Heard on the Hill

Utah Delegation Weighs In on Whether to Send Martha to Washington

Women’s suffrage pioneer Cannon is a ‘friend’ of Hatch and distant relative of Curtis

Utah Rep. John Curtis, middle, wears a shirt supporting Martha Hughes Cannon’s statue as he poses with advocates. (Courtesy Rep. John Curtis)

Martha Hughes Cannon is one step closer in her march to the nation’s capital. The women’s suffrage activist and doctor is being considered for one of Utah’s two statues inside the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

The movement to replace the statue of Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of television, which currently stands in the Capitol, has little to do with people disliking him and everything to do with Cannon’s legacy.

Octogenarian Sen. Orrin Hatch joked that both of them were his “friends.”

“As a dear friend of both Mattie and Philo, I deeply appreciate their prolific contributions and trust the capable hands of our state legislature to determine who to send to our nation’s capital,” Hatch told Roll Call in a statement. 

A resolution to switch the statues passed the Utah state House on Wednesday, with the stipulation that the new one be unveiled in August 2020 — on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. 

Cannon’s journey now heads back to the state Senate, and then on to the governor’s desk.

A relative of Cannon’s and fellow Utah native is already in the Capitol — freshman Rep. John Curtis.

Cannon was Curtis’ wife’s great-grandfather’s wife. She famously defeated her husband in a race for Utah Senate in 1896, making her the  first female state senator.

“I told that on the House floor the night that I was sworn in, and believe me, the women in there loved it,” Curtis said in an interview with Roll Call.

He loves the idea of Cannon in the Capitol.

“One of the most important reasons for this is to inspire young women and to say, ‘Hey, look — in Utah you can have opportunities like this,’” he said.

The congressman added that he would be proud for Utah to be recognized in the Capitol as having the first female legislator.

But, like others in Utah, he has nothing against Farnsworth.

“I’m sure he’s got a family that cares about his legacy too, so I’m trying to be a little bit careful for that,” he said. “But we are big supporters.”

Curtis’ family consists of multiple female politicians.

“Somebody said to me once, ‘Oh, you just don’t like strong women,’ and I said, ‘You haven’t met my wife or my mother or my sisters,’” he said.

Curtis’ mother was the first female president of the board of education in Granite, and his great-grandmother was the first female school district member in Salt Lake City.

His wife served as the president of the Provo school board, and her sister was a state representative while Curtis was mayor of Provo.

 “I want to shout those things from the rooftops,” he said.

Farnsworth’s statue has been in the Capitol since 1990. The Utah towns of Beaver, Lehi and Rigby have been suggested as sites if it is removed from the Capitol.

Utah’s other statue in the Capitol is of Brigham Young, the Mormon pioneer leader and Utah’s first territorial governor.

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