As the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaches next year, one Utah organization is publishing a book to celebrate notable women from the state’s history.
“Each of these women’s stories is an individual story, but they still speak to each other in different ways,” said Katherine Kitterman, the historical director for Better Days 2020 and one of the authors of the book “Champions of Change.”
Better Days 2020 is a local nonprofit organization seeking to popularize women’s history in the state. The group’s new book comes out this week and features 25 people, mostly women, from across the state who have been advocates for change.
“There is no reason people can’t learn about women beyond the major players that we learn about,” said Naomi Watkins, the organization’s education director.
“When we talked to community members in the Utah African American community and when we talked to the Northwestern Shoshone, these were women who mainly came to the forefront. These were women who they see as change-makers in their own communities. And not just their communities, they affected Utah and the nation,” Watkins said.
Richmond was the first African American to graduate from college in Utah and attended what is now Utah State University. She earned a degree in home living, textiles and foods. Despite being college-educated, racial discrimination kept her from working in her field until 27 years after she graduated.
Parry belonged to the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone and wrote down the oral stories she learned from tribal elders to preserve them for future generations.
“Collectively Mignon and Mae, their stories are really, really important, because they add a sense of the women who faced more obstacles due to their ethnic backgrounds and due to the times they lived in,” Kitterman said.
One story Parry worked to share was the true story of what was once called the Battle of Bear River.
Although this was the largest massacre of native people in the United States, the name and popular narrative around the event suggested it was a fair fight. Through Parry’s efforts to share what really happened, the name of the event changed to The Bear River Massacre.
“Both of those women are so strong in the sense that they accomplished really great things in a time when they didn’t have a lot of support from their communities to do that,” Kitterman said.
Watkins said she hopes the book will make it easier for people to locate the stories of people like Parry and Richmond so the tales will not be lost to history.
“Let’s keep their stories at the forefront as opposed to having to dig them up again and again,” Watkins said.