Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 5: Women's Suffrage

I apologize in advance that I'm going to have way too much fun with my new free account to the Britannica online for web publishers. Loving this feature.

Many factors led to the divide between the National Woman Suffrage Association (created by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (created by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and others), most prominently the level of involvement they wanted with working toward suffrage for African American men. A less-discussed factor was difference of opinion about what on earth to make of these polygamist Utah suffragists. The American Woman Suffrage Association wanted nothing to do with them, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton insisted that all women should be welcome in the organization, especially if they had similar goals. Therefore, Emmeline Wells and other Mormon women formed an alliance with the National Woman Suffrage Association, and Emmeline represented Utah women there for roughly 30 years.

Emmeline's suffrage creds are impressive. In 1870, when Utah women were (temporarily) given the vote, Emmeline was among the first to exercise that right. In 1874 she was appointed vice-president of the Utah chapter of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Among the many suffrage conferences she participated in were the National Woman's Suffrage Association in 1879 and the National Suffrage Convention in 1882. In 1889, she formed the Woman's Suffrage Association of Utah, through it leading a campaign that resulted woman's suffrage being part of the package-deal for Utah's statehood in 1896. She was embraced by Susan B. Anthony at the National Woman's Suffrage Association meeting in Atlanta in 1895 after her address on Utah's prospective admission to statehood. She met with U.S. senators to discuss "Mormon" questions. She attended the Woman's International Council and Congress in London in 1899. And of course, there were her constant efforts through the Exponent.

Not only do I love her commitment to women's rights, but also the way she stayed true to her Mormon identity. Throughout her suffrage work, she lobbied for the rights of Mormon women, particularly on issues of polygamy and the right of women to own property. Mormon women were not always treated well at these meetings, even by the National Woman Suffrage Association, but Emmeline served as a good-will ambassador for Mormon women. I love the way she carved a place for herself in both realms where she could be true to her principles and fight for them, and am grateful for the tangible improvement she made to the status of women in the United States.

4 Zinas, Martha Sonntag Bradley & Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia Volume 2
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells, Encyclopedia Britannica
Emmeline B. Wells, Utah History Encyclopedia, Carol Cornwall Madsen

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