Martha Hughes Cannon

Doctor, Wife, Mother, Senator

How should the contributions of women be remembered in the United States?  Meet Martha Hughes Cannon, a Mormon polygamist wife, who, unlike the media of the time would have portrayed her, was not oppressed. She was a doctor, mother, and first state senator in U.S. History. She publicly defended her polygamous marriage, and won the senate race against her own husband. Decades before women nationwide would have the right to vote, Martha Hughes Cannon stands as an unusual example of women’s rights.  Cannon will soon be the second of the two representatives of the state of Utah in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, where she will be one of only 10 women represented. Students will learn of Martha Hughes Cannon and get an opportunity to research and create their own statues to represent important women in U.S. History.


One to three class periods, depending on amount of time allotted for the statue assignment (45-135 minutes).

  1. Students will research famous women in American history
  2. Students will discuss how best to honor the contributions of people in American history.
  1. Copy of Deseret News article for each student.  A lightly edited copy is attached to this lesson, or use the link in the mediagraphy (Collins, L., January 24, 2018).  NOTE:  The title of the newspaper is: “Deseret (dez-er-EHT).”
  2. Access to computer for each student, for the research portion of this assignment. 
  3. Access to the biographies of women from the National Women’s History Museum:
  4. Copy of “Create a statue!” worksheet for each student.   A copy of the worksheet is attached to this lesson.
  5. Pencils for each student.
  1. Pre-reading (15-45 minutes, depending on if students read the biography below). Students research and write the word and definition. The teacher may decide if students can help each other with definitions, or if each student finds the words his/herself. 
    Precocious: Unusually intelligent, often very young.

    -Suffrage:  The right to vote.
    -Iconography: The visual presentation of something important in a culture.
    -Crucial:  Very important; essential.
    -Proponent:  Someone who is trying to get people to agree with an idea.
    -Polygamy:  Plural marriage, generally one man and more than one wife.
    -Rescind: To take away.

    Background:  Martha Hughes Cannon is not very well known, so read the biography that is part of this lesson before you teach it. Students can read the biography, or the teacher can give some highlights.
  2. Reading: (15-20 minutes). Split students into pairs. Each student will read out loud one paragraph of the news article to the other, and read the entire article back and forth. Students can spread out in order to hear each other. This allows students to practice reading out loud, without the pressure of reading in front of an entire class.
  3. Post-reading: (10-15 minutes). Regroup with the students when the reading has been completed. Ask the following questions, and lead a short discussion on each of them.

    -Why do you think that Utah did not honor Martha Hughes Cannon until now?
    -Are there famous women in our local area that are not honored as much as men?
    -How do we decide who is “important enough” in our culture to be honored?
    -Why would standards change about whom we honor?

  4. “Create a statue!” assignment: (20-65 minutes, depending on how much is assigned for homework).
  • Distribute the “Create a statue!” worksheet.
  • As you distribute the worksheet, emphasize that the art does not have to be spectacular artwork. The idea is to represent the women well, not to be a terrific artist. 
  • Have students bring up the National Women’s History Museum website (see the link in “materials” above). There are dozens of excellent biographies of important women in U.S. history.  Encourage students to hover over the pictures and read the summaries before choosing a woman to celebrate.
  • Students need to read the biography of the woman they have chosen.  They should read the biography several times, to get a feel for the person whom they are honoring. 
  • Students will want to use the template on the worksheet and, at least at first, rough in the drawings in pencil.  
  • Move between students as they work. Ask questions about what they are doing, and have them discuss with the teacher and nearby students about how they are depicting their famous women, and how the symbols next to the statues represent the women they are researching.
Assessment / Homework

The “create a statue!” assignment may be assigned for homework.  However, I have found that the research is more thorough and the finished product better if the work is done during class time.


Rubric for assessment:




Drawing is best work for this student.  Both items next to statue represent the woman well.  Student can explain why those items represent the woman, either in vocal or written explanation.


Drawing is best work for this student.  Both items next to statue represent the woman well.  Student can somewhat explain why those items represent the woman, either in vocal or written explanation.


Drawing is reasonable, but not best, work for this student.  Both items next to statue represent the woman.  Student can somewhat explain why those items represent the woman, either in vocal or written explanation.


Drawing is not best work for this student.  Only one item to represent the woman is present.   Student cannot explain the reason for the item that is present.


Drawing is low quality for this student.  No items next to statue, or one item, but unclear its purpose.

Future Research / Resources
  • To learn more about the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall and the sculptures, the Architect of the Capitol website is a must. Check this link: In this link you will find a list of the statues, with links to a biography and a picture of the statue for each one. This is a really great resource to discuss famous people for each state, and also to learn about the other women honored in Statuary Hall.
  • If possible, this would be a wonderful project to collaborate with the art department. Statues created by students in both art and history classes could be shared as an art show, or students could write letters to state officials where these famous women are from, asking for further recognition, or even statues, of these women.


  • Collins, Lois M. , "Utah considers placing female statue in nation's capitol amid national conversation on monuments and values." Deseret news, January 24, 2018.  
    This article discusses the resolution that eventually passed to replace the statue of Philo T. Farnsworth with a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon as one of Utah’s contributions to Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
  • Davidson , Lee, and Taylor Stevens, "Lawmakers give final approval to replace statue of Philo Farnsworth with Martha Hughes Cannon in U.S. Capitol." Salt lake tribune, February 15, 2018,  
    Additional information about the resolution that will change the statue in Statuary Hall from Philo T. Farnsworth to Martha Hughes Cannon. 
  • Geisel, Hunter, "Artist selected to sculpt statue of dr. Martha hughes cannon." February 14, 2019, (Accessed July 29, 2019).  More recent developments in the creation of the sculpture of Martha Hughes Cannon.
  • Green, Nancy, producer, and Ken Verdoia, narrator, Martha Hughes Cannon. DVD. Salt Lake City, Utah: KUED, 2012. 
    An excellent local documentary about Martha Hughes Cannon.  Length: 57 minutes.
  • Karras, Christy, More than petticoats: remarkable Utah women, 1st ed. , Guilford, Connecticut: Globe pequot press, 2010.
    Chapter 8 talks about Martha Hughes Cannon.
  • Stapley, Jonathan A. and Constance L. Lieber, Women of faith in the latter days, 1st ed. Women of faith in the latter days, 3, 1846-1870. Richard E. Turley Jr. And Brittany A. Chapman , Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret book , 2014. 
    This is a book written for an audience of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).  It is well written and mostly accessible to general readers, but there are a few Mormon terms used that it is assumed the reader will recognize.  Chapter 2 deals with Martha Hughes Cannon.

C3 Standards (8th grade):

  1. D2.Civ.10.6-8. Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.
  2. DHis.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.

Common Core English Language Arts anchor reading and writing standards

  1. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  2. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.