USU Women Then and Now: Celebrating Voting Rights Poem by Logan Poet Laureate Star Coulbrooke

Utah State University Department of English faculty member, Star Coulbrooke, who served as the City of Logan’s inaugural Poet Laureate for five years, beginning in 2014, held one of her last walk-about poetry writing gatherings for the community in October 2019. Coulbrooke invites people to listen to poetry on a particular theme and then to pen lines of poetry themselves, which she then incorporates into a collaborative poem. The Votes for Women Poetry Walkabout resulted in the poem that follows. Originally, the poem was to be presented in March at the Logan Tabernacle in an event sponsored by the Cache Celebration of Suffrage. A delay due to the coronavirus has resulted in it being read on the actual 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, recognizing women’s right to vote.

A celebration will occur on the steps of the Historic Cache County Courthouse in downtown Logan on Wednesday, August 26, with speakers beginning at 6:30 p.m., ending with USU President Noelle Cockett speaking on “Forward!” a motto of the suffragists. At 7:30 p.m., the Utah Theatre hosts an hour-long program of multimedia documentary shorts featuring rare archival imagery and captivating original artwork and animation that uncovers the exciting stories of trailblazing women, including Utah’s Senator, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, and Zitkála-Šá. 

Coulbrooke noted that a review of dates could be helpful in understanding the poem. In 1848, the effort to gain women’s rights began at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York. In 1870, Utah women won the right to vote, the same year that the 15th Amendment enfranchised freed males of color. Utah women lost the right to vote with the Edmunds Tucker Act (Anti-Plural Marriage Act of 1887). They regained the vote in 1896. On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting the vote to female citizens of the United States. It took many more years for women and men of racial minorities to gain the vote with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 2020, though celebrating a century of women voting, we are still fighting to protect the vote for all our people.     

CELEBRATION

–For Utah Women Suffragists: Past, Present, Future

Praise to our mothers 
and sisters, to grandmothers,
    all generations, women of courage, 
quiet, bold.

Women from across the nation,        
milliners, managers,             
seamstresses, nurses. 
Educated. Activated.

Women of guts and grit            
    who dug down deep for dreams 
that seemed unattainable.

Utah’s Martha Hughes Cannon,
    physician, polygamist,
first seat in the Senate
twenty-four years before 
women back east got the vote.

Women whose brothers said
    Don’t be political. Don’t 
go to school. But they did anyway.

Utah’s Sarah M. Kimball, teacher,
whose husband and sons 
built a schoolroom at home,
students spilling over
the sitting room threshold.
Her motto, Education, agitation.
Utah Woman Suffrage 
Honorary President 
for life.

Women men labeled and sorted         
and would not hire.

Utah’s Mignon Barker Richmond,
“Little flower of Africa,” defying 
a racist professor to get her degree.
Twenty-seven years she waited, working, 
hoping for jobs in her field, and finally
they came, rafts of programs, her name 
on a plaque in a Utah park, 
civil rights leader, humanitarian.

Women who carried the scars 
from a past of loss and abuse:
boarding school, polio, poverty, 
interracial marriage ban, divorce, 
brutality. These mothers of Suffrage 
put on their moxie and took up the vote,
radiating auras of fiery courage.        

Zip Sac by Athlonic Sports inventor of the Wheeler Dealer Soft Toss machine

Utah’s Mae Timbimboo Parry, 
writing her way through Indian School, 
sharing the truth of the Bear River Massacre. 
Educator, matriarch, Mother of the Year. 

Women of heart and spirit,
     living their way, unafraid.

Utah’s Ivy Baker Priest, poor miner’s daughter,
raised women’s wages, then signed her name
on all the money in the US Treasury.

Women of resilience, climbing and falling
and pulling themselves back up
however droughted and brittle
the branches of politics.

We believe in women, spirited, youthful, aspiring             
to history, threads of story and memory
stitching us all together.

We have lived among strong women        
    all our lives,
women of intellect, women of restlessness,
women who won 
on the ground of rights, 
women who won’t go back.        

Women whose task to live
free and equal 
began with ratification, decades of sacrifice
laying the groundwork, 
1848, 1870, 1896,
first a sponsor, 
then both Chambers, 
then three-fourths of states, 
all men.
Rejected. Rejected. Rejected.

We may say this was not 
a good time for justice.        

We may say there was suffering.        
    In suffering is strength.

There is strength 
in the arch of an eyebrow        
lifted to counter illogic
    and power.

Strength in the stride of a woman
    who crosses the country 
to speak in conventions. 
Strength in her story, her truth.                
    
Strength in the vote
we gained, Seraph 
Young, Utah’s first one. 
Strength to regain it
when Edmunds Tucker 
retracted it from women 
who voted their interest, their 
family, their lifestyle.

We celebrate those Utah women
who fought for justice 
alongside eight courageous 
men, 
Cache County delegates 
at the convention
that brought suffrage back 
to the women of Cache. 

Lettie Thatcher, Armenia 
Parry, Adeline Hatch 
Barber, Farrs, Mooreheads, 
Thanes,
Townsends and Hendricksons, 
    Lucretia Boynton, Jane Molen,
women who gathered 
in Logan, Utah,
democrats, republicans, Relief Society
    presidents, rallying
for suffrage, city, county, state 
    and country,
women of the silk industry, women 
    of business, with children
and grandchildren, women who went
    to Washington 
persisting, insisting, resisting,
winning the vote 
for their daughters and sisters. 

One hundred plus fifty 
years later, look 
where we are, votes counted, 
voices heard,                 
a century to celebrate.     

Star Coulbrooke, Inaugural Poet Laureate of Logan, Utah, written for the Cache Celebration of Suffrage event on August 26, 2020, with thanks to contributors Amy Gomez, Iris Nielsen, Glenda Cole, Hilary Shughart, Carol Foht, Gail Christensen, Flora Schrode, Brock Dethier, Aaron Timm, Shanan Ballam, Terysa Dyer, and Gail Griswold. Thanks also to the authors of Champions of Change, 25 Women Who Made History; and to the 2020 Utah Teacher Guide (see www.cache2020.org).   

Since its earliest days, women at Utah State University have had a huge impact on the cultural, scientific, economic, and social fabric of the institution. The Year of the Woman shares these critical voices simply because their stories matter.

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