First Woman to Vote in US Gets Misspelled Tombstone Corrected at Arlington

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert at the ceremony to correct Seraph Young Ford's tombstone
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert attends the Sept. 29, 2020, ceremony to correct the misspelling of Seraph Young Ford's name on her tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1870, she became the first woman to vote in a U.S. election. Facebook photo

For more than 80 years, the name of the first woman ever to vote in an American election was misspelled on her tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery, where Seraph Young Ford was buried alongside her Union soldier husband.

At her graveside Tuesday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and others gathered to honor a forgotten pioneer in the women's suffrage movement, whose first name was mistakenly spelled "Serath" when she died in 1938.

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"Now Seraph's story can be told" for her contributions to women's rights, said Utah State Sen. Deidre Henderson, who attended the ceremony at the now corrected tombstone.

"This was an opportunity to correct the name and acknowledge her important place in history," said Mandee Grant, co-founder of the Better Days 2020 nonprofit in Utah, which did the research and petitioned the White House to have the name corrected.

"Her story is widely unknown, even among Utahns," Grant said.

Grant and Henderson said Seraph Young was a 23-year-old schoolteacher who was on her way to work in Salt Lake City on Feb. 14, 1870, when she made what would become a historic turn into the Council Hall and cast a vote in a municipal election.

About 25 other women are believed to have voted that day, but Seraph was the first, according to newspaper accounts at the time, Grant said.

Utah was still a territory; only two days before, it had passed a law giving women the right to vote. But it would be another 50 years before the 19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote throughout the United States.

"Her historic vote represented a crucial turning point for suffrage equality," Herbert said on Twitter following the ceremony.

In a statement, O'Brien said Seraph Young Ford was "the first woman to cast a ballot in an American election. We all admire the courage of this great American."

She was the oldest of nine children and a grandniece of Brigham Young, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Seraph would marry Seth Ford, a Union Army veteran, in 1872. They moved East, settling in Baltimore. Seth Ford died in 1910 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Seraph died in 1938 and was buried alongside him in Section 13, Grave 89-A.

Following the graveside ceremony, Seraph Young Ford's name was added to Arlington's list of prominent women buried at the cemetery, including Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis; Lt. Ollie Bennett, the first female medical officer commissioned in the U.S. Army during World War I; and Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm, the first woman to serve at two-star rank in the U.S. military.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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