Utah women were the first in the nation to vote 150 years ago. A young, 23-year-old school teacher, Seraph Young, cast her ballot on her way to work on the morning of February 14, 1870 and became the very first woman, under an equal suffrage law, to vote. This year we’re celebrating Utah’s leadership in the nation on this very important issue.
Utah’s suffrage history is a story of cooperation and civic engagement. It’s the story of Utah men and women working together in a common cause for the benefit of all. On a cold January day in 1870, 5,000 women gathered in downtown Salt Lake City to ask for, among other things, the right to vote. Just a few weeks later the territorial Utah Legislature, made up entirely of men, unanimously extended that right. For the next 17 years they voted side by side trying to craft their territory into a place where they could live according to their ideals. But, in 1887, in an attempt to end polygamy, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which took away from all Utah women the right to vote. Needless to say they were outraged and went to work immediately trying to win it back. They knew that it was important to have a say in their communities and that one of the most effective ways to do that was to vote.
They created the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah and organized local chapters throughout the territory. Utah women met together, and organized. They signed petitions, and they spoke up for what they believed in. When Utah held it’s Constitutional Convention in 1895, both parties supported voting rights for women in their platforms. The delegates included a clause in the Utah Constitution that read, “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.” Once again the all-male electorate overwhelmingly approved sharing the franchise with their wives, sisters, and mothers.
The story didn’t end there. After winning the right to vote for themselves, Utah women went to work on behalf of their sisters across the United States. They testified before Congress, raised money, worked with the national suffrage organizations, and some of them were even arrested and beaten as they tried to make sure that women across the nation enjoyed the same rights that they held. In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified granting suffrage to women across the United States. The cooperation and civic engagement continued after the 19th Amendment passed to ensure that minority groups could equally enjoy that privilege.
Utah has a strong history of leadership and a legacy of influential women and men working together who understood that Utah, and the nation, prospers when each citizen has the opportunity to participate. How can we live up to that legacy? As we enter an election year I challenge you to make sure you are registered to vote and then exercise that right! Visit vote.utah.gov to register, or check your information. We stand on the shoulders of men and women who understood how much voting matters and that they could make a difference in their communities by participating. Let’s live up to this incredible legacy.
To learn more about Utah’s suffrage history or to see how your city can celebrate the suffrage anniversaries this year please visit UtahHERitage.org.
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Aimee Winder Newton
Aimee Winder Newton has served since 2014 and represents Taylorsville, Murray, West Jordan, and West Valley City on the Salt Lake County Council. She was a former 2020 Republican candidate for Utah Governor and was the first woman elected as chair of the Council. Aimee works tirelessly to defend the quality of life in Salt Lake County while protecting tax dollars... [read more]
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aimee winder newton: County Council district 3