WOW Museum: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage


Utah

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Timeline

1870-   Utah Territorial Legislature approves full suffrage, enfranchising 17,179 female voters.

1873-   Congress passes Edmunds Act, disenfranchising U.S. citizens in plural marriages.

1887-   Congress passes Edmunds-Tucker Act, disenfranchising all Utah women.

1889-   1889 Utah Woman Suffrage Association formed.

1890-   1890 Mormon Church issues manifesto, officially abandoning polygamous marriage.

1891-   1891 Rocky Mountain Suffrage Conference held in Salt Lake City. Male voters approve full women's suffrage by large majority.

1896-   1896 Utah statehood approved by Congress. Utah becomes third suffrage state in the United States.





Martha Hughes Cannon

Doctor Martha Hughes Cannon (1857-1932), Utah suffragist, State Senator, and physician.
Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved

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Martha Hughes was born in 1857 in Llandudno, Wales. Tragedy followed the family's three-month trip in a covered wagon to Salt Lake City, when both Martha's sister and father died. At a young age, her thirst for education led to dreams of being a doctor. By age fourteen, Martha was a schoolteacher. She soon learned typesetting skills, landing a position at the Women's Exponent, a women's rights newspaper in Salt Lake City. She supported herself during her college years at the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), completing a chemistry degree. Her academic prowess earned her admission to the medical school of the University of Michigan, from which she graduated as a physician at age twenty-three. Throughout her college and medical school years, Martha was a "working girl" -- she washed dishes, made beds, and worked as a secretary to support her education.

Martha entered pharmacy school at the University of Pennsylvania where she was the only woman out of seventy-five students. Unconventional and out of fashion, she cut her hair short to save time and wore men's boots to keep her feet dry during a period when women's fashions dictated undue discomfort and fuss. She was outspoken, dramatic, and often intimidating for a young woman of her day.

At age twenty-five, Martha returned to Salt Lake City to pursue medical career. She established the first training school for nurses and became a resident physician at the newly founded Deseret Hospital. There she met Angus Munn Cannon, superintendent of the new hospital, and the couple married on October 5, 1884.

Shortly after the wedding, Angus was arrested by federal marshals for practicing polygamy, sending Martha underground to avoid prosecution herself. With a new baby girl, Elizabeth Rachel, Martha hid in wagons traveling from town to town in Utah to avoid arrest. She spent two years in exile in England when she learned that Angus had married his fifth wife. Her marriage to Angus became more strained as the couple remained separated, though she longed to return to her home and husband in Salt Lake City.

Dr. Cannon finally returned to Salt Lake City with a new commitment to women's rights and self-sufficiency. She threw herself into the work of the Utah Equal Suffrage Association. By1896, Utah women had regained the right to vote through passage of a suffrage clause in the new state constitution. The political life suited her so much that Cannon ran against her own husband, winning the first woman's seat in the Utah State Senate in 1896.

Cannon's term in office was a success. She spearheaded funding for speech- and hearing-impaired students, establishment of a state board of health, and a law regulating working conditions for women and girls. The birth of Cannon's third child came at the end of her second term in office. Following her lawmaking career, Dr. Cannon served on the Utah State Board of Health until she retired from public life to move to California.

At age seventy-five, Cannon died in Los Angeles on July 10, 1932. The Martha Hughes Cannon Health Building in Salt Lake City was dedicated in her honor in 1986. The Utah Capitol Rotunda houses an eight-foot-high bronze statue of Dr. Cannon, dedicated in 1996, one hundred years after her pathbreaking election as state senator.