Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. Physician, Suffragette, Mother, State Senator

Happy Women’s History Month!

Another AMAZING woman!

A Welsh immigrant, Martha “Mattie” Hughes Cannon (1857-1932) arrived in the Utah Territory in 1861 to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Bright and independent, Martha aspired to be a doctor when few women even went to college. “In response to Brigham Young’s encouragement to enter the medical field,” Martha enrolled at the University of Utah at age 16, studying chemistry and earning money as a typesetter for the Deseret News and Women’s Exponent. It is here she became immersed in the women’s rights movement.

She earned a medical degree from the University of Michigan, a degree in pharmaceuticals from the University of Pennsylvania (as the only female in the program,) and a degree in Elocution and Oratory. Four degrees by the age of 25!

In Salt Lake City, Martha practiced medicine at the woman-run Deseret Hospital. In 1884 she became the fourth wife to Angus M. Cannon (whom she dearly loved) and was exiled to England when anti-polygamous sentiment was high.

When she returned, the voting rights of Utah women had been repealed (after 17 years). Martha, using her exceptional oratory skills, became an ardent suffragette leader: “No privileged class either of sex, wealth, or descent should be allowed to arise or exist; all persons should have the same legal right to be the equal of every other, if they can.”

After speaking at the Women’s Congress of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, the Chicago Record observed: “Mrs. Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. . .is considered one of the brightest exponents of woman’s cause in the United States.”

The next year she argued at a Salt Lake suffrage meeting: “one of the principal reasons why women should vote—is that all men and women are created free and equal.” 

In 1898, she spoke in Washington, D.C.: “The story of the struggle for woman’s suffrage in Utah is the story of all efforts for the advancement and betterment of humanity.” 

On the ballot as a Democrat, Martha was the first woman in Salt Lake to register to vote, running against friend and suffragette Emmaline B. Wells AND her own husband for the state senate!

SHE WON – becoming the FIRST WOMAN elected to a state senate.

While serving as a state senator, Martha practiced medicine, legislated women’s working class conditions, food laws, and helped establish Utah’s first state board of health. She also had her third child, Gwendolyn, while in office!

She had this to say about being a working mother: “You give me a woman who thinks about something besides cook stoves and wash tubs and baby flannels, and I’ll show you, nine times out of ten, a successful mother.”

Martha was a woman who was always striving: “[L]et us not waste our talents in the cauldron of modern nothingness, but strive to become women of intellect, and endeavor to do some little good while we live in this protracted gleam called life.” 

“There are yet many realms of silence to be made vocal, many scientific truths to be discovered, many arts to be perfected, which require the hearts and minds of women.” -Martha Hughes Cannon

Thank you, Martha.

Stay tuned for more incredible women!

Sources: Zion’s Suffragists by Dianna Douglas and utahwomenshistory.org

If you’re a teacher and would like a lesson plan on Martha Hughes Cannon, check this out from The National Women’s History Museum.


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