by Martha Sonntag Bradley
and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Woman’s Rights, 1879-1900
“The Rights of the Women of Zion, and the Rights of the Women of all Nations.”
[p.337] It would be easy to tell the story of the four Zinas as if it occurred in a vacuum. Utah Territory was certainly isolated from the rest of the nation, separated by mountain ranges and stretches of arid landscape. But their lives were part of larger national patterns, designs they helped create. Their lives were circumscribed by the same expectations placed on most American women in the Victorian Era. Just as Lady’s Books spelled out a woman’s responsibilities and limitations, the Mormon world also dwelt on the desirability of certain behaviors and attitudes.
Steeped in Protestant tradition which held idleness to be a sin, it was required of women that they be constantly busy—weaving, spinning, making lace, soap, candles, and other goods for their families. In fact, the frontier economy demanded such a division of labor, particularly before the railroad since there was no other source for such goods and services. In community building, women proved to be just as indispensable as men, and as settlements moved across Mormon territory like fields ripe with wheat, the world changed and women traveled with men through that change with far-reaching results. In no way could life in this emerging place remain static.
The post-Civil War period was particularly important for women. [p.338] Abolitionism had pulled women into public involvement in the mid-nineteenth century. Crusading for the emancipation of the slaves had taught women the value of organization, to hold public meetings, and to conduct petition campaigns. According to Eleanor Flexner, “As abolitionists they first won the right to speak in public, and began to evolve a philosophy of their place in society and of their basic rights.”1
Many historians date the beginning of the women’s movement to 1848 and the Seneca Falls convention. For Zina Diantha, a certain irony marks the convergence of events in her life during the summer of 1848. For this is when she became a pioneer, beginning life in the arid west. On the other side of the country, about as far away from Utah as Zina could imagine, in Seneca Falls, New York, another drama played out.
The Seneca Falls convention grew out of dissatisfaction with the position of women in a rapidly changing, increasingly industrialized world. Territorial expansion, industrial development, and urbanization changed the way Americans interacted in families, in communities, and between the genders. Between 1840 and 1860, the textile industry quadrupled the production of cloth, the number of spindles more than doubled, and on the eve of the Civil War industrial output totaled almost $2 billion.2 These changes impacted the ways women spent their time, their value and position in the family economy, and their position of authority in society at large.
The Seneca County Courier announced the signal event in its 14 July 1848 edition:
Woman’s Rights Convention—A convention to discuss the social, civil and religious rights of woman will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, Seneca Falls, New York, on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July current; commencing at 10 a.m. During the first day the meeting will be held exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend. The public generally are invited to be present on the second day, when Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia and other ladies and gentlemen will address the convention.
Women traveled as many as fifty miles to the little Wesleyan chapel, the crowd spilling out into the yard.
The group penned “the Declaration of Principles” to voice their ob-[p.339]jectives: “In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press on our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.”3
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, speaking for the first time publicly, addressed the group: “I should feel exceedingly diffident to appear before you at this time, having never before spoken in public, were I not nerved by a sense of right and duty, did I not feel that the time had come for the question of woman’s wrongs to be laid before the public, did I not believe that woman herself must do this work; for woman alone can understand the height, the depth, the length and the breadth of her degradation.”4
During the next decade, national woman’s rights conventions were held every year except 1857. As a group, they addressed common issues, particularly their dissatisfaction with the status quo. From the questions they asked, an ideology emerged: What is the proper condition of married women? What should be a woman’s place in the church, the community, the professions, the state? On what basis should divorce be permitted? The meetings were important both in creating an agenda for reform and in cultivating leadership.
In 1868 Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, financed in part by George Francis Train, speculator, Democrat, and former Copperhead, began publication of a newspaper, The Revolution, based on the model of abolitionist newspapers, to promulgate female equality. Published weekly, the sixteen-page paper mirrored the status of female struggles nationally and printed news of grassroots organizations of women workers—laundresses, tailors, and pioneers. Anthony and Stanton provided leadership for the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, organized in 1869, a women-only organization, which saw woman’s rights as broad-based and including suffrage. Lucy Stone and others organized the American Woman’s Suffrage Association, also in 1869, which included men but rejected Mormon women because of polygamy.
While the women’s movement was picking up organizational support during the 1850s and 1860s, the Mormons were trying to survive in [p.340] the wilderness. Zina Diantha and her sister wives and friends helped build homes and establish towns in the rough environment but, with Brigham Young’s encouragement, also began re-organizing Relief Societies in the late 1860s. The societies were the perfect vehicle for involvement in the woman’s rights movement and, like the women’s club movement nationally, “served as a kind of forcing area which propelled them into a world of enlarging horizons, new experiences, and new contacts.”5
Mormon women brought with them a legacy of values that had for almost two decades been in a state of open transition. Moreover, they were defenders of the faith and, in a slight, almost rhetorical shift, seized their right to defend their lifestyle, to preserve it by claiming for women the right of self-actualization. Focusing on the role of women in building Zion, in plural marriages, and as the mother in families, Mormon women put their own spin on the woman’s movement and made it serve their own interests. Eliza R. Snow’s view on the “woman’s issue” helped shape the Mormon response. According to historian Jill Mulvay Derr, Eliza believed women could not gain equality unless they first submitted to Mormon doctrine and practices. Her emphasis was always on spiritual rather than secular lines of authority and power, and taught women to be obedient, righteous, responsible stewards.6
One key factor inspiring Mormon women to take an interest in national politics was the Cullom Bill, introduced in Congress in 1869-70 to prohibit polygamy. The series of meetings staged by Mormon women opposed to the Cullom Bill unleashed an articulate and informed female response, intent on defending what they perceived as their way of life. Despite the bad weather, more than 5,000 Mormon women attended a “great indignation meeting” in the Old Tabernacle on Temple Square on 13 January 1870. Zina spoke eloquently of the loyalty to her church, husband, and sister wives. The New York Herald portrayed the meeting as one of the grandest gatherings of women in American history: “It will not be denied that the Mormon women have both brains and tongues. Some of the speeches give evidence that in general knowledge, in logic, and in rhetoric the so-called degraded ladies of Mormondom are quite equal to the women’s rights women of the East.”7 During the next six weeks, other angry meetings were held throughout the territory.
In fundamental ways, federal attempts to criminalize polygamy shad-[p.341]owed the involvement of women in the female suffrage movement. After the Cullom Bill passed the House of Representatives, it became clear that the constitutionality of the anti-polygamy legislation would be tested in the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in Reynolds vs. United States in 1879 that while some religious beliefs were protected by the First Amendment, others were not. The Edmunds Act of 1882 bolstered the provisions of the Cullom Bill by prosecuting polygamists and taking away the civil rights, including the vote, of Mormons. Finally, the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act confiscated the financial holdings of the church, disenfranchised Mormon women, and sought to destroy the church altogether. Church president Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto of 1890 ostensibly ended church-sanctioned plurality.
But in February 1870 the Utah legislature unanimously passed a bill giving the vote to all Utah women over the age of twenty-one. This included women who had resided in the territory six months, were born or naturalized in the United States, or were the wives, widows, or daughters of native-born or naturalized citizens. On 12 February territorial secretary S. A. Mann (also acting governor) signed the bill into law, and two days later twenty-five women voted for the first time in a city election.8 Seraph Young, Brigham’s niece, cast the first female vote.9 The event received national attention, which overlooked none of the irony. The New York Globe’s coverage was typical:
We expect they will go to the polls in a quiet orderly, lady-like manner, and deposit their votes without any jeers or opposition from the gentlemen. If this thing can be done in the “wicked and immoral” city of Salt Lake, where women are supposed to be held in less estimation than they are in the high-toned and healthy cities of New York and Boston, why may it not be accomplished in every town and hamlet in the Union? That the women of Utah will to-day vote to abolish polygamy, we do not expect this of women of Utah, and it will be unfair to call female suffrage a failure if they do refuse to abolish polygamy. The question, however, is not up for decision.10
Six months later Mormon women voted with their male counterparts in territorial elections. They entered voting booths through separate entrances, were chided in some locations, but took their new responsibility [p.342] seriously.11 (Utah women could also own their property after the passage of the Married Persons Property Act in 1872.)
This experiment in female political and economic involvement did not escape the perusal of national women’s leaders. In fact, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton visited Utah in 1871 to meet with Mormon women and discuss their reaction to the vote. Their willingness to court membership among groups like Mormon polygamists suggests that the National Association was more radical than the American Association, or, at least, more willing to forge tentative relationships in efforts to broaden their base of support. During the 1870s and 1880s, the two associations lead efforts to organize state suffrage associations, educate the public about women’s issues, establish and manage state campaigns for suffrage referenda, and keep continued pressure on Congress for an amendment to the federal Constitution.
During a five-hour meeting in the Tabernacle, Stanton discussed the variety of marital arrangements Mormon women found themselves in and possible birth control techniques. In the process, however, she misread her audience and alienated many potential allies. “It was at the time of the Godby [Godbeite] secession,” Stanton later wrote of the visit, “when several hundred Mormons abjured that portion of the faith of their fathers which authorized polygamy.” Armed with information provided by a non-Mormon federal appointee, Stanton spoke on “polyandry, polygamy, monogamy, and prostitution.” She said,
After this convocation the doors of the Tabernacle were closed to our ministrations, as we thought they would be, but we had crowded an immense amount of science, philosophy, history, and general reflections into the five hours of such free talk as those women had never heard before. As the seceders had just built a new hall, we held meetings there every day, discussing all the vital issues of the hour; the Mormon men and women taking an active part.12
Many differences separated Mormon women from women like Stanton. Stanton’s anti-Christianity was just one of several issues few Mormons could tolerate. Nevertheless, both groups believed the union of the two was in the best interests of each and would benefit all women. Therefore they attempted to find common ground. Women like Zina [p.343] Diantha and Emmeline B. Wells were frankly grateful for the suffragists’ alliance and held a mass meeting in November 1878 to send a “sincere and heartfelt” thanks to the national leadership.
That same year non-Mormon and apostate Mormon women organized the Anti-Polygamy Society and published the Anti-Polygamy Standard to oppose the growing strength of Mormon women, while still supporting the temperance movement and other social purity campaigns, both of which were basic to the national suffrage effort.
Because of the linkage between polygamy and suffrage, the success of the movement among Mormons wavered according to the government’s treatment of the church. After it became evident by the 1880s and 1890s that, despite their support of female suffrage, Mormon women were not going to renounce polygamy but, in fact, become its strongest proponents, an uneasiness developed between the Mormon workers for woman’s rights and the national movements. In fact, at numerous national conventions Mormon women were denied the right to speak because of their “mistaken” views on plurality. Despite numerous setbacks, Mormon women were by the eve of statehood in 1895 experienced organizationally, equipped with an understanding of women’s issues, and ready to fight for suffrage in the Utah statehood convention. They were dedicated, committed workers for women and had demonstrated their independence in main areas: regional and local organization; publishing; and association with national woman’s rights leaders.
Regardless of national skepticism about a Mormon woman’s ability to participate in the women’s movement, much of the Relief Society agenda mirrored national efforts at creating a better world for women.
The Exponent helped spin a web of relationships among Mormon women. Its many writers described social and religious events, teaching Mormon doctrine as well as the message of woman’s suffrage. Frequent biographies of prominent Mormon women helped create a collective history. In the 1 June 1872 issue, it announced: “In WOMAN’S EXPONENT a department will be devoted to reports of their meetings and other matters of interest connected with their workings; and to this end the Presidents and Secretaries of the various Societies throughout the Territory are requested to furnish communications which will receive due attention.”
[p.344] Outsiders who read the Exponent were often surprised at the periodical’s breadth. One Philadelphian changed her views of Mormons—that men have “not merely [their] own vote, but just as many votes as [their] own wives, and that each woman is either an oriental doll or a domestic druge”—after reading the Exponent. She now believed that “the women of the States have jumped at very unjust conclusions in regard to their sisters in Utah.”13
Editor Emmeline B. Wells set the tone for the publication and wove a careful argument for national feminist issues as amplified by LDS ideals. In line with national feminist publications, an editorial of the 1870s asserted, “Woman feels her servitude, her degradation, and she is determined to assert her rights.”14 The Exponent was the official voice of LDS women; the force accompanying its voice speaks to widespread support of the goals of the national movement for woman’s rights.
Wells was direct in condemning contemporary attitudes toward women which separated them from a vigorous engagement in public life.
See the manner in which ladies—a term for which I have little reverence or respect—are treated in public places! … She must be preserved from the slightest blast of trouble, petted, caressed, dressed to attract attention, taught accomplishments that minister to man’s gratification; in other words, she must be treated as a glittering and fragile toy, a thing without brains or soul, placed on a tinselled and unsubstantial pedestal by man, as her worshipper.15
Each year the Exponent published a tribute to Brigham Young on his birthday, 1 June 1872, also the date of its first issue, celebrating his efforts on behalf of women. In 1881, for instance, Young’s role in the founding of the paper was explained: “President Young was also desirous the women of Zion should publish a paper in their own interest, and was solicitous that it should be extensively circulated, and that the sisters should preserve their volumes and have them bound, for, he said, ‘It will contain a portion of Church history, the record of the works and experiences of women.’”16 Writers encouraged a healthy lifestyle based on exercise, sound nutrition, sensible clothing, and intellectual activity. Issues basic to the reform agenda—sexual, economic, legal, social change to improve the status of women—were frequent subjects. “From its first issue,” [p.345] Wells remembered, the paper “was the champion of the suffrage cause, and by exchanging with women’s papers of the United States and England it brought news of women in all parts of the world to those of Utah.”17 When suffrage and the work of the Relief Society became virtually synonymous, the line between the political and the spiritual effectively disappeared.
For many, female reformers in Mormon territory seemed to present an anomaly. Writing in a national publication in 1871, one woman observed sardonically: “Utah is the land of marvels. She gave us, first, polygamy, which seems to be an outrage against ‘woman’s rights,’ and then offers to the nation a ‘Female Suffrage Bill.’ … Was there ever a greater anomaly known in the history of a society?”18 While woman’s rights proposed an expanded role for women, polygamy required membership in a patriarchal household. For supporters, this misunderstanding stemmed from a lack of information about the expansive nature of polygamous households. Mormon women lived plurality first and foremost because they believed it was ordained of God. Polygamy gave some women, like Zina Presendia and Zina Diantha, opportunities for service and a large role in the community. Nevertheless, national reformers assumed that once Utah women had the vote they would outlaw plurality. The rhetoric surrounding this issue was reminiscent of reconstructionist claims surrounding suffrage and slavery. The ballot, some claimed, was a tool by which the oppressed could become empowered.19 Anti-polygamy crusaders entertained audiences throughout the United States with scandalous tales of polygamous life in Utah.20 They popularized the notion that suffrage was particularly relevant in Utah because Mormon women were degraded by their husbands.21
Initially, Susan B. Anthony was repulsed by the implications of the polygamous union. “The system of the subjection of woman here finds its limit,” she wrote, “and she touches the lowest depth of her degradation. … When I look back into the States, what sorrow, what broken hearts are there because of husbands taking to themselves new friendships, just as really wives as are these, and the legal wife feeling even more wrong and neglected.”22 She was not convinced of the merits of plurality but did support the commitment of Mormon women to female rights. One of her biographers described the way she took the Mormons on as [p.346] allies. Anthony, she wrote, “formed several friendships with Mormon women and decided to regard them as she regarded her conventionally married friends. There were no obvious signs of difference between them and these intelligent Mormon ladies.”23
The female Mormon defense of plural marriage posited the doctrine as the solution to many of the problems women faced in the modern world. For Zina and women like her, it provided numerous opportunities for friendships, as well as shared household and child rearing responsibilities. Elizabeth Cady Stanton described how Mormon women made the practice fundamental to the female world view. “The women who believe in polygamy had much to say in its favor, especially in regard to the sacredness of motherhood during the period of pregnancy and lactation; a lesson of respect for that period being religiously taught all Mormons.”24 The Exponent also spoke to the way plurality allowed women increased independence in their roles as parents and adults.
Is there then nothing worth living for, but to be petted, humored and caressed, by a man? That is all very well as far as it goes, but that man is the only thing in existence worth living for I fail to see. All honor and reverence to good men; but they and their attentions are not the only sources of happiness on the earth, and need not fill up every thought of woman. And when men see that women can exist without their being constantly at hand, that they can learn to be self-reliant or depend upon each other for more or less happiness, it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them.25
It was an undeniable relief to plural wives like Zina Diantha that part of the free exercise of their religion in Utah Territory was the open acknowledgement of their status as plural wives—righteous women living a holy principle for which God would bless them. Ironically, openness in living “the principle,” as polygamy was known, set the church on an inevitable collision course with the federal government.
In 1852 apostle Orson Pratt made the first public admission and justification of polygamy from the pulpit of the Tabernacle. Ten years later, the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was passed to restrain it; but the Civil War posed a major distraction, and the difficulty of enforcing the act (a second marriage had to be proved) meant that it was relatively powerless to deter [p.347] the Mormons. The next major federal effort was the “mean, foul legislation” of the Cullom Bill of 1870.
During these decades of federal opposition to plural marriage, Zina Diantha spoke frequently in defense of polygamy. The doctrine had shaped her life and placed its imprint on her family, and she was a passionate defender of its importance. Perhaps the most public forum in which she represented the female Mormon perspective was a mass meeting on 16 November 1878 in the Tabernacle in response to the anti-polygamy crusade.
Standing at the podium before a chamber filled with men and women on both sides of the issue, she paid a poignant tribute to Joseph Smith, identified herself as his widow, and bravely took the unpopular stance that polygamy was beneficial to women:
The principle of our holy religion that is assailed [polygamy] is one that lies deep in my heart. Could I ask the heavens to listen; could I beseech the earth to be still, and the brave men who possess the spirit of a Washington to hear what I am about to say! I am the daughter of a Master Mason! I am the widow of a master mason who, when leaping from the windows of Carthage jail, pierced with bullets, made the Masonic sign of distress; but, gentleman [of the press], those signs were not heeded except by the God of heaven. That man, the prophet of the Almighty, massacred without mercy! … Sisters, this is the first time in my life that I have dared to give utterance to this fact, but I thought I could trust my soul to say it on this occasion, and I say it now in the fear of Israel’s God, and I say it in the presence of these gentlemen.
She couched her defense in the language of the women’s movement, calling for understanding because of their shared concerns about the treatment of all women. “We, in common with many women throughout our broad land,” she continued, “would hail with joy the approach of such deliverance, for such is the deliverance that woman needs.” For Zina, polygamy protected women who might otherwise be harmed by immoral men. Therefore, deliverance for her held a different meaning than for woman’s rights advocates across the country. Polygamy functioned as a shield, a refuge of sorts, in her mind, and provided women with families and righteous husbands.
[p.348] Her eloquent justification of plural marriage capsulized her feelings on the matter. “The principle of plural marriage is honorable; it is a principle of the Gods, it is heavenborn. God revealed it to us among other things as a saving principle; we have accepted it as such, and we know it is of Him, for the fruits of it are holy. Worthy men and women of old practiced it, even the Savior himself traces his lineage back to polygamic parents.” She concluded: “We are proud of the principle, because we understand its true worth, and we want our children to practice it, that through us a race of men and women may grow up possessing sound minds in sound bodies who shall live to the age of a tree.”26 Her remarks were electrifying, and many jumped to their feet to applaud her views.
Zina warned Mormon women not to speak against the principle of plural marriage, “as those in it could scarcely realize the blessings they are in possession of, and they knew nothing of the outside world.”27 She missed no opportunity to teach her sisters how to live in plurality, and emphasized its potential for goodness. In 1879 she emphasized the constitutional protection of free religious practice. “Neither my self or people have violated the constitution of these United States[.] we hear it as also the mothers that reared and taught there [sic] sons that truth. … We do believe in the command [to] replenish the earth. We do not believe in giving our bodies to prostitution but in sacredness secure our marriage relation not only for time but for all eternity, for this intent and to observe our ordinance for the dead.”28
Mormon women carefully cultivated their association with Anthony and Stanton, attempting to convince these women of the legitimacy of their lifestyle. A number of women joined the suffrage movement in the 1870s, a fact noted in Anthony’s and Harper’s history of the suffrage movement. “The fact that the women of Utah were so progressive in the suffrage question and had sent large petitions asking for the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution to enfranchise all women, resulted in an invitation for [Mrs. Wells] to attend its annual convention at Washington in January, 1879.”29
In June 1879 Eliza R. Snow asked Emmeline B. Wells to attend the meetings of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C. Wells, in turn, invited twenty-nine-year-old widowed Zina Presendia to be her companion. As matron of the Brigham Young Academy, [p.349] Zina had thoughtfully considered the issue of female education; as Brigham Young’s daughter and a member of a different generation, she and Wells made interesting partners. They were the first Mormon women to officially represent their peers at a national woman’s rights convention.
Zina Presendia promptly wrote her mother on 9 June, the day after they reached the nation’s capital: “We arrived here yesterday at 1 o’clock p.m. Aunt Em was not feeling well, but is better this morning. We were very cordially received by Mrs. S. A. [Sara] Spencer, Susan B. Anthony and Miss [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton.”30 George Q. Cannon, then counselor in the First Presidency and territorial representative, visited them the next evening to discuss a bill that he was drafting. Moving through a rigorous schedule of public and private events, the two women met with influential political leaders—senators and congressmen, President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, and finally Senator George F. Edmunds whose involvement in the anti-polygamy movement would dramatically affect the Mormon people. Despite their optimism, their visit had no discernible impact. Emmeline and Zina were bright, articulate, energetic women, but the image of the Mormon church and the continued practice of plurality diffused any positive impression the two might have made.
When Orson F. Whitney first read the press release, or Manifesto, penned by church president Wilford W. Woodruff, ending new church- sanctioned plural marriages, Zina Diantha’s response was one of bewilderment. She recorded her reaction on the night of 6 October 1890: “Today the harts of all ware tried but looked to God and submitted. We are the same Latterday Saints, [but] they [the government] will not allow us to keep sacred our covenants. May we be faithful and true.”31 Six months later, after attending April’s churchwide general conference, she wrote: “The manifesto read[,] the saints all voted right[.] God was with us in this extreme case of humiliation.”32 Clearly, she felt the ban was a reaction to the pressure levied against the Saints by the government. Although her public advocacy of entering into and maintaining plural marriage stopped at this point, there is nothing in her private papers that indicates anything less than full support of plural marriage, a conviction that she had done right in her practice of it, no wistfulness about what might have been had she been allowed to live as Henry Jacobs’s monogamous [p.350] wife, nor any speculation about the shape of her daughter’s life lived in a hypothetical monogamy. For her, the issue was simply closed. And to the end of her life, Zina Diantha was supportive of polygamy, stopping just short of advocating the formation of new plural marriages. For example, speaking to one Relief Society conference, she “advised the sisters to be careful what they said upon this holy and sacred covenant; that it was right, as the Lord revealed it to Joseph our great Prophet.”33
Apparently Zina Presendia shared her mother’s sentiments fully on plural marriage, not only because she was defending the only type of marital relationships she had experienced but also because of her personal conviction. For instance, in July 1898, Charles noted, “We received a telegram yesterday inviting my Zina to meet Lady Aberde[e] at Macleod, consequently She remained in Lethbridge to take train for Macleod & Attena Sterlings wife accompanied me home.”34 As Brigham Young’s daughter, Zina was somewhat of an oddity; as Charles’s wife, she was often called upon to welcome visitors to the Mormon Canadian colonies, and inevitably was questioned about polygamy.
Two years later, in 1881, Zina Diantha traveled to the East with her foster son Willard Young, son of her deceased sister wife Clarissa Ross Young, and Dr. Ellen Brooke Ferguson. The women were ultimately bound for a Woman’s Congress in Buffalo, New York. First, they visited Hartford, Connecticut, where both spoke at the Unity Church, considered locally a liberal congregation. Ferguson’s remarks were well received, and she received an invitation from Harriet Beecher Stowe to speak at the upcoming Woman’s Congress in Buffalo.
Beginning on Tuesday, 18 October 1881, Zina kept a travel journal recording details of their trip. Besides attending the women’s conference, Zina visited the Huntingtons in New York and New Hampshire, searching for genealogical information she could use in her temple work. “Aunt Mary” Baker Durkee gave Zina a bundle of letters that had passed between Zina Baker and her mother Dorcas. Zina also visited an orphanage, various relatives, and spoke in tongues at two different Relief Society meetings.
When she first arrived, she stayed for a few days with Willard at West Point. There she saw a dress parade, walked the grounds, including the so-called “flirtation walk,” and visited Willard’s friends. She then trav-[p.351]eled by train to Buffalo where she went to see a Sister Clough and stayed in a boarding house she described as “very comfortable.”35 When they arrived, Ellen Ferguson was sick.
Nevertheless, the next morning the two women attended sessions of the Congress where Zina saw the leaders with whom she had established a friendship, including Sara Spencer and Belva Lockwood, among others. That first evening, they attended a meeting which cost 25 cents admission. She noted briefly, and without additional comment, “It was a large audience. They gave us no privilege to speak.”36
According to Ferguson, the Woman’s Congress
was a gathering of women whose names stand high in the records of Philanthropy, Education, Science and Art—poets, preachers, writers and workers. … As we avowed ourselves to be Mormons, we were not permitted an opportunity of representing either ourselves or those whose cause we had come to plead. A little bird, whose place in ornithology has not yet been determined by naturalists, whispered to me that the chief objection to our admission as members of the A.A.W. [American Association of Women] was the fact that we as a people were violating the law of the land.
The two women were stung by the fact that all women’s interests were being heard except their own: “They contained a plea for the work-woman and the scholar, the factory girl and the artist, the Indian and the prostitute, but for the ‘brave daughters of the desert,’ the women of the New and Everlasting Covenant, ‘who make womanhood the synonym for wife’ and crown motherhood with eternal honors, there was neither place nor voice.”37
After she left Buffalo, Zina visited brothers Chancy and John, and other relatives in Watertown and Vermont. She stopped briefly at the Hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith had unearthed the Book of Mormon. There she “bowed and prayed. I spoke in tongs , so did Sister F. and Sister Clough. Saw the setting sun viewed the landscapes with sacred honor where the Prophet and angels had stood, … I thank thee o God for all.”38 Then she traveled to New York City to attend the National Woman’s Suffrage Association’s New York State convention. There she met up with Susan B. Anthony, whom she had known for several years, [p.352] and other suffragists, but again she was denied the podium. Ellen joined her, as did Dr. Romania Pratt. All three were disappointed by the lack of support.
While at the convention, Zina Diantha had an experience she loved to retell:
As she was standing waiting to sign the memorial to send to the Legislature, asking for the franchise of the women of New York State, a lady close by her thus addressed her: “I believe you are Mrs. Young.” Sister Young said, “I am.” And thereupon the lady withdrew herself a pace, and while Aunt Zina stood there in her sealskin sacque and velvet robe, but above all with the light of truth, beaming forth from every feature of her face, she took a scrutinizing survey of her from top to toe, and said, in accents of supreme surprise, “Why, you do not look very degraded!” The woman seemed totally oblivious to the burning insult her every word, act and look implied, but seemed wholly swallowed up with her discovery.39
On 26 October they left for Albany where Zina visited the Geological and Agricultural department, the Medical College, and the State Capitol building site. The next day, she noted reflectively, was the anniversary of her sealing to Joseph Smith. When she arrived at her brother John’s house two days later, she found letters from her daughter and Emmeline B. Wells waiting for her.
With John, Zina visited Watertown, going to the site of their childhood home, visiting their brother Chancy and other relatives, and attending the Presbyterian church. On 10 November she went to John’s dentistry office where he made an impression of her mouth to be fitted for “teeth where mine are missing.” Two days later she received more mail from home, letters from Zina, Sterling, and Hugh Dougall.
On Thursday, 24 November, she wrote, “Thanksgiving a fine turkey, a lovely day, John’s family together. … John presented me with my new teeth on plates. Ate with them for the first time. A pleasant evening all felt well.” A month later she returned to Albany to spend a few more weeks with the Cloughs. One evening as she lay in her bed in the same room with Sister Clough, she wrote, “After I was in bed I spoke in tongs to Sister Clough and while I was talking she saw a ring of light and a door in it before her. It was a great comfort.”40 Early the next day, they returned to Utah.
[p.353] In November 1882, Zina Diantha attended a Primary conference in Provo, Utah, where her daughter Zina Presendia, the local stake primary president, was the keynote speaker. Zina Diantha brought with her, according to her journal, a “nationally renowned female suffrage lecturer.”41 Clearly, these women visited when in Utah and became acquainted with the church’s female auxiliaries. That same year, in September, Zina attended the National Suffrage Convention in Omaha. There she met May Wright Sewall, Phoebe Cousins, and Susan B. Anthony. Emmeline B. Wells accompanied her and served as vice-president for Utah, presenting a report of suffrage work in the territory. Four years later, more than 2,000 Mormon women met in the Tabernacle to produce a statement of grievances in an effort to defeat the Edmunds Bill. Wells and Ellen B. Ferguson, on behalf of the Relief Society, delivered the resolutions to Congress and to President Grover Cleveland.
In 1888, representatives of the Relief Society and the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association attended the first meeting of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association’s international alliance, becoming members of the National Council of Women and, in 1891, of the U.S. affiliate of the International Council of Women as well. Apostle Franklin D. Richards praised the move, saying, “Ours is one with them now, and is of like importance in a national and international sense. … The sisters when they go down to Washington to these great Councils will have influence and power there, and they have had.”42
In September 1888, Elizabeth Lyle Saxon and Clara Bewick Colby visited Salt Lake City after a lecture tour in Oregon and Washington states. Each spoke in the Salt Lake Theater and were entertained at a reception in the Gardo House the next day. There they were introduced to more than 600 Mormon and non-Mormon men and women. A meeting the next morning in the Assembly Hall provided them with another opportunity to address Mormon women.
In the wake of the Edmunds-Tucker Act which had disfranchised Utah’s women in 1887, Zina Diantha met with church president Wilford Woodruff and some of the Twelve in January 1889 to ask their permission to organize units of the Woman’s Suffrage Association in wards throughout the church. On 10 January a Territorial Woman’s Suffrage Association meeting was held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. [p.354] Two monogamous wives, Emily Richards and Margaret N. Caine, were elected representatives to the national association. It was often difficult to tell the difference between a suffragist and a Relief Society sister, their agendas were so similar.
Each Utah chapter of the Territorial Suffrage Association was connected to the national association. Within a few months after its organization, fourteen counties had auxiliary societies. On 11 April 1890, three months after it was first organized, a meeting of the group was held in the Assembly Hall. They heard lectures by Mormon leaders Charles W. Penrose, George Q. Cannon, Dr. Martha P. Hughes Cannon, Zina D. H. Young, Jane Richards, Ida Snow Gibbs, and Nellie R. Webber.43
Despite the outside perception of Mormon women as subjugated by a male dominated world of polygamy, Mormon women had an extensive history of public activity. Beginning with the Female Relief Society in Nauvoo in the 1840s and continuing throughout the next five decades, the franchise, according to historian Lola Van Wagenen in her dissertation, did not radically change the lives of Mormon women. They were already partners in community building and were using their talents to benefit society.44 Van Wagenen suggests that instead of being evidence of a climate of egalitarianism which led to legislative action and the granting of female suffrage, Utah’s decision to grant women the vote was based on the acknowledgement of the power of voting Mormon women, as well as men, to protect Mormon practices and policies against federal legislation. Historian Beverley Beeton also believes that female suffrage was a strategic move to bolster the goals of the Mormon hierarchy rather than an egalitarian thrust.
After their organization into suffrage units, Utah women traveled in increasing numbers to national conventions and lobbied Congress for changes in legislation that directly affected the women of Utah. At one such meeting in 1891, the group of women from Utah was the second largest in attendance. Furthermore, the restraints experienced as a result of the Edmunds-Tucker Act were seen as propitious teachers—Emmeline B. Wells believed that during this period LDS women learned important lessons about politics and activism.
Despite the restrictions on their involvement in national conventions and other activities, the presence of Mormon women was one [p.355] reason the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and the American Woman’s Suffrage Association found it impossible to join forces in the push for suffrage. The more conservative American association would not ally itself with an organization which had Mormon women as members. Each group emphasized different agendas—the national association focused its attention on passage of a national suffrage amendment.45 Rather than push for federal reform, the American association approached it on a state by state basis. When pressured to back off from their policy of welcoming Utah’s women into their ranks, Elizabeth Cady Stanton refused to change. She persisted in her belief that it was important to make all women feel welcome, particularly when they shared common objectives.46
When Stanton retired from the organization, Susan B. Anthony continued the same policy and in fact noted on numerous occasions that she considered many Mormon women as friends. In 1900, at a celebration for Anthony’s eightieth birthday, Emmeline B. Wells and a contingent of LDS women traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to present her with a bolt of Utah-grown silk. Anthony responded warmly, saying,
My pleasure in the rich brocaded silk is quadrupled because it was made by women politically equal with men. The fact that the mulberry trees grew in Utah, that the silk worms made their cocoons there, that women reeled and spun and colored and wove the silk in a free State, greatly enhances its value. My dressmaker in the near future will make it into the most beautiful gown that your octogenarian friend ever possessed.47
Besides testing the commitment to sisterhood promoted by the national association, Utah’s campaign for statehood presented complicated questions about the relationship between church and state. According to Carol Cornwall Madsen, “the issue focused on the question of the preeminence of church or the state and the extent to which citizens were required or willing to consent to being governed by the law of the land if it conflicted with the ‘higher law’ of religious commitment.”48
The 1882 Edmunds Act, and especially the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, forced plural husbands and wives into hiding, fleeing arrest and possible imprisonment. Young mothers like Zina Presendia moved outside the boundaries of the United States to the Mormon colonies of [p.356] Mexico and Canada. Zina Diantha’s reaction to the Edmunds-Tucker Act was defiantly optimistic: “As the government has now disfranchised us we can speak with perfect freedom on the pure and holy principles of the Gospel. … These days are the best we have yet seen on earth.”49 Her hopes were not realized. In the three years that followed, a period known in Mormon history as the “underground,” the prosecution of polygamists accelerated, pressure on the church to abandon the practice became increasingly punitive, and families were forced to live apart in the effort to protect husbands and wives from being arrested and imprisoned.
In May 1893 both Zinas were in Chicago at the World’s Fair—the Pan-American Exposition. Described as the “White City,” the more than 200 buildings built along Lake Michigan’s waterfront marked for many the end of an era. There Zina Diantha directed a day-long “Congress of Representative Women” in the Art Palace beneath the mural painted by impressionist artist Mary Cassatt. Like the powerful women Cassatt portrayed, Zina Diantha was a player in these momentous events, a woman whose life exemplified empowerment and service. She mixed comfortably with women from other religious groups. Emmeline wrote of the event: “Mrs. Young was seated upon the platform with fourteen women ministers of different denominations, conversing freely with them. … She also attended the congress of charities and philanthropies, of which she is a vice-president.”50
The women’s meetings were also held in the art building, a site Emmeline found unsatisfactory. As president of the Relief Society, Zina presented opening remarks and Emmeline chaired their session, introducing Sarah M. Kimball, Jane S. Richards, and Isabelle Horne, who also spoke. The audience was entranced by Horne’s account of the exodus from Nauvoo and weary three-month journey across Iowa, including her harrowing childbirth on the trail in a drafty wagon. Zina Young Card was described by Etta L. Gilchrist, a correspondent for the Exponent, as a “bright and comely woman [who] spoke of the children of Utah and [who] told how they are taught lessons of patriotism and purity.” Emmeline, “a sweet faced mother in Zion,” described the society’s grain storage program as well as the number of writers and journalists in Utah, saying “they had known what it was to be hungry, to hear their children cry for bread, and they felt the grain must not go out of the territory. [p.357] They have 55,000 bushels stored now and will have more. Women and children glean in the fields for this purpose.” She said, “If ever there is a famine, come to Zion.” Finishing her remarks, Emmeline left the stand to sit between the two Zinas, clasping their hands with her own.51
Eight months later, in February 1894, Emmeline B. Wells organized a meeting in Utah to generate enthusiasm in the drive for statehood. The audience joined to sing Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and also “America.” The Honorable John E. Booth, Samuel W. Richards, and Dr. Richard A. Hasbrouck then addressed the crowd. Female speakers included Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, Lucy A. Clark, and Zina D. H. Young. Subsequent meetings were held in homes throughout the city. In total these meetings kept questions about equal rights for women in the dialogue over statehood. That summer, on 16 July, U.S. president Grover Cleveland signed the enabling act beginning the process of conventions leading up to statehood. Women campaigned for a constitution written without restrictions based on gender and insisted on women suffrage. Both political parties inserted such a clause in their platforms by October. Every effort was made to educate women and men about the significance of female suffrage. Wells, Marilla M. Daniels, and Aurelia S. Rogers traveled in January 1895 to Atlanta and the national convention. There Emmeline asserted her belief that female suffrage was due the women of Utah.
There are two good reasons why our women should have the ballot apart from the general reasons why all women should have it … first, because the franchise was given to them by the Territorial Legislature and they exercised it seventeen years, never abusing the privilege, and it was taken away from them by Congress without any cause assigned except that it was a political measure; second, there are undoubtedly more women in Utah who own their homes and pay taxes than in any other State with the same number of inhabitants, and Congress has, by its enactments in the past, virtually made many of these women heads of families.52
The women met during Utah’s Constitutional Convention in the Probate Court room of the Salt Lake City and County Building. There delegates from all over the state spoke passionately about the necessity of including female suffrage in the state’s new constitution. Wells presided [p.358] over the meeting; in attendance were Jane Richards, Nellie Little, Augusta W. Grant, and Zina D. H. Young. They produced a memorial to be read by Franklin S. Richards at the convention which ended with the following line: “We therefore ask you to provide in the constitution that the rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex, but that male and female citizens of the State shall equally enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.” The document was signed by Emmeline as president of the Woman’s Suffrage Association, Emily S. Richards her vice-president, Zina D. H. Young as president of the Relief Society, her vice-president Jane S. Richards, as well as the presidents of all the county units. The most vocal opponent to female suffrage was B. H. Roberts, who claimed it would endanger statehood and did not believe women were suited for public life. Roberts’s voice was a powerful, articulate one. But because of widespread support for the idea, women were included in a definition of Utah’s electorate. With statehood, Utah women reclaimed the vote.
Susan B. Anthony and the Reverend Anna Howard Shaw arrived in Utah on 12 May 1895 to hold a conference for female suffrage workers. They met in the same hall as the Constitutional Convention the week earlier. Governor Caleb West introduced Anthony who responded graciously, as did Mary C. C. Bradford and Ellis Meredith of Colorado who had accompanied her on her journey west. They were welcomed by Zina Diantha and other speakers. That afternoon the Richardses held a reception attended by more than 300 guests and local dignitaries.
In December 1897 while Zina Diantha was visiting her daughter in Canada, Emmeline wrote to suggest that Zina Diantha might be interested in attending the semi-centennial of the first convention of the woman’s rights movement. She said, “all the great advocates of the cause are expected to take part—and as your mother disappointed the (Halls) [Zina Diantha had been refused the opportunity to address the audience] last time in 1895—when the Council met—she would be heartily welcomed by them now.”53 But Zina Diantha’s health would not permit such a taxing endeavor. Her activism would thereafter be limited to encouragement of younger women.
As president of the Relief Society, Zina Diantha had been swept into participation in the woman’s rights movement. It is difficult to know [p.359] how much this was the result of her own volition. For Zina, suffrage was in part a way for Mormon women to voice their support of plurality. Involvement in the national woman’s rights movement was likely the same—a way the female Mormon world could be defended, perhaps better understood, and certainly brought onto common ground because of shared concerns with women across the country. Zina Presendia shared her mother’s commitment to plurality, and like her seized every opportunity to defend it. Both believed it was their role to defend their faith, to justify their lifestyle, and to serve as interpreters of Mormonism’s peculiar vision of family life. Both were also committed to the civil rights of women.
6. Jill Mulvay Derr, “Eliza R. Snow and the Woman Question,” in Carol Cornwall Madsen, ed., Battle for the Ballot: Essays on Woman Suffrage in Utah, 1870-1896 (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997), 75-90.
11. Eleanor Flexner found this Mormon granting of female suffrage to be a curious anomaly compared to the example in Wyoming during the same time period. She wrote, “Why a Mormon society should have given women the vote without any discernible demand for it among the women themselves is a puzzling question. Mormon writers have interpreted the action as the logical extension of an egalitarian attitude toward women basic to the Mormon creed, which had permitted women a voice in church affairs ever since the founding of Mormonism in 1830. They saw nothing derogatory to woman’s dignity in plural marriage, … holding it far superior to the ‘double standard’ tacitly accepted in the Christian community. While women were debarred by the tenets of the Mormon faith from the all-important ecclesiastical hierarchy which controlled all aspects of Mormon life, they were not, for the most part, the embittered and rebel-[p.360]lious victims of polygamy that critics of Mormonism considered them; the truth lay somewhere in-between. Moreover, plural marriage was not a standard practice; it was necessarily limited to a small upper stratum—between 2 and 3 percent—of men who could assume the economic support of several wives,” 165.
19. New York suffragist Hamilton Willcox first proposed an experiment with female suffrage in the territories in 1867. He wrote an article published in 1871 in Revolution (New York, 1871), that gave credit to the Universal Franchise Association for woman’s suffrage in Utah. See Sacramento Union, 14 January 1874; Woman’s Journal, Boston, 24 January 1874.
20. The single best contemporary account of the suffrage movement in Utah is chapter 66 of volume 4 in History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda J. Gage, and Ida H. Harper, originally published in 1881-1922 (reprint ed., New York: Arno, 1969). This chapter was based on information supplied by Emmeline B. Wells and Emily S. Richards about Utah from 1870 to statehood in 1896. When the sixth volume was published, it contained an excerpt written by Susa Young Gates who brought the story from 1896 up to the passage of the National Amendment in 1920. See also Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement (reprint ed., Seattle: University of Washington, 1969); Pauline W. Davis, A History of the National Woman’s Rights Movement (1871; reprint ed.; Source Book Press, 1970; William L. O’Neill, Everyone Was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1969); Flexner, A Century of Struggle; Aileen Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, 1890- 1920 (New York: Columbia University, 1965). Volume 5 of Heart Throbs of the West (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1944) is dedicated to suffrage. Numerous articles have been written about the topic, including: Jean B. White, “Woman’s Place Is in the Constitution: The Struggle for Equal Rights in Utah in 1895,” Utah Historical Quarterly 42 (1974): 344-69; Thomas G. Alexander, “An Experiment in Progressive Legislation: The Granting of Woman Suffrage in Utah in 1870,” Utah Historical Quarterly 38 (1970): 20-30; and Lola Van Wagenen, “The Politicization of Utah’s Women,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 24 (Winter 1991): 31-43.
21. One particularly popular lecturer, Anna Dickenson, an advocate of [p.361] woman suffrage, came to Salt Lake City in 1869 with the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee. From that she developed a popular lecture called the “Whited Sepulchres” in which she described the deplorable condition of Mormon women—haggard countenances, dejected looks, and slavish obedience to their husbands’ every whim. See Millennial Star, October 1869, 683.
30. Zina Young Williams, Letter to Zina D. H. Young, 9 June 1879, Washington, D.C., Zina Young Williams Card Collection, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
42. Minutes of Relief Society Conference, 5 April 1894, in Relief Society Minutes, 1892-1911, qtd. in Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Janath Cannon, and Jill Mulvay Derr, Woman of Covenant (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 138.
43. Emmeline B. Wells, “The History of Woman Suffrage in Utah,” in Carol Cornwall Madsen, Battle for the Ballot: Essays on Woman Suffrage in Utah, 1870-1896 (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997), 38.
[p.362] 45. Other issues of importance to the NAWSA were economic and social reforms, the organization of women into industrial unions, encouraging greater employment opportunities for women and improved health practices, and pushing for greater equality between the sexes. Furthermore, Iversen suggests that over time the earlier militancy of the Mormon suffragists in defense of their marriage system was somewhat diffused by other prominent sentiments of the day, including Victorian domesticity, the abandonment of polygamy with the Manifesto, and the popularity of the social purity movement.