Moab History: Suffrage in Utah

(L to R) Emily S. Richards (co-founder of the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah), Phebe Y. Beattie (executive committee chair), and Sarah M. Kimball (second president). [Utah State Historical Society.]

In 1850, the year Utah officially became a territory of the United States, free white men 21 years of age and older were the only demographic allowed to vote and hold political office. This, however, was set to change 20 years later when, among several factors, members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints pushed for women’s right to vote. At the time, they believed granting women the right to vote would negate the unflattering perspectives folks elsewhere in the United States had about the Church and the practice of polygamy. 

After about a year of ongoing suffrage pleas and movements, on February 12, 1870, the Women’s Suffrage Bill was signed by Utah’s acting Governor, which had passed unanimously by the Utah Territorial Legislature. Two days after women’s suffrage became law in Utah, Seraph Young and 25 additional women cast their ballots on Valentine’s Day in a Salt Lake municipal election, becoming the first women in the United States to do so. 

Wyoming was technically the first territory in the nation to extend voting rights to women, in December 1869. However, Utah women won the distinction of casting the first ballots because of the timing of elections between the two territories; The Territory of Wyoming did not host an election until Sept. 6, 1870. 

“An Act Conferring upon Women the Elective Franchise” from Page 8 of the 1870 19th session of the Legislature [Utah State Archives].

Having had the right to vote for 17 years, women were outraged when Congress took away this right with the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, an anti-polygamous measure designed to restrict practices of the LDS Church. 

Women like Emily S. Richards fought back, hard, to win back this right. They organized the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah affiliated with Susan B. Anthony’s National American Woman Suffrage Association. 

LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff officially ended the practice of polygamy in 1890, thus allowing Utah to apply for statehood. The right to vote and the right to hold office were included in the new state’s constitution. 

Article 4, Section 1 of the Utah Constitution states: “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy equally all civil, political, and religious rights and privileges.”

Thus, in 1896 when Congress officially accepted the Utah State Constitution, women were re-enfranchised. 

Article 4, Section 1 from the Utah State Constitution, Elections and Right of Suffrage [Utah State Historical Society].

The right to vote has not always been guaranteed to all in the U.S. and the State of Utah, marking the importance of this civic duty. Election Day in the City of Moab is November 21st. If you live inside city limits, are a U.S. citizen, have been a resident of Utah for at least 30 days before the election, and are 18 years old on or before the day of the election, you may cast your ballot in this year’s election. 

The date of the 2023 General Election has been changed from Nov. 7 to Nov. 21 by a June 7 proclamation from Utah Governor Spencer Cox. The change is to accommodate a special election to fill the Utah 2nd Congressional District U.S. House seat that will be vacated on Sept. 15 by Rep. Chris Stewart.

To learn more about the history of voting and enfranchisement for women, visit Better Days 2020 at

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This article was originally published in the Moab Sun News in the Moab History Column, written weekly by Museum staff.