Utah’s Constitutional Convention and the Rocky Mountain Suffrage Convention, both major events in the story of women’s suffrage in Utah, were held here in 1895. Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon also served in office here after she became the country’s first female U. S. state senator.
Although Utah was one of the earliest territories to codify women’s right to vote, it was not always easy for women to maintain this right. In 1887, the United States Congress passed the Edmunds–Tucker Anti-Polygamy Act; in addition to enhancing criminal penalties for polygamy and “unlawful cohabitation,” Edmunds–Tucker also revoked the voting rights of women in Utah Territory, a right which women had been exercising since 1870. This unequal state of affairs persisted until Utah’s Constitutional Convention met at the then-Capitol Building, today’s City and County Building, in 1895.
That March, delegates came together in Salt Lake City to pursue statehood and write a constitution. For Utah’s women, this was an opportunity to restore suffrage, and they campaigned to include gender equal suffrage as a clause in the constitution so that when Utah received statehood, they would also reobtain the right to vote and hold political office. Although the convention did not allow women to vote for delegates, Utah’s women—led by state suffrage leaders such as Sarah M. Kimball, Emmeline B. Wells, and Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon—still advocated for themselves. An assembled group of women marched into the building to hear their petition read, and Utah women also testified in a committee hearing about the benefits of allowing women to vote.
In this same year, Utah women also hosted the Rocky Mountain Suffrage Convention in the same building; prominent suffragist women like Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw, among others, attended and gave speeches. In November 1895, the constitutional convention voted to approve the new state constitution, including an equal suffrage provision. When Utah officially achieved statehood in January 1896, women also reobtained the right to vote and hold public office.
Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon soon exercised that right when she ran for public office. Originally from the United Kingdom, Cannon immigrated to Utah to join the Latter-day Saints with her family in 1861. She later graduated with a medical degree in pharmaceuticals from the University of Pennsylvania; she was the only woman in her graduating class. In addition to running a private practice while also working as the resident physician at Deseret Hospital in Salt Lake City, in 1896 Cannon ran against her own husband for a state senate seat and won, making her the United States’ first female state senator.Because the City and County Building also served as the first state capitol, Cannon took office and served there until 1900. In 1916, Utah completed a new state Capitol Building on a hill to the north. Today, the City and County Building is still in use for public purposes, and it also serves as a monument for women’s suffrage in the United States.