Descendants Of Utah Suffragists, Civil Rights Activists Reflect On Their Ancestors' Work, Influence
“With everything going on in today's political world and in the world in general with our pandemic, what would she think? What would she tell me to do? What kind of actions would she be taking and what kind of actions should I be taking and am I taking? I need to carry on her legacy. It's almost like, I don't want her to haunt me.”
Emily Wessman is the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Ann Pugsley Hayward, an early Utah lawmaker who introduced the resolution to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Utah state Senate in 1918.
As a child, Wessman grew up learning about her ancestor who had a special interest in the rights of women and children. As an adult Wessman says Hayward's legacy shapes many of the choices she makes-- from voting in every election to advocating for children with disabilities to receive needed educational accommodations.
“I cannot turn my back on what's happening in this world because it's uncomfortable or
I'm confused or I don't know what to do,” Wessman said. “I need to be involved. I need to know what is going on in this world.”
For Rosa Melendez and Mignon Mapp the influence of two of Utah's civil rights activists goes beyond family stories-- its memories of mentorship and support.
Rosa Melendez is the daughter of Edith Melendez. Edith was born in Colorado to Mexican immigrants in 1925. Her family moved to Utah when she was two and as an adult, Edith advocated for the rights of women and minorities in her home state.
“She was funny. She was embarrassing. She was a fighter. But you know, she was the greatest role model I could have ever, ever grown up with,” Rosa Melendez said.
One of Edith’s passions was fighting against police brutality. And while Rosa said she didn't realize it at the time, her mother's influence is why she went on to have a career in law enforcement in Seattle, where she worked to build bridges between police departments and local communities as well as employ women and minorities.
“I am the person she created from birth,” Rosa said. “From teachings, from watching her fight. I was born to be the leader that she raised.”
Mignon Mapp, who goes by Nikki, is the great-niece of a Mignon Barker Richmond, the first African-American to graduate college in Utah. Richmond was also a human rights advocate and cared deeply about improving life for children of all backgrounds.
“She was the kind of person, you hear people always say, ‘don't say what needs to be done, be the person that makes the change.’ You know, if you see a change, be the person that makes that change,” Mapp said. “And that's really the kind of person she was. She did everything in our power to try to make things better.”
While Mapp was growing up, she lived with Richmond off and on throughout the years. Her great aunt taught her to sew and cook and Mapp observed the way Richmond served others and work to better her community.
“Mostly everything about me was influenced by her,” Mapp said. “And so it's hard to just pick one area. I know even in my career, I've worked at one time for Granite Mental Health as the liaison with the Black community and also with the Spanish-speaking task force. I think, you know, the fact that I enjoyed those kinds of things was her.”
While Mapp and Melendez watched the work of some of Utah's civil rights activists firsthand and Wessman grew up hearing stories about her great-great grandmother's advocacy, Alysa Revell didn't learn about her family's ties to the suffrage movement until she was an adult.
Revell’s great-great-grandmother is Louisiana Heppler, a suffrage leader from Sevier County.
“It was really exciting for me, as a feminist in Utah in you know 2020, now to find this great-great-grandmother, who had also been a woman's rights advocate,” Revell said.
Even before learning about who her biological great-great-grandmother was, Revell was passionate about women's issues, such as the Equal Rights Amendment. Knowing Heppler also worked for women's equality brings added meaning to the causes Revell is concerned about.
And it makes her want to continue on in her legacy.
“I'm not the first outspoken woman in my family and we went back a long ways for that,” she said. “And it also makes me feel a little bit more resolved to continue that fight to the future. There are still so many different areas in which we can work and really make a more perfect union of this country that we love.”
To learn more about Utah's early suffragists, civil rights activits and other female leaders, visit utahwomenhistory.org.