Saturday marks 150 years since Utah women became the first in the nation to vote in a territory-wide election under an equal suffrage law. Although women had already voted in several municipal contests, this would be the first time they had a say in electing a delegate to send to the United States Congress.
Though today’s significance may be overshadowed by all the world has witnessed this year, the magnitude of this event should not be understated. Its legacy should continue to inspire and motivate, especially during a pivotal election season.
Beyond the borders of the state, this anniversary may not garner much attention. The country is fixed on remembering the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, ratified on Aug. 18.
Yet, Utah’s legacy should be a prominent reminder to the country of the states pioneering spirit, something the rest of the nation can learn from. The Beehive State holds the distinct honor of having the first female vote in addition to being the first state to elect a female state senator, Martha Hughes Cannon. The rest of the country will be reminded of that fact when a statue of the Cannon arrives in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall this month.
According to a report at the time, at least one-third of the votes cast on Aug. 1, 1870, in Salt Lake City belonged to women, and today women regularly vote at a higher turnout than men.
The relentless suffrage efforts of Utah women — being granted the right to vote and fighting to gain it back after losing it seven years later — is a testament to their vision, tenacity and understanding that democracy functions best when everyone is represented.
That’s something the state must remember 150 years later. Although voter turnout in Utah for the 2018 midterm elections was considerably higher than previous years, the state still fell somewhere in the middle for turnout across the country. In previous years, it was in the bottom half.
Holding the right to vote remains one of the most effective ways to have one’s voice heard in the political process. This knowledge was not lost on Utah’s early suffragists, and it should not be lost now.
While this year’s election may look different — remote campaigning and widespread mail-in voting — the impact it will have is as relevant as it was in 1870. This is not the year to tap out and lose hope in the election process. Instead, it should be an opportunity to reinvest in the country and its founding principles.
Utah’s pioneering spirit made history for the nation 150 years ago and helped further spur a movement that would allow all women to vote another 50 years later.
Keep the stories of Utah’s pioneering women in mind as the ballots arrive this year. Valuing the vote is a legacy that must be preserved.