See a bookcase and desk used by Utah’s first female state senator. Read Utah’s 1870 suffrage legislation. Check out a ballot box like the one Seraph Young made history with when she placed the first ballot cast by a Utah woman inside nearly 150 years ago.
Each of these are included in the Church History Museum’s new exhibit “Sisters for Suffrage: How Utah Women Won the Vote,” which is now on display in Salt Lake City until January 2021.
“We started talking about the possibility of this exhibit about four years ago, so it has been a long time coming,” Tiffany Bowles, an educator at the museum, said earlier this month at the exhibit’s opening night.
Museum visitors can see an autograph book that the senators and employees of the second Utah Legislature gave to Martha Hughes Cannon after she was elected as the state’s first female state senator. They can read a copy of “The Woman’s Exponent,” a newspaper for Latter-day Saint women that was published from the late 1800s to early 1900s.
At the opening, a pianist played from the 1891 “Utah Woman Suffrage Song Book,” which also is on display in the exhibit — from the period when a federal law had stripped women in Utah Territory of the right to vote. They successfully fought to regain suffrage with statehood in 1896.
“This was one of the songs that Utah women would sing at their suffrage meetings,” Bowles said before the audience sang along to "Woman, Arise.”
The chorus says, “Woman, ‘rise, thy penance o’er. Sit thou in the dust no more; Seize the scepter, hold the van, equal with thy brother, man.”
Letters, ribbons, portraits and memorabilia from Utah’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement are included. Alisa Allred Mercer, 44, of Bountiful, strolled through the museum last week to look at the items with her 11-year-old daughter, Maya Mercer.
DO YOU HAVE A PIECE OF HISTORY?
Researchers have found few local suffrage pins, ribbons and other memorabilia from Salt Lake City and Utah groups, according to the Church History Museum.
If you or your family have such vintage items or information about them, please contact reporter Becky Jacobs at email@example.com.
“It’s important to show my daughter examples of women who are leaders,” Allred Mercer said.
Maya Mercer said she’s learned about historic Utah women with her Girl Scout troop, such as Betty Miller, the first female to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean. The 11-year-old said that “Emmeline B. Wells is cool,” too.
At the opening, some women dressed as famous suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Others wore long dresses, hats and purple, gold and white sashes that read, “Votes for women.”
Alisa Allred Mercer stopped at one point and asked her daughter, “Who’s that standing behind you?” Maya Mercer turned around to see Susan B. Anthony.
The two talked about how Anthony’s teacher refused to teach her long division because of her gender, so her father pulled her out of school to learn somewhere else.
In the exhibit, there’s a copy of Anthony’s biography, which her secretary sent to the Relief Society, the women’s organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the inscription, “To the women who were loyal and helpful to Miss Anthony to the end of her great work.” There’s also a photo from the 1895 National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention held in Salt Lake City that national suffragists, including Anthony, attended.
“Utah women were very active in the early suffrage movement. From the time women in Utah received the right to vote, the Relief Society organization was involved in the fight for women’s suffrage on the national stage," Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, said.
A large colorful quilt greets visitors as they enter the exhibit. The piece, called the “crazy quilt," was created by Emma Green Bull for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, which Latter-day Saint women participated in. It features Utah landmarks and flora and fauna unique to the region. Another piece, called the “antipolygamy autograph quilt,” was made by members of the Women’s Home Missionary Society in Ogden in 1882 to show support for federal anti-polygamy legislation.
While looking at these pieces from the past, visitors can also color their own suffrage pennants and create bookmarks with the seal of the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah on them.
‘SISTERS FOR SUFFRAGE: HOW UTAH WOMEN WON THE VOTE’
A display of memorabilia from Utah’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement.
Where • Church History Museum, 45 N. West Temple, Salt Lake City
When • Nov. 21 to January 2021.
Hours • 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays. Closed on Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving), Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve), Dec. 25 (Christmas Day), Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve) and Jan. 1 (New Year’s Day)
Admission • Free
“Before most women in the country and the world could vote even once," Bowles noted, “Utah women had won the right to vote twice.”
Women were first able to vote in 1870; lost the right in 1887 through federal anti-polygamy legislation; and regained suffrage with statehood. Twenty-four years later, the 19th Amendment brought suffrage on the national level.
“Historically, our state’s early achievements in women’s rights have gone unacknowledged, and until very recently, they’ve been largely forgotten,” said state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork. But programs and exhibits like the one at the Church History Museum are changing that, she said.
Henderson is also the co-chair of the Martha Hughes Cannon Oversight Committee, which worked to get a statue of Cannon in the nation’s Capitol next year.
“I hope that by sending Martha to Washington and celebrating our past achievements with exhibits like this one at the Church History Museum, we will remember and be inspired by those who blazed our trails and whose shoulders we stand upon today,” Henderson said.
Bowles said, “We want you to get to know the names and faces of Latter-day Saint women who made their mark in history by seeing a need and working together to bring about change.”
Hopefully, she added, “you will be inspired by them.”
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.