Woman Suffrage in Utah
February 15, 1898 — U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Hearing, Washington DC
The story of the struggle for woman’s suffrage in Utah is the story of all efforts for the advancement and betterment of humanity, and which has been told over and over since the advent of civilization.
The final struggle came between the contending factions at the time when the National Government announced its willingness to receive Utah as one of the proud sisterhood of States. An organized and well-directed effort was made to have the constitution of the new State recognize the equality of the sexes. This movement was directed by the noble and unselfish women of our State, who never faltered when discouragements were plentiful, and whose names are immortalized by the unqualified success of their efforts. Among them were veterans who have been trained in the early seventies to exercise the freeman’s prerogative. They determined that in our organic law there should be an unequivocal declaration, which should place man and woman upon an exact equality with regard to their political rights.
Their persistent efforts were combated step by step. Day by day in the constitutional convention the question of woman suffrage was debated with unquestioned ability. Inch by inch our opponents contested the ground until, after a most serious and thoughtful deliberation, and after a thorough hearing had been permitted, the measure was made part of the proposed constitution of Utah. But those in opposition still refused to yield. The proposed State constitution had to be submitted to the people; it had to run the gauntlet of a popular vote. Those who believed it to be ill advised to grand women the franchise therefore appealed to the people to vote the measure down. It was the only portion of the constitution over which there was any very considerable disagreement, and the issue was made clean cut and clear. The result was decisive and exceedingly gratifying, for an overwhelming majority of the men of Utah voted to adopt the constitution, and thereupon the forth-fifth State entered the Union making no discrimination on account of race, sex, or religion.
The history of the struggle in our State for equal rights is full of interest, and it could be recounted with advantage. But, after all, the results which have been attained speak with such unerring logic and vindicate so completely the argument that women should take part in the affairs of government, which so vitally affect her, that I point to the actual conditions now existing in Utah as a complete vindication of the efforts of equal suffragists, and as the most cogent of all reasons which can be advanced why woman should have the right to aid in nominating and electing our public officers.
I can, in all sincerity, say that there is a strong and cumulative evidence that even those who opposed equal suffrage with the greatest ability and vehemence would not now vote for the repeal of the measure. The practical working of the law demonstrates its wisdom and verifies the claims which were advanced by its ardent advocates. It has proved to the world that woman is not only a helpmeet by the fireside, but she can, when allowed to od, become a most powerful and a most potent factor in the affairs of the government.
None of the unpleasant results which were predicted have occurred. The contentions in families, the tarnishment of woman’s charm, the destruction of ideals, have all be found to be but the ghosts of unfounded prejudices. “The divinity which doth hedge woman about like subtle perfume” has not been displaced. Women have quietly assumed the added power which always was theirs by right, and with the grace and ready adaptation to circumstances peculiar to the women of America, they have so conducted themselves that they have gained admiration and respect while losing none of their old-time prestige.
Before women were granted suffrage they had ideas upon public questions. Suffrage gave them opportunity to give practical expression to their views. They gave more attention to political affairs. They studied political economy more earnestly. They familiarized themselves with public questions, and their mistakes, if they have made any, have not thus been far been brought to light.
Women have acted as delegates to county and State conventions and represented Utah in the national convention of one of the great political parties held in Chicago in 1896. They have acted upon political committees and have taken part in political management, and instead of being dragged down, the criticism which was feared, their enfranchisement has tended to elevate them. They availed themselves with most gratifying results of the privilege of voting, and, under our system of the reformed Australian ballot, they found that the contaminating influence of the ballot of which she had been told was a bugbear, born of fright, produced by shadows. They learned that to deposit their vote did no subject them to do anything like the annoyance which they often experience from crowds on bargain days, while their presence drove from the polls the ward workers and the strikers, who had been so obnoxious in the past.
Through the courtesy of the governor and the approval of the State senate they have been given places upon various State boards, and in the last legislature, in both the senate and the house, they represented the two most populous and wealthy counties of Utah. The bills which were introduced by women in our State legislature received due consideration, and a majority were enacted into laws. Whatever they have been required to do they have done to the full satisfaction of their constituents, and they have proved most careful and painstaking public officers.
No one in Utah will dispute the statements I have made. To the people of that young Commonwealth, destined by its manifold resources and the intelligence of its men and women to become the Empire State of the Rocky Mountains, I refer you. I give you this reference in the fullest confidence that, with scarcely a dissenting voice, they will say to you that woman suffrage is no longer an experiment, but is a practical reality, tending to the well-being of the State.
Source: House of Representatives, Before the Committee on the Judiciary, February 15, 1898, Hearing on House Joint Resolution 68.