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Utah House passes resolution for Martha Hughes Cannon statue in U.S. Capitol

Utah State Senator Martha Hughes Cannon is pictured. Cannon was the first woman elected to a State Senate in the United States.
Utah State Senator Martha Hughes Cannon is pictured. Cannon was the first woman elected to a State Senate in the United States.
Utah State Historical Society

SALT LAKE CITY — Start packing your bags Philo T. Farnsworth, because Martha Hughes Cannon might be moving in.

The Utah House overwhelmingly passed a resolution Wednesday to replace Farnsworth with Hughes in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, where each state is allowed to display two notable people in their histories. The other Utah statue is of Brigham Young.

"She is the right person to be honoring at the right time," said Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, the House sponsor of SCR1.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said Cannon is one of her role models and the perfect person to memorialize in the nation's Capitol.

"Sending her statue back to Washington sends a clear signal to Utahns and to people across the country that the accomplishments of women are just as important as the accomplishments of men," she said.

A polygamous wife, doctor, women's rights advocate and suffragist, the Welsh immigrant was the first woman elected to a state senate in the United States, defeating her own husband for the seat in 1896.

The resolution asks the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress to approve the change. Another bill would create a group to oversee commissioning a Cannon statue for the hall in 2020. Private donations, not tax dollars, would fund the project.

The House passed the bill 66-3 with an amendment, prompting cheers from the gallery packed with supporters of the legislation. It now goes back to the Senate, which passed the previous measure 21-7 late last month.

Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, said there are a lot of negative things happening between men and women right now, and honoring Cannon is a positive move.

"The timing is perfect," she said. "Let us celebrate the opportunity that we as women have been given and let that shine for our children and our grandchildren, no matter whether they're a young man or a young woman."

The resolution calls for the statue to be placed in the U.S. Capitol in August 2020 in commemoration of the month of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote, but Utah was the first state in which a woman cast a vote. State lawmakers are considering special license plates commemorating women's suffrage in Utah.

A school class in the 1980s petitioned the Utah Legislature to place Farnsworth, the inventor of television, in the hall after it discovered the state only had one statue at the time.

Farnsworth will always be remembered in science and history books, said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay.

"Martha Hughes Cannon not so much," she said.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, unsuccessfully tried to amend the resolution to revisit the choice of Cannon in 10 years. He said the statue designations aren't meant to be permanent but placed in the hall on a rotating basis.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, urged his colleagues to pass the resolution without strings attached. He said it celebrates and recognizes a critical time in the nation's history and critically important person in Utah history.

"We are doing the resolution to make a statement in writing to the world," he said.