Happy Women’s History Month! Meet Elvira S. Barney (1832-1889)
Elvira lived during exciting times, that of the great Utah Suffrage Movement.
As a child she endured hard times.
Elvira’s father died in Nauvoo Illinois, followed by Elvira’s mother three months later (purportedly from exhaustion). Elvira proceeded to walk across the midwestern plains with her older sister, to the Salt Lake Valley, when she was 16-years-old.
Elvira was married and divorced twice (I’m curious), marrying the third time as a pleural wife (also curious, but not uncommon).
Barney taught school, attended the University of Utah (then Universtiy of Deseret), Wheaton College, and studied medicine in the east. She returned to Salt Lake to practice obstetrics and medicine, and to teach teach medical courses to young women.
Barney actively pursued politics, which included women’s rights and the suffragette movement which was raging in the west. On February 12, 1870, the Utah territory granted women the right to vote (following Wyoming’s example). 17 years later it was rescinded due to the federal government’s objection to polygamy.
Local suffrage associations began popping up everywhere with the support of Susan B. Anthony, a great friend to Mormon women, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who it seems was kept at a cool distant by Utah women after her disdainful speech about “so many children,” ha). Elvira was heavily involved, and deeply committed to women’s rights and religious liberty.
Barney became a chaplain in 1889 to minister to her sisters, leading all women of Utah in prayer to God “in a nondenominational manner, seeking is aid in the quest for woman suffrage.”
Here is a quote from her published prayer at the Utah Woman Suffrage Association which was open to “all women, without regard to party, sect, or creed.”
“Wilt thou be with woman as thou hast been with man, to strengthen her where she is weak that she may aid in the defense of truth and right, and where her voice is heard throughout the broad face of the earth, may it have echo in the hearts of the honest, and may she serve to smooth the wrinkles of unjust laws, as she does and has, the pillows beneath the aching heads….we pray thee that thou wilt bless thy handmaidens here in this little nook in the valleys of the mountains, that we may perform noble and grand acts that will compare with the grandeur of the mountains around. Hear us, O Father, at this time, and accept of our humble offering, for we dedicate ourselves, our meeting, and our cause unto thee…in the name of Jesus, Amen.” -Elvira S. Barney
Stay tuned for more great women…!