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chapter 3 “More the Companion and Much Less the Subordinate” Polygamy and Mormon Woman’s Citizenship “Utah is the land of marvels. She gives 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 ?”1 WiththisstatementawriterforthePhrenologicalJournalarticulatedwhat mostnineteenth-centuryAmericansunderstoodtobetheparadoxofMormon woman’ssuffrage,aparadoxwithwhichscholarshavebeenwrestlingeversince. How did a community which understood itself to be avowedly patriarchal, instituted a marriage system it called “patriarchal marriage,” referred to itself as a “patriarchal family,” and subjected women to the leadership of a male-only priesthood give rise to such a gesture toward women’s equality? ThischapterlooksatperhapsthemostradicalaspectofMormoncitizenship claims—Mormon woman’s suffrage and its startling offspring, a polygamous republicanism. After receiving the vote in 1870, Mormon women increasingly enteredthefrayofthenationalwomanquestiontoconstructalternativevisions of independent women’s citizenship—visions to which polygamy was central. In a curious twisting of patriarchy, woman’s suffrage emerged naturally out of Mormonpatriarchy.AsMormonwomensawit,theirecclesiasticalsubordinationclearedapathfortheircivicequality ,astheavowedlypatriarchalinstitution of polygamy empowered women’s participation in the formal polity. Mormon women went to great lengths to show that plural marriage not only facilitated women’sindependencebutdevelopedhercapacitiesforcitizenshipaswell.By Talbot_Text.indd 63 9/5/13 8:49 AM 64 chapter 3 resisting, undermining, and disavowing categories of public and private, Mormons , especially women, both opened a space for woman’s equal citizenship and also articulated broad critiques of American marriage structures and the visions of citizenship that emerged from the separation of public and private. “To the Rights of the Women of Zion”: Mormon Woman Suffrage The idea of woman suffrage in Utah had its origins in the federal Congress. Between1867and1869 ,severalbillsurgedexperimentingwithwomansuffragein theterritories,sinceifdisastrous,federalsovereigntyovertheterritorieswould allow Congress to repeal it. Some of these bills were particularly directed at Utah and had anti-polygamy reform in mind. For years anti-Mormons considered polygamy tantamount to women’s enslavement and supposed that, giventhechance,Mormonwomenwouldcastoffthechainsoftheirpolygamic bondage.Followinguponthesuggestionofreformers,IndianaRepresentative George W. Julian proposed to Congress that it enact Mormon woman suffrage as a remedy to plural marriage. A day later, Senator S. C. Pomeroy of Kansas introduced similar legislation in the Senate. The problem for Congressional anti-polygamists,however,wasthatWilliamHooper,DelegateoftheUtahTerritory , welcomed the suggestion, as did the local Mormon press in Utah. With full faith in the loyalty of Mormon women, Mormon Church leaders demonstrated enthusiasm for the proposal, leading Congress to quickly abandon the idea, and neither bill ever came to a vote. However,thesuggestiondidnotgounnoticedamongMormonwomenwho had a history of voting within the Church. Scholarship has demonstrated that Mormon women were not simply given political suffrage by Mormon leaders whohopedtoexpandtheirpoliticalbaseinthewakeofincreasednon-Mormon settlement. Lola Van Wagenen shows that Mormon women were activists “in their own behalf.” They acted as proponents of their own political equality beforetheyreceivedthevoteinFebruary1870 ,thoughtheywerecarefulto“make sure the hierarchy never felt threatened or interpreted the women’s goals as inconsistent with the goals of the church.”2 At a mass meeting in January 1870, thepresidentoftheReliefSociety,theChurch’swomen’sorganization,ElizaR. Snow said, “Although as yet we have not been admitted to the common ballotbox ,toustherightofsuffrageisextendedinmattersoffargreaterimportance.”3 FromtheChurch’sinception,womenmembershadvotedequallywithmento “sustain”Churchofficials.4 Opposingvoteswererareandwererespondedtoby aconversationwiththebishop,butbecauseMormonsunderstoodpriesthood Talbot_Text.indd 64 9/5/13 8:49 AM 65 Polygamy and Mormon Woman’s Citizenship nominationstobedirectlyinspiredbyGod,leaderswerealmostalwaysuniversallysustained .Inthenineteenthcentury,astoday,thevoteto“sustain”Church leaderswaslargelyaformalityforbothmenandwomen.Nonetheless,because Mormon women voted alongside men to sustain their Church leaders, Snow contended in the 1870 mass meeting that “we, the ladies of Utah, are already in possession of a privilege which many intelligent and high-aiming ladies in the States are earnestly seeking; i.e., the right to vote.”5 The assemblage of Mormon women then voted on and passed a resolution requesting the right of political franchise from the territorial governor. Apparently Mormons saw no reason God’s intent for women’s religious franchise should not translate into national civic contexts; Church leaders heard the demands of women and encouraged theterritoriallegislaturetopassawoman’ssuffragelaw.6 Withsurprisinglylittle resistance,thelegislaturerespondedquickly,andonemonthlater,onFebruary 12, 1870, acting Governor S. A. Mann signed the woman’s suffrage bill into law.7 AtthebehestofMormonwomen,Utahbecamethesecondterritory(preceded onlyafewmonthsbyWyoming)tograntwomenthevote.8 Injustafewmonths, Utah had presented the nation with the anomaly of Mormon woman suffrage. Within a year and a half, Mormon women began publishing one of the first women’s newspapers in the nation, the Woman’s Exponent, founded by Lula Green Richards with the support of Brigham Young. From 1871 until 1914, the Exponent served as the unofficial voice of the Relief Society and dedicated itself to any and all topics it thought of interest to women. While not...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252095351
Related ISBN
9780252038082
MARC Record
OCLC
862745819
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-27
Language
English
Open Access
No
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