The Utah territorial legislature debated whether to extend voting rights to women from January 27, 1870, until February 10, when both chambers of the legislature (the House and the Council) unanimously passed an act conferring woman suffrage.1 Territorial secretary and acting governor Stephen A. Mann signed the bill two days later.2 A native of Vermont, Mann became acting governor in December 1869 when Governor Charles Durkee, at the end of his term, returned to Wisconsin. Mann served four months before the arrival of John Wilson Shaffer, who was appointed governor by President Ulysses S. Grant on January 17, 1870, and arrived in Utah two months later.3 Mann favorably impressed Latter-day Saint leaders. George A. Smith wrote to territorial delegate William H. Hooper, “We have come to the conclusion that the Governor is really A Man, and instead of being influenced by the ring of hungry agitators, he has exercised his own Judgement, in his relations with the Legislative Assembly, and no Session has gone off more pleasantly since Governor Youngs administration terminated.”4
The female suffrage bill’s unanimous passage by the legislature convinced Mann to sign it into law, even though he wrote to the legislature that he had “very grave and serious doubts of the wisdom and soundness of that political economy which makes the act a law of this Territory, and that there are many reasons which, in my judgment, are opposed to the legislation.” On February 14, two days after Mann signed the bill, women voted in a municipal election in Salt Lake City, and women voted at the regular election that August.5
On February 19 the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Society met in the hall of the Fifteenth Ward, with representatives from most Salt Lake City wards present. Eliza R. Snow, who presided over the meeting, suggested that the women write “an expression of gratitude” to Governor Mann “for signing the Document of Woman Suffrage in Utah, for, she said we could not have had the right without his sanction.”6 The group then selected a committee to write a letter to Mann, which wrote the letter and delivered it to Mann that same day, February 19. George A. Smith commented, “The Ladies said they thought the Governor was about as much embarrass’d as they were.”7 On March 2 the weekly edition of the Deseret News published the letter to Mann along with his reply, also dated February 19. Both letters are featured below. On the same page where the letters appeared, the Deseret News also published a joint resolution of the territorial legislature, praising Mann for “wa[i]ving his personal objections and submitting his Executive prerogative in favor of the unanimous decision and undivided wishes of the Legislative body” in regard to female suffrage.8
To his Excellency, the Acting Governor of the Territory of Utah, S. A. Mann.
Honored Sir.—In a large and highly respectable assemblage of ladies now convened in the Fifteenth Ward Society Hall—being unanimously chosen committee, we, in conformity with the appointment, for ourselves, and in behalf of the ladies of this Territory, do most respectfully tender you our sincere thanks and grateful acknowledgements for the honor you have conferred on our Honorable Legislature and on the ladies of Utah, by the noble liberality and gentlemanly kindness manifested in signing the Bill entitled “An Act conferring upon women the Elective Franchise.”
We beg you to accept this humble expression as a testimonial of our appreciation.
Eliza R. Snow,
Bathsheba W. Smith,
Sarah M. Kimball,
Margaret T. Smoot,
Harriet C. Young,
Zina D. Young,
Mary I. Horne,
Marinda N. Hyde,
Phebe C. Woodruff,
Elizabeth H. Cannon,
Rachel I. Grant,
[Harriet] Amelia F. Young;
Prescendia H. Kimball.
“Society Hall,” Salt Lake City,
Feb. 19th, 1870.
Executive Office, U.T.
February 19th, 1870.
To Eliza R. Snow, Bathsheba W. Smith, Marinda N. Hyde, Phebe C. Woodruff, Amelia F. Young and others:
Ladies:—Permit me to say, in reply to your communication of this day, containing the “expressions of a meeting held at Society Hall” as well as on behalf of the ladies of the Territory, of the grateful acknowledgments and appreciations of my official conduct in approving an act entitled: “An Act conferring upon women the elective franchise.” It is at all times a source of satisfaction to receive assurances of approval and encouragement in the performance of an official duty, more especially is this the case when the act performed is out of the usual channels and one to which we cannot apply the tests of experience. It is unnecessary for me to state, that this is a new and untrod field of legislation. The subject has been much agitated and we may naturally expect that its practical application, wherever adopted, will be watched with profound interest, for upon its consistent and harmonious working depends, in a great measure, its universal adoption in this Republic. Under a government like ours there is no question of so great importance as that of suffrage. It is the basis upon which the whole superstructure rests, and upon the quality of which depends its advancement, stability and duration. The Constitution, the laws passed in pursuance therewith, the officers elected thereunder all depend for their character upon the intelligent use of the ballot.
Thanking you for the compliment, I will close by expressing the confident hope, that the ladies of this Territory will so exercise the right conferred as to approve the wisdom of the legislation.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully yours,
S. A. Mann.