Mormon women wrote and published a newspaper for and about Mormon women. The paper had a small circulation and was replaced with the Relief Society Magazine shortly after the newspaper declined.
In 1872, a unique publication for women emerged in Utah. The Woman’s Exponent was a newspaper by and about Mormon women. It was owned and operated privately, but as the work of faithful Latter-day Saint women, it generally represented views consistent with those of the LDS church. It championed suffrage and education for women, defended polygamy, reported church news, printed information of interest to women, and perhaps most important, encouraged its readers to submit their own writing, whether it was a report of local Relief Society activities, an essay, a poem, or even a serialized novel.
Edward L. Sloan, editor of the Salt Lake Herald, developed the idea of a women’s newspaper and hired the first editor, Lula Greene, a young woman from Smithfield. She was in the position for two years, after which Emmeline B. Wells took over and remained the editor for forty years. Wells became a powerful voice for women’s issues and was an important figure in the women’s suffrage movement both locally and nationally.
The Exponent reached beyond the borders of Utah to women in other parts of the country, including non-Mormons. A letter from an Indiana reader appeared in the paper in August 1876, saying in part, “The women of your community cannot be much oppressed, when they have the right of suffrage, and a paper entirely devoted to their interests. That is more than we can say, for we are not allowed to vote even on questions directly concerning us.”
The Exponent never had a circulation of more than one thousand. When it began to decline in the early part of the twentieth century, Wells proposed that it become the official organ of the women’s Relief Society of the LDS Church, but that proposal was declined. The Exponent published its last issue in 1914. The church began publishing its own Relief Society Magazine the next year.
Emmeline B. Wells (1828-1921) worked for forty years as a writer and editor for the Woman's Exponent, a semi-monthly periodical established for Mormon women, and was active in the women’s suffrage movement and politics. She was General President of the LDS Church Relief Society and a plural wife. Image courtesy Utah State Historical Society.
See Leonard J. Arrington, “Blessed Damozels: Women in Mormon History,” Dialogue 6:2 (Summer 1971): 22-31; Sherilyn Cox Bennion, “The Woman’s Exponent: Forty-two Years of Speaking for Women,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 44 (1976): 222-239; and Alfene Page, Woman’s Exponent: Cradle of Literary Culture among Early Mormon Women (Master’s Thesis, English, Utah State University, 1988).