WASHINGTON — 150 years ago on Valentine’s Day 1870, just two days after the Utah Territory granted women’s suffrage, 23-year-old Salt Lake City schoolteacher Seraph Young stopped at the polls on her way to work to cast her vote in a local municipal election and become the first woman in the nation to vote.
Now, 82 years after her death, her misspelled headstone at her final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery has been fixed. Instead of Seraph Young, for years, the stone memorialized her as “Serath” Young.
Seraph Young: the first woman voter
Young, born in Nebraska in 1846, came to Utah a year later with her family, making her an early pioneer.
She grew up in Salt Lake City, the grand-niece of Brigham Young. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recalled her historic vote in a 1920 issue of Relief Society Magazine, which noted encouragements to women of the time to exercise their newly established right.
“The women of Utah were encouraged not only to attend their primaries religiously, but were enjoined to form civil government classes, to institute mock trials, and to study parliamentary law,” the article stated.
Young’s marriage to a Civil War veteran and printer, Seth L. Ford, came two years later, in 1872. The couple had three children in Utah before moving to New York and later Maryland.
The couple’s move came after Ford’s health challenges related to his service during the Civil War became worse. The couple moved to New York after he began to lose his eyesight, and later, Ford would also become paralyzed.
Young took care of him until his death in 1910 where he was buried, with full rights as a veteran of the Union Army, in Arlington National Cemetery, setting the stage for Young’s eventual interment next to him after her death in 1938 at age 91.
Fixing the error
A White House senior administration official said the error on Young’s headstone was brought to their attention last winter through efforts made by Better Days Utah and others who flagged the error.
Young’s name accompanies that of her husband on the headstone they share at Arlington. As is the custom, the military engraves the names of spouses on the backside of a veteran’s headstone.
Officials said once they became aware of the mistake, they contacted Arlington’s superintendent. The superintendent then ordered a new headstone for the couple to rectify the misspelling.
Memorial delayed by coronavirus
The new stone arrived in March. However, coronavirus delayed the original plans for a March memorial service until this Tuesday.
“This has been the work of many people bringing us together. We’re inspired on many levels and hopefully, that will inspire us to do better things as we go forward. We look at our past to help us improve our future, and that’s what’s happening here today,” Herbert said on Tuesday.
Quoting Martha Hughes Cannon, the governor said, “The story of the struggle for women’s suffrage in Utah is the story of all efforts for the advancement and betterment of humanity.”
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