Utah women had the right to vote long before others — and then had it taken awayRoundup
tags: womens history, Womens Suffrage, Utah
Katherine Kitterman is a Ph.D. candidate in history at American University and historical director for the Utah women's history non-profit Better Days 2020.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of women’s first votes in the United States under an unrestricted women’s suffrage law. On Feb. 14, 1870, 23-year-old schoolteacher Seraph Young cast her ballot in Salt Lake City’s municipal election on her way to work. She and about 24 other women voted that day, and that summer, thousands of Utah women followed suit in the general election. A full 50 years before the 19th Amendment became national law, female citizens in Utah made history as the first to exercise equal suffrage rights.
In February 1870, Utah’s territorial legislature passed a bill extending suffrage rights to female citizens. The territory of Wyoming enacted women’s suffrage in December 1869, but because of the timing of elections, women in Utah were the first to go to the polls. Some American women had previously been able to vote in limited circumstances — property-holding (single) women had voted in New Jersey until they and black men were disenfranchised in 1807. In the time after that, a few states such as Kentucky and Kansas had allowed certain women to vote in school board or other local elections. But the Wyoming and Utah territories were first to extend voting rights to female citizens for all elections without property restrictions. (Still, discriminatory citizenship laws excluded Native Americans and other women of color.) Significantly, while Utahns made history as the first voting women with equal suffrage, they were later disenfranchised as part of the federal government’s efforts to end the practice of polygamy.
This story reveals a historical truth overlooked in many centennial celebrations of the 19th Amendment — that the suffrage movement was a long slog with setbacks, divisions and mistakes along the way. Suffrage history has not been a linear progression. Women’s voting rights did not expand evenly to women of color. Nor did they expand permanently: History and current events show that voting rights are difficult to protect and maintain.
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