Utah leaders unveil design of new Martha Hughes Cannon statue heading to D.C. next year

The sculptor behind the new statue of Martha Hughes Cannon that will be sent to Washington, D.C., next year unveiled his design Friday at a Salt Lake City celebration of the ratification of women’s right to vote in Utah.

The Legislature voted last year to send the statue of Cannon, the first female state senator in Utah and the nation, to represent Utah in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol, where two figures of historic significance represent each state.

Artist Ben Hammond, of American Fork, was chosen to sculpt her figure, which will replace the likeness of TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth and join Utah’s other representative, Mormon pioneer leader Brigham Young. Her statue will be funded through private donations and support, and is expected to arrive in the Capitol next August to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

A clay mock-up of the bronze sculpture debuted Friday night at the downtown Salt Lake City Library at the “RADification Celebration," which commemorated the 1919 state ratification of women’s right to vote.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The design of the new Martha Hughes Cannon statue was unveiled to the public at a celebration of Utah’s ratification of the 19th amendment, in Salt Lake City on Friday Sept. 20, 2019.

Nonprofit group Better Days 2020, which is dedicated to popularizing Utah women’s history, sponsored the event, which featured storytellers, historic displays, food vendors, a car show, activity booths and a live radio show. Hundreds of people attended, according to a news release.

“This celebration focuses on Utah’s leadership in women’s rights," Better Days 2020 CEO Neylan McBaine said in a statement. "Utah was the first place in the entire modern nation where a woman cast a ballot in 1870. When Utah finally became a state, women’s rights were guaranteed in our 1895 State Constitution and 100 years ago next month, we ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

He added that understanding that history is integral to “shaping the future.”

Cannon was a Mormon pioneer, polygamous wife and suffragette who earned a medical degree from the University of Michigan and defeated her own husband when she won her state Senate seat in 1896. The decision to send her statue to Washington was in part an effort to address the historic imbalance in recognition of women’s contributions to history — a reality exemplified by the fact that there are more statues of men named John in the collection than there are of women.

Fewer than 30 other women have followed Cannon into the Utah Senate and women are underrepresented in other governmental offices, as well. The state 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. And a recent index of sexist attitudes found Utah is the second-most sexist state in the nation.

The collection of state statues in the U.S. Capitol includes 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.