Martha Hughes Cannon

Some portrayals of the Western states make it seem unlikely that the first female senator would come from the West, but she did. On November 3, 1896, Martha Hughes Cannon became the first female senator. She represented the state of Utah. However, this election made a name for an already extraordinary woman in history. Cannon immigrated to the United States with her family shortly after they converted to Mormonism. From a young age, she distinguished herself from most 19th century women. She desired to study medicine and was determined to do so. At a time when there were still relatively few female doctors, Cannon attended University of Deseret for chemistry and then the University of Michigan for medicine. She worked as a schoolteacher and typesetter in order to finance her studies. After graduating, she practiced medicine in Michigan. Eventually, after earning another medical degree, she returned to Utah to continue practicing medicine. In 1884, she married another devout Mormon and became his fourth wife. However, in 1886, she took a voluntary exile in order to avoid any evidence of her polygamous marriage. During this two year period, she traveled and lived throughout Europe. When she returned, she continued to practice medicine and teach nursing in Salt Lake City. During this period of her life, she became a prominent activist and suffragette. In 1896, Cannon decided to run for Senator for the state of Utah. She ran as a Democrat and beat out three men, including her husband for the spot. Although she never intended to overshadow her husband but to attempt to make healthcare reforms, she made history all while raising three children. Even though she is best known as the first female senator, the seeds for that success were planted long before when a nineteen-year-old Martha worked her way through college and medical school.



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