Republican Spanish Fork Sen. Deidre Henderson said a 550-pound bronze statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the first elected female state senator in the country, that will eventually be housed in in the National Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol will inspire future generations and be “held up as an allegory to inspire others who face barriers and discrimination, injustice, uphill battles and seemingly lost causes.”
Henderson joined other state lawmakers on Monday in unveiling the statue, which stands at 7 ½ feet and was built by copper donated by Rio Tinto and designed by American Fork-based artist Ben Hammond, at the Utah State Capitol, where the statue will be temporarily housed.
“Like so many things this year, this is not exactly what we had in mind when we thought about unveiling Martha Hughes Cannon in the Capitol,” Henderson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said at Monday's press conference.
But temporarily keeping the statue in Utah has its upsides, Henderson said, including that students on field trips at the Capitol will have an opportunity to learn more about the iconic women’s suffragist, who was elected to the Utah Senate in 1896.
“Hopefully the school children who, hopefully, will be able to come visit us during the legislative session this upcoming year will be able to see her, learn about her and be inspired by her, as well,” said Henderson. “Which wouldn’t happen quite so easily if she were 2,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.”
Henderson, who co-chaired the Martha Hughes Cannon Statue Oversight Committee, said the project was partially inspired by her visit to a reading room at the Library of Congress where “there were beautiful statues all around the room … of men and women.”
“But what struck me was that each of the 16 bronze statues represented important and accomplished men, such as Beethoven, Plato, Shakespeare and Moses,” she said. “But the eight plaster statues of female figures in the room only depicted allegorical women that represented symbols of civilized society, such as religion, commerce, law and history.”
Henderson said she looked around the rest of the Library of Congress for “depictions of real women, and they were few and hard to find.”
“So this begs the question: does the lack of representations of real women in American iconography mean that there are very few women who have done anything worthy of being remembered in such a tangible way, or is it perhaps that our history is a reflection of who is doing the telling, and what stories and lives and events the teller chooses to focus on?” she said.
During the 2018 legislative session, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, sponsored a concurrent resolution to initiate “the replacement of the state’s statue of (TV inventor) Philo Farnsworth in the United States Capitol with a statue of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon.”
The resolution, which also established the nonprofit statue oversight committee, passed 21-7 in the Senate and 67-3 in the House and was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March 2018.
Henderson said she and other advocates for the statue replacement “weren’t sure that we had the necessary votes to get it passed in the Senate where it started, and there were quite a few people who took this bill kind of as an insult to Philo Farnsworth.”
“They took it that way maybe rather than (as) a celebration of Utah’s firsts during this important (100th) anniversary at the year of the (passage of the) 19th amendment," she said.
Democratic Murray Rep. Karen Kwan, who co-chaired the statue oversight committee with Henderson, called Monday “a historic day” and said she believed the statue would “inspire generations of women, generations of ... Black, Indigenous (and other) women of color, to continue to speak out, to continue to represent (and) continue to be present as we work together to fight for equity and equality for the betterment of all Utahns.”
“Though she may not say much today, she speaks volumes,” said Kwan.