BY SARAH LANGSDON
Elizabeth Averett Vance was born in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, in 1905 and moved to Ogden at the age of 12 with her family. After graduating from high school, Elizabeth operated a teletype for the Southern Pacific Railroad for seven years until she married John Vance, a train conductor for the Southern Pacific. Her first introduction to politics came in 1930 through the candidacy of Elva Wilkinson, the democratic contender for the post of Weber County Recorder. As a reward for her work on the campaign, Elva made her deputy recorder. Work in the Democratic party began to significantly influence Elizabeth’s life.
In 1941, Elizabeth had to fight for her position as chief deputy in the county recorder’s office over the objections of Chairman J.W. Arrington. Arrington objected because Elizabeth’s husband was gainfully employed. “I feel that with approximately 10 calls each day to my office of persons needing employment and with families to support, that I cannot consistently approve the selection of Mrs. Vance.” He didn’t think married women should be hired and work for the salary of $120 a month.
Elizabeth was very active in the Democratic party. She was a five-time delegate to national conventions, on the state committee of the Democratic Party, and chairwoman of District 35. She served as county chairwoman for two terms and as national committee woman and state chairman for the Young Democrats. In 1948, she stepped down as county chairwoman of the Weber County Democratic Convention. It was her desire “to step aside to allow some other woman to take the reins.”
In 1950, she announced her candidacy for the House of Representatives. She ran on the platform of four musts: legislation with teeth that will curb sex crimes, just labor laws, adequate care of the old folks in the state, and a four-year Weber college. She won the election and was the first woman from Weber County in 46 years. She became the first woman to be appointed to the House Appropriations Committee in her first term in the legislature. She also had memberships to house committees on labor, welfare, public buildings, and state hospital in Provo. She was also the first woman elected to serve as party whip.
During her time in office, Elizabeth had the respect of both men and women for her grasp on state issues and social problems. In 1954, she was appointed by the State Welfare Commission as a member of a committee to study the divorce problem in Utah and make legislative recommendations. She co-sponsored the bill that aimed at providing counseling services to couples. She also voted to lower the voting age to 18, for more funding to education, and to make Weber a four-year college. She once stated, “Without good legislation, we can’t have a good state. By making good laws, we have a better state in which to live and rear our children.”
She continued to serve the Democratic Party until 1965, when she resigned her legislative seat to become an investigator for the Utah Industrial Commission that dealt with employment discrimination. She felt strongly about this issue, having fought with the Governor who ignored her because she was a woman. “If this is the attitude of our governor toward women of this state, then a great injustice is being condoned by our silence. I call on the women of Utah and the men of Utah who have pride in their women to resolve that women be given equal recognition for their work.”
In 1981, Elizabeth was honored for 51 years of continuous service to the Democratic Party. She became known as “Mrs. Democrat.” She said that she had met and worked with every Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Elizabeth passed away in 1988 in Ogden.