The Woman’s Exponent and Its Impact on Women’s Suffrage

by JORDAN EVANS

The Woman’s Exponent was a monthly newspaper that was published from June 1872 until February 1914. A Brigham Young University archive notes the newspaper was geared specifically toward women of the LDS faith and helped to record the early history of Utah. According to the archive, although the LDS Church did not own The Woman’s Exponent, it did gain the backing and support of the Church. The Relief Society of the LDS Church operated the newspaper. The Woman’s Exponent had such a profound effect on Utah history because it not only was early documentation of what was going on Utah, but it also took a stance on many political issues, including women’s suffrage.

Emmeline Wells was one of the first women to stand up and support women’s suffrage in The Woman’s Exponent. In the first issue printed on June 1,1872, Wells was quoted saying, “Millions of intelligent women are deprived of the vote simply because nature qualified them to become mothers and not fathers of men. They may own property, pay taxes, assist in supporting the government, rend their heart-strings in giving for its aid the children of their affections, but they are denied all right to say who shall disburse those taxes, how that government shall be conducted, or who shall decide on a question of peace or war which may involve the lives of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands.” This statement Emmeline Wells made in the first issue showed not only the outlook of the Utah women, but also the men in Utah as well.

According to an article printed by the Women of the West Museum, Brigham Young, the Prophet of the LDS Church at the time, supported The Woman’s Exponent and Emmeline Wells’ opinion on women’s suffrage. Young thought that if the women of Utah could vote it would help him gain more control over the territory. The Woman’s Exponent did not just give Emmeline Wells the ability to voice her opinion, but it also gave women all over Utah the option to stand up and get their opinions heard, which is another reason that The Woman’s Exponent played such a strong role in the women’s suffrage movement.

Other women also used The Woman’s Exponent as a tool to gain support for women. Louisa L. Greene, who was the first editor of the newspaper, wrote in the June 15, 1872, issue, “We have no rivalry with any, no war to wage, no contest to provoke; yet we will endeavor, at all times, to speak freely on every topic of current interest, and on every subject as it arises in which the women of Utah, and the great sisterhood the world over, are specially interested.” By publishing this quote in The Woman’s Exponent, Greene ensured that the paper would cover any issue it pleased and that just because women wrote it did not mean that they would hold back on their opinions. This ideal held true because the topic of the fight for women’s suffrage can be seen throughout many of the issues published. In the PBS documentary, The West: Episode 5, the women also used their voices to stand up and support polygamy as well.

The Woman’s Exponent continued to fight for women’s suffrage by including news about some of the biggest supporters of women’s suffrage. Susan B. Anthony was included on the front page in the July 15, 1872, issue of The Woman’s Exponent. Part of a letter she wrote to the men of the Republican Convention was published. She said, “In behalf of the women of this nation, one-half the entire people, I ask you to put a plank in your platform that shall assert the duty of the National Government to protect women citizens in the exercise of their right to vote, and thereby make it possible for women possessed of true self-respect to advocate the claims of the Republican Party to the suffrage of the people.” By including this piece about Anthony, it can be determined that The Woman’s Exponent believed that women’s suffrage news was worthy of a spot on the front page. This placement in the journal stressed that the Utah women during this time felt that they were respectful women who deserved equal treatment and rights. Articles such as the Anthony piece described above give validation to the opinions of Utah women during this time period. This piece is included in the journal because The Woman’s Exponent most likely wanted to show its support for equal rights for women.

Anthony also appeared in another publication of The Woman’s Exponent. In the July 1, 1873, issue an article was published about a recent court trial that was held to determine if she had voted illegally. The article reported, “As might have been anticipated, Judge Hunt, in the trial of Susan B. Anthony, for illegal voting at Rochester, New York, gave the decision that each State and not the United States, has the power and authority to judge for its own citizens in relation to sex and other qualifications. Miss Anthony is a shrewd woman, does not give up the chase and at the next general election, will probably be allowed to vote as she deserves to do nonetheless.” This article gave a clear view of where The Woman’s Exponent stood on women’s suffrage. By publishing the opinion that Anthony deserves to vote in the next election, the newspaper made it clear just how strong their support for women’s suffrage was.

Another early issue of The Woman’s Exponent announced news of the progress of women’s fight for equal rights and the freedom to vote. The announcement appeared in the August 1,1872, issue. The news speaks of recent progress in the state of Iowa. The piece stated, “In Iowa there is no provisions of the law which excludes women from holding any office in which they may be elected. In several counties women are holding elected offices. When the right of suffrage is granted to the women there, what a happy state Iowa will be!” This article emphasized The Woman’s Exponent and its fight for women’s suffrage. Specifically, the declaration that the women in Iowa will be happy when women’s suffrage is granted gives the opinion of the journal. The Woman’s Exponent would not have provided such excitement over this news had its staff not shared the opinion that women should have equal rights.

Many other articles also showed The Woman’s Exponent’s stance on women’s suffrage. In the April 1, 1873, issue an article was printed that discussed the women of Massachusetts and the outcome of a vote that had taken place to give women equal rights. The article stated, “The friends of woman suffrage in Massachusetts, are grieved at the action of the legislature of that State, in which, not-withstanding the Republican platform for the prohibition of equal political rights for women was voted down by a large majority. They declare themselves ‘defeated but not conquered’; and they eventually gain the victory.” The Woman’s Exponent printed articles about the fight for equal rights to show their support. The staff of the newspaper printed these articles to keep their readers informed and up to date on different matters of equal rights for women.

The August 15, 1872, issue of The Woman’s Exponent included a story on its front page that exemplified the stand women in New York were taking to express that they wanted equal rights. The brief article noted, “Five young ladies of New York announced through a leading newspaper the other day that they would ride in a public part of the city, on horseback, in the style men use: without side saddles. Whether the exploit was an illustration of moral courage, or a specimen of ‘fast’ life, the public can determine; but the act itself shows that the modesty which our great-grandfathers admired in our great-grandmothers is not so popular as it might be to the benefit of well-ordered society.” This particular piece can give us today an idea of how people in Utah (particularly women) felt about the fight for women to have equal rights. Women during this time were expected to act very differently from men, and those women who would not conform to this ideal of society were looked down upon. By printing this story, The Woman’s Exponent was making a broad opinion for the women who read this journal. Printing stories, such as the one above, showed that the newspaper supported change for not only Utah women but also all women in the United States.

The Woman’s Exponent didn’t just include information on the steps the United States was making to give woman equal rights. The paper also took the initiative to report on advancements the world made. In an article published on June 1, 1873, news from Switzerland was reported. The article stated, “Female Emancipation makes wonderful strides in the Republic of Switzerland. At the last term of Zurich University 110 lady students were entered; and this term 119 are already reported entered with the lists not closed. The assignment of professional chairs to women is only considered a matter of time. And the end is not yet.” This article was an example of how The Woman’s Exponent took a stand on and was interested in equality for women everywhere.

Lastly, The Woman’s Exponent gave support to women’s suffrage and equal rights because it gave women a voice in the marketplace of ideas. During this time period, women were oppressed and considered to be inferior to men. However, the women of Utah used The Woman’s Exponent as a tool to get their opinions heard. By giving women an outlet to voice their opinions, we can now look back and see what issues were important to the early settlers in Utah. We can see what the early women in Utah were facing and the goals they wished to accomplish. The Woman’s Exponent was vital to the history of women’s suffrage in Utah and we can see this because the journal gave women in Utah a voice.

In conclusion, The Woman’s Exponent is a great example of Utah history and of how women in Utah took a stand for women’s suffrage and equal rights. Through editors and writers such as Louise L. Greene and Emmeline Wells, the paper was able to create a strong and clear message on their stance for women’s suffrage. Both women wrote about equal rights for women and focused on the ways in which they could use their leadership at the journal to improve the lives for women everywhere. The Woman’s Exponent also printed news on the major women’s suffrage movement leaders. One in particular, Susan B. Anthony, was quoted in the journal and given more press on the efforts she was putting forth to bring equal and voting rights to women. The journal also included stories of young women around the country who were taking stands against society and the mannerisms in which one had to follow to be a lady. The story about the five young ladies who wanted to ride through the streets of New York like men is an example of this. Lastly, The Woman’s Exponent gave women a place to express their opinion and document the history of early Utah. By giving Utah women this freedom, we not only have a detailed early history of Utah but we also know where so many women stood on the issues of women’s suffrage and equal rights.

Jordan Evans is junior at the University of Utah. She will graduate in Fall 2010 with a degree in mass communication.

Sources

Emmeline Wells, “News And Views,” The Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, 1.

Louisa Greene, “News And Views,” The Woman’s Exponent, June 15, 1872, 4.

Susan B. Anthony, “To The National Republican Convention- Gentlemen,” The Woman’s Exponent, July 15,1872, 17.

“News And Views,” The Woman’s Exponent, August 1, 1872, 33.

“News And Views,” The Woman’s Exponent, August 15, 1872, 41.

“News and Views,” The Woman’s Exponent, April 1, 1873, 161.

“News and Views,” The Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1873, 1.

“News and Views,” The Woman’s Exponent, July 1, 1873, 17.

Emmeline Blanch Wells.” Women of the West Museum.

The Woman’s Exponent.” Mormon Publications: 20th Century. Brigham Young University.

The Woman’s Exponent.” New Perspectives on The West: Episode Five (1868-1874). Public Broadcasting Service, 2001.

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