Author: Thomas, Shirley W.
The Woman's Exponent (1872-1914) was the first publication owned and published by Latter-day Saint women. An eight-page, three-column, quarto (10 inch x 13 inch) newspaper, it was issued bimonthly, or in later years, monthly. During the forty-two years of its publication, Louisa Lula Greene (1872-1877) and Emmeline B. wells (1877-1914) served as editors. Although not owned by the Church, the Exponent had the approval and encouragement of the General Authorities of the Church.
First discussed among Relief Society leaders, the idea of a newspaper exclusively for women came to the attention of Edward L. Sloan, editor of the Salt Lake Herald. Not only did he agree with the prospect, but he actively promoted it, suggesting twenty-two-year-old Louisa Lula Greene as editor and the Woman's Exponent as a possible name, and offered help in the form of editorial advice and actual printing until the paper could become established. Reluctant to become the editor because of her lack of experience, Greene said she would consent if her great-uncle, President Brigham Young, would call her to the position as a mission. This he did and gave her a blessing as well.
The number of Exponent subscribers is uncertain (perhaps reaching to one thousand or more). However, its influence within, and sometimes outside, the Church was greater than its circulation figures would suggest. One writer declared that it wielded more power in state politics "than all the newspapers in Utah put together" (Tullidge's Quarterly Magazine, p. 252). If not quite that important, the paper was widely read and much quoted. Without question, it was a forceful voice for women.
Loyal to the Church and its leaders, the Exponent often carried editorials defending the practice of polygamy. The paper's independence made its case the more persuasive since, as one outsider observed, the writers were obviously not "under direction" or "prompted by authority" (Bennion, p. 223).
To the editor of a Chicago paper who wrote of her "amiable and liberal spirit," then-editor Greene responded, "Had we treated it in any other spirit than that of womanly frankness and courtesy we should have done discredit to our home education as well as to the religion we profess, and consequent injustice to our own conscience" (Woman's Exponent 2 [Aug. 15, 1873]:44). While this reply may have been of some benefit to Chicago readers, such editorials undoubtedly had their greatest value among LDS women who, reading their own feelings articulated with such surety, were fortified in their sometimes difficult roles.
Principally under the direction of Emmeline B. Wells, the paper vigorously supported woman suffrage and often wrote about it, although the women of Utah had initially been granted voting rights two years before the Woman's Exponent began publication. The Exponent was also a force in the successful effort to have the voting franchise included in the 1896 Utah Constitution. Many other items also found their place, but the topic most often discussed was women's roles, with a closely allied subject of education for women: "the brain should also be instructed how to work, and allowed to expand and improve" (Woman's Exponent 1 [Oct. 1, 1872]:69).
Woman's Exponent was not a single-cause paper, unless that cause might have been women and their families. The first edition stated: "The aim of this journal will be to discuss every subject interesting and valuable to women" (Woman's Exponent 1 [July 15, 1872]:32). A detailed index of items published during its forty-two years in print reveals how remarkably this purpose was followed.
Along with editorials and articles, the paper published original poems, short stories, and essays written by LDS women and others. It carried regular reports of the primary, retrenchment/M.I.A., and Relief Society activities throughout the Church, and published a number of the Society's histories, one written by Emmeline Wells.
Just before the turn of the century, the Exponent began having financial problems. In 1914, Wells offered the paper to the Relief Society as its official organ, but was turned down, and the Exponent ceased publication in February of that year. It had fulfilled its role in "speaking for women," as it promised it would in the first issue. For forty-two years, Woman's Exponent was the voice for women in the Church. The Bulletin, and subsequently the Relief Society Magazine (1915), became the official organ of the Relief Society.
Bennion, Sherilyn Cox. "The Woman's Exponent: Forty-two Years of Speaking for Women." Utah Historical Quarterly 44 (Summer 1976):222-39.
"Emmeline B. Wells." Tullidge's Quarterly Magazine 1 (Jan. 1881):250-53.
History of Relief Society, 1842 -1966, pp. 95-96. Salt Lake City, 1966.
Robinson, Phil. Sinners and Saints. Boston, 1883.
SHIRLEY W. THOMAS