by BAYLEE STEPHENSON
Louisa Greene Richards was the first female editor in Utah. She served as the first editor of the Woman’s Exponent. Digital Collections, Utah State Historical Society.
The Woman’s Exponent carved a path for women, equality and woman suffrage in Utah through the assistance of two incredible editors. Emmeline B. Wells is probably the most notable editor to have worked for the publication, but had it not been for her predecessor, Louisa Greene Richards, the newspaper would not have existed. Richards, known fondly as Lula or Lulu, was born in 1849 as the eighth of thirteen children to Evan Greene and Susan Kent in Kanesville, Iowa. (Bennion, 2) Greene and Kent were first cousins by their mothers, who were the sisters of the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young. Richards relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, with her family in 1852 when Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers left Iowa. It was in Utah that she found her passion for writing. (Bennion, 2)
Richards had always enjoyed writing and had a knack for poetry. It is believed that her first poem was written when she was fourteen, with her first step into journalism happening at the age of twenty when she began editing the Smithfield Sunday School Gazette. That same year she made the decision to attend the University of Deseret, presently known as The University of Utah. (Bennion, 3) By late 1871 she had finished school and was in Salt Lake City inquiring about a teaching position. While there, she received a letter requesting that she return home due to a family illness. She didn’t have the funds for the journey and decided that she would stay up all night and write poetry in the hopes that she might be able to sell it to a publisher in exchange for the fare she needed to get to Smithfield. The next day she went to the Salt Lake Daily Herald to meet with the editor, Edward L. Sloan, to sell her poetry for the $7.50 she required. She was successful in her endeavor. (Romney, 262)
Richards made the journey back home to be with her family, which is where she received a letter from Sloan asking her if she would be interested in editing a paper for Mormon women that he would print on the Herald’s presses. (Bennion, 3) She had her reservations regarding the idea and wrote to Eliza R. Snow, the president of the Relief Society, the women’s organization within the church, to ask her if she could discuss the prospect of the newspaper with the president of the church, Brigham Young. Richards believed that if Young approved of the paper then she should pursue the opportunity of running the new publication. Young gave Richards a calling to serve a mission, which is a personal assignment to be done for the church for a designated time frame, as the editor of the paper. (Bennion, 3)
On April 9, 1872, Sloan sent a copy of the Daily Herald to every member of the Relief Society with an advertisement promoting the Woman’s Exponent and its first issue. It read, “…a proposed woman’s journal … will be found in the Herald this morning. A more extended notice of it is crowded out until to-morrow by a press of other matter.” The ad was in two spots on the third page, one announcing the new paper and another expanding on what the publication would be writing about and who its target audience would be. That ad elaborated on the Exponent’s mission to write to the women of the Relief Society and the goals it had set. The advertisement announced Richards would be the acting editor of the bi-monthly paper, which would release its first issue on May 1, 1872. Subscription costs were based on delivery frequency, ranging from $1.00 to $18.00.
Richards married shortly after she became the editor of the paper and during her time she had two daughters, both of whom died. She helped build and mold the publication into the successful female-centric paper remembered under the leadership of Emmeline Wells. Wells took over in 1877 when Richards stepped down to pursue being a wife and mother full time. (Bennion, 9) While her personal life changed, and grew during her tenure as editor, she never neglected the paper and prioritized its success. The paper focused on what mattered to women as well as what was going on within the news.
The November 1, 1872, issue of the Woman’s Exponent featured the news that a Connecticut woman might be the first female to cast a ballot for the president of the United States. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.
Richards was unable to meet the release date of May 1, 1872, so the first issue of the paper published on June 1. It featured articles and information that Richards thought to be the most interesting and important to women at the time. The paper didn’t simply focus on matters of the home, or what could be considered the traditional normative role women typically took within society due to the religious influence. On page 4, an article titled “Our Position” delved into Richards’s intentions for the paper, which stated that the purpose was not to advocate for woman suffrage, “for it is enjoyed by women of this Territory.” Women in Utah had received the right to vote per a decision by the territorial legislature in 1870, years prior to the 19th amendment. This right was revoked by Congress in 1887, but was ultimately restored in 1895 upon it being written into the state constitution. (White)
The Exponent aimed to speak for many of the women within the state, knowing that there would be dissenting opinions. Richards knew that there was still much to be done for women’s rights, but she strived to reach the majority in the hope that the topics discussed and covered were those that were significant to the women of Salt Lake City. On page 5 of the first issue, an article titled “Woman’s Rights and Wrongs” examined the equality that women lacked in relation to their male counterparts. This article explained the hardships women faced in doing the same amount of work as a man and receiving only a portion of the pay, as well as addressing the issue that women have the right to do any job their desire regardless of gender should they be able to adequately perform. Whether Richards intended for the publication to speak on behalf of women, equality, and at times for woman suffrage, it did and it became a key player in advocating for women in Utah.
The first issue of the Exponent set the stage for what would come from Richards, and later her successor, Emmeline Wells. The front page of the publication began with an article titled “News and Views.” This article commanded the entire front page of the paper and disclosed the news and opinions of Utah, as well as what was happening nationwide. Topics discussed in this article included religion, politics, suffrage, and race. Richards didn’t shy away from discussing what she believed in and what she thought the women of Utah wanted to be reading. The bold approach she took in writing and editing the paper helped catalyze the publication into the success that it experienced during its 42-year lifespan. On page two of the first issue, there is an article written by Eliza R. Snow on “The Female Relief Society,” which became a regular column in the Exponent penned by Snow. It gave readers a summary of the happenings of the church at the time. Richards felt that providing women with insight into the church was important as most of her readers were members of the religion. She also felt that having this section written by the president of the relief society was important for the women consuming the material.
The articles seemed to mildly contradict in that the written purpose was not to advocate for equality, but the articles themselves did articulate the support and advancement of equal rights for women. Emmeline B. Wells, who was known for her work within the woman suffrage movement, became Richards’s successor when Richards chose to withdraw as editor. Under the new leadership of Wells, the publication began taking a stronger stance on equality and woman suffrage.
On August 1, 1872, the Exponent published an article titled, “Why Women Should Vote.” This article touched on the fact that while some women cared nothing for politics and would most likely not vote, women should still be able to participate in voting and the voting process. The article stated that it was an important part of our society and should not exclude half of the nation’s population, as women had well-informed opinions and deserved to have a voice within democracy and politics. This article was extremely well received because women in Utah already possessed the right to vote and it led to further articles regarding woman suffrage and equal rights.
For example, on October 1, 1872, there was an article titled “Lady Lawyers” that recognized the remarkable accomplishment of two women who were admitted and sworn into the bar to become attorneys-at-law in the state of Utah. And while it wasn’t their intention or desire to practice law, they understood the large impact this would have for women across the nation. The article acknowledged that just a few years prior to this event, women were often ridiculed for their pursuits. The article also addressed the right of a woman “to earn her living in any honorable career for which she has capacity.” Utah was a remarkably advanced state within the union at the time and encouraged women to pursue their aspirations and career goals.
The first few months of the Exponent under Richards’s leadership laid the foundation for this progressive paper. Just five years after she signed on to the project, she decided to remove herself as acting editor. On July 15, 1877, the final issue of the Woman’s Exponent crediting Richards was published. That issue continued to advocate for equal rights, provide updates on the LDS church, and share poetry. The issue also shows significance in that it sold ad space on the last page, which generated revenue and income for the publication. Throughout all the stories and articles published in this issue, there is no acknowledgement of Richards’s departure. In a following issue of the paper, dated August 1, 1877, Richards penned an article titled “Valedictory,” in which she bid the paper farewell and discussed her reasons for departing the Exponent. She made it clear in her message that she would not be losing contact with her readers, but would be communicating with them as a contributing writer for the Exponent. She noted that she was in good health, but her “head and eyes need recruiting.” She also wrote that she believed her time would be best spent dedicated to domestic duties. Richards was content to relinquish all claim to the Exponent, because she knew she would be leaving it in good hands. She ended her farewell by asking her “sisters old and young” to subscribe and write to the Exponent to make it “more interesting and successful in performing its mission.”
After retiring as the editor of the Woman’s Exponent, Richards turned to being a wife and mother full time, but she never stopped writing. Her poetry is what launched her into her career with the Exponent; her poetry is how she continued to express herself throughout her life. Richards published a few of her poems during her five-year run with the paper and afterward found herself publishing a book, Branches That Run Over the Wall. Richards spent her life dedicating her time to her family and her writing. Never forgetting who she was or what she believed in, and was never afraid to speak her mind in the effort of being an independent woman at a time when that wasn’t always fully embraced. Louisa Lula Greene Richards was the first female editor in Utah and became a respected public figure and advocate for women all over the state.
The Woman’s Exponent provided women with an outlet and a resource that wasn’t a common commodity at the time. The publication had a female editor, the first in the state and breached topics that were both helpful, informative, and at times controversial. Looking back at the many issues of the paper, it is obvious that these women were dealing with issues that are still prevalent today. We are still fighting for gender equality in many regards, we are still fighting to give women an independent voice and we are still fighting to break into male dominated industries. Utah was a unique place, where women held positions without it being perceived as a woman trying to take over a man’s role. These women were praised for their work and made strides in the fight for equality for women everywhere. The paper was so successful that it even spurred the conception of Exponent II, a quarterly publication launched to give feminist Mormon women a voice. (Sheldon) Women across Utah, especially within the Mormon community, have been deeply impacted by the Exponent and the work of Richards and Wells. Their efforts have resonated with women across generations for over 100 years and even led to the development of other publications. This progressive paper was created by women for women.
Baylee Stephenson graduated in May 2017 from The University of Utah with a degree in communication. She moved to New York City after graduating to pursue a career in product development and now resides in the city full-time.
Louisa L. Richards, Branches That Run Over the Wall: A Book of Mormon Poem and Other Writings. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Magazine Printing Company, 1904.
“Valedictory,” Woman’s Exponent, August 1, 1877, 36.
Woman’s Exponent, June 15, 1877, 25-32.
“Lady Lawyers,” Woman’s Exponent, October 1, 1872, 68.
“Why Women Should Vote,” Woman’s Exponent, August 1, 1872, 36.
“News and Views,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, 1.
“Our Position,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, 4.
Eliza R. Snow, “The Female Relief Society,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, 2.
“Woman’s Rights and Wrongs,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, 5.
“Woman’s Exponent,” Salt Lake Daily Herald, April 9, 1872, 3.
Bennion, Sherilyn Cox. “Lula Greene Richards: Utah’s First Woman Editor.” BYU Studies 21, no. 2 (1981): 1-14.
Romney, Thomas C. “Louisa Lula Greene Richards.” The Instructor (September 1950): 262-263.
Sheldon, Carrel Hilton. “Launching Exponent II.” Exponent II. http://bit.ly/2otlTLP
White, Jean Bickmore. “Women’s Suffrage in Utah,” Utah History to Go. http://bit.ly/2kWl4rr