Cannon Family Historical Treasury Published by George Cannon Family Association 1967

MARTHA HUGHES CANNON

1857-1932

By Elizabeth Cannon Porter McCrimmon
(Her Daughter)

Martha Cannon “Mattie” 1857-1932 Wife of Angus M. Cannon; physician; first woman state senator in United States; lecturer on health and government; promoter of women suffrage.  

Martha Hughes Cannon is widely known for many achievements among women of the West. Among these distinctions she was the first woman to be elected state senator in the United States. After the Democrats had nominated her in 1896 for her first term of office, the Republican Party nominated her husband for the same office. But it was the wife who was victorious in the ensuing election. Two years later she was re-elected for a second term.  

This young woman of unusual abilities and driving ambition was born July 1, 1857, at Llandudno, Wales, the second child of Peter Hughes, a Welshman, and his English wife, Elizabeth Hughes, a Welshman, and his English wife, Elizabeth Evans. 

The family embraced the Gospel and later sailed for the United States. In the trek across the plains, Annie, the third baby, died; and three days after they reached Salt Lake Valley, the father also succumbed. His widow later married James J. Paul.  

Fired by the desire to relieve the sickness she saw about her, Martha, or “Mattie” as she was called, set out to become a doctor. To accomplish this end, she worked at typesetting (Deseret News) for five years and sold her organ, one of the first to be brought across the plains. In 1878 she presented her diploma from the University of Deseret to the University College. There she washed dishes and made beds in the dormitory to help pay her way. Two years later she graduated as an M.D., then practiced medicine to gain the needed funds to enter the University of Pennsylvania, where she took a Bachelor of Science degree, the only woman in a class of seventy-five men. To help her in the public speaking she planned to do educate the public the need for better health standards, she also took a Bachelor of Oratory degree.  

On her return to Utah in 1882 Dr. Hughes became resident physician of the Deseret Hospital. There she served for three years. On October 6, 1884, she became the fourth wife of Angus M. Cannon, president of the board of the hospital. The following year, to avoid religious persecution, she took her infant daughter to Europe. While there, she helped in the Church mission under Daniel H. Wells. She also visited hospitals in Britain, France, and Switzerland, obtaining textbooks that she later used in the first nursing school established in the intermountain country, which she founded.  

Skilled, well groomed, and popular, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon conducted a large practice, first from an office on State and South Temple streets, and later from her home on South Temple and First West streets in Salt Lake City. To make her calls on her many patients, she drove a carriage drawn by fast horses from her husband’s well-stocked stable. Once a horse she was driving ran away, tipping over her buggy and causing her to have a miscarriage.   

With the birth of her son, James Hughes Cannon, May 19, 1890, she took her children and again went into exile, this time going to San Francisco for more than two years. On her return to Salt Lake City, she specialized in women’s ailments and nervous diseases.

 During the two terms she served in the State Senate, she introduced bills to prohibit the sale of liquor to minors and to require merchants to provide seats for their saleswomen. She sponsored a pure food law and an appropriation for a hospital for the deaf, dumb, and blind. She also successfully sponsored a state medical bill that put the sanitation of the entire state on a working basis and created the State Board of Health. Dr. Cannon later served with distinction on the State Health Board and on the board of the Utah School for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, which she had helped to create. 

Accompanying William Jennings Bryan, she spoke throughout the West in the interest of his free silver program. She also delivered an address at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago on the subject of woman’s suffrage. Later (1898) she appeared before a congressional committee in Washington to defend this cause. 

 In 1920 she became vice-president of the American Congress of Tuberculosis and was appointed to the overseas Medical Service by the Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, two days before the armistice that brought fighting to an end in World War I in November 1918.  

The birth of her daughter Gwendolyn on April 17, 1899, marked the end of Dr. Cannon’s political career, but she never regretted giving it up. She always took excellent care of her children. During the various changes of personnel among the cooks and “hired girls,” her children were sent as paying guests to their Grandmother Paul.  

Dr. Cannon’s later years were divided between her daughter’s (Elizabeth Porter) husband’s ranch in West Salt Lake Valley and the home of her inventor son, James H. Cannon, in Los Angeles. In the final five years of her life she maintained and managed her own home in Los Angeles. She worked at the Graves Clinic. She also raised substantial sums for the orphans of the Middle East.  

Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, M.D., B.S., was always a devout Latter-day Saint and a lifetime Sunday School teacher. She died July 10, 1932, in Los Angeles, aged 75 years, leaving a mark seldom matched and never surpassed among Latter-day Saint women of her time.  

Children of Martha Hughes Cannon: Elizabeth Rachael Cannon (Mrs. Roy Stillman Porter, later Mrs. George A. McCrimmon), born September 13, 1885. James Hughes Cannon, born May 19, 1890; died March 20, 1950. Gwendolyn Hughes Cannon (Mrs. Gerald Churchill Quick), born April 17, 1900; died December 28, 1928.