There are nine statues of women in the National Statuary Hall collection in Washington, D.C., where two figures of historic significance represent each state. There are 13 statues of men named John — 14, if you count Connecticut’s carving of Jonathan Trumbull, the only man who served as governor in both an English colony and a U.S. state.
In an effort to address the imbalance in recognition of women’s contributions to history, the Utah Legislature voted last year to send Martha Hughes Cannon — a polygamist, suffragist and doctor who was the first female state senator in Utah and the country — to represent the state in Statuary Hall. And on Thursday, a state committee took its next step in getting her there with the announcement that artist Ben Hammond, of American Fork, will sculpt her statue.
“I’m just grateful to have this opportunity,” Hammond said at a Thursday news conference at the state Capitol. “I promise the family to try to do my best to make it look beautiful, to make it look like Martha and to make something that the family is personally proud of, to represent a wonderful member of their family and [that] the state is proud to have stand in Statuary Hall to make a beautiful image of a wonderful Utahn.”
Cannon’s bronze statue, which will be funded through private donations and support, is expected to arrive in the Capitol next August to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. She will replace television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth. Utah’s other monument is of Mormon pioneer leader Brigham Young.
Cannon’s descendants and past and present female legislators looked on during the announcement, which came exactly 149 years after Seraph Young became the first woman to vote not only in Utah but in all of America. Many wore yellow roses, a symbol of women’s suffrage, to commemorate the occasion.
“Standing here together are the 25 women of the 63rd Legislature — a historic number for Utah,” Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, told the crowd before the announcement. “We are joined by many former legislators and women who are engaged in every aspect of civic and political life. One hundred twenty-three years ago, Martha Hughes Cannon carved a path for us and women all over America to follow. We recognize that we are part of her legacy.”
Over the last 122 years, fewer than 30 other women have followed Cannon into the Utah Senate. And today, Utah routinely ranks at or near the bottom of national equality rankings, based on the low representation of women in government, the state’s pay gap and other factors. A recent index of sexist attitudes found Utah is the second-most sexist state in the nation.
Blaine Brady, the oldest of Cannon’s great great grandsons, said after the announcement that he was “thrilled” to see the statue move closer to completion. He remembers Cannon’s daughter, his grandmother, telling stories about her mother and said he thinks she would be pleased, as well.
“She would say, ‘My mom did this, my mom did that, she was way ahead of her time and doesn’t get the recognition she deserves, when women who did far less get a lot more,’” he recalled. “She would be just thrilled. And Martha would probably think they needn’t bother with all the fuss.”
The oversight committee received 25 applications from artists interested in sculpting Cannon’s statute and interviewed its top five finalists earlier this month: Utahns Hammond, Edward J. Fraughton and Dennis Smith; Jane DeDecker, of Colorado, and Dora Natella, of Indiana. Each was asked to create a small preliminary model or sketch.
“The five finalists were all incredible submissions and it was a really difficult decision,” said Jen Christensen, the sculpture selection committee chair. “What stood out to us was the opportunity to work with Ben Hammond and his ability to sculpt the female figure.”
Hammond’s sculptures are displayed throughout the country and the Idaho native has received multiple awards for his work, including the bronze medal at the National Sculpture Society’s Annual Awards Exhibition in 2013.
The collection of state statues in the U.S. Capitol includes only nine women: Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree, from Alabama; Mother Joseph, a humanitarian missionary from Washington; Esther Hobart Morris, a Wyoming “suffragist"; Jeannette Rankin, Montana, the first female member of Congress; Florence Sabin, a public health pioneer from Colorado; Sacagawea, North Dakota, a guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition; Maria Sanford, a Minnesota educator; Frances Willard, Illinois, a temperance-movement activist; and Sarah Winnemucca, Nevada, who helped save her Piute tribe.