Robert Gehrke: What was the first Utah woman to vote thinking, and what would she think of us

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Depicting women gaining the right to vote in the Utah Territory in 1870, the Seraph Young Votes mural is seen above the House Chamber at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

On Valentine’s Day in 1870, Seraph Young cast a ballot in the Salt Lake City municipal election and in doing so became the first woman in the United States to vote under an equal suffrage law.

It so happens that on the 150th anniversary of that historic day, I unearthed a rare transcript in the vault of The Salt Lake Tribune that captures the discussion Young had with the pollworker that historic morning. (It’s also entirely possible I made it all up.)

[Read more: Utah’s Seraph Young is being celebrated 150 years after she cast the first vote]

Pollworker Pete: Why, good mornin’, Ms. Young. That sure is a purty hat. What brings you by today?

Young: After long years of struggle alongside my sisters, I’ve come to exercise my right to women’s suffrage.

Pete: Well if yer experiencing women’s sufferin’, you should maybe see the doctor.

Young: I’ve come to vote, Pete.

Pete: Ahhh, right. They said we might have some of y’all ladies comin’ by today. Does your husband know what yer up to?

Young: It’s a new day, Pete. I have my own voice in politics now, and I intend to use it.

Pete: Who’da ever thought we’d see the day?

Young: It is tremendous. But it is just the beginning of an inevitable march toward complete equality.

Pete: Beggin’ yer pardon, Ms. Young?

Young: Equality, Pete. Because we can vote, someday dozens of my sisters will run and get elected to the state Legislature, in equal numbers with men, and when we do, maybe one of us will even end the law against polygamy, if that’s what we want.

(photo courtesy Ron Fox) Seraph Young

Pete: Hoooo, boy, Ms. Young. I think maybe you really do need to see the doc after all.

Young: I mean it. And not just the Legislature. Maybe governor, even president of the United States! And because we vote, no matter who it is, the president will have to honor my sisters, treat them with dignity. The people will not stand for an uncouth cur who degrades women and grabs them wherever he wants. We won’t stand for it, because now we can vote him out.

Pete: Well, now, Ms. Young, I dunno bout all that.

[Read more: First vote by Utah woman under equal suffrage law 150 years ago wasn’t big news in local newspapers]

Young: It has to happen! Now that we can vote, our role in the workplace, as well as the home, will be valued. We will be able to take time off from our job if we have children and be able to have help raising our young. And the work my daughters and granddaughters do will be valued and compensated equally, dollar for dollar with what men are paid in the state.

Pete: Well, Ms. Young, I believe that’s durn near 70% true.

Young: It must be true. With the vote we can change everything. We can even amend the U.S. Constitution to ensure women are guaranteed all of the same rights as our brothers.

Pete: Amend the Constitution, Seraph? Why, somethin’ like that could take decades! How them brethren over at church feel about that?

Young: It doesn’t matter, Pete. With this ballot, we hold our destiny in our hands. This ballot liberates us. No more will we elect men who will presume to tell us what to do with our bodies. The marshal will have to take us seriously when we report mistreatment. No more will we be second-class citizens!

Pete: Sounds like you think that there little ballot sure can do a lot.

Young: It can, Pete. It can change everything, even if it takes 150 years or more.

Pete: Well, Ms. Young, if it means all that, I reckon ya best get on with it. And fer what it’s worth, I hope yer right ‘bout all that change.