Woman Suffrage and Local Coverage of the 19th Amendment in Utah

by ISSA PENUELAS

There was a time when a woman was frowned upon if she had an opinion on politics and enjoyed the occasional cigar. It seems as though an educated opinion on anything remotely important was a threat to the notion that women were supposed to be satisfied in the domestic sphere. Women have always been placed on a different spectrum than men. The passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 was a culmination of a decades-long political struggle for women and required three-fourths of individual states to ratify it. According to The Guardian, Carrie Chapman Catt, a leader in the woman suffrage movement, estimated that the struggle required about 480 campaigns for legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include woman suffrage planks, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive congresses. (Adams)

By 1919, thirteen out of sixteen western states had already granted women the right to vote when Congress passed the 19th Amendment. So, why did the West allow woman suffrage prior to the federal amendment? More specifically, why were the western states more progressive and groundbreaking toward the establishment of women’s rights? According to Holly J. McCammon and Karen E. Campbell, the explanation for this is grounded in sociological theories of western social movement success. The authors argue that the combination of gendered and political opportunities worked together with the strategies that suffragists used to convince lawmakers and governors to extend suffrage to women. (55)

Surprisingly enough, Utah granted women suffrage half a century earlier than the nation, but suffrage was revoked and later reinstated. It was allowed first in 1870 by the territorial legislature, but revoked by Congress in 1887 as part of the national attempt to end polygamy in Utah. Both Mormons and non-Mormons wanted to give women the right to vote. Brigham Young, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the time knew that the nation viewed Mormon women as victimized and oppressed because of the practice of polygamy. However, if Utah gave them the right to vote, then society’s perspective on Utah’s treatment of women could change. (Laursen, 3)

Nonetheless, the U.S. has come a long way since 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted women the right to vote. This was an incredibly historic moment in U.S. history because it represented the culmination of the 72-year-long woman suffrage movement.

Women_Suffrage_Leaders_P_02

A group of woman suffrage leaders met in Salt Lake City in May 1895 to discuss issues concerning women’s rights. Image courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.

It’s important to recognize why local coverage of the 19th Amendment is so significant. Why is the amount of news coverage of the movement in Utah specifically relevant? Like almost everything in history, the combination of thorough research and analysis of historical moments tells a story. In this particular case, the following discussion will highlight the local coverage of the suffrage movement and develop a hypothesis of gender roles and woman suffrage. Was the culmination of local coverage an indicator of where Utah stood on women’s rights? Or could there have been more significant coverage of the 19th Amendment by the local papers? My research will explore the role that journalism plays as a voice of advocacy in the modern day.

On August 17, 1919, Abby Scott Baker, the political chairman of the National Women’s Party, arrived in Salt Lake City, where she was set to have a conference with the governors. Her plans were to ask again for the cooperation of the voting women of the West to help the suffrage movement one last time. A story about it was published in The Salt Lake Tribune the following day. This demonstrates which meetings local papers were recognizing as newsworthy.

The Salt Lake Herald also did an exceptional job of covering senators who were advocating for woman suffrage. Uarda McCarty reported on August 17, 1919, that Miss Margaret Shuler was especially enthusiastic to meet Utah Senator Reed Smoot, a Mormon who supported women’s right to vote. Smoot, who came to be known as “one of the godfathers of the federal amendment,” did everything he could to ensure that there was political equality in the country. McCarty wrote that Shuler, along with three other members of the national suffrage association, were in Salt Lake to meet with governors attending a special session. The women hoped to secure their support for the amendment. McCarty highlighted in an August 19 article which governors had followed suit and pledged to call special sessions of their legislatures. The Herald article also reported that Louise M. Garnett and Margaret Z. Cherdron were making arrangements for an active local campaign for woman suffrage. Not only do these articles illustrate the local coverage that was happening at time, but they also show the local support that women voters were fiercely fighting for.

Susan_B__Anthony__national_suffrage_leader

Susan B. Anthony, a national suffrage leader, played a pivotal role in the woman suffrage movement. Image courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.

The Salt Lake Tribune continued the coverage of woman suffrage by publishing an article on August 20, 1919, on the National Woman Suffrage Association. It also covered the special meeting held by Margaret Shuler at the Utah Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. “Our campaign has been to get to the point where we could work in co-operation with the men, not against them,” she is quoted as saying. The Salt Lake Tribune emphasized how Shuler’s goal in the national association was to carry out the completion of the ratification in time for women to vote in the presidential election the following year.

Also on August 20, the Salt Lake Herald reported that women in Salt Lake were urging the visiting governors to recognize the importance of calling special sessions now that Congress had taken the initiative to further woman suffrage in their battle for political liberty. For the most part, many local papers such as the Salt Lake Herald and Salt Lake Tribune did an explicit job of showing what sort of coverage was being addressed in regard to woman suffrage.

The Salt Lake Herald published another article on suffrage on August 27, 1919. It stated that Utah women had been participating in state elections and would soon have further privileges once the amendment was ratified. This piece reiterated what the previous research has already demonstrated: unlike other states, Utah had favored equal gender suffrage before the amendment’s ratification.

Not long after, The Salt Lake Tribune released a complete text of Governor Simon Bamberger’s message on September 30, 1919, to Utah’s legislature on womqn suffrage. “Utah has gone on record so unmistakably and so frequently in this matter that I feel further comment at this time would be superfluous,” he was quoted as saying. This comment by the governor indicates that Utah was already pushing for suffrage before it was extended to other states.

However, it wasn’t until October 3, 1919, that Utah’s legislature held its first special session. The Davis County Clipper published a brief report on the ratification of Susan B. Anthony’s Amendment to the federal constitution granting women the right to vote. Although the paper gave the illusion that there would be more information about the ratification of the amendment by the House, there was only one paragraph that really demonstrated the local coverage of the topic.

Through my research, I was able to conclude that woman suffrage was not as controversial in Utah as it was in other states where suffrage had never been accepted. The consistency I found between my primary sources and local coverage is that Utah was intentionally progressive in woman suffrage as part of a campaign to prove that women were treated well. Furthermore, national groups took this progressiveness and tried to get support from Utahns on the national suffrage movement. Although there was a substantial amount of coverage by local papers, it was not to the degree that I thought I would find. Perhaps the impact was not as significant because Utah had already given women the right to vote in the state for more than twenty years. The article by McCammon and Campbell pushed me to ponder what led to suffrage success in the West and how gendered opportunities played a prominent role in women’s rights. Furthermore, Rebecca Mead explores in her book, How the Vote Was Won, the successes of woman suffrage and analyzes what women did after the women’s rights movement. The author concludes that equal suffrage in the West was both the cause and effect of progressivism and responsible for the reform legislation passed during this period. (288)

The ongoing battle of women in politics continues to be an issue in many states today. These articles emphasize the importance of using research to interpret historical patterns in U.S. history. For a state that stood by woman suffrage early on, the actual representation of women in Utah’s legislature is surprisingly scarce. According to Christopher Booker, Utah has one of the lowest percentages of women in the state legislature. Although the representation of women in politics today might not show it, these sources demonstrate that Utah was intentionally progressive in woman suffrage and illustrate that, as a state, Utah supported women’s equality.

Issa Penuelas is a junior at The University of Utah. She is double majoring in mass communication and sociology.

Sources

Uarda McCarty, “Woman Lauds Smoot’s Aid to Suffrage,” Salt Lake Herald, August 17, 1919, 17.

“Action Is Urged by Suffragist,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 1919, 4.

Uarda McCarty, “Suffrage Session in Conference Week, Plan,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 19, 1919, 3.

“Progress of Women’s Suffrage,” Salt Lake Herald, August 20, 1919, 4.

“Women’s League Aims to Educate,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 20, 1919, 12.

“The Special Session,” Salt Lake Herald, August 27, 1919, 4.

“Here is Complete Text of Governor’s Message to Utah Legislature,” The Salt Lake Tribune, September 30, 1919, 7.

“Special Session of Utah Legislature,” Davis County Clipper, October 3, 1919, 3.

Adams, Richard, “The 19th Amendment That Gave Women the Right to Vote, 90 Years On,” The Guardian, http://bit.ly/2ps4qB1.

Booker, Christian and Connie Kargo, “Why Does Utah Have so Few Female Legislators?” PBS NewsHour, http://to.pbs.org/2d12f5A.

“19th Amendment,” History, http://bit.ly/1o2cCzb.

Laursen, Amber A. “Woman, Wife, Mother-Saint, Scholar, Patriot: LaVon W. Laursen Papers, A Case Study of Utah Women in Politics” (master’s thesis: Utah State University, 2015).

McCammon, Holly J. and Karen E. Campbell. “Winning the Vote in the West: The Political Successes of the Women’s Suffrage Movements, 1866-1919.” Gender & Society 15, no. 1 (February 2001): 55-84.

Mead, Rebecca. How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914. New York City: New York University Press, 2004.

 

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