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

I love history, but it hasn’t always loved me.

At school, learning made my head feel full but my heart feel empty. In third period, world history sent me around the globe. When we studied China, I felt the bones of my feet crack as my toes (that I thought were meant for running and jumping) were forcibly curled by iron bondages — disfigured in the name of beauty. Foot-binding wasn’t outlawed until 1912.

Psychology took me to secret bathroom trips, two fingers sliding down women’s throats worldwide, thinning us and thinning us until we disappear. Supermodels swallow pills and remove ribs while little girls swallow eating disorders and confidence dysphasia. Eighty-one percent of 10-year-old girls think they’re too fat.

Early morning U.S. history included detailed descriptions of 1950s wives whose smiles never faltered, not even when men sequestered themselves in rooms for cigars, politics and lewd jokes — because it’s not ladylike to think or make noise, or heaven forbid, disagree.

Art history brought me Cabrera’s "Portrait of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz": a child prodigy whose intellect rivaled that of the men. In response to her genuine love of learning, they took her library. Three days later she renounced her learning in a document that was literally signed in her own blood: I, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the worst in the world. As if there is nothing worse in the entire world than an intelligent girl.

With every collected piece of knowledge came the sobering realization that if I was born in a different time period or country, that would have been me. It’s a hard thing to tell a bright-eyed fourth-grader aiming to be president that today there are 31 million elementary school age girls worldwide who are denied access to education because of their gender. It hurts to think that there are precocious girls who love learning just as much as I do that grow up believing they have no place in education. I’m grateful that isn’t my story.

I feel a deep sense of respect and appreciation for the spitfire women of the 1800s, like Martha Hughes Cannon, who took control of history and placed themselves in the narrative. Political yard signs adorn my room and textbooks decorate my bookshelves because something happened right here in Utah that changed me.

Because of the monumental efforts of trailblazers of years past, I have opportunities available to me today that wouldn’t have been afforded to me in virtually any other time. When they spoke up and changed the status quo, they were changing it for all women present and future — our mothers, sisters, daughters. And they were changing it for me. That is a legacy that deserves to be honored. Mother, doctor and legislator, Cannon was everything I am currently trying to be. She did it all, and she did it with grace and tact — 25 years before women could even vote.

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When Sen. Deidre Henderson rose and spoke of standing on the shoulders of Cannon and all the spitfire women before her, I cried. My face was stained with a combination of both gratitude and grief as I considered the opportunities I have today, and mourned the loss of precocious and talented girls whose ideas remain unborn, suppressed by societal restrictions.

This is about much more than one statue or one woman. Cannon symbolizes the generations of young women who have a voice and a say in political, academic and public spheres in addition to their homes, namely, the Sandra Day O’Connors, the Madeleine Albrights, the 17-year-old political junkies who skip school to spend the day watching Cannon’s resolution march on. She changed the world, and I would like to change it for her.