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Utah Senate Votes To Send Martha Hughes Cannon To Washington

Utah Division of State History

Utah will likely send a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon to the U.S. Capitol, after the senate passed a resolution to replace a current statue of inventor Philo Farnsworth, with one of Cannon, an early Utah politician and women's rights activist. 

Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, is sponsoring the bill to honor her in the U.S. Capitol.

“The goal would be to place Martha Hughes Cannon in [Statuary] Hall as part of the 100th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote,” Weiler said Monday, referring to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Cannon became the nation’s first woman elected to a state senate in 1896, when she ran against her husband, Angus Cannon, and won. She was also a physician who helped create the Utah Department of Health and a polygamous wife.

Each state gets two statues in the nation’s capital. Brigham Young is Utah’s other statue.

Weiler said money for the project would be raised independently.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, spoke in support of the resolution, saying on a recent trip to Washington D.C., she noticed that artwork depicting women was largely symbolic, representing ideals like liberty and justice.

Credit Nicole Nixon / KUER
Philo Farnsworth's statue in the U.S. Capitol.

“There were no real women represented,” Henderson said. “I started to look around Washington for evidence that we have had great women in our country, and that evidence is hard to come by.”

Seven lawmakers voted against the bill. Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said he didn’t want Cannon’s life “politicized.”

“I cannot support this thing,” Christensen said. “Though she was a fine person, I am not voting against motherhood and womanhood. I simply support Mr. Farnsworth as the state representative.”

Farnsworth is credited with inventing early technology used in the electric television, baby incubators and radar.

“It’s not about Philo,” said Jen Christensen with Better Days 2020, a group celebrating women’s history and the anniversary of their right to vote.

“He was a great man, he did great things for the state of Utah. But it’s time to tell other stories,” she said.

Ultimately, the Senate approved the S.C.R.1 by a vote of 21-7. It will now be considered by the House. 

As for Farnsworth's statue currently residing in the nation's capitol, Weiler said several cities, including Lehi and Farnsworth's birthplace of Beaver, as well as public television station KUED, have expressed interest in giving the statue a new home. 

Many Utah lawmakers wore yellow roses on their lapels on Monday in support of Cannon and the women's suffrage movement.

The symbol dates back to 1920, when Tennessee became the state that would decide the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Suffragists sported yellow roses, while opponents of the amendment wore red roses. Tennessee ended up ratifying the 19th Amendment by a single vote. 

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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