Last weekend, a Utah Republican Party precinct chairman shared a meme on Facebook that made this statement: “The more I study history the more I think giving voting rights to others not head of household has been a grave mistake!”
No, he wasn’t joking and, no, he is not alone in his thinking.
During the 2016 election cycle, the hashtag #Repealthe19th was used several times. It even trended a couple of times. Once was in October, after pollster Nate Silver posted two Electoral College maps that showed what the presidential race would look like if only one gender voted. If only women voted, his map showed that Hillary Clinton would win handily. The reverse was true if only men voted.
Alt-right pundit Ann Coulter has said, “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 — except Goldwater in ’64 — the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted.”
More than one of the commenters on that precinct chairman’s Facebook post (since deleted) agreed with him. One called it the “higher law” and a proper return to the patriarchal order. Another, calling himself an “originalist,” argued that we should go back to the first days of the Constitution and allow only (white) property owners to vote.
It seems there are some Utahns who have forgotten (or never learned) our great state’s history. In 1870, 50 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, the Utah Territory gave women the right to vote. The Edmunds Act of 1882 withdrew the vote from polygamists, and the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 disfranchised all Utah women.
In 1889, Utah women launched a campaign to regain voting rights. They signed petitions, held marches, made speeches and, yes, used Relief Society meetings and newsletters to advocate for equal voting rights. Emmeline B. Wells and Martha Hughes Cannon were active suffragettes. Both ran for office.
Wells was a prolific author who famously said, “I like women. Especially thinking women.” She became the fifth general Relief Society president for the LDS Church. Cannon was the first female state senator ever elected in the United States. Both used their public presence as an opportunity to speak and write about women’s rights. Through the years, Wells took pride in the fact that the Relief Society had opened “one of the most important eras in the history of woman. It presented the great woman-question to the Latter-day Saints, previous to the woman’s rights organizations … not in any aggressive form as woman opposed to man, but as a co-worker and help-meet in all that relates to the well-being and advancement of both, and mutual promoting of the best interests of the community at large.”
Prominent men of the day also favored giving women the right to vote. Orson F. Whitney, speaking at Utah’s 1895 constitutional convention, said, “It is woman’s destiny to have a voice in the affairs of government. She was designed for it. She has a right to it. This great social upheaval, this woman’s movement that is making itself heard and felt, means something more than that certain women are ambitious to vote and hold office. I regard it as one of the great levers by which the Almighty is lifting up this fallen world, lifting it nearer to the throne of its Creator.”
Heber M. Wells, the first governor of the state of Utah, said this: “The plain facts are that in this State the influence of woman in politics has been distinctly elevating. In the primary, in the convention and at the polls her very presence inspires respect for law and order. Experience has shown that women have voted their intelligent convictions. They understand the questions at issue and they vote conscientiously and fearlessly.”
He also said, “For one I am proud of Utah’s record in dealing with her female citizens … and I look forward with eager hope to the day when woman suffrage shall become universal.”
Better Days 2020 is a statewide initiative launched not only to recognize and celebrate universal suffrage, finally ratified in 1920, but also to educate Utahns on our proud history of women’s rights. Better Days 2020 draws its name from a rallying cry the women of Utah territory used as they worked toward women’s equality. “This is the beginning of better days,” Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said when founding the Relief Society in 1842.
Utah used to lead the nation in treating women as equals. Wouldn’t it be great to get there again?
Holly Richardson, a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune, is a fan of voting rights for all. Even people who vote differently than she does.