Making Utah a better place for women by exploring the legacy of our past

When we talk about economic prosperity, a portion of the conversation typically involves the importance of improving our workforce diversity in the state, including the need to enhance leadership opportunities for women.

Popularizing Utah Women’s History 

Recently, I came across Better Days 2020, a Utah non-profit focused on women’s advocacy. It’s CEO, Neylan McBaine, pointed out to me that Utah has a rich history regarding women’s rights and women serving in civic and business leadership roles. In fact, Utah was the first place where a woman voted in the modern nation. Utah was also the first state to elect a woman to the state senate. That was Martha Hughes Cannon in 1896. She was a doctor, a women’s rights advocate, a suffragist and a polygamist wife.

A measure passed by the Utah Legislature this year and supported by Better Days 2020 will see that Cannon’s statue graces the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, where each state is allowed to display two notable people in their histories.

Another measure promoted by Better Days 2020 obtained legislative approval for a “First to Vote” special group license plate, which will be rolled out to all Utah DMVs by October 2018.

Neylan told me that the name Better Days 2020 ties into the fact that the year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of women first voting in Utah and the U.S., the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women’s suffrage throughout the U.S., and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which protected the voting rights of women and men of racial minorities.

Better Days 2020 is using art, education and legislation to infuse awareness of Utah’s illustrious women’s history into Utah’s contemporary culture.

“Better Days 2020 believes that by popularizing our history in creative and communal ways, we can challenge Utahns to live up to this great legacy of women’s advocacy,” she explained, “and the year 2020 is the perfect time to commemorate our history.”

Therefore, her organization is developing an educational curriculum devoted to introducing K-12 students to Utah’s role in women’s voting rights from 1870 to the present day, specifically focusing on grades 4 and 7 (Utah Studies) and grades 5 and 11 (U.S. History). The curriculum, which is tied to the Utah Core State Standards, will include English language arts connections, adaptations for diverse learners, support for homeschooling students and will focus on developing students’ historical literacy and critical thinking skills.

Classroom materials and online resources will be available for educators and students to access for free via the Better Days 2020 website. In partnership with the Tanner Humanities Center, Neylan’s organization will also offer a series of educator workshops focused on Utah’s role in obtaining voting rights for all women. What’s more, the Tanner Humanities Center and Better Days 2020 plan to host three one-week teacher-training sessions that will include teachers from across the nation and will focus on bringing to life the newly developed curriculum.

In another effort, Better Days 2020 has commissioned Utah illustrator Brooke Smart to create portraits of 30 – 40 of Utah’s key women’s rights leaders from 1870 through the twentieth century. The illustrations will comprise a set of 4” x 6” trading cards with thumbnail photos and biographies of these leaders on the back of each card. The sets will be distributed to classrooms along with poster-sized images of some of the cards for classroom display.

Better Days 2020 has received financial support from the Utah State Legislature, but it mainly relies on sponsorships of Utah corporations, including Zagg, NuSkin and Dominion Energy to carry out its projects. Thus, Neylan asked that I encourage Utah business leaders to join her organization as corporate sponsors.

Advocating for women is certainly important. Utah has the largest wage gap between men and women in the nation, with women earning, on average, 69 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. Utah also has the largest gap in the nation between male and female college graduation rates. Despite the fact that Utah women are getting more education, they are not keeping up with their male or U.S. female counterparts. And, women make up the largest share of “discouraged” workers in Utah, meaning those that have stopped looking for work because they believe they cannot find a job.

We commend Better Days 2020 and organizations like it for promoting Utah’s rich history regarding women advocacy and also for drawing awareness to the important role women play in our economic prosperity. For more information about Better Days 2020 visit or email [email protected].