The Legal and Political Status
of Women in Utah
May 1883 — The Congress of Women, Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago IL
The legal age of woman in Utah is eighteen years. She possesses all the property rights enjoyed by man. She is not only his equal in this respect, but, if a married woman, she enjoys a marked advantage over her husband; she not only has power to possess property in her own right, which she can control and dispose of without consulting her husband, but she also has a dower right in his real property. All women of legal age, whether married or single, have the same right as men to acquire, hold, and dispose of all kinds of property.
As early as 1872 the territorial Legislature provided that all property owned by either spouse before marriage, or acquired afterward by purchase, gift, bequest, devise, or descent, with the rents, issues, and profits thereof, was the separate property of that spouse by whom the same was owned or acquired, and that separate property so owned or acquired might be held, managed, controlled, transferred, and in any manner disposed of by the spouse so owning or acquiring it, without any restriction or limitation by reason of marriage. The law also gave women the right to sue and be sued. Under this statute a great many women have acquired and held title to property in their own right, and the percentage of such property owners is large as compared with that in other States and Territories.
The causes for divorce in Utah are similar to those in most States in the Union, and apply equally to men and women. An actual residence of one year before the commencement of the action is necessary to give the court jurisdiction. Children that have attained the age of ten years, and possess sound minds, have the privilege of electing to which of their parents they will attach themselves. Neither party is entitled to the custody of a child as of right, but, other things being equal, if the child is a girl or of tender years it shall be given to the mother. In all cases the court makes an equitable distribution of the property of the parties, and provides for the maintenance of the wife and children.
From 1870 to 1887 women voted and held offices in Utah. As an instance of the latter, Miss Ida Ione Cook, who is not unknown in educational circles in Chicago, was elected and served as superintendent of public schools for Cache County. Several women served as notaries public, and we have a number of practicing attorneys who are women.
Woman suffrage was conferred by an act of the legislative assembly in 1870. The law provided that every woman of the age of twenty-one years, born or naturalized in the United States, or who was the wife, widow or daughter of a native-born or naturalized citizen of the United States, who had resided in the Territory six months next preceding any general or special election, should have the right to vote at any election. This privilege was taken away by an act of Congress in 1887.
Though repeated efforts have been made to restore the franchise, they have thus far been unavailing, as Congress has the exclusive power to change the law. The sentiment in the Territory favoring woman suffrage is believed to be as strong now as when we were enfranchised, and it may be confidently predicted that when the local government regains the power to do so, women will be restored to their political rights and privileges.
Socially, women enjoy all the privileges accorded to men. All our educational institutions are open to them. They are encouraged to practice law, medicine, and all the other professions. They are at liberty to preach the gospel, speak at public gatherings, visit the sick, and officiate at funerals. Important educational positions are occupied by them, and all the walks of life are open to them. Some are engaged in business for themselves; others, without opposition or prejudice, occupy places as clerks, saleswomen, typewriters, typesetters, bookbinders, factory operatives, telephone and telegraph operators, photographers, and other suitable positions, in many of which they are taking the place of men.
The influence of woman is fully recognized. Her coöperation is sought in nearly all undertakings of a public, political, or social character, and in whatever direction her energies have been employed her attainments compare favorably with those of men. The efforts and achievements of our women are appreciated by the men, who give them every encouragement and assistance in their various enterprises.
Source: World’s Congress of Representative Women, Vol. 2, Ed. May Eliza Wright Sewall, (Chicago, Rand and McNally), 1884, pp. 1-90.