Martha Hughes Cannon (seen in image), is a wonderful and fascinating character in history. She was a doctor, educated at the University of Michigan. She was a State Senator (D), defeating her own husband who ran on the Republican ticket and became the first woman to hold such office in the United States. Perhaps most importantly to her, she was a mother.
For twenty years, Martha corresponded regularly with Barbara Replogle, a friend from the National School of Elocution and Oratory in Philadelphia. Her letters reveal the complexity born of polygamy, responsibility and federal prosecution. In one such letter, she encouraged Barbara to get married and expounded on motherhood:
When are you going to wed? After all, this to my mind, is the true state of womanhood neither, if properly managed should it interfere with her true advancement, in whatever sphere she might cast her talents. Tis not the bringing of noble spirits into the world — to me, a mother is woman’s brightest glory — that dwarfs talent, and retards her intellectual advancement but it is the multiplicity of household drudgery which only belongs to servants — and the conformity to the vile customs of modern society.
Barbara, even if we have to be poor 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 this protracted gleam called life. (1)
In the diaries of this time, references to servants are quite common. In the early 20th century, the Relief Society established an employment bureau to help women and young girls to find employment, often as domestic helpers. The idea that employees and technology can overtake the banal shackles of subjugation is fairly current in modern discourse. We’ll see how it goes this time.
- Martha Hughes Cannon to Barbara Replogh, 1 May, 1885. Martha Hughes Cannon Collection, 1883-1912. LDS Church Archives.