Friday, April 18, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 4: Woman's Exponent

:) Enough about Emmeline's challenges. The final three posts are going to focus on her accomplishments.

On June 1, 1872, the first issue of the Woman's Exponent was published, with Louisa Greene serving as chief editor. As a part of describing its purpose, it pledged: "we will endeavor, at all times, to speak freely on every topic of current interest, and on every subject as it arises in which women, and the great sisterhood the world over, are specially interested." And it would serve this purpose for over 40 years, providing a forum for Utah women to define themselves, keeping women politically informed, and informing the spread-out saints of what was happening in other areas of the territory. While the stated purpose took a fairly calm and non-radial tone ("we have no rivalry with any, no war to wage, no contest to provoke"), even in this inaugural issue, Emmeline Wells made her voice heard. She contributed an article entitled "Woman's Rights and Wrongs" which took aim against laws and customs that denied women the vote, equal job opportunities, and equal compensation for labor performed. Five years later, in 1877, Emmeline Wells would become the chief editor of the Woman's Exponent, a position in which she would serve until the Exponent's demise in 1914.

When congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, rescinding the right of Utah women to vote (previously granted in 1870 by Brigham Young) and further punishing individuals that practiced polygamy, Emmeline Wells and the Woman's Exponent sprung into action. Thousands of Exponent readers, and Emmeline in particular, protested this act and defended the rights of women both to vote and to practice polygamy. Emmeline wrote many passionate defenses of both causes in the Exponent. The Exponent played an important role in the suffrage movement in Utah, and documents the many political activities of Utah women.

Emmeline also recognized the inherent historical value of this publication. She felt the journal should "furnish good material for future historians...not only concerning woman's work, industrial and educational, but the lives of the women." While the rights of Utah women are certainly featured frequently, the Exponent never lost sight of its mission to provide a voice to women's experience. Scrolling through, you can find a wide range of topics, from original poetry to practical tips for washing children; autobiographies of Mormon women to literary pieces on Shakepeare's portrayal of Portia in Julius Caesar. I love the diversity of the topics addressed in this publication, and its efforts to reach all kinds of women.

In 1914, the Exponent hit financial ruin. Emmeline lobbied for the Relief Society Board to take ownership for the publication, but failed. The Relief Society Magazine began publication the following year.

I am grateful for Emmeline's efforts in producing the Exponent, both for its work to promote many of the rights I enjoy as a woman, and for the record it provides of the lives and interests of so many Mormon women.

Woman's Exponent, Volume 1 Number 1
Representative Women of Deseret,
Augusta Joyce Crocheron
Women of Mormondom, Edward W. Tullidge
Women of the West Museum: Emmeline Wells

And also, you can check out the modern reincarnation of this publication, Exponent II.

1 comment:

Sonya said...

I know I've commented before, but what an amazing woman! I wish that more LDS women today were politically active in promoting candidates that reflect our values. Thanks for the uplifting blog.