How polygamy helped and hurt Utah women get the vote

Feb 13, 2020, 5:19 AM
Suffrage hikers who took part in the suffrage hike from New York City to Washington, D.C., joining ...
Suffrage hikers who took part in the suffrage hike from New York City to Washington, D.C., joining the March 3, 1913, National American Woman Suffrage Association parade. Flickr Commons Project

SALT LAKE CITY – Polygamy was a factor in Utah women getting-and losing-the right to vote. But scholars are split on how big a role it played.

Ron Fox, a history buff who sits on Utah’s Martha Hughes Cannon Statue Committee, thinks some persistent wives had more to do with passing women’s suffrage in the state legislature than anything.

“When Brigham Young opened up the Utah Central Railroad, there was a famous trip about four days before the legislature re-met in early February. They were celebrating the completion of the railroad between Ogden and Salt Lake…They went up to Ogden, and the [Deseret News] paper reporter was on the train. And he said the wives worked their husbands over to pass the bill,” Fox said.

Fox also believes Utah women wanted rights that had recently been granted to African-American and Chinese men.

Other historians believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wanted women to vote to help change negative public perceptions about polygamy.

Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal said some people on the East Coast of the United States initially supported the idea of women voting in the Beehive State, but they had an ulterior motive.

“East Coast suffragists really wanted Utah women to get the vote because they thought it would be a nice test case scenario. If Utah women got the right to vote, would they vote polygamy out? In fact, they didn’t vote polygamy out because it was never put on the ballot,” Rekdal said.

However, many women in Utah at that time also supported polygamy, which is one of the reasons why the federal government moved to disenfranchise them–twice.

“In the late 1880s, there was a bill passed [in Congress] that prohibited women who were in polygamy from participating in elections. So, it actually banned Latter-day Saint women from voting. And then in 1887 with the Edmunds-Tucker Act, it took the vote away from all women,” Fox said.

Full voting rights were restored to women when Utah became a state in 1896. That is also the same year that Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, a plural wife, was elected the first female state senator in Utah and the United States.

Today’s Top Stories


Highland Drive Closed...
Heather Kelly

Highland Drive closed in Holladay after fatal crash involving Coke truck

A crash left Highland Drive closed between 4500 and 4600 South on Tuesday morning. The crash left a 74-year-old woman dead.
9 hours ago
A brush fire started in Saratoga Springs last night. Photo Credit: Saratoga Springs Fire Department...
Devin Oldroyd

Fire officials say aerial firework caused brush fire in Saratoga Springs

An aerial firework caused a brush fire in Saratoga Springs Sunday night.
1 day ago
The Deuel Creek Fire began late Sunday night in Centerville. Photo credit: John Wilson....
Devin Oldroyd

Deuel Creek Fire starts in Centerville overnight, evacuation order lifted

The Deuel Creek Fire began late Sunday night in Centerville.
1 day ago
Tooele City announced its firework restrictions Sunday evening. Photo Credit: Tooele City's Faceboo...
Devin Oldroyd

Tooele City releases fireworks restrictions map

Tooele City announced its firework restrictions Sunday evening.
2 days ago
Photo credit: UDOT...
Devin Oldroyd

Semi-truck rolls on I-80 at U.S.-40, Silver Creek Junction

What caused the semi-truck to roll is still under investigation at this time. All lanes in the area have been cleared and are operational.
2 days ago
Image from the scene of the shooting on South Major street in Salt Lake City (Photo courtesy of SLC...
Chandler Holt

UPDATE: SLCPD arrest two in connection to Sunday’s Ballpark neighborhood shooting

Police received multiple calls regarding shots fired near 1485 South Major Street at around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday July 3, 2022. 
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
How polygamy helped and hurt Utah women get the vote