North West Wales

The Llandudno woman who changed the face of US politics

Dr Martha Hughes Cannon Image copyright Utah State Historical Society

Hillary Clinton will make history if she becomes the first female president of the United States. But how much does her campaign owe to a Welsh Mormon woman who changed the face of US politics?

Llandudno-born Dr Martha Hughes Cannon became the first female state senator in 1896 - beating her Republican husband.

In America a musical is being written about her life, but in Wales little is known about her remarkable story.

Author and journalist Wil Aaron has now written a book about the mass movement of Welsh Mormons to Utah in the 19th century.

He told BBC Wales about the celebrated tale of love, tragedy, religion, feminism, polygamy and politics of the Llandudno woman.

Mr Aaron said more should be done in Wales to recognise the life of Dr Hughes Cannon and the Welsh community in Utah.

"Plays have been written about her, there's a musical being written about her, she's a very well known woman out there," he said.

"There's no acknowledgement whatsoever from Wales," he added.

"They're delightful people, I think they are rather amazed that so little interest comes from Wales."

Image copyright Utah State Historical Society
Image caption A feminist and women's rights campaigner, Dr Hughes Cannon served two terms as a state senator
Image copyright Utah State Capital
Image caption A statue of Dr Hughes Cannon stands outside the Utah State Capital building

Born near Llandudno, Martha emigrated with her family to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1860.

Her sister died during the difficult crossing and her father became ill and died three days after they arrived in the US.

The fourth out of six wives to Angus M. Cannon, she was a celebrated physician and remained faithful despite her husband being jailed for his polygamist beliefs.

Martha was forced to flee to avoid giving federal marshals proof of her polygamous marriage to Angus, living in England, Switzerland, and Michigan before returning to Salt Lake City in June 1888.

Her letters to her husband can still be read today in the city's archives.

Mr Aaron said: "It was purely a religious principle that drove her into it, she knew that it was a difficult life."

In a much publicised election, Martha was one of five Democrats running as "at large" - meaning there could be more than one winner - candidates for state senator from Salt Lake County.

Among the Republicans running for the office was her husband Angus.

Image copyright Utah State Historical Society
Image caption She defeated her husband and three other men to become the first female state senator

She was elected on 3 November 1896, becoming the first woman ever elected to that office in the United States.

"That's particularly galling for him in Mormon society where a man was supposed to keep a rein on his wife, there was a lot of leg pulling in the local press," added Mr Aaron.

"But he came out of it quite a noble person and flashes of the love story remained even until the end."

Dr Hughes Cannon served two terms in office, before serving as a member of the Utah Board of Health and as a member of the board of the Utah State School for the Deaf and Dumb.

An eight-foot-high bronze statue of her by Laura Lee Stay Bradshaw, dedicated in 1996, was housed in the Utah Capitol Rotunda.

She died in Los Angeles on 10 July 1932, more than 15 years after her husband's death.

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