On a summer's night in depression era Los Angeles, hand-torn journal pages feed a fire. Each page holds a story of achievement... but each page also carries stories of pain, stories of family, stories of doubt
I was willing to submit to whatever conditions the God of Heaven saw fit to subject me to. I feel now that the keenness of the ordeal is passed-and so far as I am concerned, it will remain an untold tale.
Martha Hughes Cannon - Doctor, senator, a powerful voice for women, a story to be told.
It's England, in the winter of 1886.
And a young mother, Martha Hughes Cannon is in hiding. She is a physician, but can't reveal her skill. She's married, but cannot be near her husband. She is thousands of miles from home because of her lifestyle in polygamy. Martha Hughes Cannon is in exile.
We are everywhere looked upon with suspicion. It is an absolute fact that a woman can't travel here in Europe with a baby, unaccompanied by her husband, without having that child branded with illegitimacy, and herself looked upon as one who has submitted herself to prostitution...
In the Victorian age, there were definite expectations in society, and they were fairly romantic - the role of women, the role of the men, the servants - this lovely life which masked a lot of stuff going on underneath.
For Martha Hughes Cannon, the clash between romance and faith, between ambition and tradition, would test her throughout her life, propelling her to great heights, breaking barriers both visible and invisible, but at other times, exacting a heavy toll.
For people have said "I had a strong nerve-" when in reality I was nervous. That I "had no feeling," when my pent up feeling like a canker worm was gnawing me internally. That "the storms of life affected me none" and that the "softer emotions of the human heart were unknown to me."
She was born onto the hard land of Wales in 1857.
Her parents poor - and firmly fixed in the sediment of class that was the empire of Queen Victoria.
Peter and Elizabeth Hughes were recent converts to a new American religion - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons, founded in 1831 by joseph smith.
Wanting to join other Mormons building the Kingdom of God in America, Peter and Elizabeth sold all their possessions, packed what they could, and in the spring of 1860, boarded the good ship Underwriter heading for New York.
In tow were their oldest daughter, Mary, and a precocious two year old, Martha Maria Hughes, sometimes called "Mattie".
In order to join the other Mormons, they had to leave behind family and friends, social safety nets; These people really believed that they knew what God wanted them to do, and they were willing to sacrifice everything to do it.
No sooner had the family arrived in New York City, than the pendulum of life swung dramatically. Peter was now gravely ill - and Elizabeth had given birth to a third daughter.
So, here they are in new country, with no money to go any further and Elizabeth took jobs at whatever she could get.
They wanted to be with the other saints, the gathering of Israel, they wanted to gather west and be with the other saints.
"The Gathering" was in the Utah Territory. Using a loan from the Church, the five-member family made their way to Nebraska, where they joined the Horne Company for the thousand-mile trek across the Great Plains. It was sixty days - fifteen miles per day - in the blistering heat of the summer of 1861, as the nation around them exploded in civil war.
The Hughes family shared half a wagon. Peter and the three girls rode, but there was no room for Elizabeth.
And she walked all the way across the plains, sometimes holding onto the wagon while sleeping, because she was just so tired...
As the pioneer train moved through Wyoming, fever spread through the company. Thirty-three died, including Mattie's baby sister, Annie Lloyd.
A young mother buried her youngest daughter in a shallow grave beside the trail - and then walked on.
The company reached the Utah Territory at Big Mountain in Emigration Canyon. For Peter, the vision of Zion from the Big Mountain Site would be his last. The wagon train rolled into Salt Lake City on September 13, 1861.
Three days later, Peter Hughes died. In the space of one month, four-year-old Mattie had buried her sister and father.
I think she swore to herself that uh she would do something about this, that the suffering wouldn't be in vain, that, you know, there must be a way of preventing some of these things that happened... It certainly profoundly affected how she lived the rest of her life.
There are yet many realms of silence to be made vocal, many scientific truths to be discovered, many arts to be perfected, which require the hands and minds of women.
From an early age, Mattie was drawn to healing. In Victorian era America, for a young girl to dream of a career was unusual. The roles of women and men were clearly separate. The woman's sphere defined as home and hearth.
The cult of true womanhood prescribed that women were to be pure, they were to be pious, they were to be domestic and they were to be submissive, and all of the popular advice books, the magazines, the sermons, the-the print culture, the cultural conversations of the day-all took those values and standards completely for granted that this is what true womanhood means.
But the world Mattie lived in was even more complex.
The Utah territory of 1870 was a study in contrasts.
Women were considered "oppressed" by the outside world because of the LDS practice of polygamy - one husband having more than one wife. On the other hand, church leaders, such as
Brigham Young, encouraged women to study and work.
I think we have to recognize and remember that Mormonism grew out of a pretty radical stance towards mainstream America, and so there were always strains and potentials within Mormonism that would buck the norms.
Well, Utah was a perplexing environment for most Americans. And many people condemned Mormons as being barely American even if they were native born, but then there were qualities to Utah life, particularly for women that were enviable by many women throughout America. From almost the first year of settlement, Utah women had rights both in practice as well as legally that most women in America at the time did not have. They had the right to own property on their own, they had the right to establish businesses, they had the right to divorce...
Brigham Young, who was convinced of that status of women, recognized a reality where women had to step up and do more. The men were gone on missions; the women had to financially, emotionally and in every way support their families. So, he would call women to go to medical school, to do various things like that. So, while the theory behind women, the theological theory, may have kept them down in the more traditional Victorian role, the reality of the situation recognized by the way of the church gave the women a lot of freedom, and for example women had the vote in Utah in 1870. They were in the vanguard of this feminist movement for their time,
I know that women who stay at home all the time have the most unpleasant homes there are. You give me a woman who thinks about something besides cookstoves and washtubs and baby flannels, and I'll show you nine times out of ten, a successful mother.
At fourteen, Mattie became a typesetter for the Deseret News, and later, the influential Woman's Exponent. She was exposed to the latest news, and met Utah's most prominent women, including Eliza Roxey Snow, a wife of Brigham Young and recognized leader of Mormon women.
We want sister physicians that can officiate in any capacity that the gentlemen are called upon to officiate.
-Eliza R. Snow
So, Mattie was growing up just at this period when there was a great emphasis on mentoring younger women and on focusing them to really, to dream big about who they could be and what they could accomplish.
With Eliza Snow's encouragement, Mattie set her sights on becoming a doctor.
She enrolled in the University of Deseret, majoring in chemistry. And she continued to work as a typesetter, walking six miles to the office. Bucking the style of the day, she cut her hair short for convenience.
Mattie's mother had remarried. To honor her stepfather, Mattie began calling herself "Martha Paul Hughes". And it was by that name that she first attracted attention.
She has educated herself by her own energy, industry and economy and earned money to defray her college expenses; and her example of diligence and perseverance is worthy of imitation. Miss Paul is a young lady of exceptional ability and deserves to succeed.
--The Woman's Exponent
With the blessing of her family and her church, in the fall of 1878, 21-year-old Mattie boarded a train to attend the university of Michigan medical school. The school had just started accepting women in 1870.
In her pocket was a silk purse presented by Eliza Snow, it held a few gold coins to help her pay her way.
She's willing to take that step into a foreign world, in her case into a man's world to get the training that she needed, and other girls may not have been willing to do that, and of course she chose not only to go to medical school she chose not to go to one of the women's medical schools but to meet the men on their own turf. And those are daunting things for a young girl to do.
What's interesting though, is that in late nineteenth century Mormonism there was a lot of really powerful women, and there was a long tradition of turning to women for healing... So, at some respects what was unusual about Mattie becoming a physician with the MD degree was that she was leaving the traditional province of female healing and entering a male-dominated competitor
19th century medicine was dominated by men. And the notion of men and women studying side by side defied the Victorian dictates of separate spheres.
And you see when women encroach on male-dominated organizations, or structures, or sub-cultures - that men resist in ways that characterize the participants as not truly women and not truly participants, and I think there would have been a lot of resistance to Mattie being a physician in the outside world.
Mattie pushed back, even taking extra night classes in Pharmacology and the new field of Germ Theory. Despite difficulties, she was on track to graduate - an impressed fellow student chronicled her meteoric rise.
I met Miss Mattie Paul Hughes. She is now very busy expecting to receive her Degree as M.D. Is not this welcome news? You would think so if you had traveled the same road through brambles and briars. Although the knowledge is valuable the road is rough and thorny. She has gained the point, and won the prize.
- --Martha Hughes Cannon
--Martha Hughes Cannona Barney
On July first, 1880, her twenty-third birthday, Martha Paul Hughes graduated as a doctor of medicine.
It was my day of days, with 204 other graduates I marched triumphantly onto the great platform, where we were presented with our diplomas amid the cheers of the crowded hall.
--Martha Paul Hughes
She pushed on... becoming the first female student at the University of Pennsylvania's Auxiliary Medical Department, the only woman among 75 students. And her interests spread beyond medicine. She found time to attend the National School of Elocution and Oratory, where she explored public speaking, drama, and theater.
She wants to prepare herself to give lectures on a national stage - lecturing people on how to improve their health and that was the way to do it, and apparently she was a resounding success at the school, at various accounts in the newspaper and from other people that she would have been a great tragic actress and what a disappointment, she decided to stick with medicine. She was naturally dramatic.
Nowhere outside the maternal circle does woman shine in her full glory as on the platform.
In 1882, at the age of 25, Doctor Martha Paul Hughes returned to Salt Lake, ready to live her dream.
She set up a private practice in her parents' home. Soon she was called to be the resident physician at the Deseret Hospital, funded primarily by Mormon women.
If she stood on a professional mountain top she found herself staring into a valley of what might be missing.
Truly the fates seem against all attempts at love and matrimony on my part. I fear I am doomed to maidenhood.
She was no stranger to romance; she had a number of suitors while away at school.
In Philadelphia, a fellow student at the National School, John Hillary, was so smitten that when she went back to Utah, he followed her. He wasn't what she was ultimately looking for in a husband. I mean she broke hearts right and left.
The idea arose very strongly in the nineteenth century, and American society as a whole, of this sense of a soul mate-that there was the one and only, and you found that person and this was the ideal.
The archetypal plot of the American novel that young women of Mattie's generation would have grown up reading was all about the marriage plot - about a young woman who has to overcome her own immaturity, her own limitations - but also outside trials and tribulations - to become a true woman. And the reward for becoming a true woman is to be married to a good, noble, manly-man.
The next step Mattie takes will shape the next fifty years of her life.
It's a step you would not think, if you were writing this as a novel, you would never guess that was what she was going to decide to do...
I believe in polygamy. My mother and father were Mormons, and I am a Mormon.
She chooses a man 23 years older than herself with three wives and 17 children already.
I gazed upon Martha and felt that she was grown for me. And I asked that I might possess myself of her, and know from the intensity of my desire that she would make me truly happy.
Angus m. Cannon was a prominent Mormon Church leader from an influential family, and he sat on the Deseret Hospital Board.
In the nineteenth century it was um preached from the pulpits that a uh man and woman who went into plural marriage would have a higher reward in the hereafter than those who did not.
She and nearly all of the devout young women that she knew in Mormon society had an attitude that they would rather become the wife of a seasoned man who had been quote "tried and tested" in the priesthood, than to become the sole wife of a, of a young stripling who might not be able to pass muster, who might falter, who might not be as devoted to the gospel.
I am not simply satisfied but also proud of my choice...I would rather spend one hour in your society, than a whole lifetime with any other man I know of.
There's no doubt that they were both - fell head over heels, like we would say, you know, the glance meeting across the crowded room - but by taking that step she propelled herself into a world which clashed with her romantic ideal of marriage.
Plural wives look upon marriage as a sacred duty and not as a means of self-seeking vanity. I've heard sentimentalists say that polygamy destroys poetry and takes all the sentiment out of life. Nonsense. A man loves all his wives. He is not in love with just one of them.
In the face of a surge in national anti-polygamy attacks, Angus and Mattie married in secret in the Mormon Church's Salt Lake endowment house in October of 1884. She didn't tell anyone, not even her mother.
As part of its crackdown, the Federal Government assigned hardnosed judges to the Utah Territory. Their mission was simple: crush polygamy.
They also sent a young, ambitious prosecutor by the name of William Dickson.
So, Mattie is marrying right at the beginning of those prosecutions and she runs into it full force. People like William Dickson, what is he doing, he's going after the leaders. And certainly Angus Cannon is one of those, so very early on he is arrested. That creates a lot of stress on that marriage.
In the federal court of Judge Charles Zane, Mattie's husband was convicted of illegally living with multiple women.
I can only say that I have used the utmost of my power to honor my God, my family and my country. I did not think I would be made a criminal for that.
-Angus M Cannon
Angus was fined $300 and sentenced to six months in the territorial prison. As he was led off, Mattie was five months pregnant with a child that could be used as proof for new charges against Angus. She fled to Grantsville where she gave birth to her daughter, Elizabeth, on the fast- developing Mormon underground.
So, you had an environment in which not just two thousand men, but you had thousands of men, women and children who were essentially in a situation of being refugees in their own country.
Mattie's status as a physician put her in the crosshairs of federal investigators. Her role in polygamous births made her a valuable witness. Children were proof of a union. And so, a two hundred dollar bond was issued for her to appear in court.
If it can be proven that these children have actually come into the world, their fathers will be sent to jail for five years. To me it is a serious matter to be the cause of sending to jail a father upon whom a lot of little children are dependent, whether those children were begotten by the same or by different mothers - the fact remains they all have little mouths that must be fed.
-Martha Hughes Cannon
Life on the Utah underground was tough, and determined not to testify, Martha Hughes Cannon chose exile.
I would rather be a stranger in a strange land and be able to hold my head up among my fellow beings than to be a sneaking captive at home.
Under the assumed name of Maria Munn, Mattie booked passage for herself and daughter Elizabeth on the SS Wyoming from New York to Liverpool. Two weeks before she left, Angus took his fifth wife, Maria Bennion. She was six months younger than Mattie.
My Beloved Angus. I wish we could look at the divine part of these things only... but with so much earthiness in our nature this is not always easily accomplished... You recollect I had not reached this point when you left, I mean the forgiving part.
I think she was excited to go; of course part of that excitement was having made the decision not to hide.
Dear Munn. Everything is lovely with us. Had a most delightful voyage, and little Elizabeth has grown an inch since I left Utah. Accept a bushel of kisses, and remember that I think heaps of you. I am feeling splendid. The old natural feeling is returning to my head, and I thank God for the change.
At the beginnings of the exile she remained optimistic basically for a long time. Towards the end it had lost its attraction, it was not novel anymore, it was just hard.
As time wears on I find I have not the fiber I once possessed. I will never be able to practice medicine day and night as formerly. Thinking of how I used to jump from my bed at the ring of the telephone, at all hours of the night, in all weather, quite unnerves me now. My nervous system has received a shock that it will never entirely recover from, I fear.
Women especially were expected to sacrifice whatever personal preferences or desires that they had in the name of their duty, in the name of what was proper, in the name of their marriages and their families. The bedrock of this ideology was suffering self-sacrifice.
My Own Loved One. You could never realize my present situation unless you were suddenly banished seven thousand miles from the scenes of your former activity, your identity lost, afraid to audibly whisper your own name. How I long to see you. I am beginning to realize more than ever how dear you are to me.
She was at dinner with the other exiles and all at the mission home in London and she just, all of a sudden, started to just cry and cry. The stress, the emotions, the homesickness was built up to that point where I don't think she could rationally deal with it anymore, she could not push it down.
Were it not for Lizzie and the religion of our God I should never want to see Salt Lake again but seek some other spot and strive to forget what a failure my life has been. But you are happy with those you love-what care you?
I do not think he realized the extent to which his inability to meet any of these romantic ideals how it affected her and how it hurt her and devastated her
I fear I am too sensitive, too susceptible to influences, and feel too keenly. This very element in my composition-when discovered by me long ago-made me strive to hide from the rude gaze of the world my emotional nature.
After two years of exile in England, the warrant for her arrest expired. With two-year-old Elizabeth in tow, it was time to return to an uncertain future in the American West.
How I long for a decent way of living again. I trust I have been tested and tried enough on this score for the present-and that the Lord is willing for me to have a little sense of rest now for a while.
So she's heading back to Utah and I assume she's still has this romantic idea of the house with the picket fence, and a husband who's emotionally attached and supporting her and her daughter getting well and happy, and instead she returns in a way to even more difficult situation than when she left. She left with a warrant out for her arrest and her husband on trial for polygamy. She returns to the same thing only more enhanced.
She didn't have a home; she didn't have a husband she could publicly acknowledge. That must have just been so demoralizing to her to think that she had been gone for two years to protect her husband, to solve this problem only to come home to find nothing had changed.
Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon threw herself against the adversity and into her medical career. She began lecturing and started a nurses' training school. She reopened a thriving medical practice.
But just as the track seemed clear, she became pregnant. What should have been a dear moment in her marriage became new evidence to prosecute her husband. She went into hiding once again, on the polygamy underground.
After her son James was born in May of 1890, she fled Utah, packed up her children, headed to San Francisco. She was alone, once again.
Dear Angus. Oh for a home...for a husband of my own because he is my own. A father for my children whom they know by association. And all of the little auxiliaries that make life worth living. Will they ever be enjoyed by this storm-tossed exile?
I think that's the problem that many of those polygamist women dealt with, is that they had to uh be mother and father at least some of the time, and there was a forced independence, s-some maximized that and u-for others it was very, very difficult.
She was married to her soul mate, she expected for him to connect with her on this emotional level and give her the things that he probably gave his first wife but his reality was different, he adored her, but she was his fourth wife.
My anticipations of happy associations with loved ones after my long exile were altogether overdrawn - look long and wisely before you choose a life companion, for 'tis deathly martyrdom to be linked to one who understands you not, and appreciates you less.
Romanticism dies a hard death for most American women. In some ways Mormon women were working out the same things that that any nineteenth century woman was working out in terms of the influences and the culture of the romantic ideals and what life is all about, and then having to work that out in the context of an actual marriage.
I am thankful that God so ordained my destiny to embrace the celestial principle of marriage when I did... Had my movements towards marriage been left or deferred until the present time, and that I had merely human instincts to guide me, I should have given the whole plural system a wide berth.
In the fall of 1890, there would be a seismic shift in the principle of plural marriage. Mattie's world was poised to change once again.
Mormonism is obviously not only institutionally but on a very personal level facing destruction, and for the president of the church, the final straw is occurs in August of 1890, when he is informed that federal officials will no longer exempt the Mormon temples from confiscation because they are not public buildings. And that's the end for the president of the Church. And so Wilfred Woodruff in 1890 issues what's called a manifesto, in September 1890.
He doesn't repudiate plural marriage, he doesn't say he's ending it, he just says, "I advise the members of the church to follow the law of the land." He doesn't even promise himself to do it, he just says that he intends to and so the Mormons have this this document which is, from the outside point of view, kind of wishy-washy, but from the Mormon point of view, is devastating, because for decades the LDS church has said no surrender on this, this is God's commandment we cannot give it up. And all these people - including Mattie Hughes Cannon - have made these sacrifices to fulfill as best they can. This commandment and now the president of the Church says this isn't required of you anymore, all you have to do is obey the laws of the land.
So, these people who've made this sacrifice and if that marriage is not really, really happy then you have to wonder, "Why did I make this sacrifice. What about that sacrifice, what does it mean for me?"
For Mattie, the manifesto of 1890 meant a return to Utah. Although still under the watchful eyes of the nation, the pressure on the Mormons from the outside world had eased. Mattie could continue her career without her very presence evidence to send her husband to jail.
The manifesto also brought hope that Utah would become a state. And statehood would mean new opportunities for Martha Hughes Cannon.
I feel I am chastened to curb my restless, rebellious spirit, that I fear would widely deviate from the true path... I feel that the spark of ambition is not yet dead within, but smolders, ready to burst into flame.
--Martha Hughes Cannon
The Utah territory had engaged in one of the nation's landmark social and political experiments when it approved woman's suffrage in 1870. Mormon critics were certain women would throw off the shackles of polygamy. In reality, women's suffrage more than doubled the number of Mormon voters in Utah.
From the Edmunds Tucker Act in 1887, which revoked women's right to vote in Utah, immediately they began organizing to regain that right. So, by the eighteen nineties when the Utah State Constitution is being written and considered, the Mormon women now have mobilized and adjudicated for a number of years to regain this right that they had, and there's a sense of, "we had this right, it's ours and we want it back, and it never should've been taken away in the first place," and so there's much more, um, assertiveness, and a sense that perhaps they can do something about it now.
So, Mormon women were part of a larger national movement of women trying to figure out how best to be women, what it meant to be a woman and how to structure society in a way that women didn't suffer, weren't considered second class.
By 1893, two states had granted women the right to vote, Wyoming and Colorado. In the Utah Territory, women were organizing to regain the vote, and Mattie found a cause.
I think there are two main reasons why she felt compelled to take on the equation of suffrage. One was because it was clear she was not going to take the backseat to any male-if the males could vote she was going to be at the polls also. But the other reason is Utah women got the vote in eighteen seventy, she was fourteen years old-fourteen, fifteen years old; she grew up with women voting. She would not ha-it would not have occurred to her that women should not vote, and so she attached herself in in a very prominent way to the suffrage movement in the United States.
Now those months of training in public speaking in Philadelphia now came into play. Mattie was soon regarded as one of Utah's leading suffragists. In 1893, she headed to the Columbia exposition in Chicago and found herself on a national stage.
Mrs. Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon is considered one of the brightest exponents of the women's cause in the United States.
--The Chicago Record
Women will purify politics. Women are better than men. Slaves are always better than their masters. A slave learns obedience and self-control and unselfishness. That's why women will do the world of politics good. They have been slaves so long. They will teach some of the slavish virtues.
Here comes this upstart young woman from Utah, a polygamist wife, who clearly has no will of her own because she's subject to her husband, and wait, she can vote in her state in Utah. What a disconnect for the outside world to look in and think wait, were-, was she subjected to her husband? Are all those women? Could it be that women want to live in polygamy? I think it's an incredible wall they hit up against.
A plural wife is not half as much a slave as a single wife. If her husband has four wives, she has three weeks of freedom every single month. A plural wife has more time to herself, and more independence in every way, than a single one.
--Martha Hughes Cannon
In 1895, statehood was drawing close for Utah. A constitutional convention was held in Salt Lake City to hammer out the framework for a new state.
Some people felt, "If we argue suffrage should be part of our constitution, than we're going to be
denied statehood, and statehood has to be the highest priority here," but others said, "No, if we don't include suffrage during this formative period then we will never get it, we have to insist on suffrage
at this moment or else we will never get it."
By the adoption of this, Utah will join the small group of freak States. Its insertion in the body of the Constitution as proposed will invite many votes adverse to Statehood.
--The Salt Lake Tribune
One of the principal reasons why women should vote is that all men and women are created free and equal. No privileged class either of sex, wealth, or descent should be allowed to arise or exist. All persons should have the legal right to be the equal of every other.
--Martha Hughes Cannon
Women knew they had to mobilize and voice their opinion that they wanted suffrage at this point. They were well in contact with their sisters throughout the country who were trying to achieve suffrage and not getting it. Women in eastern states, who'd been fighting since the 1840's for suffrage and still didn't have it fifty years later, so they knew not to take this for granted as something that would naturally follow statehood. They knew they had to be tough and they had to insist on suffrage in order for it to become a reality.
Inch by inch, our opponents contested the ground, until, after a most serious and thoughtful deliberation, and after a thorough hearing had been permitted, the measure was made part of the proposed constitution of Utah.
After weeks of debate, Utah women won the right to vote. National suffragist Susan B. Anthony came to Salt Lake City to celebrate passage.
I, today, congratulate you upon this auspicious moment when the Territory of Utah is about to become a state, that the women who, for the last few years have been disfranchised, will be restored to their just right.
--Susan B. Anthony
Years later, Mattie would testify before Congress on the impact of women's suffrage.
None of the unpleasant results which were predicted have occurred. The contentions in families, the tarnishment of woman's charm, the destruction of ideals, have all been found to be but the ghosts of unfounded prejudices.
It has proved to the world that woman is not only a helpmate by the fireside, but she can, when allowed to do so, become a most powerful and a most potent factor in the affairs of the government.
Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon would soon prove that she, too, could be a potent factor in the affairs of government.
That reform and purification in the exercise of the franchise is needed at the present day is undoubted. Women with the right to vote would be a strong phalanx in assisting to bring about this needed reform. Home and kindred are too dear for them to place in office men whose honor, integrity, and efficiency to control are doubted.
The more Martha Hughes Cannon talked about the role of women in politics, the more talk turned to the future of Martha Hughes Cannon.
As Utah prepared to fill its first legislature after statehood in 1896, the fledgling Democratic Party asked Mattie to run for state senator. And on the Republican side, party leaders turned to Angus Cannon as their state senate candidate.
Though not running purely head to head, Angus and Mattie found themselves face-to-face on opposite sides of the political fence.
One of the most interesting advocates of woman suffrage in Utah is Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. She was one of the plural wives of Angus M. Cannon, but showed her intense independence by declining to follow the political convictions of her husband, who is one of the staunchest Republicans in the State.
--The New York Times
Angus M. Cannon is a worthy man. Against him we haven't a word in the world to say, only we would say that Mrs. Mattie Hughes Cannon, his wife, is the better man of the two. Send Mrs. Cannon to the state senate as a Democrat and let Mr. Cannon as a Republican remain at home to manage home industry.
--The Salt Lake Herald
On the morning of November 4th, 1896, Mattie awoke to the news of her election as the nation's first woman state senator. Twenty-five more years would pass before the nation's women would join her in the right to vote.
At the turn of the century, there was little concern for sanitation, public hygiene, workplace safety, or the treatment of children. Families and livestock shared public water supplies. Supplies tainted by sewage. Children worked long hours in dark settings for mere pennies.
For Senator Cannon, it was a cry for help. She dove into fusing her passions for public health and public service, introducing bills to provide education for disabled children and to protect the health of women and girl employees.
She also introduced a bill to create Utah's first State Board of Health - which would become the basis for Utah's public health laws for decades to come. The board made improvements in sanitation and disease control.
So, if you imagine the dirtiest, nastiest hovels in big developing world cities, and all of the waste and dirty water and animals that are floating about - that was for many people the lived reality,
Once again, Mattie's advanced study of bacteria had left her a tireless advocate for sewers and sanitation. Utah state senator, Martha Hughes Cannon, was shaping the very life of the new state.
She met the men on their own turf, on their terms, and she was accepted.
She is a brave and brilliant woman. If I could raise a statue to Liberty the figure of the gallant little woman who represents us in the Senate would be placed there.
--Judge Orlando Powers
Talk turned to sending Mattie to Washington to represent Utah in Congress. But just as her rise seemed to have no end in sight - her private life wrenched her back to Earth.
Your star was rising, you were nationally admired and of course what she did, ten years after the manifesto, was get pregnant again and her political career was over as far as the national stage was concerned. This was in all the newspapers as a horrible scandal, you know, it was proof that the Mormons were not doing what they said they would do in 1890.
With someone like Mattie Hughes Cannon, who was a public official the outrage was even greater because she seemed in view of not only non-Mormons, but Mormons who had wanted to make the transition to be good citizens. It seemed to them that she was in a special case of violating what should have been a higher law for her as a public office holder.
What does an oath of office mean when they have continued to co-habit both against the laws of the land and the tactical laws of their church?
The romantic vision of her family and loving her husband and having a child collided with the realities of a woman in her political position - they could not coincide, they could not survive together.
Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon is gaining as much notoriety over giving birth to a baby girl as is accorded an empress or queen when an heir to the throne is born. The arrival of the little stranger at the Cannon home in Salt Lake has been telegraphed far and wide.
Gwendolyn Cannon was born on April 17, 1899. She stayed in office through the birth, but the political career of Martha Hughes Cannon was over.
We all want to think that we have the courage to go where we want to go, and the ability to navigate the difficult waters. She chose to have that child, she knew what would happen. She did the best she could with the life after her public fame.
She would spend the next two decades taking care of her children and grandchildren. Her family moved back and forth between California and Utah. Mattie continued to practice medicine, but life's battles were beginning to take a toll on her.
Dear Angus. From day to day, I wonder what I have done to merit such punishment and attempted to hold up too long, and do too much. While educating the children, I should have given up sooner and sought help earlier. As it was, I kept on and on, taking stimulants of various kinds, to keep up on - until now, and for several years, my poor heart will not beat at all, at all... I am altogether a miserable wreck.
Her descriptions of her symptoms and the physician treatments sound a lot like she had bonafide congestive heart failure, and struggled with congestive heart failure, and it's an uncomfortable existence.
Mattie - a very successful person - is racked with self-doubt about her weakness: "Why can't I always be happy? Why am I anxious? Why do I need medications to function?" And you can imagine there would have been a dialogue for her internally about who she is and what she's worth and it's sad that somebody so successful and capable and giving would have been beset by those kinds of doubts, but I think it's probably more common than we realize - that people who are driven are not just driven but a little haunted.
She could have said I'm ill, I give up, you all go away, I'm going to bed. Instead she did everything she knew as a physician to help herself so she didn't have to do that. You have to admire that.
Her health failing, her nerves were worn, she looked to Angus for support, but he had little to share.
I greatly desire to live, conditioned I can be of use to those depending upon me, but to be an invalid, unable to take part in the great drama enacted on this earth. An object of pity, oh God, deliver me from it, if it will please thee.
In 1915, just past his 81st birthday, Angus M. Cannon died in Salt Lake City.
After the death of Angus, Mattie continued her medical practice, and focused her attention on teenaged daughter Gwendolyn.
Mattie said that Gwendolyn was her and Angus's gift of love to each other.
Gwendolyn was kind of the light of everybody's life. Gwendolyn was bright, vivacious, pretty, uh, and kind of the life of the party. Mattie had sacrificed her public life with the birth of Gwendolyn and never regretted it.
They were very loving with each other and understanding and it was just special because of that.
The bond between mother and daughter became even closer as Gwendolyn developed tuberculosis. Her health progressively weakened in 1928.
Well, we were watching and waiting for help and Gwendolyn had deteriorated and it was this flu that was the culprit, and she passed away... And grandmother gritted her teeth and went in, and I remember it to this day, tied up her jaw the way they have to do.
Mattie a never got over the fact that she was a doctor and could not save her daughter, and when Gwendolyn died, Elizabeth writes, Mattie never cried but it was the beginning of her death.
It just killed her, it just crushed her. Her daughter Elizabeth felt that she really died with Gwendolyn, even though she was here for another year or so afterwards, it was just, it was just heartbreaking.
Goodnight, and oh, a long goodbye, thou darling of my heart. God knows it pains me past belief to think that we must part.
As the depression gripped Los Angeles in the early 1930's, Mattie lived a quiet life. In her 70's, she volunteered in medical settings, tended her garden, and stayed close to her two surviving children. James became an electrical engineer. Elizabeth pursued her love of writing.
In the summer of 1931, Mattie became ill. Doctors diagnosed cancer, and they were forced to operate.
When I went into the room and saw grandmother so ill... that just shook me, and she said to me, she says 'Mary, go over there and dry your eyes, straighten up." She was saying just make the best of it, you know she didn't say that, but, "Blow your nose, and dry your eyes."
And she had to dry her tears and forge ahead - that's what she'd say, to forge ahead, make the best of what you have.
On July 10th, 1932, Doctor Martha Maria Hughes Cannon passed away at her Los Angeles home.
Days later, at her last request, her personal journals were burned.
Everybody talks about the things that Mattie did, people don't always talk about what she believed. Hers is a story of faith as well as courage.
Perhaps it's unfortunate, but Mattie's life story feels as relevant today as it did when she was living it. Women today are trying to fulfill themselves professionally, they're trying to contribute to the world, and trying to figure out how to combine that - when they want to - with parenting, and that's-, we're still trying to figure that out.
I'm glad that we have Mattie Hughes Cannon to remind us that Mormon women and frontier women generally were not satisfied to be pregnant and in the kitchen, that there was a desire on their part to be independent, to be persons in their own right, and to have an identity beyond being simply a mother of the wife of a good man, or the wife of a prominent man. And she was all of that, but she was also her own woman, and I admire that.
We still have struggles where we feel like we're really not meeting men to-to-toe on an equal ground. She did that in the late 1800's, she met them on her own ground and she won. It's a lesson to us perhaps, you know that we can meet those challenges, we can change things. She did it a hundred and thirty years ago; we can certainly do it today.
Let us not waste our talents in the cauldron of modern nothingness, but strive to become women of intellect, and endeavor to do some little good while we live in this protracted gleam called life.
--Martha Hughes Cannon