AWE (A Woman’s Experience)


Martha Hughes Cannon, feminism, gender performance


“I can’t bear a mannish woman or a mannish man either,” Martha Hughes Cannon declared a few days after she was elected the first female state senator in the United States. “All the best men I know are ladylike and all the best women I know are gentlemanly.” Throughout her life, Cannon pulled seemingly subversive stunts framed within a milieu of social support that demystifies, or at least partially elucidates, her frequent departure from normative female behavior. However, the purpose of this paper is not to join the voices of scholars arguing that nineteenth-century Mormon culture was one of radical egalitarianism. Rather, I argue that Cannon’s personal understandings and explorations of gender performance must be contextualized in an environment in which negotiations between the customary and the progressive were conventionalized, coded as acceptable at the leadership level, and emulated as such at the congregational and individual level.