With so much talk about women and the priesthood, women’s rights, etc. these days, we felt like we should make a post about it. The following has been taken from the Church Historian’s Press book entitled The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (which can be found online here) and includes the minutes of the first women’s rights meeting in Utah.
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 (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. 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 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.
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.