Sisters for Suffrage Research GuideDisenfranchisement


Because Latter-day Saint women did not use their newly won civic freedom to abolish polygamy, national lawmakers and Utah’s growing non-Latter-day Saint population feared that suffrage had merely strengthened the Church’s political reach. Politicians began drafting laws to disenfranchise the new voters.

In 1882 the Edmunds Act disqualified polygamous men and women from voting. The 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act disenfranchised all Utah women, regardless of whether or not they practiced plural marriage.

Some ladies’ clubs organized and voiced their support for antipolygamy legislation. Other Utah women and national suffrage leaders saw this as a setback to the suffrage movement.

Antipolygamy Autograph Quilt, 1882. The Women’s Home Missionary Society was a Methodist organization that trained teachers and nurses. Society members in Ogden, Utah, supported the 1882 Edmunds Act. To show their gratitude for this law (and to raise money), the society members gathered signatures from across the country and assembled this quilt for the bill’s sponsor, Vermont senator George F. Edmunds.

Zina Presendia Young Williams Card (1850–1931) was the daughter of Brigham and Zina Young. She attended the 1879 National Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D.C., and met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife, Lucy, to defend plural marriage.

Pocket Watch, Owned by Zina Young Card, circa 1890s.

Charlotte Ives Cobb Godbe Kirby (1836–1908) was Brigham Young’s stepdaughter. Once a plural wife of Latter-day Saint dissident William Godbe, Charlotte was the first Utah woman to hold office in a national suffrage organization. She publicly renounced federal legislation targeted at Latter-day Saints.

Memorial to the President of the United States and Members of Congress, by the “Mormon” Women of Utah, 1886. Latter-day Saint women did not give up their right to vote without a fight. In this memorial they resolved that “the suffrage originally conferred upon us as a political privilege, has become a vested right by possession and usage for fifteen years.”

Woman Suffrage in Utah,” 1886. In response to the memorial sent to Washington, D.C., by Latter-day Saint women in defense of the franchise, a group of Utah women sent a petition of their own to represent the “Gentile sentiment” of the territory. They pushed for the disenfranchisement of women in Utah based on the argument that “a man with half a dozen wives would now have half a dozen votes besides his own.”

In the wake of disenfranchisement, Utah women found an outspoken advocate in Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood (1830–1917), one of the first female lawyers in the United States. On several occasions she drew national criticism for speaking in defense of the Latter-day Saints.