Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News
A statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the first woman to be elected to a state senate in the United States, at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.

Utah ought to place a statue of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon in Washington’s Statuary Hall, a move that would require removing the current statue of Philo T. Farnsworth.

We understand and appreciate the affection for Farnsworth and his accomplishments. Utah should continue to honor him in a variety of ways, and Utah schoolchildren should be taught of his accomplishments.

But just as the honor for Farnsworth brought attention to his contributions, the time is right to shine a light on Cannon.

Events of the past year have taught the nation about the importance of how it honors its history. Communities nationwide, especially in the South, have struggled over the value (or lack of value) of keeping prominent statues honoring Confederate Civil War figures, and how the values those figures represent fit in with the values those communities cherish.

History matters. It helps to define a people and it highlights noble memories in an effort to inspire future deeds.

Cannon’s place in Utah’s history has for too long remained in the shadows. Bringing it forward in the form of one of the two statues the state is allowed in the hall would bring it to light. That is especially important as the nation prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.

Utahns should be reminded that the state and its people were far ahead of the national curve when it came to valuing women in the public square. Cannon, a wife and mother, became the first female state senator in the nation in 1896, the first year Utah was a state. She was elected over her own husband, Angus Cannon, receiving 10,288 votes to his 8,054. Significantly, fellow suffragist Emmeline B. Wells also was a candidate in that race.

As a testament to the value diverse representation brings to a governing body, one of Cannon’s first bills required employers to give female workers in the service industry a place to rest during breaks, something nobody apparently had thought to do before.

She also sponsored a bill during that session establishing a state board of health, something with far-reaching consequences. And she helped found a state school for the deaf and blind.

Today, Utah ranks 36th nationally for the percentage of women in its Legislature. Cannon’s story could help inspire Utah women to enter public service.

Cannon also was a physician, earning her medical degree from the University of Michigan in 1880, a time during which such a thing was a rarity for a woman. She later earned a second medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and later a degree in oratory.

20 comments on this story

Utah should do more to honor the memory of this important person from the era of the state’s founding. Placing her statue in the nation’s capital would send a positive message to women and young girls, as well as bring much-deserved recognition to someone who earned it in spades.

The state’s other statue, of pioneer leader, prophet and first territorial governor Brigham Young, should be a permanent fixture given his outsized impact on Utah. But there is room to now enshrine Cannon, bringing recognition to a remarkable woman whose memory has for too long skirted around the edges of state history. It’s time for state lawmakers to rectify that.