They say the future is female, but here in Utah, much of the past has been, too. Not only have women played critical roles in forming the political and cultural landscape of the Beehive State, but they also continue shaping Utah today.
In fact, according to the Department of Workforce Services, 60% of Utah's women currently participate in the workforce—a higher rate than the national average. With that in mind, it's easy to see why the state's more feminine side has accomplished so much.
Here's a snapshot of the state's most historically significant women and how they helped write history.
Emmaline B. Wells
Ladies of Utah, your vote matters—and that's largely thanks to Emmaline B. Wells, the passionate, outspoken suffragette who worked, wrote and spoke tirelessly on behalf of women's rights in Utah and beyond. Thanks largely to Wells' efforts, Utah women were among the first in the country to legally vote when the then-territory granted suffrage in 1870, reports PBS. But she was far from satisfied. Wells took her cause to a national level—alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—representing Utah in the national petition for women's suffrage.
Then in 1887, when the U.S. Congress stripped voting rights from Utah women, Wells turned her efforts back home, leading the state's suffrage movement, according to PBS. Through her tireless efforts, equal suffrage became a permanent part of Utah's Constitution when it became a state in 1896.
To the outside world, Utah can seem, well, a bit homogenous. But Helen Zeese Papanikolas would disagree. One of the state's most significant historians, Papanikolas "devoted her life to expanding the story of Utah," according to Utah Women's History.
Promoting an inclusive and diverse view of Utah's rich heritage, Papanikolas made historical space for those often forgotten or marginalized in the historical record. A child of Greek immigrants herself, Papanikolas grew up in a mining and railroad town composed of Irish, Japanese, Italian, Serbian and Greek immigrants.
Although she attended University of Utah in hopes of becoming a doctor, Papanikolas followed her passion for writing instead, penning novels and short stories. When she took up historical writing, Papanikolas demonstrated a gift for preserving culture and heritage through the lens of everyday people.
She eventually founded the Peoples of Utah Institute, which preserves stories of Utah's ethnic minorities.
Mae Timbimboo Parry
At the tender age of eight, Mae Timbimboo entered a U.S. Federal boarding school designed, according to What's Her Name Podcast, to "kill the Indian to save the child." Rather than blindly assimilating into the European-American culture, Parry instead worked to preserve stories from her Shoshone heritage.
In an act that her grandson, Darren Parry, claims "literally saved our culture," Parry wrote down all the stories she'd heard from tribal elders and her grandfather—particularly accounts of the Bear River Massacre, which set the historical record straight.
With her love of history and heritage, Parry was awarded Utah's Honorary Mother of the Year in 1986. As a historian, she was a mother—not only to her six children, but her entire tribal family.
Kanab Town Counsel
To be fair, this isn't one woman, it's five firecracker females elected "before they knew anything about it" to the Kanab Town Council in 1911, according to Utah Women's History. If the election was the result of a practical joke, the town didn't laugh when all five women accepted the offices, becoming the state's first all-female city council—and making some real civic change.
Thanks to Tamar Hamblin, Luella McAllister, Blanche Hamblin, Vinnie Jepson and Mary Chamberlain, the history of Kanab certainly is much more female.
Alberta Hill Henry
A native of Louisiana and daughter of sharecroppers, Alberta Hill Henry wasn't likely to become one of Utah's most outspoken activists and an advocate of fairness and freedom for all, but that certainly didn't stop her.
According to Utah.gov, after moving to Salt Lake City around 1950, Henry was disturbed by how few black students attended the University of Utah. This inspired her to create the Alberta Henry Scholarship, empowering African Americans to receive higher education.
Henry worked with NAACP for many years, was part of the first Head Start Center in Salt Lake City and served as a minority consultant for the Salt Lake City school district. Later, Henry became part of the Black Affairs Advisory Council and served on the Utah House of Representatives Fellowships Commission before finally earning a bachelor's degree herself at age 59.
Employer, philanthropist, activist, NBA team owner—some Utah women do it all. That can certainly be said for Gail Miller, who, along with her husband, is responsible for the well-known Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.
Employing more than 10,000 people, according to Family Business Magazine, Miller serves as owner and chairman of the board of Larry H. Miller Management Corporation. But that's certainly not all she does. Miller is not only the former owner of the Utah Jazz, but she's also one of the state's most prolific philanthropists. She leads both the Larry H. Miller Education Foundation and the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, both of which support countless humanitarian and educational causes. Additionally, Miller co-chairs Count My Vote, an organization aimed at increasing voter participation in Utah.
These women—and countless more like them—have helped shape Utah's rich, diverse history. And if the past is any indication of the future, you can count on that future looking pretty female—at least in the Beehive State.
Join Utah's businesswomen in learning more about the past women who paved the way for today's success. The Salt Lake Chamber is hosting their annual Business Women's Forum on March 16, 2021. To learn more about the event and to sign up, visit the Salt Lake Chamber's website.