Some young, and very determined, constituents visited the Capitol yesterday with a mission. They came as a Girl Scout troop, along with leaders Alicia Mercer and Jevonne Tanner, for a tour of the Capitol and to learn about the way our government works, but that wasn’t all. Their main goal? To do some in person lobbying for the resolution replacing one of Utah’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol Statuary Hall, one representing Philo T. Farnsworth, with a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon. They knew their stuff. They knew Martha Hughes Cannon was the first woman in the U.S. elected to a state senate. That she beat her husband in the general election. That she was a doctor, a mom, and founder of what became the Utah Department of Health.
Oh, they also knew that Martha Hughes Cannon was a fighter. And that she spent a lot of her energies fighting so girls like them could do something very special in just a few short years. Vote.
They also knew that over 100 years ago there were a whole lot of women in Utah just like Martha Hughes Cannon who were involved in the suffrage movement to bring women the right to vote. Martha, called Mattie by her friends, was one of their leaders, along with Emmeline B. Wells, Zina D.H. Young, Sara M. Kimball, Ruth May Fox, and Emily Richards. These girl scouts knew something many Utahns don’t, that Utah women played an important role in bringing women the vote and were very real partners with other activists we’re more familiar with like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
We sat in the Rotunda and talked about how some things in Utah are the same as back in the day when the Capitol was built 101 years ago and how lots of things have changed. The nice folks with the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center who had a display table set up in the rotunda showed us some old fashioned Utah hospitality and gave the girls brownies. Utah–this is the place! Most of the girls were my constituents, but a few actually live in the area of Bountiful represented by Rep. Ray Ward, who just happened to wander by as we were talking in the rotunda. Time for a picture 🙂
Off to the Senate chamber where we ran into our Sen. Todd Weiler and Sen. Jerry Stephenson, who gifted the girls a wonderful commemorative coin with a depiction of Martha Hughes Cannon on one side. These are one of a kind and will be a special remembrance for the girls.
Of course the highlight of the House chamber was the painting depicting the first woman in the U.S. to vote. On Feb. 14, 1870, Seraph Young, a 23 year old school teacher and niece of Territorial Governor Brigham Young, stopped by on her way to work to make some history by doing something that had never been done before. Dropping her ballot in a box.
Feeling mighty proud to be a Utah woman with this troop of girl scout power by my side!
The girls had written notes and illustrations for Rep. Mike Noel, the chair of the Rules Committee, who would be voting the next day to place the “Martha Hughes Cannon” resolution into a House committee. Remember the part about their goal? Well, we went in search of Rep. Noel. He was still in a committee, but we were able to see another member of House leadership, Rep. Mike Schultz, who took time to accept the letters on behalf of Rep. Noel and even confided he might be keeping a few of them on his own desk. He asked the girls why they liked Martha and their answers were short and meaningful:
“I think if Utah had Martha’s statue I think people will see that women can be amazing leaders, too.”
“It is an example for me that I can do anything I want.”
“I think it is a really good idea to replace the Philo statue with Martha because women are not as noticed as the men are.”
Then just to be fair we thought we might go pay our respects to the statute of Philo Taylor Farnsworth on the 4th floor of the Capitol. While we were there, guess who should walk by on the way out of his committee? Rules chair Rep. Mike Noel! He was as kind as could be to this group of girl scouts and stopped and talked to them for quite a while. He shared with them the amazing contributions Philo Farnsworth made to Utah and the world in the area of television, radio, telescopes, and even baby incubators. Philo was a remarkable individual and his statue has represented Utah in the U.S. Capitol since 1990. The statues representing each state were never intended to be housed there permanently, and there are provisions to change them out as state’s desire. In the next week we will have the chance as a legislature to vote on if it is time to bring Philo T. Farnsworth home and send Martha Hughes Cannon to Washington.
If this determined girl scout troop from Bountiful has anything to say about it, we’ll all have a new face to welcome us to the U.S. Capitol next time we visit: Martha Hughes Cannon!