New Utah license plate to commemorate women’s suffrage, Utah women first to vote

Photo by FPG/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Fifty years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, women in the Utah territory were granted the right to vote for the first time in the post-Civil War era. In commemoration of this fact – and women’s suffrage in general – the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles has introduced a new license plate.

An image of the new Utah license plate honoring women’s suffrage | Image courtesy of the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles, St. George News

The plate is among 65 available special group plates available for purchase through the DMV for $16.

Utah women were granted the right to vote not once, but twice. They were first allowed to vote when the territorial legislature gave them the right in 1870, but they were still allowed to hold office.

Unlike many states, Utah gave women the right to vote the first time without fighting for it, according to the Utah Division of State History. In an unsuccessful effort to eliminate polygamy, anti-polygamy groups from back East tried to give Utah women the right to vote thinking they would vote to make plural marriage illegal.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, thought that granting women the right to vote would instead change the country’s opinion that Mormon women were oppressed in hopes of actually stopping anti-polygamy legislation in Congress.

Some of the push for women’s suffrage in western territories including Utah, Wyoming and Colorado was because they hoped to encourage women to move to the area. They wanted to both to balance the male-to-female ratio and boost their population to have enough residents for statehood, said Laura Davis, assistant professor of history and co-coordinator of women and gender studies at Southern Utah University.

“I think Utah women getting the right to vote complicates our understanding of women’s history and gender history especially here in the west,” Davis said. “There are a lot of stereotypes and granting women the right to vote really undermines those because giving women the right to vote here in Utah and in the west made it a much more progressive area then we often give it credit for.”

Utah was not the first state in which women had the right to vote. In fact, women in New Jersey voted as early as 1776 since their state Constitution said that all inhabitants, of age, who were worth 50 pounds and had been residents for 12 months could vote.

This still excluded married women, who could not own property, but single women did vote in the state until 1807 when the Democratic-Republican Party changed the rules so that only white males who paid taxes could vote, according to a National Park Service article. Most women were voting for the Federalist party, and taking their vote away was a political win for the other party. So while Utah was not the first state where women could vote, they were the first of the post-civil war era.

The Wyoming territory also granted women the right a year earlier than Utah in 1869, but a Utah woman, Brigham Young’s grandniece Saraph Young, was the first woman to vote in the U.S. in this era, casting a vote in a municipal election.

In 1887, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which made bigamy, polygamy and unlawful cohabitation illegal and also took away women’s right to vote, according to the Washington County Historical Society.

After having their rights taken away, Utah women, Mormon and non-Mormon, joined the National Woman Suffrage Association. Many non-Mormon women wanted national voting rights but were against Utah women voting, fearing that it would only strengthen the Mormon church, according to the Utah Division of State History.

As a solution, in 1888 Emily Richards approached Mormon church officials with the idea of forming a Utah suffrage association that was affiliated with the National Woman Suffrage Association. The association was officially formed in 1889, and leading roles were given to women who were not in a polygamous relationship. Margaret Caine became president while Richards was appointed as state organizer.

These women were being very brave and taking a lot of risk to fight and get the right to vote and I think we should definitely honor and celebrate that,” Davis said.

When Congress passed the 1894 Enabling Act, allowing Utah to become an official U.S. state, the women of Utah worked hard to ensure their right to vote and hold office would be included in the state’s Constitution. Most delegates were for allowing women to vote, but some were afraid that if they included them in the Constitution it would not be accepted by Congress.

Women’s suffrage supporters did manage to have the right to vote and hold office included in the Constitution which was adopted Nov. 5, 1895, giving women the right to vote for the second time in Utah history.

While granting women the right to vote and the ratification of the 19th Amendment were big wins for equality, Davis acknowledges that it was not the end of the story. Jim Crow laws still prevented many African-Americans from voting, Native Americans were not considered citizens and many other races were not yet allowed to vote.

“We need to remember that this is a hard fought and won battle that these suffragettes fought to get the 19th Amendment passed,” Davis said. “But I also think we need to remember that the passing of the 19th Amendment isn’t the end of the story.”

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • Redbud October 1, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    When does the men’s suffrage license plate come out from all the false rape accusations?

    • Chris October 2, 2018 at 12:52 am

      like NickDanger, you apparently don’t do well with women.

    • bikeandfish October 2, 2018 at 9:05 am

      It doesn’t appear you know what the word suffrage means.

      • Chris October 2, 2018 at 2:06 pm

        yeah, Redbud’s knowledge of the English language is rather limited.

    • Happy Commenter October 4, 2018 at 11:17 pm

      Redbud, forgive them, for they don’t really know what they think they know!

  • KR567 October 1, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    when does the non Mormon suffrage plates come out from the State of Utah not recognizing the separation of church and state

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