SuffraGents – The Men Who Helped Women Get the Vote

The battle for suffrage was a seventy-year journey made possible by the combined lobbying efforts by women and the men who chose to support and vote for suffrage. Amidst Year of the Woman’s focus on the influential voices of Utah State University women, we take this time to reflect on the voices of the men who helped women get the vote both locally and nationally.

Utah Constitutional Convention (1895)

The right of women of the Utah Territory to vote was gained on February 12, 1870, fifty years earlier than national suffrage was achieved. Two days later on February 14, Seraph Young became the first woman in the nation to cast a vote. However, a number of anti-polygamy bills led to the passing of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which took away the voting rights of Utah women. With this disenfranchisement, Utah women resumed suffrage activities for their own rights, in addition to working towards the rights for other women throughout the nation.

In 1895, 107 delegates, including eight delegates from Cache County, gathered to finalize the new Utah state constitution in order to apply for statehood. In the months leading up to the meeting, women banded together to lobby the delegates to be sympathetic to women’s suffrage and re-enfranchise the women of the state. During the convention, several men relayed pro- and anti-suffrage sentiments. Many of those who did not want to include women’s rights in the constitution were worried that the inclusion would hinder the acceptance of their constitution by Congress and that Utah would once again be denied statehood. In response to these concerns, Orson F. Whitney said, “They tell us that woman suffrage in the Constitution will imperil Statehood. I don’t believe it. But if it should, what of it? There are some things higher and dearer than Statehood. I would rather stand by my honor, by my principles, than to have Statehood.”

When it came time to vote on the inclusion of women’s rights in the state constitution, rights which included the ability to vote and run for public office, the vote was in favor of woman’s suffrage.

Delegates from Cache County

William Jasper Kerr

William Jasper Kerr, a native Utah resident received his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah). In his early twenties, he moved to Smithfield Utah to become a teacher. While living in Cache Country, Kerr served as a delegate for the Utah Constitutional Conventions in 1887 and 1895.

Kerr was elected as the fourth president of the Utah Agricultural College on June 11, 1900. Under his presidency, Kerr expanded the curriculum of the college and expanded the departments into schools, creating the Schools of Engineering, Agriculture, Domestic Arts, Commerce, Manual Training, and General Science. In 1903, a School of Music was organized.

Moses Thatcher

From the time of his marriage in 1861, Moses Thatcher settled in Logan, herding cattle and participating in other labors that came with pioneer life. Over the course of his life, Thatcher’s business interests were varied as he opened a mercantile business, became director and secretary of the Utah Northern Railway Company, and later served as President of the Thatcher Brothers’ Bank, engaged in the raising of cattle, acted as the president of the Farmers Utah Loan Association, and president and general manager of the Thatcher Milling and Elevator Company. Thatcher was also a member of the territorial legislature, representing Cache and Rich counties.

I. C. Thoresen

Ingwald C. Thoreson and his family settled in Hyrum, Utah after emigrating from Norway. Under the People Party’s rule, Thoresen served as mayor, justice surveyor, and deputy assessor and collector. He also served as a territorial legislator at the Utah Constitutional Conventions of 1882, 1887, and 1895. Other political involvement included being named one of the first county commissioners in Cache County, a member of the second state legislature in 1898, and a presidential elector.

Henry Hughes

Henry Hughes, an immigrant from Wales, was a long-time resident of Mendon, Utah. He served as the Mendon mayor for several terms and was a member of the Utah Constitutional Congress of 1895.

Charles H. Hart

After high school, Charles H. Hart attended the University of Deseret and went on to the University of Michigan to obtain a law degree. After a year of practicing law in Paris, Idaho, he moved to Logan, Utah, where he continued his practice. Through the support of his clients, Hart was elected to the office of county attorney and the Utah Constitution Convention of 1895 where he was heavily involved in the preparing of the state constitution. After Utah gained statehood, Hart was elected a judge and was called upon to serve as a member of the Utah Supreme Court.

Noble Warrum

Shortly after his marriage in 1890, Noble Warrum and his wife moved to Logan, Utah, where he served as a judge of the county court, a member of the 1895 Utah Constitutional Convention, and a senator in the first state legislature. After the end of his term, Warrum took up a career in journalism and became the editor-in-chief of the Salt Lake Herald.

W. H. Maughan

William Harrison Maughan and his family, under the direction of Brigham Young, were some of the earliest settlers of Cache Valley. In addition to active participation in religious leadership, Maughan assumed numerous political responsibilities. He served as the first mayor of Wellsville  (he was re-elected on several occasions), as a delegate for all three Utah Constitutional Conventions, and as a colonel in the Cache county military.

J.P. Low

James Paton Low, a Utah native, moved to Cache Valley with his family in 1864. He began teaching school at the age of eighteen and entered the University of Deseret in 1879. Following his graduation, he continued teaching. He served as the president of the Smithfield Democratic Society and as a delegate at the 1895 Utah Constitutional Convention.

Ratification of the 19th Amendment

In 1919, the work of suffragists nation-wide finally came to fruition when Congress and President Woodrow Wilson approved the 19th Amendment, but the fight for suffrage wasn’t over yet; 36 states still needed to ratify the amendment.

By the summer of 1920, 35 of the 36 necessary states had ratified the amendment and only one state remained that had the power to ratify: Tennessee. Citizens flocked to Tennessee to influence legislators. The Tennessee House quickly approved ratification, but the process was not as easy in the House of Representatives. After weeks of debate, the amendment finally came to a vote. Those against ratification wore red roses, while those who supported it wore yellow roses.

On the morning of the vote, young Tennessee delegate, Harry Burn, sat in his hotel room reading a letter from his mother. One line stuck in his mind as he made his journey to the meeting that would determine the fate of women’s suffrage. The line said: “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt….Be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” With his mother’s hope for suffrage weighing heavily on his shoulders, Burn replied “Aye” when his name was called to vote. With this one word, he cast the deciding vote that enfranchised the women of the nation.

Today we are grateful for the men who fought tirelessly alongside women in the battle for women’s suffrage. It is because of men who were willing to listen to the voices of women that the right to vote and run for office was recognized. As noted by Patricia Jones, a member of the Utah Legislature for 14 years, “It takes men who advocate for women to really make the difference.”