Wednesday, September 11, 2013

UTAH'S "FOREMOST WOMAN"




In searching for a topic for this blog, I came upon a mention of women’s suffrage in Utah, and an amazing woman who played a large part in the movement. Since I live in Utah, I decided it might make an interesting topic.
Emmeline B. Wells
            Emmeline B. Wells, Utah’s “foremost woman” was born in 1828 in Petersham, MA. Her family must have been well to do and quite intellectual, for Emmeline was given an unusually good education for a woman at that time. She graduated at age 14 from the New Salem Academy and taught school for a short time. In 1842, she converted to the Mormon Church, and a year later married James Harris. The couple migrated to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1844. After losing her son and her husband, Emmeline married Newel K. Whitney as a plural wife, and traveled to Utah with the Whitney family in 1848. Just the ability to survive that journey alone shows how strong a woman she was. But life had more hardships in store for her. A few years later, Whitney died, leaving her with two daughters whom she supported by teaching school.
            In 1852, Emmeline became the seventh wife of Daniel H. Wells. She bore him three more daughters. By this time she’d well learned the need to be self-reliant, which must have seemed reason enough for her to become an early advocate of women’s rights. Using the non de plume Blanche Beeechwood, she wrote for the Woman’s Exponent, a semi-monthly perio
dical established for Mormon women. “I believe in women,” she said, “especially thinking women.”
Daniel Wells, Emmeline's husband
            As editor of the Exponent she used the publication for thirty-seven years to support women’s suffrage and educational and economic opportunities for women, as well as to report news of the Mormon Women’s Relief Society, which she served as general secretary for several years before becoming president in 1910. For nearly thirty years she represented Utah women in the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and the National and International Councils of Women, at the same time spearheading the effort to include women’s suffrage in the Utah state constitution. She wrote numerous short stories and poems, mostly published in the Women’s Exponent. In 1912, she became the first Utah woman to receive an honorary degree from Brigham Young University.
            Along with all her other activities, Emmeline served as liaison between Mormon and non-Mormon women and helped to dispel much of the hostile criticism of her people. It was at the time of her death, in 1921, that she was eulogized as the state’s “foremost woman,” as “unyielding as her native granite in her devotion to duty.” Today, you can find a bust of her in the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol building, the only woman so honored.
            Female suffrage was passed by the Utah territorial legislature in 1870, thanks in part to Emmeline’s great efforts.
            Actually, the right of women to vote was won twice in Utah, having been granted first in 1870 as mentioned above, but revoked by Congress in 1887 as part of a national effort to rid the territory of polygamy. In 1895, it was restored when the right of women to vote and hold office was written into the Utah constitution.
            Emmeline has proven to be a fascinating subject, for she was not only one of the most influential women of the 19th Century, a friend of Susan B. Anthony, she was also entertained by Queen Victoria, and received a personal visit from President Woodrow Wilson. What I find truly amazing about her is the fact that, besides all her hard work for women’s suffrage and her various church offices, Emmeline managed to triumph over solitude, life-long depression, social ridicule over being a polygamist wife, and religious persecution. She was a woman who needed to be loved, and who struggled, like so many of us, to find her place in the world.
            Of all the women I’ve ever encountered or read about, Emmeline B. Wells must surely be one of the strongest both physically and mentally. How else could she have endured all that was thrust upon her in her lifetime? There is so much more I could have written about this one-of-a-kind woman, but being short on space, I’ll leave you with this poem which she wrote.



I sit in the shadows and twilight,
Peering through the deep mists of the grey,
Too the years that long since swept away;
Till around falls the silence of midnight.
But a vision has dawned on my sight,
And has shown me a path o’er the way,
To the flood-gates of infinite day;
Tired footsteps at last guided right.
Sweet music floats o’er me uplifting;
Strong barriers of doubt cleave apart;
Pale light the dense darkness is rifting,
Tears of rapture unconsciously start,       
And memory’s wavelets are drifting
To the innermost depths of my heart.



Charlene Raddon began her fiction career in the third grade when she announced in Show & Tell that a baby sister she never had was killed by a black widow spider. She often penned stories featuring mistreated young girls whose mother accused of crimes her sister had actually committed. Her first serious attempt at writing fiction came in 1980 when she woke up from a vivid dream that compelled her to drag out a portable typewriter and begin writing. She’s been at it ever since. An early love for romance novels and the Wild West led her to choose the historical romance genre but she also writes contemporary romance. At present, she has five books published in paperback by Kensington Books (one under the pseudonym Rachel Summers), and four eBooks published by Tirgearr Publishing. 
Charlene’s awards include: RWA Golden Heart Finalist, Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award Nomination, Affair de Coeur Magazine Reader/Writer Poll for Best Historical of the Year. Her books have won or place in several contests.
 
http://www.charleneraddon.com
http://www.charleneraddon.blogspot.com

4 comments:

Meg Mims said...

Fascinating story, Charlene! What a wonderful woman. Courageous indeed.

Charlene Raddon said...

She truly was, Meg. I know what it is to suffer depression and it amazes me all she achieved while fighting depression without meds. I suspect most people would have killed themselves.

Lyn Horner said...

Charlene, I'd not heard of Emmeline Wells before. She must have been a very strong woman. Thank you for telling us about her.

Charlene Raddon said...

Welcome, Lyn. I have an old book of Emmeline's writings. She was very good.