The Utah State Capitol “Sends Martha to Washington”

Every state has mottos and symbols to represent that state’s whole, general vibe. Consider Florida, for instance. Florida’s state reptile is the American Alligator, and, as the state with the fifth highest median age, Florida’s state song is “Old Folks At Home.” Each state also picks two people to represent them in Washington, D.C., and I’m not talking about electing U.S. Senators. Rather, the National Statuary Hall collection contains more permanent representation (although a few forever-senators have tried to give them a run for their money). 

The selection of the statues is an opportunity for each state to put its best foot forward and highlight its favorite sons and daughters. Not every state gets it right the first time. Several Confederate officers have lost their spots in the National Statuary Hall…as well as Philo Farnsworth, a former resident of Beaver, Utah and the inventor of the television. 

Why give Farnsworth the boot? Well, a few years ago, we were approaching the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Utah, which was the first state (well, territory) where women cast their ballots. To commemorate the occasion, the Utah State Legislature, after encouragement from the non-profit group Better Days 2020, passed a resolution to replace poor, old Farnsworth with Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. 

Cannon was the first-ever woman elected to a State Senate. She was also a medical doctor, suffragist, mother and Mormon Pioneer. Not only did Cannon check all of the “Utah” boxes, but she also reminded people that Utah used to be first for women. Maybe it could be again. At the time of this publication, Utah has once again ranked the worst state for women (according to WalletHub’s analysis, “Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality”), thanks in part to a significant gender-wage gap and political representation gap. 

To address this reputation, the Utah State Legislature “sent Martha to Washington” to stand next to our other statuary representative: Brigham Young, a man who loved women so much that he married 56 of them and once complained of women who didn’t particularly like polygamy, “I do know that there is no cessation to the everlasting whining of many of the women in this Territory.”  

In sending Martha to Washington, D.C., Utah is also addressing the realization that not much of the art in the nation’s capital is of women, and, as many have pointed out before, the few women who are depicted are not real people; they’re fictional like Betsy Ross or embody concepts like Justice, Truth or Victory. Women in the National Statuary Hall include a few more recent additions like famed aviator Amelia Earhart (who replaced a statue of some Kansas senator in 2022) and educator and civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. She’s the first Black woman depicted in the National Statuary Hall collection. Florida chose her to replace a statue of a Confederate general in 2022. That’s become something of a trend as well. Student civil rights leader Barbara Rose Johns will eventually fill a vacancy for Virginia left by a Confederate whose name rhymes with Bobert B. Pee, and Arkansas plans to remove both of its statues of white supremacists and replace them with civil rights activist Daisy Bates and singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. 

All told, currently 11 out of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall collection are of women. Once Martha Hughes Cannon joins them, it will be at least 12. She was supposed to head to Washington in 2020, but the pandemic delayed her trip until further notice. At last check, she’s still standing in the Utah State Capitol building, if you’d like to visit her before she leaves. Until then, Mr. Farnsworth stays on his pedestal a little longer. 

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

Similar Articles