As Utahns gathered Friday to celebrate major milestones for women’s voting rights in the state, leaders had a clear message: The fight continues.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall talked about the 316,000 Utah women who are eligible but not registered to vote. Amy Rich, co-founder of the nonprofit Fair Utah, spoke about the need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, pointed out that women make up only a quarter of the state Legislature.
“We, as people, have more ceilings to shatter, more stereotypes to help lay aside, more strides to make for equality,” Salt Lake City Councilwoman Ana Valdemoros said at a rally organized by the League of Women Voters on Friday afternoon outside the Capitol.
This week marked the 150th anniversary of Utah women first getting the right to vote. On Feb. 14, 1870, Seraph Young, grandniece of Brigham Young, cast a ballot in a Salt Lake City municipal election, becoming the first woman in the country to vote under an equal suffrage law.
Roughly 100 people, most of them women, marched Friday from City Creek Park up to Council Hall, where Young cast her historic vote. (When Young was alive, Council Hall was located near where Harmons is now at 100 South and State Street, but it was later moved.)
Better Days 2020, a nonprofit that organized the remembrance walk, passed out ribbons for participants to remember women from Utah’s history. “We honor all of them today," said Katherine Kitterman, historical director for Better Days 2020.
Heather Handy, 34, of South Jordan, wore the name of her grandmother, Beverly Handy, who lived in Holladay all her life and worked as a secretary at the University of Utah.
“She was a working woman in a time when that wasn’t really super popular, but she wasn’t ever embarrassed about really loving her job and what she did,” Handy said.
Jill Tingey, 56, of Millcreek, carried signs with pictures of historical Utah women, including Martha Jane Horne Tingey, the great-great-great grandmother of Jill Tingey’s husband. But Tingey said she also admired her mother, Jane Hales, 80, also from Millcreek, who joined her Friday.
“My mom is one of the strongest women I know,” Tingey said.
Karrie Randall walked with her 3-year-old daughter Louisa, who carried purple, white and yellow flags, representing the colors of suffrage.
“We’ve been talking to her about what voting means. She doesn’t really get it. But it’s exciting to be able to teach her about these women’s rights and … these feminist themes that are fun to talk about with her,” said Randall, 31, of South Salt Lake.
Utah women received the right to vote twice before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. After federal anti-polygamy legislation disenfranchised women in 1887, they regained suffrage when Utah became a state in 1896.
But not all women got the right to vote at that time. Women of color continued the fight for suffrage for years, said former Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck.
“As feminists of a new era today, we have an opportunity provided to us to acknowledge and learn from the oppressive history of the past and ensure going forward that all people in the margins of our community and our country have barriers removed to their access to franchise,” said Chavez-Houck.
Chavez-Houck named women often left out of suffrage history, including suffragists Sarah Parker Redman and Fannie Barrier Williams. Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, referred to the 22 African American college women who founded the now-national Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1913 and fought for women’s rights “despite knowing that these were benefits they would not enjoy.”
While this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, women really haven’t been able to vote for all that long, former Congresswoman Karen Shepherd said. “My grandmother was 30 years old before she could vote,” she said.
But women’s votes are critical today, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “It is the vote of women that will chart the course of our future and the arc of justice in this nation,” he said.
Former Rep. David Irvine reflected on how he voted against the Equal Rights Amendment when he was in the Utah Legislature in 1973, which he said he now regrets. With Democratic Murray Rep. Karen Kwan’s current resolution for Utah to ratify the ERA, though, Irvine said he’s glad his successors have another “opportunity to do the right thing.”
Women have been left out of the Constitution in the past, but “we are done with lip service” and “pats on the head,” said Amy Rich, of Fair Utah. “We want it in writing. We want equality enshrined in the Constitution.”
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 by clicking here.