Utah Legislature honors suffragettes, commemorates 100 years of women’s suffrage

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An original copy of Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 on display at the Utah State Capitol Building on Oct. 16. (Karina Andrew) 

Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 might not appear different from other government documents, but it marked a momentous political victory for Utah women. This Resolution signified Utah’s official ratification of the 19th Amendment — the amendment that secured U.S. women the right to vote.

The Utah Legislature displayed the resolution during its committee meetings on Oct. 14 and 15 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Utah ratifying the 19th Amendment on Oct. 3, 1919.

Utah was a long-time proponent of women’s suffrage and had a rich history of women’s political activism before ratifying the amendment.

“It’s important to know that we were leaders,” Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, said.

A display set up by Better Days 2020 adjacent to the Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 display showed a timeline of Utah suffrage events.

A display set up by Better Days 2020 commemorating women’s suffrage in Utah at the Utah State Capitol Building on Oct. 16. (Karina Andrew)

Utah was the second state to pass equal suffrage laws and the first state to enact them. Seraph Young became the first woman to vote in the United States when she did so in Salt Lake City on Feb. 14, 1870. However, women were barred from voting again in 1887 under the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which disallowed women’s suffrage in an effort to end the practice of polygamy in Utah.

Utah women regained the right to vote through the new state constitution passed in 1896.

Ken Williams, division director of the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service, expressed his gratitude for past and present women in government.

“It’s just one of those pivotal moments in history that set the way for the leaders that we have today,” Williams said.

Later in 1896, Utah elected the United States’ first female state senator, Martha Hughes Cannon. She won against her husband, who had run as her opponent in the election.

A statue built in honor of the U.S.’s first female state senator, Martha Hughes Cannon, stands outside the Utah Capitol Building. (Karina Andrew)

“These women leaders showed tremendous courage and foresight in challenging the social norms of their time,” Kwan wrote in a Utah Senate press release. “They inspire us to continue reaching for yet more opportunities and accomplishments for Utah women in our own time.”

Robin Hough, president of the Women’s Democratic Club of Utah, said Utah women are now more politically active than ever. She cited President Donald Trump’s controversial presidency as a catalyst for getting women from all over the political spectrum to increase their civic engagement.

“It’s been moms and schoolteachers and people that have not been involved before,” Hough said. “Women want to do something.”

For example, Hough said women from various political organizations throughout Utah have banded together in their support of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would constitutionally disallow the abridgment of equal rights on the basis on sex. An amendment must be ratified by 38 states to become part of the constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment has been ratified by 37 states, and Hough said women throughout the state want Utah to be the 38th.

Despite increased activism in recent years, Hough said Utah women still have a long way to go. She said over 300,000 Utah women who were eligible to vote did not vote in 2018.

Women need to vote and be politically involved, Hough said, because the laws and government officials on the ballot will have a significant impact on women’s health, safety and lifestyle.

Overall, Hough expressed excitement for the future of women’s political engagement in Utah.

“Women are coming to the table,” she said.

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