My experience and observation lead me to believe that while men admit the superiority of women in many respects, the latter do not care so much for this admission as they do for an acknowledgement of their equality.” (Franklin S. Richards)

Following on from my previous post, this post is also prompted by observations noted during my research for a presentation I was asked to give in a Relief Society lesson, looking at the role of Utah women in women’s suffrage. One of the papers I came across “Woman’s Place is in the Constitution: The Struggle for Equal rights in Utah in 1895” by Jean Bickmore White (and found in this issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly) includes some of the arguments for and against including female suffrage in the Utah state constitution, as that constitution was being drawn up. Quotes in this post have been taken from White’s paper.

This paper was interesting for three reasons: firstly, Utah women had been in position to vote from 1870-1887 before they had been disenfranchised by the Edmunds-Tucker Act less than a decade previously, so it would have seemed reasonable to me that including female suffrage in the new state constitution should have been a no-brainer; secondly, some of the arguments against that inclusion sound an awful lot like the platitudes women hear from the pulpit today, including at the last General Conference; thirdly, the arguments as a whole seem to me to mirror the arguments we have seen both for and against greater inclusion of women in church governance and/or the ordination of women.

Some women didn’t feel the need to have a vote. White notes that: “Emmeline B. Wells, editor of the Exponent, observed that some women in the territory felt no need of extending the political rights to their sex because they were sitting in “luxury and ease.“” One of the fears of including suffrage was that it would draw negative votes for the proposed constitution and thus delay statehood, and “perhaps put their whole work in jeopardy.” Consequently, it was necessary for those favouring suffrage to mobilise themselves, and campaign for the right to vote to be included in the constitution.

In a speech given on March 28 1894, B H Roberts “pleaded with women to give up their struggle for enfranchisement in order to further the cause of statehood”, and argued in later speeches that “the franchise should be given only to individuals who could act independently, free from dictation. Since most women over twenty-one were married, they could not act freely but would — and should — be ruled over by their husbands.” and that “voting was a privilege, not a right. Historically, he pointed out, there had been qualifications of age, property ownership, and literacy imposed as a condition for voting.” He further argued that:

“men and women were no doubt equal as to abilities and mentality, but they were different in their dispositions, tastes, and constitutions. Men needed women as a civilizing influence..

““…let me say that the influence of woman as it operates upon me never came from the rostrum, it never came from the pulpit, with woman in it, it never came from the lecturer’s platform, with woman speaking; it comes from the fireside, it comes from the blessed association with mothers, of sisters, of wives, of daughters…””

Those arguing for suffrage during the debates included Franklin S. Richards (son of Franklin D. and early suffragist Jane S., and married to suffragist Emily S.):

“Richards asserted that the vote for women was the next necessary step in the march of human progress. Richards said he had never known a woman who felt complimented by the statement that she was too good to exercise the same rights and privileges as a man. “My experience and observation lead me to believe that while men admit the superiority of women in many respects, the latter do not care so much for this admission as they do for an acknowledgement of their equality, and that equality we are bound in honor to concede. . . .“”

And Orson F. Whitney argued that:

It is a noble science— the science of government — and it has a glorious future. And I believe in a future for woman, commensurate with the progress thereby indicated. I do not believe that she was made merely for a wife, a mother, a cook, and a housekeeper. These callings, however honorable — and no one doubts that they are so — are not the sum of her capabilities.

And that:

This great social upheaval, this woman’s movement that is making itself heard and felt, means something more than that certain women are ambitious to vote and hold office. I regard it as one of the great levers by which the Almighty is lifting up this fallen world, lifting it nearer to the throne of its Creator. . .

White suggests the success of the suffrage movement was down to the following factors:

  • The suffragists were respectable, establishment, and the wives and daughters of church leaders.
  • Women voting, whilst a radical move in the wider US, was not particularly radical in Utah, it had happened before with no terrible consequence.
  • There had been a lot of groundwork put in for grass root support for suffrage beforehand.

What implications do you see for, or what lessons can be learned by, if any, those involved in the events of the past year?

Discuss.