Just before everything began shutting down and events, even modest events, were being canceled, over a delicious lunch of salad and sandwiches prepared by Seaside Coffee House, Astoria-based author Marianne Monson came to Seaside to talk about her new historical novel, “Her Quiet Revolution,” just out.
Monson, an established author of women’s history and children’s books, teaches at Clatsop Community College and leads writer’s retreats in France, Spain, and Portugal. On March 11 she was the featured author at Lunch in the Loft at Beach Books.
Monson entertained the lunch bunch with her current favorite topic, the life and accomplishments of the real life personage, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. A natural storyteller, Monson quickly swept the audience into Cannon’s world.
To write her story, Monson engaged in serious research, traveling across the Atlantic to Hughes’ birthplace in Llandudno, Wales. She became obsessed with the woman she called “Martha,” who she described as one of Utah’s most influential people.
“Martha’s story is remarkable; it’s dazzling,” Monson said.
Martha Hughes Cannon was born in Wales in 1857. A medical doctor and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, she practiced polygamy right alongside of medicine. One of Utah’s original women’s rights advocates, she was of course a suffragist who went on to become the first woman to be a Utah state senator.
She came to the United States as a child when her parents converted to the LDS Church, the family eventually heading west to settle in Utah territory with other LDS Church members. She enrolled in the University of Deseret, now known as the University of Utah at the age of sixteen, receiving her Bachelors in Chemistry before going on to the University of Michigan where she received her M.D. She became the fourth of six wives to the prominent LDS leader, Angus M. Cannon, and during an anti-polygamy campaign, returned to the country of her birth in exile after the birth of her first child.
Returning to Utah, she took up her work as a doctor while at the same time fighting for women’s rights in the Utah territory. She was instrumental bringing women to the forefront and writing them into the constitution when Utah was granted statehood in 1896. That same year, she became the first woman to be elected to the state senate, defeating her own husband, who was also on the ballot. Cannon authored Utah’s sanitation laws and was a founding member of that state’s first Board of Health.
Monson shared with her audience her own ancestors were Mormon pioneers. As a student, she attended Pacific University, Vermont College of Fine Arts, and Brigham Young University. Her earlier literary works include the books, “Frontier Grit,” and “Women of the Blue and Gray.”
Monson spoke about 2020 as the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage, a 70 year struggle in the United States that began in 1848 and continued until 1920. She spoke of the anti-suffrage society in Astoria and noted the suffrage bill went before Oregon voters six times before passing in 1912, a full eight years before the national amendment.
The real-life subject of Monson’s novel, Martha Hughes Cannon, died in Los Angeles on July 10, 1932 at the age of 75. She is interred in the Salt Lake City cemetery. A statue of her designed by Utah sculptor Ben Hammond will be placed this August in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. during a celebration of the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary according to a statement from the Utah Senate and House.
The subject of Cannon’s polygamous lifestyle came up at the bookstore loft lunch.
Polygamy, after all, is a fascinating and controversial subject.
“Martha herself was ambivalent about polygamy,” Monson said. “She understood the freedom it afforded her, and the autonomy. At the same time she was in denial her husband loved his other wives. And he did love them, that was clear.”
“Her Quiet Revolution” is available at Beach Books. By the way, if you’re self-quarantining or just don’t want to go out, shop via the store’s website at www.beachbooks37.com or call 503-738-3500 or DM them on social media. The store is happy to deliver books to your car outside the store, or even your doorstep.