In 1894, Congress voted to invite Utah into the Union. President Grover Cleveland signed the Enabling Act, which allowed Utah to officially form a Constitutional Convention.
Utahns moved with enthusiasm as they had been waiting for the opportunity to become a state for decades. They held an election to choose the delegates and convened the convention in March of 1895. Of the 109 seats for the delegates, 79 of them were filled by Latter-day Saints, two of which were high-level apostles. There were a few hard topics that were debated with spirit, including prohibition, women’s suffrage, and of course, polygamy.
Polygamy was such a huge controversy in Utah becoming a state that it was impossible to avoid it while drafting the State Constitution. The Enabling Act from Congress even required a clause banning polygamy unequivocally. Article three of the final Constitution states “Polygamy or plural marriage are forever prohibited.” The Constitution clarified that the article cannot be amended later unless voted on by the United States and the state of Utah.
Prohibition was also a hot topic, especially for a territory as deeply religious as Utah. Petitions with thousands of signatures were sent in support of prohibition in the constitution. However, the delegates were concerned with business and supporting the economic development in Utah. They declined to put in a clause on prohibition, saying that governmental prohibition was experimental, and they would leave the problem for a future legislature to vote on.
Both parties favored the idea of women’s suffrage in the constitution. Women had gained the right to vote in Utah a few decades before, but part of the Federal crackdown on polygamy included the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which withdrew women’s suffrage, no matter a woman’s marriage status. Women were eager to get their voting rights back with the State Constitution. However, some men were worried that including suffrage in the state constitution would delay their opportunity to become a state, as the Edmunds-Tucker Act was still in effect. If President Cleveland disapproved, then statehood could be delayed again. The Committee of Elections and Suffrage proposed they push the constitution through and then pass an amendment later that gave women the right to vote.
The recommendation from the committee was evidently ignored. In Article 4 of the State Constitution, the delegates decided the right to vote and hold office would not be witheld on the basis of sex. While women had held the right to vote previous to the Edmunds-Tucker Act, they had never been able to hold office before.
On January 4, 1896, Grover Cleveland approved Utah’s Constitution and signed the act to bring Utah into the Union. A man from the Salt Lake telegraph station rushed out onto the street and fired two shots into the air when he received the news. This was a prearranged signal, and the news spread across the new state quickly.
Celebrations commenced. There was a 21 gun salute on the Capitol grounds and dances were arranged for that evening. Impromptu sleigh processions and parades broke out in towns all across the state. In several towns, there were official programs to celebrate, including speeches, singing, and enthusiastic cheers for women’s suffrage.
At the end of the day, Governor Wells requested citizens put candles in their windows to symbolize Utah’s emergence from the darkness of being a territory into the light of Statehood.
Godfrey, Audrey M. “All Hail! Statehood!” Utah Historical Quarterly 63, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 357-369. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=422206
Lyman, Edward Leo. Finally Statehood! Utah’s Struggles. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2019.
White, Jean Bickmore. “So Bright the Dream: Economic Prosperity and the Utah Constitutional Convention.” Utah Historical Quarterly 63, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 320-340. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=422204