August 26 marks Women's Equality Day, which commemorates the victory of the women's suffrage movement in passing the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. At Fawn Design, we believe women's equality should be celebrated, honored, and supported every. single. day. But you can't write the future without first understanding the past. So we chatted with Neylan McBaine (pictured below) of Better Days 2020, a local non-profit dedicated to Utah women's history—Fawn Design's founder, Jenny Wecker, sits on the governing board. The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 150th anniversary of Utah women being the first to vote.
Read our Q&A below for more about the history of the suffrage movement, the special role Utah women played in gaining the right to vote, why next year marks an important and significant anniversary for all women, and how you can get involved and help support future generations of women.
Could you share with us the story and inspiration behind Better Days 2020?
A couple of years ago, my co-founder Mandee Grant and I recognized that 2020 marks two significant anniversaries: first, it is the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted American women the right to vote. Secondly, it is the 150th anniversary of women first voting in Utah, which was also the first place women voted in the nation under equal suffrage laws! We didn't even know Utah was the first place an American woman voted, and we were shocked this fact had been all but lost. We also discovered that Utah elected the first female state senator, among other pioneering firsts for women. We thought that understanding Utah's pioneering legacy in women's advocacy would strengthen our state and the way the rest of the nation understands Utah.
My background is in marketing, and so we immediately started to think of ways that we could get the word out about this remarkable history. We settled on education, legislation, art, and events. So we've spent the past two years popularizing Utah women's history in creative and communal ways. In 2020, we have exciting plans for a traditional awareness campaign that will help all Utahns embrace our heritage as advocates for women. We want Utah to be known—here within the state and throughout the nation—as a place where women thrive, and pointing to these "firsts" in our history sets a precedent for us to do it again.
Utah women were the first to vote in the modern nation. Who are a few important women who played a key role in the passage of the 19th Amendment?
On February 14, 1870, Seraph Young was the first American woman to vote under equal suffrage laws. (Even though Wyoming's legislature granted women the right to vote first, Utah had two elections in which women participated before Wyoming women went to the polls.) In 1896, Utah became a state, and it was the third state in the nation to include suffrage in its constitution, due in large part to Utah's leading suffragist, Emmeline B. Wells. Also, in 1896, in the first election open to female candidates, Utah elected the first female state senator in the nation, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon.
Even though Utah was far ahead of much of the nation in giving women the right to participate in civic affairs, these women and many others (as well as many men) continued to advocate for a national amendment giving rights to all women. In 1920, that amendment was finally approved, or "ratified," and Emmeline Wells was still alive to see that day. On her deathbed just a few years earlier, Susan B. Anthony had sent Emmeline Wells her gold ring as a token of their forty year friendship. Those are just some of the many inspiring stories we have in our history as Utah women.
The year 2020 marks both the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and a significant presidential election. Given the timing of these two events, could you share some thoughts about the importance of women showing up and voting in this election?
Over 3 million American women fought for over 70 years for the right to have their own, independent voice in who should make laws, what public policy should be, and how they should be governed. But getting the right to vote was, for the suffragists, only a single tool in emancipating women. They saw it as the way women could influence schools and healthcare and childcare in our nation. They saw it as a way women could ensure they could own property and get education and divorces. For them, it wasn't just about putting a tally mark next to your party's candidate. They saw it as throwing the door wide open to reforms that literally make our lives as women possible today. Voting might seem like a small action, but we need to honor the women who dedicated their lives to making sure we have that right and all of the opportunities to impact our condition that flow from it.
Women's Equality Day commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment and a woman's right to vote. But there are still so many areas of life where women are striving for equality. What are some facets of women's equality that are particularly important to you?
The history of women in Utah and the nation is just the underpinning for so much good work being done on specific issues. There are many great groups here in Utah that are working on things like wage gap, our low numbers of female elected officials, women on boards and in executive positions, childcare, graduation rates, etc. We have a ways to go in Utah on many of these factors to make sure our women have the opportunities they need to fulfill their potential. It's our honor to provide the inspiring vision of our history to support these groups' work.
How can women get involved with and help support Better Days 2020?
Volunteer, donate, and spread the word! Sign up for our newsletter and volunteer opportunities on our website. Visit our curriculum materials for 4th, 5th, 7th and 11th grade Utah and U.S. studies at UtahWomensHistory.org. Contribute to our "Utah Women: First to Vote" campaign, and follow us on social media! Also, tell your teacher friends and your friends on city/county councils about our materials for schools and cities that will be coming out soon. We've got great ideas for how schools and cities can host their own celebrations in 2020.