A pioneer, doctor, suffragette, senator and polygamist could soon represent Utah in the U.S. Capitol

Posted at 2:36 PM, Jan 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-29 20:28:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah State Senate wants to send a woman to Washington.

A pioneer, doctor, suffragette, senator and polygamous woman.

Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon (photo via Utah State Historical Archives)

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, would replace the statute of TV inventor Philo Farnsworth representing Utah in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall with Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. (The other statue representing Utah is Brigham Young.)

"Every woman in the state past, present, future has been blessed by her and her efforts," Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said as she spoke in favor of the resolution.

Dr. Cannon is an icon in Utah history. A pioneer, physician, plural wife and suffragette, she became the first woman in the Utah State Senate in 1896. She famously ran against her own husband for the office -- and beat him. Dr. Cannon founded what later became the Utah Department of Health, spoke out for women's suffrage and once fled the state to avoid testifying about being her husband's fourth wife.

Recently, there's been a push to replace Farnsworth in the U.S. Capitol. Activists have lobbied to "Send Martha to Washington," arguing it sends a strong message to women and girls across Utah.

Philo Farnsworth (photo via Utah State Historical Archives)

"It’s not about Philo. He was a great man, he did great things for the state of Utah. But it’s time to tell other stories," said Jen Christensen of Better Days 2020.

Emily Walsh with the League of Women Voters said Dr. Cannon would be a fitting representative of Utah in Washington, D.C., where statues of women aren't plenty.

"There's all these women statues there, but they’re allegorical. You have 'Lady Liberty,' you have 'Justice.' We need a real woman there. And a real woman that comes from Utah sends a powerful message," she told FOX 13.

On the Senate floor, people sported yellow roses in support of the resolution. It hearkens back to the "War of the Roses" over the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Pro-suffragette legislators wore yellow roses, while anti-suffragette legislators wore red roses. Based on the number of roses it was 48-48, until Tennessee lawmaker Harry Burns changed his vote to "aye," granting women the right to vote, according to an account read on the Senate floor.

He was forced to flee out the third-story window of the Capitol to escape angry crowds.

Supporters who want a statue of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon in the U.S. Capitol sit in the Senate gallery. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

It was far less dramatic on the Utah State Senate floor on Monday, but Farnsworth had plenty of supporters. Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, evangelized Farnsworth's many inventions from the television to incubators. Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, accused his colleagues of "politicizing the life of this fine woman, and I can’t agree with it!"

"I think to change it is not the best way to spend our time," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said Farnsworth was born and buried in Utah and his inventions have helped the entire world.

"I realize I’m the only woman senator in this body that is not wearing a yellow rose. I am not known for being politically correct," she said.

The resolution passed 21-7 and now goes to the House for consideration. Sen. Weiler said he expected a robust debate again, but emphasized he was not denigrating "Philo phans," as he called them. He also insisted any funds for a new statue would be privately raised.

On Monday, many lawmakers across the Capitol wore yellow roses to show their support.

"She was a real woman who smashed real glass ceilings," said Sen. Henderson.

Sen. Henderson has also introduced Senate Bill 119 that creates a special women's suffrage license plate in Utah.