In February 1870, Utah women became the first in the country to vote under an equal suffrage law. The triumphant version of this history celebrates the state’s early dedication to equality for women.
But the driving force behind the milestone was arguably Utah’s fight to preserve polygamy — a practice under new attack after the end of the Civil War.
During Reconstruction after the Civil War, Congress wanted to eradicate polygamy, considered one of the “twin relics of barbarism” along with slavery. Some U.S. congressmen and suffragists on the East Coast thought that if Utah women were enfranchised, they would vote against leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and end plural marriage.
Instead, for Latter-day Saint women, voting was a way they could help defend polygamy and counter a national perception that they were oppressed, historians say.
And as the national battle over polygamy continued, Congress stripped Utah women of their suffrage in 1887. They would regain the right to vote when Utah became a state in 1896.