Payson 1920_Arthur Nichols and Suzanne Nichols

Women and men lined up to vote in Payson in 1920.

No matter how we feel about her political party’s platform, or her views and stance on issues, we can’t deny the importance of Kamala Harris being elected as the country’s first woman vice president.

Just a few decades ago, she wouldn’t have even been afforded the opportunity to vote.

Like the rest of the country, Utah has made much progress in ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity to vote, but there is still work to be done. Until every eligible voter does indeed vote, there is always work to be done.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Utah women being the first in the nation to vote under an equal suffrage law. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which extended women’s voting rights throughout the United States.

However, the voting rights of racial minorities were still not being protected everywhere. That changed in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act — just 55 years ago.

The first woman that was elected as a Utah County official was Ellen Jakeman, who was elected to be county treasurer in 1896. This was the first year that women in Utah were allowed to hold public office.

The all-male county commission board at the time wrote of her ability to “give a piece of her mind to whomever she seemed fit,” according to utahwomenshistory.org.

Also of note in Utah County was Fannie Eliza Hunt Stewart, the first Utah County woman to run for state office. A schoolteacher in Pleasant Grove, Stewart supported herself and her children after her husband died.

In 1896, she ran for the state House of Representatives on Utah County’s Republican ticket, but she and the other Republicans were defeated in a Democratic landslide.

In August 2020, “A Path Forward,” a new Utah women’s history memorial, was unveiled in front of Council Hall in Salt Lake City. The memorial was created by artists Kelsey Harrison and Jason Manley as a way of honoring Utah women’s contributions to the cause of equal voting rights. The sculpture includes multiple doorways, each representing gains made for equal voting rights.

While we have made much progress since the women’s suffrage movement, we’re not finished yet. According to Better Days 2020 Historical Director Katherine Kitterman, as of last year, there were 300,000 women in Utah who are eligible to vote but not registered.

In the spring of 1870, soon after the territory’s women’s suffrage law passed, about 600 women voted in Provo’s municipal election. We’ve increased in numbers since then. Utah women’s voter turnout was the highest in the nation in 1992 before dropping to the lowest in 2006.

In 2018, we were No. 11 in the nation, with a turnout of 60.5%.

How can we help to ensure that every person — no matter their gender — fulfills this most important duty of voting? Encourage your family members and friends to register to vote so they’re ready when the next election comes around. Educate children about the importance of voting. Talk about the issues and get involved.

Let’s continue to move the work of those who came before us forward.

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