Turning 102 years old in January 1996, Margaret Bearnson recalled her election to the Utah Legislature in 1944. She told the Deseret News' Susan Whitney that she and her husband were visiting in Virginia when she received a postcard saying she had won the primary election.
The family returned home, she campaigned for the general election and won. Bearnson gave up a teaching job to serve in the Legislature at $10 a day, she said. She found that while she was interested in education policy, male legislators were interested in such issues as water.
"Now, Mother," said her daughter, Dorothy, "sometimes they helped you pass your bills."
The state's legislators — sometimes controversial, sometimes hilarious, often hard-working and serious men and women and always colorful — have been recorded in abundant photographs throughout the Deseret News archives.
These rare images show such notable lawmakers as Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, a physician who was elected as America's first woman state senator in 1896. She defeated her husband, Angus, a former mayor of St. George, for the position.
Bearnson wasn't the only one to turn 100 in January 1996; so did the state itself. That year, many of the 104 lawmakers showed up in old-fashioned costumes to celebrate the state's centennial. Senate President Lane Beattie said, "On this 100th birthday, what a great tribute to be in the financial position we are." Times change.
U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, who was to become a Republican nominee for president, came to the Capitol as part of the festivities.
Among the many lobbyists to make a plea to the Legislature was the actor and comedian Bill Cosby, who showed up in 2001 to urge support of a resolution making Jell-O the state's official snack. The official pitchman for Jell-O must have made a good impression, as the resolution passed.
The following year he revisited Salt Lake City with a traveling exhibit about the jiggly desert. At that time the Legislature was considering another resolution in addition to the Jell-O vote, to name the onion as the official state vegetable. Then-Lt. Gov. Olene Walker said there should be some recipe using both ingredients. The paper noted Cosby's response: "Onions and Jell-O — I don't know if it's going to be good."
Photographs with this article are from the Deseret News archives, retrieved by the collector of political and Utah history items, Ronald Fox.
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