Six Progressive Utah Women Making Waves

In honor of Women’s History Month, Utah Stories is celebrating Utah women by naming some of the most influential women in the Salt Lake area.


In honor of Women’s History Month, Utah Stories Magazine is celebrating women of Utah by naming some of the most influential women in the Salt Lake City area. The following categories are represented: politics, humanitarian aid, advocacy, fashion and influencers. 

Politics: Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake City Mayor

Erin Mendenhall was elected to serve as the Salt Lake City Mayor in 2019 and began her service in 2020. Mendenhall is loved by many Utahns for her work in women’s rights and her ability to face difficulties in her work with grace and passion. 

“Something I look up to Erin for, and a big part of why I work for her, is the way she approaches the layers and expectation traps women in leadership often encounter,” said Mendenhall’s colleague Lindsey Nikola. “They have to wear so many different hats and pivot from one to the next seamlessly … ” 

While Mendenhall’s time as mayor has been praised by many, it has also been criticized by some. Ty Bellamy, a well-known activist for homelessness in Salt Lake City, says that Mendenhall’s efforts to end homelessness haven’t been enough to solve the problem.

“Mayor Mendenhall took this job knowing well that Salt Lake is an epicenter of homelessness in Utah,” Bellamy told Utah Stories. “Salt Lake City has had a serious homeless problem since she was elected, and still, Mendenhall is not showing the courage to change the inhumane policies in place.”

Humanitarian Work: Gail Miller

Gail Miller has played a major role in the business and humanitarian world of Salt Lake City. She and her husband, Larry Miller, formed Larry H. Miller Charities in 1995, and owned the Larry H. Miller group of companies for decades. When Larry passed away in 2009, Gail took over as chair of the Larry H. Miller group and has used her role as chairwoman to accomplish great things for the community.

In 2021, Larry H. Miller Charities donated $30 thousand to Jordan School District, and the money was split up to help many families in need. 

In the same year, the Gail Miller Resource Center also donated $10 million to help homeless resource centers in Salt Lake City. She also committed to a $100 million private/public initiative to renovate and build affordable housing in the Ballpark Neighborhood after the Salt Lake Bees (under the Larry H. Miller Group) decided to move to South Jordan, although the details have yet to be confirmed.

Most recently, the Miller Foundation provided meals and clothing to more than 3,000 unhoused and food-insecure members of the community. 

Advocacy: Stephenie Larsen, founder of Encircle

Stephenie Larsen saw a need for a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth in Provo, Utah and started Encircle in 2017. Encircle is an LGBTQ+ center that provides resources like therapy, friendship circles, courses, and support groups for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. 

The first Encircle home opened in Provo on Valentine’s Day in 2017, and has since added two new homes one in Salt Lake City and another in St. George. 

Larsen’s love for the LGBTQ+ community is what led her to start Encircle, which has served more than 100,000 people since it started in 2017. She is well-loved for the life-saving resources she has made available to so many LGBTQ+ individuals and families throughout the community.

Fashion: Kylee Middleton, founder of Piper & Scoot

When Kylee Middleton, founder of Piper & Scoot clothing company, created an Instagram account to start selling her own clothes she didn’t wear anymore, she had no idea it would take off into a full-time clothing business.

“We started Piper & Scoot back in 2014,” said Middleton. “My husband and I had just gotten married and moved into a studio apartment together and I didn’t have enough closet space for all of the clothes that I had collected over the years, so I started selling off my clothes on Instagram. Eventually, I ran out of used clothes to sell and began to purchase packs of new clothes in higher volume to continue to sell through the channel I had created.”

Middleton’s determination and creativity have led Piper and Scoot from its Instagram beginnings in 2014 to four retail stores in 2023. 

“Don’t let anyone tell you how to do it,” said Middleton. “Starting a business is not a prescribed experience. It needs to be authentic in order to be sustainable, otherwise, you’ll be working to appease someone else’s timelines and game plans for you.” 

Influencers: Jane Williamson ― The Utah Mom

Jane Williamson has made her mark in the social media world as “THE Utah Mom.” She pokes fun at the recently trending “Utah mom” stereotype that includes things like Stanley mugs, a Swig obsession, uniquely-spelled children’s names, and decorating way too early for Christmas. 

“I love following Jane on Instagram,” said one of Williamson’s followers, Hannah Graves. “Her content is so hilarious and relatable and it’s nice to have lighthearted reels on my feed.”

Williamson is well-loved by many Utahns and her Instagram reels have been viewed by millions. Those interested in learning more about the “Utah mom” stereotype can follow Jane on Instagram (@jane) and TikTok (@janeinsane_).

Food: Amber, Utah’s Eats and Sweets

Amber, of Utah’s Eats and Sweets, has always enjoyed the foodie scene. When she lived in Salt Lake years ago, she started taking pictures of food she liked at different restaurants. She continued to develop that hobby as she moved around the country.

“I moved to New York City a few years ago and took pictures of food for Yelp,” said Amber. “I started following food accounts and would go try those restaurants. I then moved to Denver and, at the time, I was just putting all my food pictures on my personal Instagram. My friends suggested that I make a food-specific account and put all my pictures there. I started that separate account in 2018 and called it Mile High Food Fairy since I was living in Denver, the Mile High City. In 2020, I moved back to Utah and decided to keep the name and continue taking photos and videos for restaurants around Utah.”

One of Amber’s favorite parts about running Utah’s Eats and Sweets is introducing followers to new restaurants.

“The fun part is helping people find places they end up loving,” said Amber. “There are a lot of local spots that I am able to show people. It’s fun to show them what’s unique and branch out. 

Amber’s desire to help bring attention to local restaurants and eateries is one thing that sets her apart. She said this is one of the most rewarding parts of running foodie social media accounts. 

“It’s rewarding to see that my content increased their sales,” said Amber. “It’s a real effect. It’s cool to see that all these people follow me, go to these places, and use my recommendations.”

Amber has enjoyed seeing the impact social media has on the businesses she features.

“One thing I’ve learned is the power of social media,” she said. “You don’t need to have millions of followers to have an impact. It’s been really fun to run this account and I’ve met a lot of great people. It’s awesome to be able to see businesses get a lot of visibility and more customers and repeat customers all because of a video or photo that I created.”

Utah’s Eats and Sweets can be found on Instagram and TikTok by searching @milehighfoodfairy. 

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