The Woman’s Exponent was a newspaper exclusively for women published by women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church) from 1872 to 1914. This was the first newspaper to be owned and operated by Mormon women. The idea for the publication was first discussed among leaders of the Relief Society, the Church’s women’s organization, and was eventually brought before local newspaper man Edward L. Sloan. Sloan, editor of the Salt Lake Herald, greatly supported the idea for a woman’s newsletter and nominated Louisa Lula Greene, who was twenty-two at the time, editor. Louisa accepted under the condition that her time spent on the newspaper be considered a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ.
The Woman’s Exponent was an eight-page, three-column quarto newspaper and published bimonthly. The mission of the paper was broad: to address every issue and need pertinent to women. If the paper had any specific cause it was to promote and advance women and their families. The publication was not owned by The Church of Jesus Christ but was approved by general church leaders. Woman’s Exponent published news stories and editorials alongside creative works written by Mormon women. It also provided reports on other organizations within the Church.
The exact circulation of the Woman’s Exponent is unknown, but its influence spread far beyond its humble origins in Salt Lake County. Mormon women all throughout the country found support and encouragement in their varying roles, including some women’s roles in polygamous marriages. (The official practice of polygamy was discontinued by The Church of Jesus Christ in 1890 and is no longer condoned in any form.) Many Mormon women found it bolstering to receive such validation through non-church-owned sources.
The Woman’s Exponent was a major force in advancing the cause of women’s suffrage at the turn of the century. Emmaline Wells, one of the women responsible for operating the paper, especially supported women’s political rights. Though Utah allowed its women citizens voting rights as early as 1870, the federal government didn’t grant women’s suffrage until 1920. Wells advocated women participating in politics on a national scale and insisted that their voices were crucial to the decisions made in the federal offices. General church leaders like President Brigham Young supported these views and believed the Woman’s Exponent to be an important social publication to advance the cause of women everywhere.
The Exponent underwent some financial problems in the early 1900s and eventually appealed to the Relief Society, asking to be adopted as the organization’s official news outlet. The Exponent was denied acceptance into the secure umbrella provided by The Church of Jesus Christ and ceased publication in 1914. Despite its eventual demise, the Exponent succeeded in running for forty-two years and served as an important voice for Mormon women in a time when women’s rights were front and center on the political stage.