Today was a momentous day for Utah. The Utah House passed SCR 1, Concurrent Resolution Recommending Replacement of Statue of Philo Farnsworth in United States Capitol, the resolution that moves a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon to Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, to join Brigham Young, as the two statues representing the state of Utah.
Sen. Todd Weiler and Sen. Deidre Henderson are both sponsoring bills to recognize Utah’s role in the suffrage movement. Sen. Henderson is sponsoring SB 119, Special Group License Plate, that creates a new recognition special group license, “First to Vote,” plate to recognize and commemorate women’s suffrage. Sen. Todd Weiler was the Senate sponsor on this the Martha Hughes Cannon statue resolution, SCR 1, and I was pleased to be the floor sponsor in the House.
There was a tremendous outpouring of community support for this effort. Girl Scouts and young girls wrote their State Representatives, sharing how the example of Martha Hughes Cannon inspired them and because of her example the girls knew they could accomplish anything. One girl shared her aspiration to be the 3rd female President of the United States. She is 11 years old. American women better get busy.
Pictures of members of the public, including supporters from BetterDays 2020, Adam Gardiner, former State Representative who was the original sponsor of the resolution before being elected to serve as the SL County Recorder, girl scouts, students, members of the public, Utah Cultural Alliance, League of Women Voters, and representatives of the Women’s State Legislative Council who took a position of support for the resolution. It was a great day all around. We could not have achieved this vote without the support and advocacy from so many, only a few who are pictured here.
But back to Martha. Martha Hughes Cannon is a remarkable woman, with a strong influence that extends beyond our state.
Her resume speaks for itself:
- First woman in the U.S. elected to a State Senate, in 1896, beating her husband Angus M. Cannon in the general election
- Bachelors degree in Chemistry, University of Deseret
- Received medical degrees from University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania
- Bachelors degree in Elocution and Oratory, University of Pennsylvania
As a Senator, Dr. Cannon:
- Founded the Utah State Board of Health, later became the Utah Department of Health
- Founded what later became the School for the Deaf and Blind
- Sponsored legislation on public health, sanitation, and workplace protection and safety
- Supported vaccinations, early childhood education, nursing education
- Advocate for the U.S. women’s suffrage movement
Martha Hughes Cannon is most famous for being the first woman in the U.S. elected as a State Senator. In addition to that, what makes her story a bit more unique is that Martha actually ran and beat her opponent, who just happened to be her husband, Angus Cannon. Mattie and Angus were married during the time polygamy was practiced openly by LDS members in Utah. She was his 4th wife and he was 23 years her senior. Mattie trained in Philadelphia as a physician, returned to Utah, married, had 3 children with Angus, lived for awhile in exile while the government was out to prosecute those living polygamy. Eventually Mattie was able to return to her home in Utah and founded the Department of Health, worked extensively with deaf and hard of hearing students, nursing, and left a big market in the area of public health in Utah.
This is one of my favorite paintings in the House Chamber at the Capitol. It is artist David Koch’s depiction of 23 year old Seraph Young, grand niece of Brigham Young, casting her ballot as the first woman in the United States to vote, on Valentines Day, 1870. Utah granted women the right to vote in late 1869, the second state to do so after Wyoming. Utahs election was held prior to the election in Wyoming, however, and the first woman to cast her ballot in that 1870 election, held on Feb. 14, was a young woman named Seraph Young. She was 23 years old, single, and stopped to vote before she went on to her day job as a school teacher.
Women’s Suffrage–the right of women to vote–was actually won twice in Utah. After being granted in 1870 by the territorial legislature it was revoked by Congress in 1887 as part of the Edmunds-Tucker Anti-polygamy Act, which among other things, revoked women’s right to vote, along with the effort to rid the territory of polygamy. It was restored in 1895, when the right to vote and hold office was written into the constitution of the new state.
Throughout this time many prominent Utah women were involved in the women’s rights movement as advocates and suffragists, working with national leaders. On November 3, 1896, following the reinstatement of a womans right to vote in 1895, Utah distinguished itself again by electing Martha Hughes Cannon as the first female State Senator elected in the United States. Cannon defeated her own husband, Angus Cannon, who was also on the ballot.
Artist David Koch writes about his treatment of the subject matter in the Seraph Young painting. His account:
This mural is about two windows; Two windows of opportunity that were opened in Utah history. The first window was opened in the Salt Lake City Hall on Valentine’s Day in 1870. Twenty three year old Seraph Young was the first woman to cast her ballot in the Utah Territiories and quite possibly in boundaries more far reaching. This municipal vote took place without much fanfare or publicity and was short lived. This window was closed in 1887 when Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Antipolygamy Act.
The second window of women’s suffrage would be opened largely due to the efforts of three visionary women: Emmeline B. Wells, Sarah M. Kimball, and Emily Richards. These women championed this cause for women by climbing the staircase of adversity, prejudice, historical culture, opposition of top state leaders and national government and resistance to change. The challenge to open this second window was accomplished one hard fought step at a time. Today we must climb these same stairs in order to improve the quality of life now and to provide a better future for our children.
This article by provides background to the ways early Mormon Utah women were involved in the suffrage movement. Utah History To Go also includes a thorough account of the ways Utah women contributed to the suffragette movement.
Additionally, this 1995 Deseret News article highlights the many women who paved the way by dedicating their life to equality and suffrage.
This Valentines Day, as we think of the people and things we love and cherish, I cherish and am grateful for my right to vote and for all the people who made that a possibility. Just one of the many things I love about Utah.