Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mrs. Lydia Alder, 1846-1923
By Dr. Cheryl M. Hansen, Emeritus Professor of French, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.
Mormon poet, writer, suffragist and missionary.
Vice President and President, Territorial Suffrage Association of Women of Utah.
Member, International Councils of Women, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, the Wasatch Literary Club, Utah Women's Press Club and Ladies' Democratic Association.
Secretary, Retrenchment Society.
President and historian, Utah Federation of Women's Club.
Mrs. Lydia Alder was born in England on July 2, 1846. Her parents, George Dunford and Sarah Jones Dunford, were Mormon converts who immigrated to the United States in 1850, but soon after returned to England. The family migrated back to Utah in 1853, then lived in California from 1854 to1856. George Dunford wanted his children to have advantage of a good education, so the family moved to Saint Louis where they lived from 1856 to 1867. Lydia had the advantage of attending good public schools where she received an excellent education, and as a result, she later advocated for a better educational system in Salt Lake City. She worked as a nurse during the Civil War and met her future husband, George Alfred Alder, in Saint Louis. They were married from 1864 until 1898 and were the parents of ten children. Many details of her younger life are chronicled in Reminiscences and Journal, 1879-1890, written by her father, George Dunford.
After returning to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1867, Lydia Alder made it her permanent home. She was an active democrat and associated with several groups to promote equal rights and suffrage for women. One group, the Retrenchment Society, endorsed suffrage and promoted home industry. She was a notable writer and contributed several poems and essays to the Women's Exponent, a Mormon women's literary journal. Her poetry was about female relationships and mother and child relationships. Her goal was to help create and be part of a "true" female community with her writings. She was a contributor to the Juvenile Instructor, Deseret News and Young Woman's Journal. She also wrote short stories, and a popular novel, The Holy Land, which detailed her historical and cultural discoveries while traveling in the Middle East.
Mrs. Lydia Alder fought for equal rights on an international scale and served in leadership roles in suffrage organizations from 1889 until 1920. She was the first vice-president of the Territorial Suffrage Association of Women of Utah and served as chairperson for The Women Suffrage Convention at Assembly Hall in Salt Lake City in 1899. She was a founding member of the Utah Suffrage Council. Mrs. Alder attended and gave speeches at three International Councils of Women, in London (1899), Berlin (1904), and Rome (1914). The Congress focused on arbitration, peace and world suffrage. She worked to include equal suffrage in the law and gave several speeches promoting her belief that the vote would give women the chance to become intelligent and godly. She believed the right to vote was a moral right for women therefore appealing to the writers of the law who were mostly Mormon men. As president and historian of the Utah Federation of Women's Club, she helped women become more involved in education, economics, industry, politics, and philanthropy. She believed that women can be wives and mothers and have careers. At the age of 52, she was called to serve a mission for her church in England from 1899-1901, one of the first female missionaries. She was a wife, a mother, a poet, a businesswoman, a devoted member of her church, and was one of the leading suffragists in Utah. She died in Salt Lake City, Utah March 1, 1923, three years after women gained the right to vote.
Dunford, George. Reminiscences and Journal, 1879-1890 (microfilm, LDS Church History Library, call number: MS 1722). https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/overlandtravel/sources/5071/alder-lydia-d-reminiscences-in-journal-history-of-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints-26-sept-1867-1-2
"Lydia Dunford Alder: The Life of the Mormon Poet, Suffragist, and Missionary," Sarah Kate Johnson Stanley, August 2018, accessible at www.scholarsarchive.byu.edu.