Next summer, Utahns can take a seat, look toward the state Capitol and see the words of the people who fought for women’s suffrage.
“Education and agitation are our best weapons of warfare,” said Sarah M. Kimball, president of the Utah Women’s Suffrage Association. “The era of women has begun and only in unison is our strength,” said Charlotte Godbe Kirby, a Utah women’s rights advocate in the 1870s and ’80s.
These quotes will be part of a sculpture announced this week that will be installed around August 2020 in Salt Lake City, to commemorate women’s history in advance of upcoming local and national celebrations.
Next year is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women nationwide the right to vote, and the 150th anniversary of Utah becoming the first place in the country where a woman cast a ballot.
A committee selected Kelsey Harrison, an assistant professor of sculpture intermedia at the University of Utah, and Jason Manley, an assistant professor of art at Weber State University, to design the structure, according to Better Days 2020, a nonprofit focused on highlighting Utah women’s history. The project is supported by private fundraising.
The sculpture, which will be over 200 square feet and about 8 feet tall, includes four doorways, two chairs, a table and a bronze block of quotes.
Harrison said they researched the area and its history to envision their design. Manley is from Missouri, while Harrison is from California.
“Neither of us had made work about the subject of the 19th Amendment and Utah’s involvement in suffrage,” she said.
The two visited the spot where the sculpture will be installed, on the northeast lawn of the historic Council Hall. On Valentine’s Day in 1870, Seraph Young and 24 other women entered the building and cast their ballots in a municipal election, making history. Today, it houses the Utah Office of Tourism.
“We decided how we wanted the site to function. And for us, it was important that it was a place you would want to visit more than once,” Harrison said.
Harrison and Manley didn’t want people to just look at their sculpture; they wanted them sit on and interact with it, she said.
The two chairs are modeled after the chairs men were sitting in when they signed the Utah Constitution. And the table looks like the one that suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others used when they drafted the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 before the Seneca Falls Convention.
“The table became quite iconic of that event,” Harrison said.
Article IV, Section 1 of the Utah Constitution will be inscribed on the surface of table, which states, “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.”
Near the table and chairs will be four engraved door frames, which represent the progression of voting rights achievements in the 20th century. The artists included the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920; the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, which granted citizenship to Native Americans born in the U.S.; the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952, which addressed immigration; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Near the door frames will appear bronze quotations from local and national suffrage leaders, including Lucretia Mott, Martha Hughes Cannon, Emmeline B. Wells and Susan B. Anthony, among others.
When Better Days 2020 asked for proposals for the sculpture earlier this year, they requested a “conceptual, non-figurative sculptural installation," meaning no representations of an actual person. The chance to make something “creative” and “contemporary” is part of what interested Harrison and Manley. While Manley has public art experience, Harrison said, “I haven’t worked on this scale before, so it’s really exciting for me.”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.