Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Emily Sophia Tanner Richards, 1850-1929
By Dr. Kathryn Mackay, Professor of History and Public History Program Director, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.
Member, Relief Society General Board.
Emily Sophia Tanner Richards was born in South Cottonwood, Utah Territory. She married a schoolmate, Franklin S. Richards (1849-1934) in 1868. The next year, the couple moved to Ogden, Utah, where Franklin became clerk of the probate court and studied law. After representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the settling of Brigham Young's estate in 1879, he remained the general counsel for the LDS Church until his death. The couple raised five children.
The Richards moved to Washington, D.C. in 1882 so that Franklin could lobby the U.S. Congress for Utah Statehood. The effort failed, but while in D.C., Emily met several national woman suffrage leaders. From then on, Emily and Franklin became leaders in the Utah suffrage efforts. Franklin and his law partner Rufus K. Williams were the primary legal counsel which tried but failed to prevent the U.S. Congress from passing the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act which repealed woman suffrage in Utah territory, which had existed by law since 1870. Emily and other Utah suffragists, Josephine R. West, Emmeline B. Wells, and Ellen B. Ferguson, presented a memorial of the women of Utah to President Grover Cleveland hoping for his support against the 1887 act.
The next year, Emily asked permission from the LDS Church leadership to form a Utah chapter of the National Woman Suffrage Association. The LDS Church endorsed her proposition and the association was officially organized on January 10, 1889. Margaret N. Caine, wife of Delegate to Congress John T. Caine, was the president and Emily Richards was appointed a state organizer. Emily developed local units throughout the territory most connected to the women's auxiliary organizations of the church, the Relief Society and the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association. Emily herself served for more than 30 years on the Relief Society General Board.
As a leading suffragist in Utah, Richards was invited to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. She spoke at the World's Congress of Representative Women on May 19, 1893 with a speech entitled "The Legal and Political Status of Woman in Utah," [LINK to pp. 913-915 in World's Congress of Representative Women: 1893, volume 2]] which was later included in the official publication of the World's Congress of Representative Women. That week-long Congress included 81 meetings with almost 500 women from 27 countries giving speeches. Emily's success at the World's Columbian Exposition led her to represent Utah women in other fairs: San Francisco (1894), Atlanta (1895), and Omaha (1898).
In the meantime, Franklin had been elected to the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1884, representing Weber and Box Elder Counties. And in 1895 he was a member of the Utah State Constitutional Convention. LDS church leaders had issued the 1890 Manifesto officially declaring an end to plural marriage. Congress had passed the 1894 Enabling Act, opening the door to statehood.
Franklin declared in his speech at the 1895 convention that woman suffrage was the next necessary step in the march of human progress. The clause in the constitution that granted women's suffrage and the right to hold office states: "The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied on account of sex." The efforts by the Richardses were successful. Utah came into the union as the third state to allow women the right to vote and to hold elected office. Emily continued her work for nationwide woman suffrage and in 1920, after the nineteenth amendment was ratified, she helped organize the Utah chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Emily Richards died in Salt Lake City in 1929.
Gordon, Sarah Barringer, "The Liberty of Self-Degradation: Polygamy, Woman Suffrage and Consent in Nineteen-Century America," Journal of American History, vol., 83 (Dec. 1996) 816-847.
Smith, Laren Manners, "New Paths to Power, 1890-1920," in Nancy Cott, ed. No Small Courage, London: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Quinn, D. Michael. "They Served: The Richards Legacy in the Church," Ensign, vol. 10 (January 1980).
White, Jean Bickmore. "Women's Place Is in the Constitution: The Struggle for Equal Rights in Utah in 1895," Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 42 (Fall 1974).