The first woman elected to a state senate anywhere in the United States was here in Utah. Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon was elected in 1896 in the first year when women were given the right to vote for the second time in Utah. She is a fascinating personality who accomplished incredible things in a life that seemed to defy stereotypes. 

She was an immigrant, a doctor, a polygamous wife, a suffragist, a gifted speaker and a mother of four. When she was elected to the senate as a Democrat, she actually defeated her husband who was running on the Republican ticket. 

This woman was fascinating. She grew up in pioneer Utah after migrating with her family in 1861. Brigham Young encouraged young women to go to school and study medicine. She did, ending up at the University of Michigan where she was the only female in her class. As a doctor she returned to Utah and set up her own medical practice.

Married as the fourth wife to Angus Cannon, she went through the anti-polygamy period in the United States where the government took away the right for women to vote. She then became a proponent in the suffrage movement to restore that right. 

When she served in the state legislature, she didn’t just sit around basking in being the first woman senator to serve. She passed legislation that improved public health and sanitation, passed laws regulating work conditions and increased funding for education. During that time, she even gave birth to her third child.

Utah should be proud that this incredible woman who made the beehive state her home. They recently commissioned a statue of her in the State Capitol. This is a well-deserved honor. 

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Gallery Credit: Joni Sweet

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