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Utah Suffragette Martha Hughes Cannon A Step Closer To US Capitol's Statuary Hall

Julia Ritchey
A statue of Martha Hughes Cannon stands outside the Utah State Capitol.

Utah is one step closer to sending a new statue to Washington, D.C., to display at the U.S. Capitol. The Utah House on Wednesday agreed to send a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the nation’s first female state senator.

Cannon was a pioneer in more ways than one. The turn-of-the-century Utahn was a physician, a Mormon and a leader in the suffragette movement. In 1896, she ran for a state senate seat against her husband and beat him, becoming the country’s first female elected lawmaker.

Now, many lawmakers believe it’s time for Utah to honor Cannon. Under a resolution that easily passed the House, her statue would join the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall collection by 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment.

“In the year 2020, there is no better person than Martha Hughes Cannon, she is the right person to be honoring at the right time," said Rep. Becky Edwards, the House sponsor.

Only three House members voted against the proposal, preferring to keep early television inventor Philo Farnsworth at the Capitol alongside Brigham Young. Those are the two statues currently on display from Utah — each state gets just two.

Many women, young and old, sat in the gallery to watch the vote, wearing buttons and t-shirts that said #SendMartha.

Lisa Halverson, an adjunct professor at BYU, dressed up as a turn-of-the-century suffragette with a long black skirt, grey hat and sash that said “Votes for Women.”

“It just gives me hope and excitement for the future,” she said after the vote. “So many of our young, teenage girls were involved in the #SendMartha campaign, and I’m excited that they could feel proud for their efforts.”

Supporters said Wednesday’s vote was especially symbolic: It was the 140th anniversary of the first ballot ever cast by a Utah woman, Seraph Young, in 1871.


Editor's Note: A version of this story that aired incorrectly stated Utah was the first to extend women the right to vote. That distinction belongs to Wyoming; Utah was a close second.


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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