Celebrating women’s suffrage in Utah, with Katherine Kitterman, Rebekah Ryan Clark, and Neylan McBaine [MIPodcast #102]
February 14, 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of Utah women first exercising the right to vote, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution being ratified, granting voting rights to many women in the United States—but not all of them. Women’s suffrage is a complicated and fascinating history about how women gained the vote, lost that right, and then fought to get it back again.
This episode features the authors of Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah—Katherine Kitterman and Rebekah Ryan Clark. Neylan McBaine joins us as well. She’s CEO of Better Days 2020, a non-profit organization dedicated to popularizing Utah women’s history.
Katherine Kitterman is a PhD candidate in American History at American University in Washington, D.C., and the Historical Director for Better Days 2020 in Utah.
Rebekah Ryan Clark is the Historical Research Associate for Better Days 2020. She holds a law degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University and attended Harvard Law School as a visiting student. She earned her bachelor’s degree in American history and literature from Harvard University.
Neylan McBaine is co-founder and CEO of Better Days 2020, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of women first voting in Utah and the centennial of the 19th Amendment through education, events and the arts. McBaine is also a member of the Maxwell Institute’s Advisory Board.
Take a look inside the book:
BLAIR HODGES: It’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges.
February 14, 2020 marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Utah women first exercising the right to vote. And it’s also the one hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution being ratified, granting voting rights to many women in the United States—but not all of them, as you’ll soon see. It’s a complicated and fascinating history, when so many women gained the vote, lost that right, and then fought to get it back again.
In this episode we’re talking about a new book about this called Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah. We’re joined by the book’s authors, Katherine Kitterman and Rebekah Ryan Clark, along with Maxwell Institute advisory board member Neylan McBaine. She’s the CEO of Better Days 2020, a non-profit organization dedicated to popularizing Utah women’s history.
Questions and comments about this, and other episodes of the Maxwell Institute Podcast, can be sent to me, Blair Hodges, at
HODGES: Today we’re joined by Neylan McBaine, Rebekah Ryan Clark, and Katherine Kitterman. We’re talking about a new book called Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah. But the book itself is part of an initiative that Neylan McBaine is the co-founder of, Better Days 2020.
Neylan, welcome to the Maxwell Institute podcast.
NEYLAN MCBAINE: Thanks for having me.
HODGES: Tell us a little bit about Better Days 2020.
MCBAINE: So, about three years ago, my co-founder Mandy Grant and I recognized that this year, 2020—and specifically February 14, 2020—was going to be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Utah being the first place that American women voted under equal suffrage laws in the whole nation. And we thought that was kind of shocking because as Utahns—both transplants to Utah, but also both members of the Church—we kind of were shocked that we didn’t know this history before.
We recognized also that this one hundred and fiftieth anniversary coincided with the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which was ratified by the states in 1920 and extended women’s voting rights throughout the nation.
So, we wanted to make a big deal out of this because we felt like there was a lot of power in Utahns—and the nation—understanding this history, this remarkable, untold story of Utah women’s Leadership in this national women’s advocacy movement.
HODGES: And for Better Days 2020—you’re a member the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but this initiative is bigger than that, it’s meant for state and national history. Talk about that approach that you decided to take with Better Days.
MCBAINE: When we started the organization, we really were focused on these suffrage anniversaries. But we quickly realized in the hundred and fifty years since that first female American vote, there’s an incredible, rich history here in Utah generally of women’s advocacy in lots of different kinds of communities. And so we quickly extended our approach to women who have lived and advocated and been great examples to our community over the past hundred and fifty years.
And so there’s a number of ways that we focused on those different communities. Specifically in our educational curricula, or the public art pieces that we’ve commissioned and put on exhibit. The materials that we’ve sent out into schools over the last three years really focus on the broad scope of one hundred and fifty years of Utah women’s history.
HODGES: You’ve also published a few books. You’ve published Women at Church, you’ve published a collection of essays, what was the name of that one?
MCBAINE: How to be a Twenty-First Century Pioneer Woman.
HODGES: And you have another book coming out, Pioneering the Vote: The Untold Story of the West’s First Suffrage Triumphs. What’s that book about?
MCBAINE: That’s actually a narrative telling of the story of the first four states to come into the Union as official suffrage states. And it’s told from the point of view of Emmeline Wells. And it speaks specifically from the point of view of an 1895 suffrage conference where Wyoming and Utah and Colorado had already come into the nation as suffrage states. And the women got together under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw who were visiting from the east and the were strategizing on how to have Idaho and California join their state by state suffrage campaign.
And so the great question is, what happens in Idaho and California after this conference? So the book looks at all the activity that led up to that moment in 1895 and then looks forward to the next triumphs and maybe not so triumphant moments in the suffrage movement immediately afterwards.
HODGES: Thank you. The book that we’re talking about today is called Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah. And the authors of that book are also here with us—Rebekah Ryan-Clark, the historical research associate for Better Days 2020, and Katherine Kitterman who’s a PhD candidate in American History at American University in Washington D.C. and the historical director for Better Days 2020. Let’s talk about this book.
Neylan, as you mentioned 2020 marks one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Utah women’s first votes the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting voting rights to the majority of the women in the United States. And this book tells this story visually in a timeline format. It’s broken up into chapters, it follows this history, and each chapter begins with kind of a page of narrative, and then you get to see pictures and dates and names and you get introduced to this—
REBEKAH RYAN CLARK: —and quotes.
HODGES: —and quotes. Talk about the structure of the book and what people might expect if they’re interested in picking up a copy of this book. Rebekah, why don’t you describe it a little bit?
RYAN CLARK: So like you said, each chapter begins with an introduction to that next time period. And we really felt like this was crucial to connect the narrative together because it is a narrative that is complex and nuanced, and if you read the book cover to cover you can really pick up on a lot of these rich complexities. But if you’re looking to just get an overview of what was happening in the “big picture” way you can also just look at those chapter introductions and the introduction and epilogue, and all of those together will give you a broad overview of the really important points that come out of the book.
And then to get into deeper detail you can look at the timeline portion of it that really gets into individual events and people that were such key players. And a lot of the richness and depth comes through there. But it makes a lot more sense when you are reading those introductions to each chapter because they help really tie the narrative all together.
HODGES: And some of our listeners do work in the academy so I’d also like to hear from Katherine about the difficulties of doing a book like this, because historians aren’t trained to create a book like this. Historians are used to writing monographs or used to writing straight narrative so maybe a word about the challenges of putting a book like this together.
KATHERINE KITTERMAN: Yeah this made me grateful for some graduate training in public history. But the difficult thing about this, or the difference between writing a book like this and writing something else as a straight narrative style, is that we wanted to break this up into chunks. But again, you want to avoid names and dates which are the reason why so many people hate history in high school, right? So—
HODGES: Because you’re supposed to memorize all the dates and the names!
KITTERMAN: Right. And those don’t matter unless you know the stories behind them, so it was a long process for us to balance that, and we hope we got it right where there’s enough information that you feel like you know a story. We’ve included lots and lots of photographs, which took a lot of work, and sidebars and things to help contextualize and help give you the sense that you have some anchors to follow through that story.
HODGES: It almost reads like a scrapbook sometimes too, because you’ve got newspaper clippings and things like that, yeah.
KITTERMAN: Yeah, and we’re so glad that we’re able to find from so many archives here in Utah a rich visual history of the women and the people that we’re talking about. And in many places you’ll notice where we’ve had to fill something in. [laughs] But it was a great experience to think about telling that story to a different audience and in a different way.
RYAN CLARK: But we’re hoping that, while it’s engaging for a public audience, we’ve also really scoured primary sources and put in a great deal of archival research in looking at primary sources and as many secondary sources as we could find on this topic so that we could really pull together the important pieces and tell the story in a way that has never been told before. Partly because it is so visually rich and engaging that it could be more accessible to a larger audience, but also because the full fifty years of Utah’s suffrage involvement and suffrage advocacy has never been pulled together and told in any publication.
So that research that went into it actually, we hope, will be very useful to historians as they do future work in this area because there is still so much more to be done to really interpret this narrative and to really analyze what it means for us today.
HODGES: Well congratulations to you both on the book and congratulations to Deseret Book for publishing it. The book is called Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah by Katherine Kitterman and Rebekah Ryan Clark.
Let’s go a little bit earlier than the book begins, back to 1840s to Seneca Falls. Katherine, give us a sense for what happened in the United States at that time.
KITTERMAN: Today we trace the beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement back to this meeting at Seneca Falls. Although that, of course, was not the beginning of suffrage activism in the United States.
In 1848 a couple of women got together who had been excluded from anti-slavery conventions back East and then also across the sea in London, who had been kept out because they were women, so they said, “We’re going to have a conference about women. We’re going to talk about why we are legally and socially subordinated to men.” And they gathered in upstate New York in 1848. That was the first time that we have women then agreeing on a resolution saying, “we’re going to seek the right to vote.” It was really controversial, but that was the beginning of a movement that later came to focus on that as the tool to improve woman’s situation.
HODGES: It took time for that to get some momentum—
MCBAINE: Can I just interrupt and say—
HODGES: Yes, please
MCBAINE: One thing that’s really important our focus on the suffrage movement is something that Katherine just alluded to, which is that it was never just about voting. The suffrage movement is really important to us historically and one of the reasons our organization exists is because every right we take for granted as modern women had its origins in this movement that allowed women to enter the public sphere. And that’s what the suffrage movement is about in terms of a women’s advocacy legacy.
It was the main opportunity that they had to speak, to organize, to educate themselves, to become politically active through petitions and gatherings and protests. And we take all of that for granted today, but that was brand new. The idea of moving out of the domestic sphere into the public sphere was a revolutionary idea. And it happened because of this lengthy social justice movement. And we have that movement to thank for all of these abilities that we take for granted today.
HODGES: So we go from Seneca Falls in the 1840s to the 1860s your book begins there, the timeline begins there and there’s a great little article or column from the New York Times which you say was the first publication to openly call for enfranchising the women of Utah territory in 1867. What’s that piece about, Rebekah?
RYAN CLARK: This article in the New York Times that comes out in December of 1867 really is the first time that we have found that there’s a public call for enfranchising the women of Utah. And it’s interesting that to see how they are using Utah as kind of an experiment. So the New York Times says “Utah would be a capital field for women’s suffrage to make a start. And we presume nobody would object to the experiment.” They go on to say that “only the Mormons would suffer if it ends up being disastrous.” [laughs]
But it also offered an opportunity for national suffragists to experiment and see how suffrage could play out in reality, and to then combat the arguments that were being made by anti-suffragists about the dire consequences that would happen if women did enter the public sphere, as Neylan has pointed out.
HODGES: It sounds like the article was a little bit condescending, too. Maybe they were saying, you know, “we’re going to do this experiment with the Mormons, these weird people out in the west.” [laughter] How did Latter-day Saints react to this?
KITTERMAN: Well they just decided to own it. So the Deseret Evening News re-published that New York Times article just a couple of weeks later and then the paper included its own editorial. And they came out strongly in favor of women’s suffrage in Utah. And they pointed to Utah’s history of women voting in church matters. So the Deseret Evening News article says, “the people of Utah are not afraid of the consequences of giving the women of the territory the right to vote. And in an ecclesiastical capacity, women have for years exercised the right of suffrage in this territory.”
So they’re really starting to claim and own this identity of empowerment that they saw the women in Utah, the Latter-day Saint women, as being able to have.
HODGES: And what was happening in the church at that time? I recall from previous interviews that the Relief Society, the women’s organization, had been suspended, for example when Latter-day Saints moved to the Utah Territory. So, what was happening in the church as these national movements, this push toward greater equality for women, was happening?
Do you want to speak to that, Katherine?
KITTERMAN: The Relief Society was reorganized just barely as these conversations are happening. So in Salt Lake City, for example, we have Sarah Kimball who’s the president of the 15th ward Relief Society and they build their own building which is dedicated and opened in 1869. It’s the first women owned building in Utah, but it’s also so much more. It’s a space to elevate women economically, socially, politically, I would argue, as well as religiously.
And so you have this movement happening at the same time where the transcontinental railroad has just come, there’s retrenchment, there’s all sorts of things going on. But the Relief Society has just barely reorganized and formed this organizational network that the women will then use to further their arguments about suffrage.
HODGES: And what kind of things did the Relief Society do for women? What sort of venue did that provide that would have prepared women to push for suffrage?
KITTERMAN: In so many ways we forget that in the 1860s women were not supposed to be speaking to “promiscuous crowds,” mixed crowds of men and women, so that was a real hard thing for women who were involved in the abolition movement. They faced great pushback when they tried to speak in front of men. But the training ground for public activism, for speaking in your own voice and speaking your own story really takes place in the Relief Society, as women speak to each other, as they can experience leading and organizing, especially as they organize for economic cooperative stores like we have in Sarah Kimball’s Relief Society Hall, and organizing relief efforts working with LDS men and projects that they see as building the kingdom.
HODGES: 1868 and 1869 saw two major pieces of legislation that play a really big part in this story. Rebekah do you want to talk about the 14th and 5th Amendments, give people a sense for what those were?
RYAN CLARK: The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, and that granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States and provided equal protection under the law. In many ways, suffragists would argue—and did argue at the time—that this then gave women the right to vote because they were citizens, and officially now in the Constitution their citizenship was established and they saw voting rights as an extension of that citizenship. So that argument made by Victoria Wood-Hall and others in congress at the time.
The problem with the 14th Amendment is that it also added the first mention of gender into the constitution. It referred specifically to the right to vote of “male citizens,” and so that becomes really problematic because now you have ensconced in the constitution clear established male votership.
HODGES: And then the 15th Amendment came along right on its tail.
RYAN CLARK: The 15th Amendment came very quickly after, exactly. And it provided the right to vote for African Americans, specifically males at that time, because the vote had not been extended to women. And this caused a split within the Equal Rights Association at the time. Many of them had really established their political activism as abolitionists and so had really worked for the end of slavery.
But when some of the group started really focusing on supporting the 15th Amendment, others like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were really concerned about focusing in and limiting the votes, specifically to African Americans—worrying then that it would take even longer for women to be included. They thought that that should all be wrapped up together and just extend the right to vote to citizens at the time.
HODGES: What were the main arguments against women’s suffrage at this point? Katherine, do you want to speak to that? What were people saying about why women shouldn’t be voting?
KITTERMAN: Yeah, the interesting thing is there aren’t even as many arguments in 1870 about this because nobody’s taking this idea seriously outside of these groups.
But the idea, really, is that women are different than men in ways that make them unfit for public life, right? That they are either too emotional, or too uninterested, or too uneducated to exercise the vote properly. And we see these arguments being made about a lot of other groups as well—immigrants and people who have come from other countries to the United States later on in history.
There’s also an argument that it will upset the domestic order of things—that women should be in the home and if they’re voting, if they’re involved in politics, that this will upset the order of the family, that they will not be able to take care of their children, those sorts of things.
And these are arguments that had been made back in the early days of the American Republic when there was a real opportunity, a moment of opportunity, and these discussions about whether or not women should be included in the citizenry that could vote and participate in political elections, the arguments started then, saying that women needed to take care of things at home, needed to stay out of politics because their involvement would threaten the Republic.
HODGES: That reminds me, Neylan, of what you were saying about suffrage being just one part of a bigger societal change that needed to happen.
MCBAINE: Absolutely. I mean, as Katherine’s explaining, there were some experiments with allowing property-owning women to vote in the colony of New Jersey in the eighteenth century. And then prior to our first vote here in Utah, women were allowed to participate in some places in school board elections, for instance.
So, things that had direct ties to children and the domestic sphere, it was deemed appropriate for them to participate in those kinds of elections. But this idea that women would be sullied by the political process, that society would break down, was a very real threat at this time. And something that the Utah voters, as I’m sure Katherine and Rebekah will explain here, had a large part in debunking in terms of the national narrative about what it would mean to have women participate in the public sphere.
RYAN CLARK: One of the other arguments was that it was just unnecessary. The women would just vote the way their husbands voted, so there was no need to allow them—
MCBAINE: And the elections would just become twice as expensive. [laughs]
RYAN CLARK: Twice as expensive, twice as many votes, but the same result. And so that became one of the arguments and focusing, yes, on the economics of it became a compelling argument for why there was just no need for such a change.
HODGES: One of the things I think the timeline book does a good job of pointing out to readers is that this was complicated. There weren’t two sides going back and forth—that women should vote or that they shouldn’t vote. There were a lot of different perspectives.
I was really interested in one of the people that you talk about—Charlotte Cobb Godbe. She was an interesting person highlighted here. Katherine, tell us a little bit about Charlotte Cobb Godbe.
KITTERMAN: So, Charlotte was a polygamist wife of William Godbe, who was involved in the “New Movement” in Utah, and as—
HODGES: Give people an idea of what that is really quick, sorry.
KITTERMAN: So, these are people that are challenging Brigham Young’s leadership in economic and religious matters—
HODGES: —members of the Church.
KITTERMAN: —members of the Church. They eventually are going to be out of the Church but, at this time in the late 1860s and 70s, they’re getting going. They’re allying with non-Latter-day Saints who are coming into the territory and forming a political party, the Liberal party.
And Charlotte is one of William’s wives and she has an interesting background. Her mother had left her husband to come to Nauvoo and married Brigham Young and taken Charlotte with her. And Charlotte grew up with these connections back east. She and her mother would visit suffragists in Massachusetts. She was a friend of Lucy Stones, for example. And as the first contact is made between Utahns and national suffrage leaders, it really comes through the Godbe family. And we know that Charlotte and some of her other sister wives were meeting with and hosting Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when they came in 1871.
But then Charlotte has this—she has no place in the New Movement because she ends up divorcing William. She rejects plural marriage, and whether or not she is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days, she doesn’t have a home anywhere. Because she’s a polygamist woman who supports the women of Utah, she sees herself as the voice of Utah women—as the leading voice of Utah women. She was the first one to go back east from Utah and lecture to national suffragists. But she’s not owned by anyone because she doesn’t quite fit in any other groups.
HODGES: And polygamy became such a central part of this story about suffrage in Utah. Rebekah, speak to that a little bit.
RYAN CLARK: Really throughout the entire story—this whole fifty-year span of their involvement in the suffrage movement—polygamy is kind of inextricably linked. Particularly at the beginning, we see their initial entrance—the women of Utah’s initial entrance into the public sphere as being a reaction to anti-polygamy legislation. And they were up in arms about it and gathered together for a great indignation meeting.
And that meeting, while it advocated against the anti-polygamy legislation, it also demonstrated to the nation, and to the men here in Utah, that the women in Utah—and the Latter-day Saint women—were articulate and quite able defenders of their faith and of their rights.
HODGES: Which was definitely against the national reputation, which was that Mormon women were subjugated and miserable and—
RYAN CLARK: Absolutely.
HODGES: —sort of prisoners, really. And maybe a few of them felt like that, right, but you had a greater number of women who wanted to defend their way of life.
RYAN CLARK: They felt very much in partnership with the men in their faith, right? And so, they come and gather in this meeting to—as they said—not to advocate for women’s right, but for men’s rights. But behind that, the underside of that story, is that they are using their political voice and they are claiming rights as citizens to have the right to practice their religion the way they see it.
And the anti-polygamy legislation—the Cullom Bill that they were protesting against—was specifically targeting the citizenship and the voting rights of the men there. And so that then is a direct link to the women here in Utah first advocating and first claiming and calling for their own political rights. Because they saw that as a way to, then, defend their religion as a whole and the rights of Latter-day Saints as a whole.
So that’s when we first see Bathsheba Smith make the motion in one of these meetings that’s planning that initial protest. She says, “We demand of the Gov. the right of franchise.” And that motion is carried, and the women go into that indignation meeting with that as the backdrop of focusing in on their own rights as well.
HODGES: Katherine, how was suffrage finally granted? How did they finally receive the right to vote?
KITTERMAN: Yes, because Utah was a territory there was a little bit of debate in the territorial legislature about whether the lawmakers here had the legal right to change voting laws. They looked at the law, they decided that they did, and then the territorial legislature passed this law unanimously in February of 1870.
So that made Utah the second place that this kind of a law had been passed. And again, what it does is it extends voting rights to women citizens who are of voting age. And so that leaves out some women categorically who are not included in U.S. citizenship laws for several different reasons. But what it does is open the door to say that women have the same footing as men in political elections.
HODGES: You’d think the book would end here. Women receive the right to vote, and that’s not the end of the story. In fact, your book is really about how women receive the right to vote, lost that right, and then fought to get it back.
But first let’s talk about what happened between 1870 and 1880 which your book covers. So there were was some wary feelings on both sides—Latter-day Saints were looking at the national movement, appreciating things about it, but feeling uncomfortable about certain things about it. And national suffragists were looking at Utah women and feeling comfortable with some things and uncomfortable with other things.
Let’s talk about these divisions a little bit. Do you want to speak to that, Rebekah?
RYAN CLARK: Absolutely. The anti-polygamy sentiment is strong within women’s organizations throughout the nation. And so you see that as a constant tension. And as soon as suffrage passes here in Utah, and it becomes clear that the women are not doing what national suffragists hoped with the vote, they’re not overthrowing the practice of polygamy—they’re actually upholding those leaders. So, there’s a shift at a national level, politically, to try to then take away the vote from women in Utah.
And so you see during the seventeen years that the women of Utah are actively engaging in politics and voting and really, for many of them, learning about politics for the first time. There are classes that are held, that Sarah Kimball holds through the Relief Society to try to teach civics lessons so women can be more informed and engaged voters.
But there is sort of the tension there within the national movement that continues. And then Emmeline B. Wells really breaks in with a petition that she gathers here in Utah in response to a call that was made from the national organization asking for all suffragists and all women throughout the nation to gather signatures and advocate for an amendment to the constitution. Emmeline B. Wells answers that call with stunning results and provides more petition names than another state or territory and really puts Utah on the map for those national leaders in a way that hadn’t quite happened yet.
HODGES: So, Utah women weren’t satisfied with just getting the right to vote for themselves. They also wanted to tie into the national conversation. In other words, they didn’t say, “Well, we’ve got ours and now we’re good to go.” They wanted to pursue more. Is that right?
KITTERMAN: It’s an interesting part of the story that this engagement with the suffrage movement and with advocacy for women’s voting rights really is a long and sustained movement here in Utah.
So again, women are voting here, but this is a territory and so they see the need for a constitutional amendment. I think their history also makes them a little wary of that. And then again after women lose it and regain it here in Utah, they still push for a national amendment. And I think that goes to show that they were committed on a level that sometimes has been dismissed.
HODGES: So, as Latter-day Saint women were joining forces with some of the national women—you mentioned people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony—they actually visited Utah and they had different audiences that they had to appeal to. They didn’t just have one place to go and speak.
Neylan, talk about some of these visits. Very fascinating, political situations here…
MCBAINE: Yes. Susan B. Anthony’s first visit to Utah was in 1871. She came as part of a western tour to congratulate the women of Utah on their becoming the first substantial voting block here in the west after Wyoming women. And yeah, she had to be very careful about her different audiences.
As Katherine mentioned, Charlotte Godbe probably hosted her and extended that invitation to her originally. And so, you know, Anthony probably also knew already that she was stepping into a landmine with the polygamists and the anti-polygamists here in Salt Lake. So, she did visit a couple of different locations. She visited something called the Liberal Club, as well as visiting with a very large group of Church members.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton also spoke to those groups. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, actually, in that particular meeting to the LDS women, gave not-so-veiled references to her disgust for polygamy and also talked about birth control and how well she thought of birth control. She was not invited back to speak in Utah, [laughs]
Susan B. Anthony was more tactful. Although, Susan B. Anthony also didn’t quite know what to make of the polygamists. She herself was radical enough that she just thought all marriage was oppressive and she didn’t really care if you were married to one man or many men or if many men were married to you—anyway. So, she was much more open and embracing of the Latter-day Saint practices and of those voting women than several of the other national suffragists.
And so she was invited back—and she came back again in 1895 after the constitutional convention fully enfranchised women in the Utah state constitutional convention—once again, congratulating the women of Utah and using it at an opportunity to strategize about future state-by-state suffrage emancipation.
HODGES: So, those visits kind of book-ended the period when women in Utah lost the right to vote, then. They lost that right in 1887 with the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. How did women respond to that?
Katherine, will you give us a sense of how Utah— and especially the women who had worked hard and received the right to vote—reacted to that being taken away?
KITTERMAN: Most women who had been voting here were devastated. They were understandably upset. They felt like they had exercised their voting rights in ways that showed that they were independent actors, that they were not pawns of male leaders or “the priesthood,” and that as citizens they deserved protection of their rights. They had been petitioning to fight against this congressional legislation for over a decade now. And when they lost that battle, they went to work to go around the side door and come back in again.
So this is the point where you see Utah women organizing their own suffrage organization, the Women Suffrage Association of Utah. And this was affiliated with Susan B. Anthony’s national organization. But as those Latter-day Saints, primarily women, are gathering and regrouping and forming these organizations across the territory, they’re following in some ways the network of the Relief Society. They’re travelling to different places. Leaders like Emily Richards is one of the organizers, Emmeline B. Wells as well, although she has to take a little bit of a backseat because of her polygamist marriage in the past.
But women are going around to these Relief Society organizations, starting organizations in twenty-one of the twenty-seven counties in Utah at the time. And it’s a massive grass roots effort that gets thousands of women involved across the territory.
At the same time, there are some women who had been leading the anti-polygamy movement who felt that this was really great that we’ve taken away women’s right to vote for a while, even though they supported that in principle, they thought—
HODGES: The liberals were like, “Hooray! We took their rights!” Right? [laughs]
KITTERMAN: Right, right, “Now we can win an election maybe!”
KITTERMAN: But the idea is, “We’ve got to wait until polygamy is abolished before we can regain that right to vote.” And so not all women in Utah were on this bandwagon in the beginning.
HODGES: Sarah Kimball, as you mention in the book, saw the Relief Society—which had been founded in 1842 and then kind of restarted later on—she saw this as part of the overall movement toward greater equality for women in general. It wasn’t just for Latter-day Saint women, but part of a—the Restoration, in her mind, sort of encompassed bigger global movements.
Is that accurate Rebekah?
RYAN CLARK: Absolutely. In many ways, the women in the Church here in Utah evangelized their advocacy for women’s right and did so in a very sincere way, that they saw the establishment of the Relief Society and Joseph Smith’s prophetic declaration that that foundation of that organization would lead the way for better days for women, and they really see the spiritual dimension to their work. And I think that also is not limited to the women. We see that with the men in Utah as well. And so you get a really unique element of male and female collaboration here in Utah that is not as common within the larger national movement.
There’s a lot of community support, at least within the Church. So the vast majority of men and women here in Utah were very much in support of suffrage. The fact that it was taken away by the federal government in 1887 really plays into, I think, this larger trend, then, of the women being so committed to the establishment of a constitutional amendment that would protect that right. They had experienced firsthand the weakness of legislatively granted suffrage rights.
I think it was more personal for them. They, on one hand, wanted to spread this gospel of equal rights to the women throughout the nation. They also wanted that security that would come with a constitutional amendment. And so we see that commitment play out well beyond statehood.
HODGES: And there’s this great quote from Sarah Kimball that you have—and the book has a lot of images as the timeline goes on, it has quotes, it has information about what’s happening at the time. It’s really beautifully laid out. And I liked this pull quote, this quote that you highlighted where Sarah Kimball says, “Agitation and education are our best weapons.”
So, they weren’t going to give up. They were going to keep pushing to get that vote back. And the book says that 1890 marked “a new era of cooperation of women in the national suffrage movement and in Utah.” So, they were going to start working together closely again.
How did the tide start to shift in the early 1890’s toward getting the vote back? Katherine?
KITTERMAN: Two big things happen in 1890. The first is that the National American Women’s Suffrage Association is formed. This is a merger of the two rival organizations who have been on both sides of the debate of whether or not to support polygamist women’s suffrage rights. And so, as the organizations merge and enter a new era of cooperation, there’s a question about whether they’ll admit Utah women, but they do. And this paves the way for a more unified effort. And again, as women from Utah are incorporated into that national effort, they’re accepted in a way that they haven’t been in the past, because there’s one voice speaking for the suffrage movement at this time.
The other event in 1890, of course, is the Manifesto. And as the LDS Church publicly declares an official end to polygamist marriage, that opens a lot of doors for Utah women as well. Because there isn’t that same element of danger among national lawmakers or among other women’s organizations who are still wary of polygamist women, right, still wary of what’s going on here, but are more willing to cooperate with them and work with them. It breaks down one of those largest barriers.
MCBAINE: I think one of the fascinating things about the Manifesto, that plays into this story that we don’t often talk about, is the repercussions for the polygamist families. Because that just strengthens this sense of us versus them—the federal government versus the state’s rights or the territorial rights of that time.
I mean, you know, these women have their husbands stripped away from them or the husbands are required to choose a wife. Their children are declared bastardized. They have to leave the country. I mean, we don’t talk about the drastic effects that the Manifesto had on some of these families. And they directly played into the women’s desire to speak for themselves and stand up for themselves and their need to support themselves financially. Because if their families are ripped apart and they have these children, “bastard children,” that they have to take care of now, their position in society was just, overnight kind of, made much more precarious.
And so, it just increased this period, this big ramp up to the constitutional convention, where these women were saying, “We’re in a position where we need to be able to take care of ourselves.”
HODGES: And this convention came about as Utah was finally approaching statehood. It had tried for years. It had petitioned for statehood for years. Finally, they got enough signals that it’s time to try again, you have a good change of it happening. And as they’re preparing the Utah state constitution, they consult with Susan B. Anthony, and she has a really interesting warning for the women of Utah. Rebekah, maybe you could speak to this warning that Susan B. Anthony gave as they were preparing the Utah state constitution.
RYAN CLARK: Susan B. Anthony wrote to Emmeline B. Wells and to the women within the Utah suffrage association. And she warns them saying, “Now, in the formative period of your constitution is the time to establish justice and equality to all the people. That adjective ‘male,’ once admitted into your organic law, will remain there. Don’t be cajoled into believing otherwise. Once ignored in your constitution, you’ll be as powerless to secure recognition as our we in the older states.”
And then she ends it with, “Best love to each and all of you, and best hope for your statehood.”
So, one point is we see this really deep friendship and relationship and respect that has been established between Emmeline B. Wells and Susan B. Anthony and several of the other leaders. But Susan B. Anthony, this was not her first rodeo. [laughter] She had gone through the attempts in other states and she knew from her own experience in New York that no matter how much you a mobilizing, it is so much harder to change the constitution of a state after the fact. And she really was speaking from experience and—
MCBAINE: Wasn’t she quoting Elizabeth Cady Stanton too? I think early when the 14th Amendment was drafted, Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “If the word ‘male’ is inserted, it will take us a hundred years to get it out.”
RYAN CLARK: A hundred years.
MCBAINE: And it took, what? Almost 80?
RYAN CLARK: Close!
MCBAINE: Close! Or sixty maybe? But yeah, so that was this fear that Susan was very familiar with.
HODGES: That’s Neylan McBaine. We’re talking with her and with Katherine Kitterman and Rebekah Ryan Clark today about the book Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah.
So, as they’re preparing the Utah state constitution, they get this advice from Susan B. Anthony and things seem to be moving along well. And then unexpectedly, a prominent church leader, B.H. Roberts, who was a member of the church’s Quorum of Seventy I believe at the time, stood up as they’re debating these things and said, “We should not give women the vote.” Neylan, why don’t you—
MCBAINE: Yeah, it’s a little more nuanced than that! But it’s true B.H. Roberts is not our favorite person. [laughter]
So, what he proposes is separate submission. So, he says, “Look we’ve tried to become a state seven times already. They’ve always denied us. And now here we are, we’re closer than we ever have been before? Why would we jeopardize statehood by including this radical notion of enfranchising our women? We should get our state constitution passed, become a state, and then we can go back and remember the ladies.”
And you know, this of course flew directly in the face of what Susan B. Anthony had just warned them of, that if the constitution passed without suffrage, it would never happen. But Roberts had a strong argument, and he fought very hard for that argument, insomuch that it created the greatest drama of the constitutional convention.
It’s just awesome reading through the minutes because there’s a moment at which B.H. Roberts produces petitions that he has circulated around the state, advocating for separate submission. And a representative from a particular constituency holds up one of the petitions and he says, “I’ve asked the people in my city and town if they signed this and if they knew what they were signing, and they didn’t even know what they were signing! Nowhere on this petition does it say what they’re signing for. And in fact, some of the people on this petition are children!”
And the whole place just erupts.
And so B.H. Roberts actually ends up becoming the minority voice and people like—his brothers in the Church leadership very interestingly, such as Orson F. Whitney and Franklin Richards, offer this really stirring oratory about how equal suffrage will be the “brightest and purest ray of Utah’s glorious star. And it will shine to its sister states as this example.”
And Orson F. Whitney, for instance, says that equal suffrage will be “the great leveler by which the Almighty is lifting up this fallen world.”
So, you have these Church leaders, these male Church leaders really kind of using this constitutional convention as an oratorical battleground, you know, infusing it with religious language and conflating what they’re doing for women with the act of Restoration and kingdom building.
And you have Joseph F. Smith getting into the conversation too while this is all going on. He actually speaks at a Relief Society conference, talking about his lack of patience for women who will not “cast off the shackles of their imprisonment,” and his disgust at when we pay women less than men for doing the same job. So, very incredibly progressive and forceful language with these church leaders speaking to each other in these formal settings.
RYAN CLARK: And just days before B.H. Roberts speaks and really drops this bombshell at the convention, the women had not been just idly standing by. They wanted to secure their advocacy in every way they possibly could. So, they had written petitions and they came and they had their big conference right down the hall from where the constitutional convention was meeting, and then they walked their petition down the hall, delivered it by hand.
And in that petition, that memorial that they deliver. They say, “the women of Utah are by no means indifferent spectators of the drama that is now being enacted.”
And we see that engagement and that really intense level of interest and desire and advocacy on the part of the women all throughout this. They had been working for—all the time leading up the convention, you know, all those years really since they lost the vote—working to try to mobilize and gain support to regain the right to vote. But they had already secured pledges from most the delegates and a party platform from both major political parties that was in support of including women’s suffrage in the constitution.
So they thought they had this all locked up pretty well. But when B. H. Roberts enters it throws everything out of balance and raises some of those tensions that had really been occurring earlier the anti-polygamy association. Those same women who were involved in the national suffrage leadership, but who had opposed suffrage here in Utah. You see those same names, those same women—Jennie Froiseth, Cornelia Paddock, and others—who join with B.H. Roberts and they hold their own big meeting at the Grand Theater to advocate for the separate submission. So, they kind of jump back into that. And we see Charlotte Godbe also starts supporting separate submission.
But the vast majority of the women here in Utah were very much in favor of including it. You see this great moment, all at the same time that these meetings are happening, the Relief Society general conference happens in the Salt Lake Assembly Hall. And Emily Richards—after Emmeline B. Wells has explained the importance of the constitutional provision being included—Emily Richards calls for everyone who is in favor of the suffrage amendment, of suffrage being included in the constitution, to stand up. And the Women’s Exponent records that every women in that large congregation was on her feet immediately.
So we see this widespread support among the women themselves really wanting to include this right, right away in the organic law, in the constitution of their new state.
HODGES: So, it’s going to pass. They put very specific language in the Utah State Constitution that is in there to this day. The language, interestingly, parallels the Equal Rights Amendment that was later proposed. Katherine, do you want to speak to what the actual language of that was?
KITTERMAN: Yeah. Article Four of the Utah Constitution says, “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this state shall enjoy equally all civil, political, and religious rights and privileges.”
That language was taken from Wyoming’s constitution, which was the first state to enter the Union with full suffrage for women. And that language, then, later influences the drafting of the Equal Rights Amendment through Utah’s senator, George Sutherland, who works with Alice Paul, is a great supporter of women’s suffrage and then continues to work with her after the 19th Amendment is passed to continue the work that she and he think need to happen.
HODGES: So Utah becomes a state in 1896. This language is in the constitution. It’s the third state to grant suffrage to women. What kind of things did women do, Neylan, with their political power now that they gained it? Did they sit back? Did they just vote in elections?
What issues did women bring to the forefront of politics? What difference did it make to have women voting?
MCBAINE: I mean, I think there’s a very high level theme that we can look at at this moment to see what does change when you have women participating in the political process. Because of course, neither the fears nor the greatest hopes came to be, right? You don’t have the domestic sphere crumbling, but neither do you have drastic changes happening in legislation and the cleaning up of politics entirely the way it was hoped.
But what we do see is that immediately here in Utah, you see women run in the first election open to women. So that first election happens in 1896 and there’s an election for a state senate position, and you have Emmeline Wells, Utah’s leading suffragist, run on the Republican platform. The two-party system is new with statehood and so people are kind of feeling their way through and trying to figure out which party they belong to. So, Emmeline runs as a Republican. And her protégé or one of her young—a mentee really, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon also decides to run. Now she runs on the Democratic ticket. And not only does Martha run against her mentor, Emmeline, she also runs against her own husband, because she is the polygamous wife of Angus Cannon and he decides to run, too. We don’t know how that all worked out at home, but she wins! [laughter]
And so, in the first election open to women here in Utah, we have the first female state senator elected anywhere in the nation. She was Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon at that time. She’d already received four degrees from medical schools and various other programs back east and she’d come and was serving on the board of the Deseret Hospital and really leading the medical community here. And that was a focus she had brought into her legislation.
So, she actually run legislation in her time as a state senator that focused on creating a public health system, a school for the deaf and the blind, and several other public health programs. And so, we have her to thank for some of those early innovations in public health.
HODGES: So we see women voters looking at ways to improve society in areas of health, emphasis on art and education, to kind of look internationally and think about women abroad, and to bring these issues more to the forefront of politics.
Also, in this chapter, this chapter five is where we’re at here, you talk about black women’s advocates throughout the nation who faced additional restrictions on their rights and opportunities because of their race. And up to this point listeners might be surprised to realize that we’ve mostly been talking just about white women when we’re talking about women and voting. And people of color who are listening will have probably felt this pushing at them all along as we’ve been going along.
So, let’s talk about that. Katherine?
KITTERMAN: So, when Utah’s suffrage law was passed in 1870, and the same thing in 1896, we’re talking about suffrage for citizens. And that’s the kicker here, because at the time there are racially discriminatory laws that prevent whole groups of people from being considered U.S. citizens. So that excludes from the outset Native American women and men, women and men who have immigrated from Asian countries who are barred from applying for U.S. citizenship.
And this situation is a little less cut and dry for black women and some other women of color. There’s nothing on paper in the law that mentioned race or color as qualifications for voting. We know that there’s discrimination, that the national suffrage movement advanced white women’s voting rights at the expense of black men’s and women’s voting rights. But we know that there was some space for participation, and we know from stories that are coming out across the country, of course, that there were women who were organizing to advance their own rights.
HODGES: I was really struck by Elizabeth Taylor, this person that appears here in the fifth chapter.
KITTERMAN: So, we see here in the early years of Utah’s statehood that black women are organizing and involved in politics. We unfortunately don’t have voting records from this time in Utah history, in 1870 or in 1896 or in 1920. So it’s impossible to say for sure who was registered to vote and who was voting.
But we do see so many examples and hints of political participation in the records that we do have. And in the newspapers, and especially in Utah’s black newspapers—there are about five or six for the black community at the time—you see evidences of a “Colored Woman’s Republican Club”—this is the name that they use at the time. And these women in 1895, as the question is coming up of whether women are going to be able to vote, you see them talking and holding meetings about encouraging women to register and vote.
And so, you can see that there’s a level of interest in participation here, that women are pushing some boundaries. You also see that because you see that they’re being warned—”If any registrars say that colored women or working girls aren’t allowed to vote, you need to tell them otherwise.” So that does indicate that there were some difficulties that they were facing, additional barriers when they went to register and exercise their right to vote.
But Elizabeth Taylor is one of my favorite new friends from doing this research, and we’re indebted to the research of so many others who have brought her to our attention. She is a member of this Colored Women’s Republican Club, advocating and helping black women register and vote. And then in 1904, she holds a convention in Salt Lake City. She gets the mayor and the governor of Utah to come and welcome the Western Federation of Colored Women. She was elected president of the Federation, she edits a monthly newspaper called The Western Women’s Advocate, she does a lot of things through this that really fit under that model at the time of the National Association of Colored Women.
Elizabeth’s speech to that convention says, “I believe that the colored women should stand together more than any other class of civilized women in the world.” And she goes on to lay out all of the intersectional difficulties that black women faced in society at the time. She recognizes the double barriers that women face who are also women of color, in education, in their professional life, in their family circumstances, because of the ways that their family members are treated in society. But she’s advocating to come together and to do something about this.
The motto of the national club is “lifting as we climb.” And I think Elizabeth exemplifies that. She’s one of many women who are pushing barriers, who see the power of women coming together, and are doing everything they can to ensure that their people have a voice.
HODGES: And not just black women too, but native people. There’s a person here—I don’t know if I’ll pronounce her name correctly—Zitkala Sa?
KITTERMAN: Zitkala Sa.
HODGES: Yes, so, she was a native woman who advocated on behalf of Native Americans in Utah to say that all of them should get to vote, not just women, but women and men. And they weren’t able to vote, I believe, until 1957? Is that right?
KITTERMAN: Yeah. There’s a Native American Citizenship Act passed in 1924 that allows Native Americans to apply for citizenship for the first time, interestingly, very ironically. But Utah has laws on the books that prevent people who are residents of a reservation from voting until 1957.
HODGES: And what you do point out in the book too, perhaps with some pain, is that we don’t find records of white women fully embracing those movements and bringing them to a forefront. In other words, they were focused largely on citizenship voting, which did not include people of color. And so, it was a white focused movement.
I liked the book’s foreword. It was written by Christine Durham who’s a former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court. She uses her space in the foreword to remind readers that the story in this book is mostly the story of white women. Here’s a quote from her.
She says, “Our celebration of the 19th Amendment, and of Utah women’s suffrage should include reflection on things not done and some promises still unkept. In addition to the voting injustices imposed in this country on people of color and immigrants over many years, the women’s suffrage movement itself contains a sad history of indifference, and even hostility, to the claims of black American women, to their rightful place at the table. We must take our pride in, and our inspiration from, the amazing women who came before us and use their examples to do even better.”
Both of you are white women, and Christine Durham is a white woman. Maybe take a moment to speak to this aspect of doing this history as white women. Rebekah?
RYAN CLARK: So, in the process of writing this book, one of the main themes that we’ve been trying to bring out is the individual voices of the women. And a very important part of that process is including all of the voices. And while we don’t have the records to do adequate justice at this point to the voices and the actions and the advocacy of all the many colored women who had to continue this fight long after other Utah women achieved statehood and regained the official right to vote—You know, that process continued well beyond that for many groups of women and well beyond the 19th Amendment because of the same discriminatory citizenship laws that really took a while to overcome and the voting barriers such as Poll Taxes and other discriminatory practices that really affected women up through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and well beyond, and continue today.
So we thought that it was very important to at least open that dialogue and hope that more and more research will be done as more records are available, so that we can really bring those individual voices of those women to light.
HODGES: How about for you Katherine?
KITTERMAN: As Rebekah said, the process of putting together this book and digging into this history has been an interesting one. We’ve come across so many records of so many women and we’ve come across so many holes and gaps and absences and silences in the archive. And it’s important to me that we make space for that—especially in this year as the centennial of the 19th Amendment is being celebrated, as we’re celebrating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of women’s first votes here in Utah, that we recognize not only the “firsts” and the “onlys,” but we also recognize the women who were left behind or pushed out, but who have continued to work for representation in their communities. And this is, hopefully, a moment for us to reflect on the legacy and perseverance of women in the past. And also again, as Rebekah said and as Justice Durham said, that we can use those examples to do better.
HODGES: That’s Katherine Kitterman. Together with Rebekah Ryan Clark, they wrote the book Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah.
Before we go, I wanted to look at Emmeline Wells—something she wrote in 1911. She hoped that future historians would “remember the women of Zion.” That’s what she said. How did working through this history impact you personally? What personal connection do you have to this?
Rebekah, why don’t you begin?
RYAN CLARK: I love Emmeline B. Wells, so much so that I actually named my third daughter Emmeline after her. And largely because when I first discovered her, I was doing research as a young college student and really trying to find my place and how I was going to model my life. And within this history, and with the women from this early Utah suffrage history, I found templates and models of women who were actively engaged in the public sphere and in a professional sphere and were using their talents to advance women around them, and empower women around them, and also to—as they would’ve seen it—to build the kingdom of God. That they saw a spiritual dimension, too. That they were using their talents and consecrating their talents to this effort.
And so, I connected with Emmeline and with so many of these other women on that level of inspiring examples of ways that we can continue to work to improve our communities, and to let our voices be heard, and to really be active agents within the process of government and our community around us.
HODGES: How about for you, Katherine?
KITTERMAN: Yeah, I’ve been focused on one aspect of this history for so long with my dissertation work—the petitions that Mormon women are sending to government. And thinking about how the process of their involvement as voters, the process of their defense of their rights, changes the way that they see themselves as citizens, as people who have a voice in society, as people who can make a difference.
And I think one of the lessons I have been reminded of over and over again as we go through this history is that change is messy and long and difficult, and that people who even have the same end goal disagree on fifty different dimensions of how and when and by whom that change should happen, right?
And so, honestly, seeing that messiness and seeing the divisions and the setbacks and the disagreements is inspiring in a way because it reminds me that change happens because of millions of ordinary people who get involved and do something.
Sometimes what they do might cancel each other out. Sometimes they are working against each other. Sometimes they’re supporting each other. But I think that the history of the suffrage movement in general, and especially that of the movement in Utah, should encourage us that individual voices matter and that we have a right to be heard.
HODGES: That’s Katherine Kitterman. She’s the historical director for Better Days 2020 here in Utah. And she’s a PhD candidate in American History at American University in Washington D.C.
And we also spoke today with Rebekah Ryan Clark, the historical research associate for Better Days 2020. She holds a law degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School here at Brigham Young University, and also attended Harvard Law School as a visiting student. Together they wrote Thinking Women: A Timeline of Utah Suffrage.
And we were also joined by Neylan McBaine, co-founder and CEO of Better Days 2020.
You can learn more about Better Days 2020 and about this history that we talked about at utahwomenshistory.org. You can also check out their book Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah. It was published by Deseret Book.
Katherine thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about it today.
KITTERMAN: Thank you.
HODGES: And Rebekah, it was great to have you.
RYAN CLARK: Thank you for having us.
HODGES: And Neylan, thank you so much for being here as well.
MCBAINE: Thank you so much for having all of us.
HODGES: Another episode in the books, and perhaps there’s another book to add to your own shelf.
Before we go, let’s check out another review from one of your fellow listeners. This one was sent by Bradenbell:
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Bradenbell, I have some good news. We have a bunch of episodes coming your way. Some of them will feature authors from the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon series, as well as past Institute guest speakers like Melissa Inouye and Robert Alter and others.
So we’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for listening to the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
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