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Murray Journal

Murray suffragettes who helped earn women the right to vote

Jan 22, 2020 11:37AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray-born suffragette Emily S. Richards. (Photo courtesy Utah Historical Society)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing women’s right to vote in elections. The right to vote, or suffrage, was strongly supported in Murray decades before the amendment passed, and Murray was home to very active suffragettes.

Women’s suffrage was proposed in Utah as early as the 1860s. Many Eastern newspapers, including The New York Times, suggested that women voters would deal a blow to polygamy and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1870, the Deseret News reported that Ladies Mass Meetings were taking place in numerous communities in Utah Territory to support suffrage, including Murray, then known as South Cottonwood. The Utah Territorial Legislature granted women the right, and Seraph Young was the first American woman to vote under equal suffrage laws that same year.

Latter-day Saint women embraced voting rights, and the idea that voting rights would spell doom for polygamy and the church died. After 17 years, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which not only outlawed polygamy, making it a federal crime, but also repealed women’s suffrage.

Leading the charge against the repeal of women’s suffrage was Murray-born Emily Sophia Tanner Richards, whose family established the Tanner homestead on the eastern side of the South Cottonwood settlement (near present Woodstock Elementary).

Richards moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband, Franklin, who was lobbying for Utah’s statehood. Emily, who was no less passionate about her cause, joined suffrage leader Emmeline Wells in meeting with President Grover Cleveland to reduce anti-Mormon sentiment.

Richards’s activism caught the eye of leading national suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw, and Carrie Chapman Catt, and she was invited to create the Utah chapter of the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Richards’s eloquence earned her invitations to speak on behalf of the national organization at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition and the World’s Congress of Representative Women in 1893.

As Utah inched closer to statehood, one question was whether to once again grant women the right to vote or risk denial of statehood by Congress and the president. In 1895, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that in Murray, a routine irrigation board meeting turned into a suffrage meeting when an unnamed woman interrupted the meeting and called for a resolution to support women’s voting rights. The 300 to 400 people present were reported to have unanimously endorsed the measure.

Also, the Tribune reported that the South Cottonwood LDS Ward interrupted its services to discuss the matter: “…the ‘unanimous’ women suffrage meeting referred to… yesterday, was the regular Sunday meeting held in the South Cottonwood Ward House on Sunday. And after a labored argument by Bishop Rawlins, exhorting the Saints to stand firm for woman suffrage in the Constitution, a ‘show of hands’ was called for in favor. Of course, a large number of hands went up, but the vote was not nearly unanimous, nor was a negative show called for.”

Murray’s support for women’s suffrage was noted to the Constitutional Committee and was included in the proposed statehood constitution. Utah was granted statehood in 1896, with women’s voting rights included.

Susan B. Anthony came to Utah to celebrate the successful enfranchisement of women and stayed at Richards’s home. Of the event, Richards said, “Women have a chance in the Utah Constitution to show their capacity for government and help mold the institutions of society. The work is but begun; the cause is in its merest infancy. That which remains to be done opens up before us in an almost endless vista. In a faraway promised land, we behold a perfected state wherein the heart and hand and intelligence of women contribute their full share.”

Richards would continue to advocate for national suffrage, being called to speak in places as far away as Toronto and Berlin and would celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August of 1920. She would go on to form the Utah League of Women Voters as well as vote in all the nine elections, until her death in 1929.