International Women’s Day: 7 women who shaped Utah

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(ABC4) – Monday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, and March is Women’s History month.

Utah’s history and present are full of women who have contributed to the state through politics, arts, education, health, activism, and more. Here are seven women whose accomplishments made Utah what it is today.

Information is from utahwomenshistory.org.

Emmeline B. Wells (1828-1921): According to Utah Women’s History, no Utahn fought more for the suffrage cause than Wells. Wells was the editor of the Woman’s Exponent, a newspaper created by women from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She wrote many articles about a woman’s right to vote and run for political office. She also encouraged Utah women in writing petitions to the United States Capitol demanding the right to vote.

Wells was invited by suffragist leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to represent Utah at the 1879 National Woman’s Suffrage Association convention in Washington. There, she spoke in front of Congressional committees and President Rutherford B. Hayes.

In 1910, Emmeline became General President of the Relief Society for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon (1857-1932): Cannon wore many hats throughout her life: doctor, Senator, mother, suffragist, and public health reformer. Born in Wales, she traveled to Utah to join members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with her family in 1861.

By the time she was 25, she had earned a medical degree, along with three other degrees. Cannon had a private medical practice and was the resident physician at Deseret Hospital. She became a leader in Utah’s suffrage movement, speaking in favor of equal rights. She spoke at the Women’s Congress of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Seneca Falls 50th celebration.

Cannon ran for Senate in the first election in which women were allowed to run. Running against her husband, Martha won the election and became the first female elected to a state senate position.

A statue of Cannon is located at the Utah Capitol Building.

Seraph Young Ford (1846-1938): Ford became the first woman to cast a vote in the United States under an equal suffrage law. She arrived early to vote while on her way to work as a teacher. Little is known about Ford’s life. She cared for her blind and disabled husband who had been injured during wartime service, for almost 30 years.

Hannah Kaaepa (1873-1918): A Hawaii native, Kaaepa immigrated to Utah to join members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the time that the Hawaiian monarchy fell. Kaaepa held religious leadership positions in both Hawaii and Utah.

Her support for the overthrown Queen Liliuokalani, who stood for voting rights for native Hawaiians, inspired Kaaepa to become a suffragist. She traveled with Utah suffragists to Washington D.C. for the third Triennial Congress of the National Council of Women, where she urged the Council to help Hawaiian women gain suffrage. She ended her speech with an expression in her native language and gave leis to well-known suffragists like Susan B. Anthony.

Alice Kasai (1916-2007): Kasai was a civil rights leader who pushed for rights for Japanese Americans and other disenfranchised groups throughout her life. During World War II, her husband was placed in an internment camp, which leads Kasai to become the first female president of the Japanese American Citizens League. In this position, Kasai helped get help for families in relocation camps, and following the war, she lobbied for rights and citizenship for Japanese immigrants.

Kasai and her husband helped set up the International Peace Garden in Salt Lake City and the Sister City Project, a student exchange program between Salt Lake City and Matsumoto, Japan.

Following her husband’s death, Kasai continued to advocate for civil rights as a single mother with four children at home.

Kasai went on to serve as president of the Utah United Nations, lobbied for fair housing, employment, and rights for diverse communities. She worked with many advocacy groups, such as the NAACP and the Asian Association of Utah. She also recorded histories for Japanese America living in Utah.

Margene Bullcreek (1946-2015) – Bullcreek advocated for and lead efforts to keep her community safe from nuclear waste and the effects of nuclear testing. As a member of the Goshute Native Americans, she lived on the Skull Valley Reservation.

In the 1990’s, Bullcreek worked with the Native Community Action Council, NCAC to look into the effects that nuclear testing had on the health of people in the Goshute Nation. She eventually became president of the NCAC and received CDC funding for research on health effects from nuclear testing.

In the 2000s, Bullcreek fought plans to place Monitored Retrievable Storage for nuclear waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation. Though even tribal leaders welcomed this idea as a chance for jobs and financial prosperity, Bullcreek fought the initiative through filing petitions and attending the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing proceedings. The site was approved but never developed.

Ruby Timms Price (1915-2018): Price served as a community activist and teacher, advocating for and helping Utah students throughout her life.

Price was likely the first Black teacher in Utah, and though Davis School District hired her in the 1940s, she faced pushback for her race. Nicknamed “Grandma Ruby,” she served as a Girl Scout leader for 60 years and focused on helping disadvantaged students, volunteering as a speaker for at-risk youth.

She acted as a delegate to White House Conventions to advocate for those with disabilities and served on the school PTA board.

Price had many accomplishments outside of teaching as well. She was the first president of the NAACP branch in Ogden, which was the first branch for the organization in Utah. She was also awarded the 1977 Utah Mother of Year and was the first Black woman to be given the award.

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