On March 2, 1886, the Deseret Evening News announced that a mass meeting would be held four days later in Salt Lake City “for the purpose of making known the grievances of the women of Utah, and protesting against the indignities that have been heaped upon them in the present anti-‘Mormon’ crusade.”1
These Latter-day Saint women met to protest the Edmunds Act, a federal statute signed into law in March 1882 that disenfranchised participants in plural marriage, created a new category of crime for “unlawful cohabitation” to make prosecutions for polygamy easier, and provided for fines and imprisonment for participants in plural marriage.2 Increasingly rigorous federal enforcement of the Edmunds Act caused intense tumult in territorial Utah. As one legal historian explains, “By the mid-1880s the territorial courts were awash in indictments, arraignments, trials, and appeals. The gradually accelerating pace of legal process defined the course of events in Utah, affecting all aspects of life.”3 The women’s protest was also directed at the Edmunds-Tucker Bill then pending in Congress, which proposed to take even more drastic measures to end plural marriage than had the Edmunds Act. When this bill became law in 1887, it placed most of the church’s property and financial holdings into receivership and disenfranchised all Utah women regardless of church membership or any participation in plural marriage.
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 6, 1886, an estimated two thousand individuals, including some men, assembled for the protest meeting in the Salt Lake Theatre.4 The meeting consisted primarily of addresses by Latter-day Saint women and the formal adoption of nine resolutions.5 Among other things, the resolutions objected to the proposed repeal of Utah women’s right to vote under the Edmunds-Tucker Bill, the prosecution of antipolygamy laws in the district courts, and the compelling of wives to testify against their husbands. The ninth resolution called upon the women of the United States to “come to our help in resisting these encroachments upon our liberties and these outrages upon our peaceful homes and family relations.” A month earlier, the Woman’s Exponent reprinted a January 1886 article from the Woman’s Journal, the newspaper of the American Woman Suffrage Association, that similarly urged its readers to oppose a bill then moving its way through Congress which proposed to deprive “the women of Utah of that suffrage which is theirs by long-settled law and practice.”6
At the end of the protest meeting, a committee formed to compose a memorial for Congress. The memorial included the resolutions adopted in the meeting, cited examples of officers infringing on citizens’ rights in their zeal to enforce the Edmunds Act, and ended with an appeal: “We plead for suspension of all measures calculated to deprive us of our political rights and privileges, and to harass, annoy and bring our people into bondage and distress, until a commission, duly and specially authorized to make full inquiry into the affairs of this Territory, have investigated and reported.”7
Emmeline B. Wells and Ellen B. Ferguson personally delivered the memorial in Washington DC to Congress and President Grover Cleveland. Wells noted, “I walked into the White House … where we sat about an hour and a quarter waiting our turn to speak to the President of the United States. Shortly after twelve o’clock we presented to him our credentials and the Memorial of the women of Utah Territory, and had an opportunity of stating to him some facts and incidents relating to the abuses and outrages perpetrated in the name of law.”8 Senator Henry W. Blair, a Republican from New Hampshire, presented the memorial before the Senate on April 6, 1886, asking that it be printed in the Congressional Record.9
The Utah women also published a ninety-one-page pamphlet, from which excerpts are included below, that printed all of the speeches prepared for the grievance meeting, including some that were not delivered because of lack of time. “The aim of this pamphlet,” the compilers wrote, was “to preserve in convenient form, for present use and future reference, the record of the proceedings of that memorable day when the ‘Mormon’ women, in mass meeting assembled, found it necessary for their own protection and the honor of their sex throughout the world, to memorialize Congress and the President of the United States for relief from insult and oppression at the hands of Federal officials.”10
FREEDOM, JUSTICE AND EQUAL RIGHTS.
The Ladies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints protest against the tyranny and indecency of Federal Officials in Utah, and against their own disfranchisement without cause.
Full Account of Proceedings at the Great Mass Meeting, held in the Theatre,
SALT LAKE CITY UTAH,
Saturday, March 6, 1886. [p. [ii]] …11
president m. isabella horne12
Made the opening address and stated the object of the meeting. She expressed the regrets of Mrs. Eliza R. Snow Smith, president of the women’s organizations of the Latter-day Saints, who was absent from the city and unable to be present, but said that she had received a letter from that lady stating that she was heart and soul in the movement of the hour.13 The speaker continued:
It is with peculiar feelings that I stand before you this afternoon. To think that, in this boasted land of liberty, there is any need for a meeting of this kind to protest against insult and injury from those who have sworn to administer the law with justice and equity. It has been said by some, “what good will it do to hold a mass meeting?”14 If it does no other good, it will be a matter of history, to be handed down to our posterity, that their mothers rose up in the dignity of their womanhood to protest against insults and indignities heaped upon them. It will also be written in the archives above, where “angels are silent notes taking,”15 and will have to be met by those persons who are waging this bitter crusade against us. And why should we, a few people in these valleys of the mountains, be subject to these insults aside from the rest of the commonwealth? Why should we have legislative enactments against us as a people because we obey the laws of God and the first commandment given, “to multiply and replenish the earth.”16 Congress might with more propriety legislate against the priests and nuns of the Catholic church who forbid to marry, for if their practices were universal where would the strength and perpetuity of our nation be?
We as a people do not believe in taking the law in our own hands; it is against the teachings of our Prophet and Seer and our present authorities. The Lord has marked out a course of action for this people. It is written in the book of [p. 8] Doctrine and Covenants that when our enemies persecute and oppress us, we should petition the judges; if they will not hear us, we should petition the governor, and if he will not hear us, we should petition the president.17 To my own personal knowledge this counsel was obeyed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who went himself with some of his brethren to the governor of Illinois, Governor Carlin, and the president of the United States, Martin VanBuren, asking that our wrongs of Missouri be redressed. The answer was, “Mr. Smith, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”18 Is it any wonder that the Prophet was led to exclaim, “the glory of American freedom is on the wane.”19 We have been persecuted and driven from our homes a number of times, and submitted without retaliation, for the Lord has said, “vengeance is mine, and I will repay.”20
Must we, women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, still submit to insults and injury without raising our voices against it? And why are we thus persecuted? Because we choose to unite ourselves to honorable, God-fearing men, who, in virtue, honor, integrity and faithfulness to the marriage vow, stand head and shoulders above Federal officials who ply our brethren with questions regarding their future conduct, which is without precedent in the annals of court proceedings.21 We all feel the insults offered our sisters when brought into court and forced to answer indecent questions by threats of fine and imprisonment.22 And we do most solemnly protest against further legislative enactments to disfranchise a whole community, who have committed no crime, only for religious belief.
It has been said by the chief executive of the nation, “I wish you could be like us.”23 And what is that? They marry one wife and degrade as many women as they choose. God forbid that we should descend to their level! We believe in the elevation of woman, and live on a higher plane. Our husbands marry wives and honor them and their children by [p. 9] giving them their names and acknowledging them in society. We are not surprised that we are persecuted for obeying the laws of God, for our Savior has said, “it must needs be that offenses come, but woe be to them by whom they come.”24
At the close of the president’s address,25 a motion was made by Dr. Romania B. Pratt that a committee on resolutions be appointed.
The motion having prevailed, the following named ladies were appointed as that committee: Romania B. Pratt, Fanny Thatcher and Edna Smith, of Salt Lake City; Jennie Tanner, of Provo, and H. [Harriet] C. Brown, of Ogden. The committee retired to prepare the resolutions. … [p. 10] …
Here the committee on resolutions re-entered and reported the following, which was read by the secretary, and unanimously and enthusiastically adopted:
preamble and resolutions of the women of utah in mass meeting assembled.
Whereas, The rights and liberties of women are placed in jeopardy by the present cruel and inhuman proceedings in the Utah courts, and in the contemplated measure in Congress to deprive the women voters in Utah of the elective franchise;26 and,
Whereas, Womanhood is outraged by the compulsion used in the courts of Utah to force mothers on pain of imprisonment to disclose their personal condition and that of their friends in relation to anticipated maternity, and to give information as to the fathers of their children; and,
Whereas, These violations of decency have now reached the length of compelling legal wives to testify against their husbands without their consent, in violation both of written statutes and the provisions of the common law, therefore, be it [p. 17]
Resolved, By the women of Utah in mass meeting assembled, that the suffrage originally conferred upon us as a political privilege, has become a vested right by possession and usage for fifteen years, and that we protest against being deprived of that right without process of law, and for no other reason than that we do not vote to suit our political opponents.27
Resolved, That we emphatically deny the charge that we vote otherwise than according to our own free choice, and point to the fact that the ballot is absolutely secret in Utah as proof that we are protected in voting for whom and what we choose with perfect liberty.
Resolved, That as no wife of a polygamist, legal or plural, is permitted to vote under the laws of the United States, to deprive non-polygamous women of the suffrage is high-handed oppression for which no valid excuse can be offered.
Resolved, That the questions concerning their personal condition, the relationship they bear to men marked down as victims to special law, and the paternity of their born and unborn children, which have been put to women before grand juries and in open courts in Utah, are an insult to pure womanhood, an outrage upon the sensitive feelings of our sex and a disgrace to officers and judges who have propounded and enforced them.28
Resolved, That we honor those noble women who, standing upon their rights and refusing to reply to improper and insulting questions, such as no true man nor any court with any regard for propriety would compel them to answer, have gone to prison and suffered punishment without crime,29 rather than betray the most sacred confidence and yield to the brutal mandates of a little brief authority.
Resolved, That the action of the District Attorney and the Chief Justice of Utah, in compelling a lawful wife to testify for the prosecution in a criminal case involving the liberty of her husband and in face of her own earnest protest, is [p. 18] a violation of laws which those officials have sworn to uphold, is contrary to precedent and usage for many centuries, and is an invasion of family rights and of that union between husband and wife which both law and religion have held sacred from time immemorial.30
Resolved, That we express our profound appreciation of the moral courage exhibited by Senators [Wilkinson] Call, [John] Morgan, [Henry] Teller, [Joseph] Brown and others,31 and also by Mrs. Belva H. [Ann Bennett] Lockwood,32 who, in the face of almost overwhelming prejudice, have defended the constitutional rights of the people of Utah.
Resolved, That we extend our heartfelt thanks to the ladies of the Woman Suffrage Association assembled in Boston, and unite in praying that God may speed the day when both men and women shall shake from their shoulders the yoke of tyranny.33
Resolved, That we call upon the wives and mothers of the United States to come to our help in resisting these encroachments upon our liberties and these outrages upon our peaceful homes and family relations, and that a committee be appointed at this meeting to memorialize the President and Congress of the United States in relation to our wrongs, and to take all necessary measures to present our views and feelings to the country.34 … [p. 19] …
Miss Nellie Colebrook then read, in a very spirited manner, the following poem, written for the occasion by Emily Hill Woodmansee: