This week Utah celebrates two extraordinary anniversaries! 150 years ago, on February 12, 1870, the bill extending voting rights to the women of the Territory of Utah became law. On February 14, 1870, Seraph Young of Utah, a school teacher on her way to work, stopped by Council Hall to cast her ballot and became the first woman in America to vote in the modern nation. For decades, women throughout the state inspired their sisters across the country to fight for the right to vote, to take part in government, to stand for freedom, and to “seize the scepter.”
Seize the Scepter, named from a lyric in the suffrage song “Women, Arise,” is an exhibit in our Special Collections at the Main Library. This exhibit is open through March 26 and draws from our collections of books, periodicals, and ephemera. Come visit and learn more about the amazing women in Utah history.
This 1870 anniversary was all half a century before women across the country were granted suffrage with the passage of the 19th Amendment, a centennial we will celebrate in August. Utah history is full of surprises, notably with respect to women’s rights and accomplishments. After exercising the right to vote, all Utah women were disenfranchised in 1887, but when Utah achieved statehood in 1896, women’s suffrage was firmly ensconced in the new state’s Constitution. Utah women led the nation in running for, and winning, political office in those early years. In that first election as a state, Utahns elected the first woman state senator in the nation, several country recorders, a county auditor, clerk, and treasurer. Later firsts included the first woman to hold the position of Elector in the Electoral College and the first female deputy sheriff.
*Please keep in mind that while the 19th amendment seemed to guarantee all American women the right to vote and hold office, the truth was that many women from minority groups were still excluded. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally made voting barriers illegal at state and local levels.