Woman’s Exponent was first published on June 1, 1872,  with a clear statement of audience and purpose, “We are the people of Utah, and for them; we are of the women of Utah, and proud to be so recognized; and our object is to sustain truth, spread a knowledge of correct principles and labor to do good.”[1] Published semi-monthly or monthly until 1914, Woman’s Exponent focused particularly on activism to seek and support a woman’s right to vote. It was an informal publication of the Relief Society,  an organization within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that united women in each LDS congregation to address family or community welfare, educational, and social needs.

The history of women’s voting rights in Utah is closely linked with the practice of polygamy. In the late 1800s, national suffrage activists and anti-polygamists hoped that if given the opportunity, Latter-day Saint women would vote to outlaw polygamy.[2] Yet even after Utah territorial law recognized women's voting rights through the Woman Suffrage Bill (February 12, 1870), LDS women did not vote to ban the practice.[3] Efforts then increased at the national level to outlaw polygamy, resulting in the Edmunds-Tucker Act (March 3, 1887). Also named the Anti-Plural Marriage Act of 1887, the act prohibited the practice of polygamy and disenfranchised the women of Utah.[4] In 1890, Church President Wilford Woodruff renounced polygamy.[5] With the discontinuation of polygamy, conversations about Utah statehood re-emerged along with renewed hope for enfranchising women. A constitutional convention in March 1895 drafted a constitution for the state of Utah, which included women’s right to vote. President Grover Cleveland proclaimed Utah the 45th state in the Union on January 4, 1896, re-enfranchising women in Utah, a full twenty-four years prior to the national adoption of universal suffrage in 1920.[6]

From its first issue, editor Louise L. Greene pledged that Woman’s Exponent’s would provide a “a journal owned by, controlled by and edited by Utah ladies” and would support women “by the diffusion of knowledge and information possessed by many and suitable to all."[7] Greene served as editor from 1872 to 1877. Emmeline B. Wells became the Exponent’s second editor in 1877, serving until its final issue was published on February 1, 1914. In November 1879, Wells added the phrase “The Rights of the Women of Zion, and the Rights of the Women of all Nations” to the masthead. In January 1897, after women’s suffrage was restored by the Utah constitution, Wells changed the masthead again, this time reading, “The Ballot in the Hands of the Women of Utah should be a Power to better the Home, the State and the Nation."

Woman's Exponent advocated for women’s rights and followed suffrage activities across the country, including news of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the National Woman Suffrage Association, and the 1888  International Council of Women, an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York.[8] 

The May 1, 1912 issue of the Woman's Exponent looks back on 40 years of publishing,

[1] “Our Position,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, 4,

[2] Sarah Barringer Gordon, “The Liberty of Self-Degradation: Polygamy, Woman Suffrage, and Consent in Nineteenth-Century America,” The Journal of American History 83, no. 3 (December 1996): 823-825.

[3] “The Woman Suffrage Bill,” Deseret News, February 16, 1870, 6,

[4] “The Edmunds-Tucker Law,” HathiTrust, accessed September 6, 2019,

[5] “Official Declaration,” Deseret Evening News, September 25, 1890, 2,; “Why the Devious Way?” The Salt Lake Tribune, September 25, 1890, 1,

[6] “Great Day!” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 5, 1896, 1,

[7] “Woman’s Exponent, A Ladies’ Journal,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, 8,

[8] “The Woman’s Council,” Woman’s Exponent, April 1, 1888, 4,

To cite this webpage, use the following citation: 

Smart, Elizabeth. “Suffrage.” Woman’s Exponent Project, 2019.

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