News reports from yesterday’s election indicate that a record number of women will be serving in the U.S. Senate in 2013. But did you know that one of the first U.S. political barriers to be broken by a woman happened right here in Utah?
In 1896, Martha Hughes Cannon was the first women to be elected to a state senate seat in the United States. Born in Wales in 1857, “Mattie” came to Salt Lake with her family in 1861. Mattie had great ambition and determination, working as a schoolteacher and typesetter in order to earn money for college. She received a degree in chemistry from the University of Deseret in 1875, and she went on to attend medical school at the University of Michigan. In 1882, she received a degree in pharmacy from the Auxiliary School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. She also studied oratory, with the goal of becoming a strong public speaker on issues of health.
Mattie returned to Salt Lake City after graduation, where she worked as a resident physician of Deseret Hospital. Mattie was also actively involved in local politics, particularly on the issues of public health and women’s suffrage. In 1896, the same year Utah attained statehood, Mattie ran for state senate on the Democratic ticket. She was one of five Democrats running from Salt Lake County; her husband, Angus M. Cannon, was among the Republicans running for the same seat. Mattie won the election on Nov. 3, 1896, and she served two terms as a strong advocate for children’s welfare and public health.