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Brushes of greatness

The "Utah Women 2020" mural in downtown Salt Lake City, commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, features more than 250 women, including University of Utah alumni, faculty and staff.

On Feb. 14, 1870, at the corner of 100 South and State Street (where the Wallace Bennett Federal Building currently stands), Seraph Young cast a vote in Salt Lake City’s municipal election making her the first woman in the United States to cast a vote under the law. Of course, it would be another 50 years until the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in federal elections.

To commemorate the 100-year anniversary of that momentous change to the U.S. Constitution, Zions Bank commissioned a public mural depicting some of the great women of Utah. Just one block to the west of where Young cast her ballot 150 years ago, more than 250 prominent women from Utah's past and present adorn the side of the Dinwoodey Building. Among that group are scores of University of Utah alumni, faculty and staff. Below are some of their stories.

Maud May Babcock

Known as Utah’s “First Lady of Theatre,” Babcock was also the first female faculty member of the University of Utah. Born in New York, she began her career at the U in 1892, teaching oratory and speech. She went on to found two departments—physical education and speech—chairing one of them (also a first for a female at the U). In 1895, Babcock produced and directed "Eleusthenia," the first theatrical performance by a university in the United States. Aside from dramatics, she also made her presence known in the theatre of athletics, coaching the University of Utah’s women’s basketball team until 1900. She remained active in local and regional theatre her entire life, served as president of both the National Association of Teachers of Speech and the Board of Trustees for the Utah State School for Deaf and Blind and retired from the U in 1938 at the age of 71.

Erika George

A graduate of the University of Chicago and Harvard Law, Erika George began teaching at the S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2003, specializing in human rights and international law and policy. Her current research explores the evolving responsibilities of business enterprises to respect human rights, various efforts to hold corporations accountable for alleged rights violations, and efforts by corporations to fill voids in global governance. Today, she continues to teach Utah law students as the Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law and serves as the director of the Tanner Humanities Center at the U.

Kristen Ries

As an infectious disease physician in Utah in the 1980s, Kristen Ries was at the forefront of treating patients at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was a time when the disease was highly stigmatized and for many years Ries and her physician assistant Maggie Snyder were the only medical professionals in the state who would care for AIDS patients. In 1994, she joined the University of Utah’s Division of Infectious Diseases, where she set up an HIV clinic that continues to serve patients to this day. This year, the U awarded Ries an honorary doctoral degree, the highest honor given by the university.

V. Kim Martinez

It's fitting that University of Utah Fine Arts professor and alumna Kim Martinez would be featured on the 55-foot Salt Lake City mural. That's because Martinez is a renowned muralist in her own right, whose work can be seen across the Salt Lake Valley. For instance, in 2018, she and her students created nine murals for the Murray School District. “We met with fifth- and sixth-graders to develop drawings,” she told 15 Bytes Magazine. “We gave them painting prompts: ‘What’s your favorite thing in school?’ ‘Where do you go for safety?’ ‘What do you like to do?’” The result was a menagerie that incorporated the children's ideas and the history of the City of Murray.

The Utah Women 2020 mural was a collaborative effort. Each of the 264 portraits was stenciled during three-hour workshops held throughout the state. The lead in such an endeavor was Jann Haworth, a Salt Lake City resident and artist known for her contribution on the cover art for The Beatles' “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” who also created "SLC Pepper," the mural on 400 West between 200 South and 300 South.

“We found out how effective the stencil process is—in terms of it really welcomes people who have no artistic experience,” Haworth told the Deseret News.

All in all, 178 people worked on the mural. Fitting how a project honoring so many who contributed to the community would be created by the collective efforts of the community. Something Young would be proud to see.