If you’re joining us this Wednesday evening for Better Days 2020’s presentation on Utah women’s history, you’re in for a treat. Katherine Kitterman, the organization’s historical director, will be here to share stories about Utah women, especially Provo and Utah County residents, of all different backgrounds who shaped local and national history.
If you asked a typical Utahn, they’d probably struggle to name more than a handful of significant women in Utah history. Better Days 2020 is an organization committed to changing that through art, education, legislation, and activism. Utah women have a long history of political, social, and artistic contributions, and we’re excited that this history is becoming better known.
Today and Wednesday on the blog, we’ll be recommending a few favorite books related to Utah women's history. As you may have noticed, most of the books on the topic focus on white women, especially members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the pioneer and settlement eras. This is somewhat understandable, given the prominence of that group in Utah’s history, but current historians, including those at Better Days 2020, are working hard to bring forward the histories of Utah women of all races, religions, and backgrounds. Look forward to some of those fascinating stories Wednesday night.
Emmeline B. Wells is a personal hero of mine and was arguably Utah’s best known women’s rights activist in her day. Utah Territory granted women the right to vote in 1870 (a right the national government rescinded 17 years later), and Utah women became some of the most outspoken advocates in the country for female political rights.
As part of this movement, Wells served as editor of Woman’s Exponent for nearly 40 years, urged Utah’s Territorial Legislature to allow women to serve in public office, developed personal friendships with national suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, walked a precarious line between pro-polygamy Utah suffragists and anti-polygamy suffragists on the national stage, served as president of the Utah Territorial Women’s Suffrage Association, spoke internationally before the International Council of Women, and organized the Relief Society’s grain-saving program that saved hundreds of lives during World War I. In her last eleven years, Wells also served as Relief Society General President, being released at the age of 93, just three weeks before she passed away.
Ulrich won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for History for A MIDWIFE’S TALE, which revolutionized the historian’s field with its remarkable examination of social history. In addition to being a renowned historian (and the person who coined the phrase "well-behaved women seldom make history"), Ulrich herself is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, giving her unique insight into her subject matter in A HOUSE FULL OF FEMALES. Don’t be fooled by the narrator’s mispronunciations of common Utah names and Mormon words if you listen to the audiobook – Ulrich knows what she’s talking about.
Much of published research into Utah women's history has focused on the hotbed of political and social activism that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century, so it’s a nice change to read about the lead-up to that time period. Ulrich is a master of reconstructing a society based on journals, letters, meeting minutes, and even quilts, and you’ll come away from this book with a much more complete understanding of regular LDS and Utah women’s experiences in the early days of polygamy.
WORTH THEIR SALT offers a glimpse into the lives of a wide variety of Utah women, some familiar, others less so. These include Indian rights advocate and diplomat Chipeta, mining queen Susanna Engalitcheff, Catholic nun and education reformer Mother M. Augusta, artist Mary Teasdel, Greek midwife Georgia Lathrouis Magera, actress Maude Adams (who originated the role of Peter Pan on Broadway), journalist and Japanese-American newspaper owner Kuniko Terasawa, and United States Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest.
A variety of professional historians, journalists, descendants, and enthusiasts contributed essays for WORTH THEIR SALT. It’s a collection well worth reading for anyone interested in broadening their familiarity with prominent women in Utah history.
Be on the lookout for another post later this week with more recommended reads on this topic. Whether you're able to attend on Wednesday of not, we hope these books will get you hooked on the remarkable history of Utah women!