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Lawmaker Pitches Statue Swap At US Capitol To Give A Utah Pioneer Her Due

Julia Ritchey
A statue of Marth Hughes Cannon currently sits in the courtyard outside the Utah State Capitol. A state lawmaker wants to send her to the U.S. Capitol.

Every state gets two statues to display at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Utah’s are Brigham Young, who you’ve heard of, and Philo Farnsworth, an early television pioneer, who you might not have heard of.That’s why Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler thinks it’s time to retire the Farnsworth statue and replace him with another Utah trailblazer.

Credit Nicole Nixon / KUER
A statue of Philo Farnsworth, a Utah inventor, stands in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. He holds the electric tube that powered early TV sets, which some lawmakers joke looks more like a sausage.

“For me, it’s not about Philo, it’s about Martha,” he says.

That Martha he’s referring to is Martha Hughes Cannon, a turn-of-the-century Utahn who was the first woman to serve in a state senate. A physician, she also founded Utah's health department and wrote many of the state’s early sanitation laws.

“Even though she was a polygamist, she was a feminist of her day," says Weiler. "And she actually traveled to Chicago and some other conferences, I believe on behalf of the LDS Church, and defended, in an academic way, polygamy as a feminist right. ....She’s very intriguing, interesting person.”

Weiler is sponsoring a bill next session — first proposed by former Rep. Adam Gardiner who left the legislature — to switch out Philo Farnsworth for Martha Hughes Cannon.

He says Utah wouldn’t be the first state to do a swap — California switched out one of theirs for Ronald Reagan in 2009 —and the timing’s right.

“There’s been a big push in Utah over the past several years to get more women to run for political office,” he says. “And here’s a woman who ran for political office and beat her own husband 120 years ago.”

Weiler won’t be asking taxpayers to foot the cost of a new bronze, either. If the bill passes, he says he’d work with community groups to raise money to fund the artwork and transportation to deliver Martha Hughes Cannon to Washington.

An informal Twitter poll conducted by Weiler last week showed broad support for the idea, at least initially. He says he's yet to receive any pushback from other colleagues or the public.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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