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Minutes of “Ladies Mass Meeting,” January 6, 1870

“Minutes of a Ladies Mass Meeting,” Jan. 6, 1870; Fifteenth Ward, Salt Lake Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, 1868–1968, vol. 1, 1868–1873, pp. 139–142, CHL (LR 2848 14).

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Women of the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward held a mass meeting on January 6, 1870, to plan an organized response to legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Illinois Republican Shelby Cullom, chair of the House Committee on Territories.1 The Cullom Bill was the third attempt since the end of the Civil War to pass federal legislation to punish polygamists and curtail the economic and political power of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Wade Bill (1866), the Cragin Bill (1867, 1869), and the Cullom Bill all proposed legal means for enforcing the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which banned bigamy and restricted the church’s ownership of property but did not designate officers or funds for enforcement.2

The Cullom Bill stipulated, among other things, that “no one living in or practicing bigamy, polygamy, or concubinage, shall be admitted to citizenship of the United States; nor shall any such person hold any office of trust or profit in said Territory, vote at any election therein, or be entitled to the benefits of the homestead or pre-emption laws of the United States.”3 A copy of the bill reached church leaders on January 3, 1870, and was published in the Deseret Evening News on January 4. A clerk in the Church Historian’s Office noted that the bill proposed “taking away evry right of the people of Utah, who beleive in or practices, the principles of Celestial [plural] Marriage.”4

Under the direction of Relief Society president Sarah M. Kimball, Fifteenth Ward women met two days after the bill was published in the Deseret Evening News to express their outrage at the bill’s drastic measures. Minutes of the January 6 women’s meeting, including the resultant resolutions, were recorded in the Fifteenth Ward records and first published in the January 10 issue of the Deseret Evening News with some revisions and clarifications.5 Two proposals made at the end of the meeting—that women demand of the territorial governor the right to vote and that two representative women be sent to Washington DC—were not included in the published minutes. The possibility of extending the franchise to Utah women, with the assumption that they would vote against polygamy and church leaders, had been floated in the U.S. Congress during 1867 and 1868.6 Publicity regarding the January 6 meeting in the Fifteenth Ward helped spur a similar and much larger “indignation” meeting held the next week in the Salt Lake City tabernacle.7

The following transcript is reproduced from the original minutes of the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society. Footnotes identify the most significant differences between the original minutes and the version published January 10 in the Deseret Evening News.

Minutes of a Ladies Mass Meeting.

Held in Society Hall, 15 Ward Salt Lake City8

Jan. 6’ 1870.

Meeting was opened with prayer by Mrs. Rebecca Jones.

Upon motion of Mrs Mary Moriss Mrs S M Kimball was elected to the chair, and Miss S[arah] E Russell Sec’:

Pres Mrs Kimball said we had met to express our feelings in relation to the Cullum bill, now before Congress. She spoke of the part our forefathers had taken in the Struggle for freedom, how they had suffered and bled for the principals of civil and religious liberty, and she felt that we would be unworthy of the names we bear and of the Blood in our vains, should we longer remain silent, while such an infamous bill was before the House, a bill whose object if attained would make of our men menial serfs, and if they make serfs of them what do they make of us.9 She then called for the vote of all who were in favor of entering a protest against said bill.

The Vote was unanimous.

Mrs M[aria] Burton, Mrs Elizth Duncanson and Mrs Eliza Binder were elected as Committe to frame resolutions.

The Committe retired for this purpose.

Several of the Sisters expressed their feeling in relation to the subject before the House and a determination not tamely to submit to such injustice as our enemies were endeavoring to heap upon us.10

The Resolutions were presented and read by Mrs M S Burton.11

12At 5 Sisters [Eliza R.] Snow [Lucy] Kimball and [Bathsheba W.] Smith arrived. [p. 139] Sister Snow said we had her hearty concurrence in the measures that had been taken, felt that the Ladies of Utah had too long remained silent while they were being so falsely represented to the world, felt it was high time that we should rise up in the Dignity of our calling and speak for ourselves, that the world thought we were in the bonds of servitude, which we had no power to break, felt it to be right and due to our brethren that we express our feelings and not remain silent beneath such a flood of falsehood.13

The world does not know us and truth and justice to our brethren and to ourselves demands us to speak.

Spoke of the Relief Societies said Pres Young was urging the Sisters forward to be more useful and to take a wider sphere of action, and still to honor and fill nobly the position of wife, &c.14 We are not inferior to the Ladies of the World and we do not want to appear so. Was pleased that this movement had been made and wished to see it extend throughout the Territory.

Sister Smith said she was pleased with what had been done, and moved that we demand of the Gov the right of Franchise, Vote called and carried.15

Mrs Lucy Kimball said she felt that we had borne in silence, as long as it was our duty to bear, and moved that we be represented at Washington Sisters Snow and Kimball was elected as representatives.16

Sister Snow said she had seen the day When she was proud of our Country and flag but the Executors of the Gov had disgraced themselves and the Country which had boasted of being a [p. 140] shelter to the world was trying to make slaves of a portion of her citizens, Thought that many of our people did not realize the extent of the degredation, the Bill if passed would bring us to.

Meeting adj. at 6’ PM

Bene’ by Sister Pollard.

Resolutions adopted.


Resolved that we the Ladies of the 15 Ward S L City, in Mass Meeting assembled do solemly protest against the Bill now before Congress (Known as the Cullum Bill) becoming a law on the Statute Book of the United States Government of America,


Resolved that we use all the moral influence vested in us to prevent the national disgrace, that would accrue to our country were such an infamous bill to receive the approval of both Houses of Congress,


Resolved that the passage of the aforesaid Bill would stamp disgrace one the Ensignia of our glorious Republic and that we disapprove each and every attempt made by those intrusted with the Reigns of Government to destroy the Sacred Constitution bequeathed to us by our forefathers,17 [p. 141]


Resolved, that we express our indignation against the originators of the Bill, which is calculated in its nature, to uproot every vestige of civil and religious liberty; destroy the rights of conscience; and reduce our Fathers, husbands, and brethers to the lowest degree of menial Servitude.

Resolutions adopted at protest meeting, January 6, 1870

Resolutions adopted at protest meeting, January 6, 1870. Two days after provisions of the Cullom Bill appeared in the Deseret Evening News, members of the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward Relief Society met to express their outrage at the bill’s drastic measures. Attendees resolved to protest against what they saw as an unconstitutional bill. The Cullom Bill attempted to curtail the practice of plural marriage and the church’s political and economic influence. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)


  1. [1]Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005: The Continental Congress September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, Inclusive, ed. Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 2005), 903.

  2. [2]The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was approved in the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress, second session. (An Act to Punish and Prevent the Practice of Polygamy in the Territories of the United States and Other Places, and Disapproving and Annulling Certain Acts of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah [July 1, 1862], The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations, of the United States of America. From December 5, 1859, to March 3, 1863, vol. 12, ed. George P. Sanger [Boston: Little, Brown, 1863], 37th Cong., 2nd Sess., ch. 126, p. 501; Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958], 356–357.)

  3. [3]A Bill in Aid of the Execution of the Laws in the Territory of Utah, and for Other Purposes, H.R. 696, 41st Cong., 2nd Sess. [1870].

  4. [4]Historian’s Office Journal, Jan. 3, 1870, vol. 31, in Church History Department, Historical Department Office Journal, 1844–2012, 102 vols., CHL; “A Bill,” Deseret Evening News, Jan. 4, 1870, [2].

  5. [5]“Minutes of a Ladies’ Mass Meeting,” Deseret Evening News, Jan. 10, 1870, [2]; see also reprinted version in Deseret News [weekly], Jan. 12, 1870, 580.

  6. [6]See Document 3.14.

  7. [7]See Document 3.13.

  8. [8]The Deseret Evening News report supplies four o’clock in the afternoon as the meeting time.

  9. [9]The Deseret Evening News version states that the object of the bill, if attained, “would reduce our husbands, sons and brothers to menial serfs &c.” but does not include the phrase “and if they make serfs of them what do they make of us.”

  10. [10]In the Deseret Evening News version, this and the prior paragraph are combined in a single paragraph that reads: “The Committee retired to prepare resolutions; and in the meantime several ladies expressed their views and feelings of indignation and disgust with regard to the Bill, also their determination to resist such gross injustice, &c.”

  11. [11]The Deseret Evening News version lists here the four resolutions (included at the end of the original minutes) and adds: “The foregoing resolutions were received with warm and enthusiastic applause by all present.”

  12. [12]From this point to the end of the document, the Deseret Evening News version reads as follows: “Miss E. [Eliza] R. Snow, Mrs. L. W. [Lucy Walker] Kimball and Mrs. B. [Bathsheba] Smith made a few very appropriate remarks, expressing their hearty concurrence in the movement and in the measures adopted by the meeting. Before closing her remarks, Miss E. R. Snow suggested the propriety of the ladies of Salt Lake City assembling in a general mass meeting, to give expression to their feelings on the subject before us, and also that the example of this Ward be followed by the sisterhood throughout the Territory. Meeting adjourned sine die.

  13. [13]Outside observers nearly always portrayed Mormon women in negative terms. For example, journalist Samuel Bowles wrote that polygamy “means only the degradation of woman. By it and under it, she becomes simply the servant and serf, not the companion and equal of man.” Nevada congressman John Cradlebaugh, who had served as a federally appointed associate justice for the district of Utah, informed his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives that Latter-day Saint women were “downtrodden and undone” and that polygamy was “organized, systematic, enforced degradation and prostitution” and “a system of enslaving the women, and of enforcing their subjection.” (Samuel Bowles, Across the Continent: A Summer’s Journey to the Rocky Mountains, the Mormons, and the Pacific States, with Speaker Colfax [Springfield, MA: Samuel Bowles; New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1865], 107; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, 885; John Cradlebaugh, “Utah and the Mormons,” in John C. Rives, Appendix to the Congressional Globe: Containing Speeches, Important State Papers, and the Laws of the Third Session Thirty-Seventh Congress [Washington DC: Congressional Globe, 1863], 119–125.)

  14. [14]The reestablishment of the Relief Society and encouragement to women to enter trades and professions were integral to the “wider sphere of action” Young recommended. For addresses representative of Young’s approach, see Documents 3.4 and 3.11.

  15. [15]There is no record that these women took such formal action, but the Utah territorial legislature actively debated woman suffrage between January 27 and February 10, 1870, when the House unanimously passed a bill enfranchising the women of Utah. Acting governor Stephen A. Mann signed the suffrage bill into law on February 12, 1870, giving the franchise to some forty-three thousand Utah women. (Thomas G. Alexander, “An Experiment in Progressive Legislation: The Granting of Woman Suffrage in 1870,” Utah Historical Quarterly 38, no. 1 [Winter 1970]: 25–26; Lola Van Wagenen, “In Their Own Behalf: The Politicization of Mormon Women and the 1870 Franchise,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 24, no. 4 [Winter 1991]: 31–43; Document 3.17; Beverly Beeton, “Woman Suffrage in Territorial Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 46, no. 2 [Spring 1978]: 101–102.)

  16. [16]Neither Snow nor Kimball traveled to Washington DC for this purpose. It was not until January 1879 that Emmeline B. Wells and Zina Young Williams officially represented Utah and Mormon women at a convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association in Washington DC; while there they also met with President Rutherford B. Hayes to plead their cause. (“Notes and News,” Woman’s Exponent, Jan. 15, 1879, 7:128; “Woman’s Rights Convention,” and “American,” Deseret News [weekly], Jan. 22, 1879, 806, 810; “Over the Hills and Far Away,” Woman’s Exponent, Feb. 1, 1879, 7:186.)

  17. [17]text: Near the bottom of this page, the scribe wrote “over”.