Utah’s History Is Full of Trailblazing Women. Meet 9 of them.
When Salt Lake City was founded in July 1847, just three women were among the valley’s first pioneer settlers. In 1870, when it was still a territory, Utah gave some women full voting rights. Utah's women were also the first in the U.S. to cast a ballot as Salt Lake City hosted the inaugural modern U.S. election to be open to men and women. Women’s contributions to the area—and the country—have only grown since then.
Do you know these nine historic women in Utah? You should.
The “pioneer poetess” was also an early women's leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; some of her poems were set to music and became Mormon hymns. She is buried at Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument in downtown Salt Lake City. The site also honors the 6,000 pioneers who died crossing the plains between 1847 and 1869.
Cannon earned her medical degree and worked as a physician before founding the first nurse’s training school in Utah in 1888 and, later, the state’s first board of health as well as a school for the deaf and the blind. In 1896, she was elected as the country’s first female state senator—trouncing her own husband whose name was also on the ballot. She was also active in the state’s women’s suffrage movement—alongside other local groundbreakers like Emmeline B. Wells—and successfully fought to have women’s right to vote added to the state’s constitution. A statue of Cannon now stands at the state Capitol building in Salt Lake City before it makes its way to the US Capitol.
She wasn’t born in Utah, but Taylor co-founded the Utah Plain Dealer newspaper with her husband, William Wesley Taylor. She also served as president of the Western Negro Press Association.
Poynton, who was born in Salt Lake City, qualified for the U.S. Olympic diving team at 12. She won silver at the 1928 Olympics in springboard diving at 13, becoming the youngest U.S. Olympic medalist. She went on to add two golds and a bronze to her medal count.
Kasai led her community during one of its most trying eras: When her husband was arrested and sent to an internment camp during World War II, Kasai became the first president of the Salt Lake City chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, helping families who were being relocated. She and her husband founded the International Peace Gardens at Jordan Park.
Parry was the granddaughter of a Shoshone chief who grew up to be a tribal historian. She documented the stories she heard from her tribal elders; her diligence resulted in the literal rewriting of the history of the Bear River Massacre. She was a representative on the White House Council for Indian Tribal Affairs and helped Utah develop its repatriation act, which guides the return of Native American artifacts and remains to their rightful tribes. Parry was named “Utah Honorary Mother of the Year” in 1986.
Toomer, who lost the use of her legs from polio, was an influential advocate for disability rights. She co-founded the Utah Independent Living Center, organized “crawl-ons” to pressure the Utah Transit Authority to make its buses more accessible, and helped push through the Americans with Disabilities Act.