Government officials honored the memory of an early Utah woman Aug. 17 by dedicating a new conference room in the Salt Lake City and County Building in her name.
Joining with civic leaders and others to dedicate the Martha Hughes Cannon Room on the third floor of the more than 100-year-old building was Relief Society Gen. Pres. Elaine L. Jack, who offered brief remarks. Also addressing the gathering were Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini; Russell Cannon, president of the George Cannon Family Association; Dr. J. Louis Schricker Jr.; and Jane Edwards, executive director of the local YWCA.Martha Hughes Cannon, who immigrated to Utah in 1861 as a Mormon pioneer child, became the first woman to hold a state senate seat in the United States in 1896, being elected to the Utah State Senate the same year Utah received statehood.
In addition, as a pioneer doctor, some of her greatest achievements were in the area of public health. Through her medical and political careers, she led the movement to correct problems of sanitation and disease in Utah. (Please see accompanying article for more information on the life of Martha Hughes Cannon.)
Attending the ceremony were members of the Cannon family, including Martha Hughes Cannon's granddaughter, Helen Cannon Ovard. Sister Ovard, 83, wore on her left lapel a diamond and pearl pin the state legislature presented to the woman state senator upon her retirement.
In her remarks, Pres. Jack said that Martha Hughes Cannon is an "outstanding example" of the contributions – both inside and outside the home – of LDS women since the organization of the Church in 1830.
"When I see the qualities of her life being emulated in the lives of women today, then I know that heritage is appreciated," she noted.
Pres. Jack also spoke of the pioneer woman's devotion to her husband, Angus Cannon, and to her children. "Even though Martha's professional careers were very demanding on her, her husband and her children were always of greater importance to her."
She related: " `Mattie' wanted to improve the situations of others: their health, their working conditions and, particularly, their political equality. This room is full of women who have benefited from that desire.
"Probably the most compelling quality to me was her desire for the education of the disadvantaged," Pres. Jack added. "She was the one who inaugurated the legislation that gave education for the dumb, the deaf and the blind. Can you imagine the world that she opened up to those people by championing that kind of education?"
In speaking of education, Pres. Jack referred to the Church's Gospel Literacy Effort. "There are still so many in the world – many of them women, and many of them in this country – who do not have the tools to improve their circumstances. The Gospel Literacy Effort, as President Gordon B. Hinckley states, is going to live on in the lives of generations yet to come, just as the contributions of Martha Hughes Cannon have influenced the lives of our generation and will continue to influence them."
Recognizing the contributions of the early state senator, Mayor Corradini said: "Martha Hughes Cannon not only served her state, but also her leadership in the areas of public health and women's suffrage are an example to all Utahns. Her involvement in community service and her concern for others is an example from which all young people, especially women, have learned."
Speaking for the George Cannon Family Association, Brother Cannon noted that in the Church, women are given many opportunities for personal development and service. "Any intelligence we attain in this life will stay with us hereafter. Martha Hughes Cannon understood this, and because of that she contributed greatly to this region and to women and to residents of Utah."
Ms. Edwards called the early Mormon doctor an "independent free-thinker. Bold in her actions and unconcerned with convention, Martha Hughes Cannon was a compassionate human rights activist who moved Utah forward."