November 1996

Women’s Rights in Utah

“Women in Utah have made significant contributions to our nation’s struggle for sexual political equality.” That was Dr. Carol Madsen’s core message when she spoke to our October 10th public meeting. Dr. Madsen, professor in the BYU Department of History, highlighted the political battles pioneer women fought to gain suffrage in 1870, the right to their political voice in shaping the Territory of Deseret, and why they lost that right 17 years later, and then regained it when the Territory gained statehood. Her fascinating presentation stimulated a thoughtful discussion period.

Dr. Madsen said that until the 1996 centennial observation of statehood, Utah history books generally ignored the role of women in the state’s political development. Consequently, one of the important aspects of the centennial celebration has been bringing to public awareness the important role of the women’s suffrage movement in Utah. It’s an interesting question asked by many historians, said Madsen, why women in Utah won the right to vote 50 years before women in the rest of the nation. The women’s suffrage movement actually began along the eastern seaboard early in the 1880’s. One of the reasons was congressional control of territorial governments, and the thought that experimenting with women’s suffrage in the territories might help to decide if it was the correct thing to do nationwide. Another facet of the discussion was the assumption that Utah women would oppose polygamy, and be a deciding factor in bringing an end to the practice of plural marriage in the Utah territory.

In 1869, the territorial government of Wyoming granted women the right to vote. Shortly thereafter, 5000 Utah women held the first women’s rights conference in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, demanding political recognition. In February of 1870, the Utah Territorial legislature approved women’s suffrage. Even though Wyoming was the first to grant women the right to vote, Utah women were the first in the nation to exercise that right. Within a few days of receiving the franchise, Utah women voted in 1870 municipal elections. Seventeen years later, the national congress passed the stringent anti-polygamy law, the Edmunds-Tucker act, which included language eliminating women’s suffrage. Nationally, suffragettes lambasted linking women’s rights with the polygamy debate. Utah women met again, and vowed that female political equality would be included in any and all proposed statehood constitutions. Susan B. Anthony made a visit to Utah to encourage women to continue their fight for recognition. The constitution approved for Utah’s recognition as a state of the United States of America in 1896 included the right of women to political equality.

In the first State election, Martha Hughes Cannon was elected to the Utah State Senate, becoming the first woman in the nation to be elected to a state senate. Professor Madsen noted that Utah still has only one woman in the state senate! In that same election, two other women were elected to the Utah House of Representatives.

It would be another 24 years before the nation gave all women the right to vote by approving the 19th amendment, August 18, 1920.

–Flo Wineriter

Satan: How Christians Demonize Their Enemies

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“In the Ancient Western World,” says historian Elaine Pagels, “many – perhaps most – people assumed that the universe was inhabited by invisible beings whose presence impinged upon the visible world, and its human inhabitants.”

Conversion from paganism to Judaism or Christianity meant, above all, transforming one’s perception of the invisible world. The pagan convert was baptized only after confessing that all spirit beings previously revered as divine were actually only “demons:” Hostile spirits contending against the One God of goodness and justice, and against his armies of angels. Becoming either a Christian or a Jew polarized a pagan’s view of the universe, and moralized it. However, the Jews and Christians were less concerned with the natural world as a whole, than with the particular world of human relationships.

While angels often appear in the Hebrew bible, Satan, along with other fallen angels or demonic beings, is virtually absent. But among certain first-century Jewish groups, prominently including the Essenes and the followers of Jesus, Satan began to assume central importance. Mark, in the New Testament, characterizes Jesus’ ministry as involving continual struggle between God’s spirit and the demons who belong to Satan’s kingdom. Such visions have been incorporated into Christian tradition, and have served to confirm for Christians their own identification with God, and to demonize their opponents: first other Jews, then pagans, and later dissident Christians called heretics.

Satan is also a reflection of how we perceive ourselves, and those we call “others”; he defines negatively what we think of as human. In Western Christian tradition, “we” are God’s people, and “they” are God’s enemies, and ours as well. “Such moral interpretation,” says Pagels, “has proven extraordinarily effective throughout Western history in consolidating the identity of Christian groups; the same history also shows that it can justify hatred, even mass slaughter.” The Christian vision of supernatural struggle both expresses conflict, and raises it to cosmic dimensions. As SØren Kierkegaard pointed out, “An unconscious relationship is more powerful than a conscious one.”

Christian tradition derives much of its power from the conviction that, although the believer may be besieged by evil forces, Christ has already won the decisive victory. The apocalyptic faith that He has triumphed assures Christians that in their own struggles, the stakes are eternal and victory is certain. So compelling is this vision of cosmic war that it has pervaded the imaginations of people for two thousand years. It has taught even secular-minded people to interpret the history of Western culture as a moral history in which the forces of good contend against the forces of evil in the world. Millions of Muslims invoke similar apocalyptic visions, and switch the sides so that to them Christians are the allies of “the great Satan.” This vision derives its power not only from the conviction that one stands on God’s side, but also from the belief that one’s opponents are doomed to failure.

Still, from the first century, some Christians, including Matthew, have taught a profoundly different perception of opponents: that, whatever harm their enemies have done, they are capable of being reconciled. For the most part, however, Christians have taught that their enemies are evil, and beyond redemption.

What Does It All Mean?

During a recent conversation with one of our members, the challenge of defining terms was discussed. Thinking about that conversation later, I thought the subject was worth further consideration, because clarity of terms is important to meaningful communication. These words have significance in the formulation of our individual attitudes and behaviors. Whether we realize it or not, each one of us has developed a core value system based upon our understanding of the following terms:

  • Theism: A belief system based on the assumption that the supreme power of the universe is a Being, God, who is concerned about human affairs, and can intervene in any operations of the universe.
  • Monotheism: The belief that there is only one God.
  • Polytheism: The belief that there is more than one god.
  • Deism: A belief system based on the assumption that the supreme power of the uiverse created the laws governing the universe, but is not concerned about its development, and does not intervene in the process.
  • Atheism: A belief based on the assumption that there is no supreme being.
  • Gnosticism: A belief system based on God giving information to selected humans.
  • Agnosticism: A belief system rejecting gnosticism.
  • Theology: The study of the nature of a supreme, universal power.
  • Religion: A system often teaching the relationship between a supreme universal power, and humanity.
  • Humanism: A belief system based on the ability of human beings to reason.
  • Religious Humanism: The human ability to reason has a relationship with the Cosmos.
  • Secular Humanism: The human ability to reason is an aspect of evolution, and rejects the notion of a supreme universal power that interferes with evolution.

Volumes of thoughts have been discussed, and written by philosophers concerning these words. Consequently, my definitions are very basic, simplistic, and only intended for casual conversation. However, I believe it important for us to have at least a vague idea of these terms, because how we each live our lives is to some extent determined by how we understand these terms. Our individual ethical systems, and moral behaviors are developed by how we view our relationships to each other, and to the universe. We consciously or unconsciously are affected, moment to moment, by our basic core values that we have incorporated into our mental process through our education, and our experience. We welcome your response for publication in future issues of The Utah Humanist.

–Flo Wineriter