Biographical Sketch of Margaret Emily Richey Patterson

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Margaret Emily Richey (Mrs. Joseph Bowman) Patterson, 1860-1942

By Meredith Machen, retired professor and vice president of Santa Fe Community College. Director of the Education, Immigration, and History Committees and former state president of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico.

Emily Richey was born in Washington, Utah, on September 22, 1860, one of James and Lucinda Mangum Richey's ten children. Her parents and other relatives were among the original pioneers who helped establish and lead Mormon settlements in both Utah and Arizona. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints controlled the politics of the Utah Territory, and women's voting rights were officially recognized in 1869 right after Wyoming. After helping Brigham Young and others establish the stronghold in Utah, many of the large Richey clan and other Mormon families took their commitment to women's suffrage and other beliefs with them and established a new community in St. Johns, Apache County, Arizona. Emily's mother became president of the First Relief Society of the St. Johns Stake in 1880, a post she held until 1893. As president, she trained young women to become leaders and to assist with welfare efforts. Her daughters took on many responsibilities as well.

In 1881, Emily married fellow Mormon Joseph Bowman Patterson, a prosperous and respected wool, drug, and mining merchant, who had emigrated as a youth to the U.S. from Newcastle, England. Joseph was a civic, political, and social leader in St. Johns. Mormons advocated for woman suffrage because it helped further their efforts to promote the temperance movement and to reform the vice that was associated with saloons including gambling and prostitution. Mormon males in positions of authority recognized the capacity of women to influence public policy. They understood that their power was strengthened by having women advocate for and ultimately vote for policies they endorsed and wanted to preserve, including polygamy, which many outsiders considered abhorrent. Having women advocate for Mormon practices advanced public acceptance and prevented their religious freedom from being curtailed through local and federal interference.

In 1887, Congress disenfranchised Utah's women who had voted since 1870. The Edmunds-Tucker Act was specifically designed to weaken Mormonism politically and end polygamy, which was treated as a serious crime worthy of lengthy jail sentences. Complicating the situation was the support of Protestants for women's suffrage in Utah and Arizona partly because they believed that Mormon women would vote against polygamy, a practice which they saw as abusive to women. When the LDS Church officially ended polygamy in 1890, that justification for women's suffrage no longer prevailed. Many men were threatened by the power of the women's commitment to temperance and social reform, and many candidates and officials were swayed by the monetary influence of the liquor lobby interests. Arizona's Territorial Assembly rejected the women's suffrage resolution at the 1891 constitutional convention and every year after that. Men argued that women's suffrage would hurt their struggle for statehood. Approximately 90% of Arizonans were Democrats in the run up to the 1896 general election, and the Democratic plank included women's voting rights, due to the combined efforts of the Mormons and Protestant suffragists, including the notable Josephine Brawley Hughes, head of the Arizona Equal Suffrage Association and WCTU and wife of the territorial governor.

By 1895, Emily's husband Joseph was serving in the Arizona territorial legislature. At Arizona's Democratic Convention in 1896, he was chosen as the nominee for "assemblyman" to Congress on the ticket headed by William Jennings Bryan. A few days prior to the convention, Emily and other suffragists hosted a reception at Armory Hall for delegates and dignitaries. Speakers explained the merits and benefits of the women's vote, and the program was well received by attendees. In its September 26 edition, the St. Johns Herald complimented the women for conducting the informative event. Although the primary speaker, Mary Sherman, said the woman suffrage plank, "Is all wool and a yard wide, and clinched on the underside" (meaning that it was of the highest quality), the measure failed when the Democrats lost the national election.

In 1896, when Congress admitted Utah as a state, its enabling constitution re-established women's full voting rights. Not so with Arizona. In 1897, its territorial government passed a law acknowledging women's right to vote in school board elections, but full suffrage was not included in Arizona's constitution that led to statehood in February 1912. It took an extensive suffrage campaign to pass a citizens' referendum on the November ballot. National suffrage leaders, including NAWSA's Laura Clay and the Mormons' Laura Gregg, assisted prominent state suffragists including Josephine Hughes and Frances Willard Munds, whose years of building massive support for equal suffrage finally paid off. When the citizens' initiative ballot passed, Emily Patterson, fellow suffragists, family, and friends were jubilant about finally being able to join their female relatives and other women in Utah in voting in all elections. Munds replaced J.B. Patterson and was the first woman to serve in the Arizona legislature.

Emily and Joseph had 10 children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Joseph died in 1933, Emily died at age 81 in Holbrook, Arizona, on August 24, 1942. She is buried in St. Johns Cemetery. Extended family in Utah and Arizona are still active Mormons.


Margaret Emily Patterson,

St. Johns Relief Society, The Woman's Exponent, November 1, 1893.

"The Woman Suffragists," St. Johns Herald, St. Johns, Arizona, Sept. 26, 1896, p. 4,

"Miss Sherman Says Our Woman's Suffrage Plank," St. Johns Herald, St. Johns, Arizona, Sept. 26, 1896, p. 4,

"Our Standard Bearers," (slates of the Arizona Territorial Nominating Conventions) St. Johns Herald, St. Johns, AZ, October 3, 1896, p. 1

Goff, John S. Members of the Legislature, Vol. 2, Black Mountain Press, Cave Creek, Arizona, 1996.

Conners, Jo. "Joseph Bowman Patterson," Who's Who in Arizona, Tucson, Az, 1913, pp. 400-401,

Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper, "National-American Suffrage Convention of 1896," History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 4 (Salem, NH: Ayer Company, 1900, pp. 252-269 [LINK]

Shurter, Edwin Du Bois, Ed, "Woman Suffrage: Bibliography and Selected Arguments," History of Women, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, 1915.

Osselaer, Heidi J. Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, 2009.

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