Sarah M. Kimball 1818–1898
Illustration by Brook Smart

“Mrs. Sarah M. Kimball said she had waited patiently a long time, and now that we were granted the right of suffrage, she would openly declare herself a woman’s rights woman” –Salt Lake Fifteenth Ward Relief Society minutes, 19 Feb.1870

Happy Women’s History Month!

Meet Sarah Kimball (1818-1898).

On a cold January in 1870, Sarah M. Kimball, Martha Hughes Cannon, and Eliza R. Snow planned an “Indignation Meeting” inviting the Relief Society sisters of Utah to attend. The Relief Society was not a political organization, but they felt they had no choice. Utah women must speak in mass “indignation” to protest the federal legislation that had repealed the right to vote.

Only women were invited to speak and attend these “Indignation” meetings with one exception: the media. Sarah and others were saavy enough to know that the press was crucial to their cause. With 5000 women in attendance, the meeting made the front page of The New York Times.

By March 1870, it was reported that 25,000 women had attended these local meetings all over the Utah territory. “Ultimately, these protests served a number of purposes. Mormon women had a chance to show the outside world that they were articulate and willing to defend their beliefs. Through indignation meetings held in local communities, Latter-day Saint women made a dramatic entry into public life…”

In the 1890s, during a national push for universal suffrage for all women, Kimball served as a delegate to the national suffrage association, and as president of the Utah Woman’s Suffrage Association (where she was later voted in as “Honorary President” for life). Contemporary Emmaline B. Wells compared Sarah to the “illustrious so called General, Susan B. Anthony.”

It is extremely interesting to see how intertwined matters of faith were with the politics of the day, and how keen these religious women were to advance women’s political rights – first in Utah – and then nationally.

Kimball’s following speech at the National Council of Women was printed in the Women’s Exponent and widely distributed. Not all appreciated the intertwining of the spiritual with the temporal. An excerpt:

“The Sixth Sense links mortal with immortal existence; it testifies in unmistakable language of the immortality of the soul. It educates, exalts, and refines those that heed its whisperings and follow its guiding influence. This sense leads to blissful heights of superior understanding; teaches the secrets of ever-existent life – our relationship to the past, present, and future – and brings us into harmony with the infinite fountain of life and intelligence…”

As president of the Utah suffrage association, Kimball wrote that many thousands of future generations of women would someday recognize those who came before them: “Their noble, emancipated daughters will rise up and call them blessed.”

Sources: Church History Press; At the Pulpit, Reeder and Holbrook, Zion’s Suffragists, utahwomenshistory.org

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