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1870: Women Get the Vote

In short:

couple

Emily S. Richards, a woman suffrage crusader in Utah. Her husband, Frank Richards, also spoke out for suffrage.

Women in the Utah Territory got right to vote well before the 19th amendment was passed in 1920.  In fact, women in Utah were granted the right to vote twice!

More of the story:

The territorial legislature of Utah unanimously granted women the right to vote in 1870.  Unlike other suffrage victories in history, this one came about without any large protest or civil action by women’s groups. 

Both Mormons and non-Mormons wanted women to vote.

Strangely enough, both a group of people who had left the Mormon church (the Godbeites) and antipolygamy groups in the East wanted Utah women to have the vote. Some people thought that if they had the chance to vote, women would abolish polygamy.

At the same time, Brigham Young knew that, because of the practice of polygamy, the nation viewed Mormon women as victimized and oppressed.  He realized that if Utah gave them the right to vote, it might change that image. 

Wyoming had given women the vote in 1869, so Utah was the second territory to do this. No states allowed women to vote at that time.

Brigham Young’s grandniece, Sarah Young, became the first woman to cast a vote in the territory. Women did not have the right to run for office, however. 

A right snatched away.

The 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act took the right to vote away from Utah women. It also had several other measures intended to force Mormons to end polygamy. It worked.

A right returned.

When Congress voted to accept women as a state, suffrage groups worked to get the vote reinstated. It was a big controversy. But thanks to the efforts of suffrage groups in the state and on a national level, and due in a large part to LDS church leaders, who encouraged women to become activists in the national suffrage movement, women’s rights won. The state constitution gave women the right to vote and to run for office.

At the time the constitution was ratified, only two other states in the entire United States had granted women the right to vote.