Sisters for Suffrage Research GuidePolygamy and Politics

Polygamy and Politics

Protesting federal antipolygamy laws, Latter-day Saint women demanded their right to religious freedom and represented themselves to the nation as decisive, strong, and free, committed to their religious beliefs.

Deseret News, January 19, 1870.

As Utah Territory developed, the practice of plural marriage attracted attention from the national government. Politicians labeled slavery and polygamy as the “twin relics of barbarism,”6 but with the nation embroiled in the Civil War, no antipolygamy legislation was enforced.

After the war, national legislators targeted plural marriage with a variety of bills. Some even favored granting suffrage to Utah women, supposing they would vote to end polygamy.

In response, Latter-day Saint women publicly spoke in support of plural marriage. They held a series of “indignation” meetings to demand their right to religious freedom.

At a “ladies mass meeting” on January 6, 1870, Bathsheba Wilson Bigler Smith (1822–1910) boldly declared, “We demand of the Gov the right of Franchise.”7 She was later the fourth General President of the Relief Society and served as a member of the Deseret Hospital Board of Directors.

Fichu (shawl) worn by Bathsheba W. Smith, circa late 19th century.