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Working for Women's Rights

Emmeline B. Wells, 1828-1921


Emmeline Wells, the writer.

In short:

Emmeline B. Wells wasn’t just a woman, she was a force of nature!  She edited a newspaper – one of the first and most successful women to do that in Utah, she fiercely supported women’s rights, and she strongly defended polygamy—even talking to three U.S. Presidents.  It’s largely in part to Emmeline that Utah's state constitution gave women the right to vote. If you’d like to thank her, you can visit her bust in the Utah State Capitol.

More of the story: 

Three times married. First time:
Emmeline B. Wells had an unfortunate tradition of losing husbands.  She was on her third marriage by her late twenties!  First, she married a man she met in her home state of Massachusetts.

She was already a Mormon by the time she met him, and together they traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois. There, both she and her baby son got sick.  Emmeline lived, but the baby died. To make things worse, her husband left both her and the church she believed in.

Next husband:
Emmeline married Newell Whitney, a polygamist, when she was 23.  They had two daughters together. She traveled to Utah with Newell’s family in 1848.  Unfortunately, he died two years later. 

Next husband:
Emmeline was teaching school and caring for her children when she married her third husband, Daniel Wells, as his 7th wife. 

An early feminist.
Maybe because she had learned that a woman couldn’t depend on a man to care for her, Emmeline Wells understood that women should have the same rights as men.  She became a suffragist, or a supporter of a woman’s right to vote.

She threw her heart and energies into supporting the Republican Party and the national women’s suffrage movement. She helped get Utah women the right to vote in 1896, and she lived to see the United States give women the vote in 1920.

And a smart person.
And for 42 years, she edited a bi-monthly newsletter for Mormon women called the Women’s Exponent in 1877.  A good writer, she wrote poetry and essays and published them in a book called Musings and Memories.

In 1896 she ran for the Utah Senate. However, Martha Hughes Cannon, a Democrat, won that election, becoming the first woman state senator in the nation.

People recognized her intellect. In 1912 she became the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Brigham Young University. 

Supporting the troops.
Wells also became the general Relief Society president for the LDS church (at age 82!). During World War I she helped support the war by managing grain rationing and production in Utah.  She was able to sell wheat to the government. President Woodrow Wilson gave her a medal for her efforts during the war.

A full, full life.
Emmeline B. Wells was a woman of great courage and stubbornness. Her life can inspire women and men everywhere to fight for what they believe in. 

Wells identified what was important to her and went after it, whether it was voting rights, helping found the Utah State Historical Society, or serving on the board of directors of the Deseret Hospital.  She never backed down, and she never shrank from a fight.  It’s fitting that they made her bust at the Utah State Capitol out of marble!