Suffrage at Council Hall in Salt Lake City
Wyoming became the first United States territory to extend women the right to vote with the passage of an equality act in 1869. A few months later, Utah Territorial Secretary S. A. Mann signed a similar act, extending voting rights to women who were at least twenty-one-years old and were U. S. citizens or the wife, daughter, or widow of a U. S. citizen. Utah then beat Wyoming to the punch when a woman named Seraph Young—a young schoolteacher and grandniece of Brigham Young, former territorial governor and then-president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed “Mormons”), the majority faith in Utah—made history on February 14, 1870, when she walked up the steps to Utah’s Council Hall in Salt Lake City and became the first woman to legally cast a vote, only a few days after Utah passed the equal suffrage act.
The seeming irony of women first voting in Utah was not lost to history. In the nineteenth century, Utah was nationally famous—or infamous—for the Latter-day Saints’ practice of religious polygamy, something many Americans at the time and later on as well considered irreconcilable with women suffragists’ vision of political rights and social equality. Latter-day Saints plural marriage primarily took the form of polygyny, meaning one man could have multiple wives, and many people believed this practice could only be oppressive to women. However, polygamy was not a hindrance to making Utah one of the earliest sites of women's suffrage. To anti-polygamists, Utah was the perfect place to experiment with women’s voting rights, as they hoped enfranchised women would rise up and end the practice through their votes. Inside Utah, however, it was this exact attitude that drove Utahns to adopt women’s suffrage, hoping that endorsing women’s voting rights would dispel the idea that their society oppressed women.
Although only a few women voted in this first special election in 1870, thousands more joined in by voting in Utah’s general election a few months later. A few years after her momentous vote, Seraph Young married veteran Seth L. Ford, and they later moved to New York City in the late 1870s to be close to his family. Even though Young was a part of such a momentous occasion, she was all but forgotten in popular memory until Utah women and Young’s descendants resurrected her story in the twenty-first century. In February 2020, Utah women gathered to march from City Creek Park to Council Hall, honoring Young and the other women who were so important to Utah’s history. A mural displayed at Council Hall also commemorates Young’s historic vote.