On January 1, 1873, the first new year celebration after the Woman’s Exponent was established, the editor, Louise L. Greene, shared her thoughts on the meaning and significance of the newspaper. She assured readers that although the past years had been difficult for Utah women, the Woman’s Exponent would be a valuable way for the women to support the causes important to them and represent themselves fairly to the world. She stated:
“With the opening of the New Year we ask the patrons of the Exponent to continue their labors in its behalf, that its instrumentality for good may be widened and extended; and we shall endeavor to labor faithfully, with the aid of our sisters in the same noble object, to make it what its name imports, An honest exponent of the views of the women of Utah.”1
The Woman’s Exponent had lofty goals, and women rose to Greene’s call. The paper was supported and sustained until 1914.
The new year is traditionally a time of reflection. We recommit to ongoing goals and make new ones. We take stock of all that happened in the past and plan for the future. Ultimately, the new year is a celebration of life. The January 1 editions of the Woman’s Exponent are a testament to the lives of Utah women and early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who, despite uncertainty and persecution, resolved to embrace their faith, womanhood, and sisterhood.
Many of the New Years’ messages in the 1880s and ’90s—in what could be considered a dark era for Latter-day Saints—encourage perseverance and even happiness. This message from the editor in 1888, the first new year after the Edmunds-Tucker Act disenfranchised Utah women and stripped the Church of much of its property, reflects hope: “May this year now just entered upon be a more prosperous and a more propitious one than the last. … We wish to express for our readers and the women of Zion, and the women of all the world, hoping for a brighter day and fairer prospects … [that] bondage may be broken.”2
While a time of persecution, it was also a time of advancement and opportunity. In 1875 the creation of Brigham Young Academy opened the door to many women seeking an education. Martha Coray, a contributor to the Exponent, was appointed to serve on the board to represent women’s needs.3 In the January 1, 1876, edition of the Exponent, the opening of the academy isn’t mentioned, but the hope and idealism of youth are expressed in this anonymous New Year’s message: “The future is always fairy-land to the young. Life is like a beautiful and winding lane, on either side bright flowers, and beautiful butterflies, and tempting fruits, which we scarcely pause to admire or taste.”4
Although the rest of this message is cautionary in nature, it expresses what was good about the young women of the Church who pursued education and all its sociality with the typical zeal of youth.
In 1893, reflecting on the grandeur of the Columbian Exposition, Emmeline B. Wells wrote, “It seems that this New Year opens with brighter prospects and anticipations in the way of woman’s advancement than ever before.”5 On January 1, 1897, the January after Utah received statehood, the editor’s note expresses congratulations to Martha Hughes Cannon: “On Monday, January 11, the Utah Legislature will meet in this City and something new under the sun, Solomon to the contrary notwithstanding—Utah will have the first woman Senator in the United States.”6
The dawn of 1900, the turn of the century, represented the end of a tumultuous era in the lives of Utah women. In the previous century they had earned the right to vote twice, fought for their religious rights, and defended their husbands and brethren against imprisonment. With the Manifesto and statehood behind them, a new kind of peace, but not rest, lay in the future. In the January 1, 1900, issue, editor Emmeline B. Wells expressed with optimism, “The Latter-day Saints as a people have every reason to rejoice in the achievements of this glorious century. … There is so much to do in this world of ours, that we have no strength to waste in repining.”7
The final New Year’s message in the paper, in January 1914, is a promise by the editor, Emmeline B. Wells, who was then also serving as the General Relief Society President. “[We] wish you a happy and pleasant prosperous year, coupled with the hope that you, with us, will try to make it the very best year that has ever yet transpired for the Relief Society.”8
Her message concludes with instructions on achieving that goal—that the women of the Church be educated, that they be unified and harmonious, and that they increase in charity. This New Year’s plea resonates through the ages. It is easy to look back and see through the pages of the Exponent how much these women accomplished. But they didn’t do it all in one day or even one lifetime. Let us resolve to be women of strength, to be educated, to take advantage of every opportunity given to us, and to be better every day.
Top image: Cannonville Ward Relief Society, circa 1880