Published in Salt Lake City from 1872 to 1914, the Woman’s Exponent, which acted as the unofficial newspaper of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was an important advocate for women’s suffrage in Utah and one of the longest-running suffrage publications in the country.
Women’s suffrage has an interesting history in Utah. Women in Utah gained the right to vote, had it taken away, and regained it again years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. The question of female enfranchisement was closely tied to the issue of polygamy. Before Utah became a state, the territorial legislature granted women the right to vote in 1870. However, in 1887, the federal government revoked this right in the Edmunds-Tucker Act because of the dispute with the LDS church over polygamy. Utah women organized on the local and territorial level to protest for the reinstatement of their right to vote. When the LDS church issued the 1890 Manifesto ending the practice of polygamy, the path both to statehood and women’s suffrage opened once again. The women of Utah mobilized in great numbers and successfully fought to have female enfranchisement written into the new constitution when Utah became a state in 1896.
The Woman’s Exponent was founded in 1872 and published bimonthly in Salt Lake City, Utah until 1914. Fully managed, written, and edited by women, the newspaper amplified women’s voices in Utah and helped communicate information between the women scattered in settlements across the territory. The newspaper printed news from across Utah and the United States, articles on topics ranging from domestic life to theology, stories and poetry, reports from LDS women’s organizations like the Relief Society, and information about women’s suffrage. Published in Salt Lake City, the Exponent occupied a number of different offices over the course of its forty-two years of existence. In the early years of its publication, the headquarters of the Exponent were located in the Council House until its destruction by a fire in 1883. Later, the Exponent had offices in the Constitution building on East Temple Street. Eventually, the offices of the Woman’s Exponent moved to the Bishop’s Building on 40 North Main Street. Unfortunately, all of these building were either destroyed in accidents or demolished to make room for new buildings and the expansion of Temple Square. The old location of the Bishop’s Building is closest to the current Relief Society Building on Temple Square.
The Woman’s Exponent was a major proponent of women's right to vote. Emmeline B. Wells, the main editor of the paper from 1877 until it ceased publication in 1914, was an active suffragette. She often acted as a liaison between Utah suffragettes and national suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Wells attended national suffrage conventions, met with Congressional committees and the President of the United States, served as the president of Utah’s suffrage association, and helped lobby Utah congressmen to support women’s suffrage. Her activism carried over to the Exponent, where, as editor, she helped publish articles, write editorials, and include news about women’s suffrage.
During the back-and-forth over women’s suffrage in Utah, the Woman’s Exponent played an important role in covering the issue and mobilizing the women of Utah to fight for their right to vote, especially after the Edmund-Tuckers Act of 1887. The Exponent often contained a Woman Suffrage column, which published news about women’s suffrage in Utah, the United States, and the world. An issue published on December 1, 1893, for example, contained news about women in New Zealand voting in their first election under new suffrage laws. The column included articles about the importance of winning the vote for women and also published information about local and state suffrage association meetings, rallies, speeches, and other events tied to the campaign for women’s suffrage. In 1889, the Exponent included a call for the women of Salt Lake City to meet and organize a Territorial Suffrage Association. Throughout 1895, the paper detailed the efforts of Utah suffragettes to lobby the territorial congress for the inclusion of women’s suffrage in the new state constitution. After the women of Utah regained the right to vote in 1896, the Woman’s Exponent continued as an important advocate for women’s rights and suffrage across the United States.