Exactly 149 years after Seraph Young became the first woman to vote not only in Utah but in all of America, Utah lawmakers advanced legislation on Valentine’s Day seeking to rekindle women’s love of voting in the Beehive State.
Beneath a mural depicting the historic vote by Young — a grandniece of Brigham Young — the Utah House unanimously advanced HCR16 on Thursday morning to forevermore designate Valentine’s Day as Women’s Voter Registration Day in Utah. The Senate followed suit in the afternoon, passing the measure without a dissenting vote.
It comes as Utah women have largely seen the flame go out of their love affair with voting — with the Census estimating that 29.2 percent of all eligible Utah women were not registered to vote in the 2016 presidential election, 288,000 of them. That is roughly the same as the combined population of Salt Lake City and Ogden.
Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, said the vote Thursday also “recognizes and appreciates all of the women before us who have provided the opportunity to vote.”
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said lawmakers hope that through such efforts, “more women will have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
Back on Feb. 12, 1870, the then-all-male Utah Territorial Legislature unanimously approved voting rights for women. Salt Lake City held a local election just two days later, and 23-year-old Seraph Young was excited to become the first woman to exercise the newly won franchise.
That was 50 years before the 19th Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in 1920 to grant all U.S. women the right to vote. Congress stripped Utah women of the right to vote through an anti-polygamy law in 1880, until the 19th Amendment restored it 40 years later.
The resolution the House passed Thursday calls for Utah Women’s Voter Registration Day to “be a celebration of democracy, rights and opportunities for all women in Utah.”
It added, “Utah was a leader in the women’s emancipation movement in the 19th century and can again assume a leadership position in promoting women’s civil engagement.”
The Legislature has a record number of women this year — 25 — but that 24 percent is still below the national average of female state lawmakers.