted white women across the nation the right to vote.

“We want to inspire people to take the precedent of the past and make Utah once again a place where we’re dedicated to women’s advocacy,” McBaine said.

McBaine also said she hopes sharing the stories of Utah women will inspire others.

Jeffrey Nokes, a BYU history professor and educational consultant for Better Days 2020, said he saw the new lessons, focusing on Utah women, taught in seventh grade Utah history classes.

“All the students responded really well. They were fascinated by the whole idea of women’s rights,” Nokes said.

The girls in the class were particularly engaged with the lessons as they could relate to the oppression historical women had felt, according to Nokes.

Clive Romney, executive director of Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts, told the story of Zitkala-Sa, a Native American women who worked as a music teacher and became famous for her award-winning speeches and advocacy of extending citizenship and voting rights to Native Americans. Zitkala-Sa also worked with William F. Hanson, former BYU music professor, to compose the first Native American opera, “The Sun Dance,” which she based on Sioux traditions and songs.

“We stand on these people’s shoulders,” said Susan Johnson, who attended the event with her daughters. “We have those privileges now as women because of them, so we should honor them.”

In addition to creating educational materials, Better Days 2020 has been at the forefront of the movement to place a bust of Martha Hughes Cannon, the nation’s first female state senator, to Washington, D.C. to represent Utah; create a new license plate celebrating women’s suffrage; and a women’s suffrage exhibit to be added late next year to the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.

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