Better Days 2020

New podcast highlights how women are 'central to life' in Utah, then and now

By Carter Williams, KSL.com | Posted - Jun. 25, 2020 at 8:56 p.m.



Editor's note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com's Historic section.

LOGAN — 2020 is a big anniversary year in women’s history, especially in Utah. The state celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first ballot cast by a woman in an election equal to men and women in U.S. history earlier this year.

The centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allowed women the right to vote nationwide, is later this summer. This year is also the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act being passed, which extended more rights to women of color.

Women have played a substantial role in Utah history but when those three key anniversaries popped up, Patrick Mason, professor of religious studies and history at Utah State University, thought back through the years of history he's studied.

"I was born and raised in Utah, went through the schools here and took history classes, and I would have been hard-pressed to name any or at least very many women from Utah history," Mason said.

At the same time, USU was celebrating 2020 as the "Year of the Woman" with events on its campus. As a history professor and someone who understood there are gaps in women’s history education, he wanted to find a way to broadcast the stories of women in Utah history to people outside the university; in addition, to spotlight the current work by women in society.

That’s what led to the creation of a new podcast show called "This Is Her Place," which debuted Wednesday. Hosted by Naomi Watkins, an educational and community activist in Salt Lake City, and Tom Williams, host of "Access Utah" on Utah Public Radio, the show’s premise is that it ties women currently involved in Utah’s community with women in Utah history who worked in similar fields.

For example, the first episode features Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera and Claire Ferguson, Utah’s first female deputy sheriff, who was sworn in in 1897. The second highlights Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, as well as Annie Dodge Wauneka, a tribal elder and public health advocate who worked to cut tuberculous rates in the Navajo Nation during the 1950s, and Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, who wasn’t just the first woman state senator in U.S. history but also helped forge state-sponsored boards of health.

In the first episode, Rivera opened up about how a family camping trip when she was 16 years old led her into a role in law enforcement. Her family called police to report someone else was riding a motorbike through their camp but when officers arrived, they turned their attention on Rivera’s family instead.

"We eventually all got kicked out and I told my father back then, that that is not right, we were the ones that were having to call the police because these other folks were not following the rules … he said, ‘If you don't like it, change it,’" she said on the show. Rivera became a police officer 14 years later and on her way to becoming the first woman to become a sheriff in Utah and the second Latina sheriff in the nation.

Ferguson, on the other hand, became a deputy when she was just 20 years old and was known as a skilled shooter during the wild Wild West era. Tiffany Greene, a historical research assistant for the nonprofit Better Days 2020, also appeared in that episode to point out there were multiple newspaper reports about Ferguson apprehending "lawless men" with her revolver skills.

"Mostly, in every episode we’re going to focus on a different theme," Mason said.

He hopes that the show will draw in those interested in state or women’s history or just fans of interesting stories told through podcasts. At the very least, it might be a resource that state or women’s history teachers can use in their classrooms.

The show is available on all platforms where podcasts can be found. In addition, a website was created where people can not just listen to an episode but read transcripts and scroll through images.

"We wanted to tell these stories of women who have been there right from the start," Mason said. "They’ve always been central to life here in Utah, we just need to do a better job recognizing their contributions and listening to their experiences."

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