Not everyone in Utah can name an instrumental woman from the state’s history, let alone a female leader working in their community today, Naomi Watkins said. But by listening to a new podcast she’s co-hosting, they can learn.
Each episode of “This is Her Place” tells the stories of multiple women centered around a theme. The first one, which focused on law enforcement, featured Rosie Rivera, Salt Lake County’s first female sheriff, sworn in in 2017, and Claire Ferguson, who became Utah’s first female deputy sheriff in 1897.
The second episode looked at public health and the roles of Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist who has led Utah’s coronavirus fight; Annie Dodge Wauneka, a tribal elder and public health advocate who worked on the Navajo Nation in the mid-20th century; and Martha Hughes Cannon, a physician who helped establish Utah’s first state board of health and became the first female state senator in the United States.
The name “This is Her Place” plays on the story of Brigham Young, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declaring as members arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, “This is the place.”
It also counters the idea “that a woman needs to stay in her place,” Watkins said. She said she likes that the podcast’s name is a declarative statement about the many roles that women hold.
“This is Her Place” premiered last month. Patrick Mason, the project’s executive producer, came up with the idea for a podcast after seeing the many celebrations planned throughout 2020 to commemorate women’s suffrage milestones. This year is the 150th anniversary of Utah women first getting the right to vote and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment enfranchising women across the country. He wondered: What happened after these achievements?
Mason, an associate professor of history at Utah State University, grew up and went to school here, but before working on this podcast, he “would’ve been hard pressed to name more than a handful of Utah women from the state’s history.”
Watkins already was familiar with many women leaders from Utah’s past; she previously worked as the educational director for Better Days 2020, a nonprofit that promotes Utah’s suffrage history. As Watkins started working on this new podcast, it was important to her that her co-host was male.
“Women’s history ... gets labeled as something only of interest to other women,” Watkins said, “which I don’t think is true.”
By telling these stories with Tom Williams, longtime host of Access Utah on Utah Public Radio, they can show that “women’s history is history, and it can be of interest to anybody, regardless of gender,” Watkins said.
Eventually, Mason would like to see the podcast make its way into classrooms for teachers to use.
“I want girls who are growing up in Utah to hear these stories and say, ‘I could be a sheriff,‘” or go into public health after seeing Dunn at the podium, Mason said. And it’s important for boys to learn about these women and be inspired, too, he said.
By telling these stories through a podcast, the creators’ goal is to reach a wide audience, even beyond Utah.
“We learn about women who live elsewhere, and their amazing stories,” Watkins said. “... I think these stories have universal appeal regardless of whether you live here or not.”
In future episodes, Watkins said, they plan to explore women who worked in public art, such as painter Minerva Teichert; Jann Haworth, known for designing The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover; and artist Ruby Chacon. Another one will examine the Equal Rights Amendment and efforts by Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, and Alison Thorne to get Utah to ratify the ERA.
People can listen to This is Her Place on whichever podcast platform they use. The creators are also accepting suggestions of women to be featured through thisisherplace.org. How many episodes they’ll be able to do depends on the donations they receive. The podcast has already received support from USU’s Year of the Woman initiative and private donors.
“There’s just so many interesting stories to tell,” Watkins said.