Dozens of women, young girls and men adorned in the signature yellow suffrage rose flocked to the Gold Room in the Utah State Capitol this afternoon to celebrate the bill that allowed a new statue of Martha Hughes Cannon to replace the statue of Philo T. Farnsworth in the U.S. Capitol last year.
The bill to create the statue passed one year ago today. Sareth Young became the first woman to vote in the state of Utah 149 years ago, according to Sen. Deidre Henderson. To commemorate these events, the Martha Hughes Cannon Oversight Committee announced it selected artist Ben Hammond from 25 applicants to sculpt the statue.
Hammond came to the stand to share his excitement for the project.
“I am very honored. First and foremost I would like to thank the committee for putting this together,” he said. “I am very humbled to be chosen. This isn’t about me, this is about Martha.”
This is not the first time Hammond has been involved in helping women gain representation. He said he learned about Cannon when he worked on the Women’s Walk statue for UVU.
“As I studied about Martha’s life and many other amazing women in the state of Utah, I kept thinking to myself, ‘Utah is awesome.’ We have been way ahead of the curve for a long time and this will be a fantastic opportunity,” Hammond said.
Hammond’s sculptures are displayed around the country and he has received various awards, including the Gloria Medal and the Beverly Hoyt Robertson Memorial Award in 2015 and the Bronze Medal Award at the National Sculpture Society’s Annual Awards Exhibition in 2013.
Hammond has been commissioned to highlight one or more of the qualities the committee identified that Cannon demonstrated during her life, including vision, courage, strength, determination and compassion. The statue he creates will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol in 2020.
Dozens of current and past female legislators gathered to show their support of Cannon, also wearing yellow roses. Rep. Melissa G. Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, became emotional during the speeches delivered by Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, and former Rep. Rebecca Edwards, co-chairs for the Martha Hughes Cannon Oversight Committee.
“Today I was thinking about my daughters,” Ballard said. “Every opportunity that we have today is because of the women who came before us and have paved the way and blazed the trails. They are women who exemplify hard work but also love for this community and their families. It’s the opportunity that I have to do the same for them to build up our community and strengthen it so they have even more opportunities.”
Cannon was the first woman in the U.S. to be elected as a state senator. She was unique not only for the precedent she set but also for the fact that she defeated her husband, Angus M. Cannon, during the campaign in 1896. Cannon held many roles during her life according to Edwards, including acting as a doctor, mother, senator, suffragette, wife and advocate.
As she ran against her husband, the Salt Lake Herald reported, “Mrs. Mattie Hughes Cannon, his wife, is the better man of the two. Send Mrs. Cannon to the State Senate and let Mr. Cannon, as a Republican, remain at home to manage home industry.”
Edwards celebrated two bills Cannon helped pass during her term as a senator, both of which stand as law today. One regarded Utah artwork. The other regarded public health and banned teachers with tuberculosis from classrooms.
“She used her opportunities and created possibilities for her to be a difference-maker. When the opportunity came for her to run for office, she grasped it with both hands and never looked back,” Edwards said.
Edwards clarified that Cannon stood among many women who were elected the same day. Two women were elected to the House and eleven women were elected to county and local positions across the state.
“She worked tirelessly among those sisters across the state to do good things and then translated that effort towards the suffrage movement,” Edwards said.
House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King said he feels it’s important for Martha Hughes Cannon to be represented in the U.S. Capitol.
“More than half the population in the state are women, three-quarters of the caucus that I lead are women,” King said. “The impact of women in our lives is obviously critically important. I am happy to see Martha Hughes Cannon get the recognition she deserves. She deserves the credit we are giving her and more, and so do women. It’s critical that we do a better job of acknowledging their role and their accomplishments and what they mean to us in our lives.”