Celebrating Our Legacy and Future of Public Health and Female Leadership in Utah

Salt Lake City—July 1 holds special significance for public health in Utah; this year commemorates the 165th anniversary of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon’s birth and the first inaugural birthday of the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The Cannon Health building, one of two flagship administration buildings for DHHS, is named after Dr. Cannon. 

Dr. Martha “Mattie” Hughes Cannon blazed trails for women as a frontier doctor, suffragist, public health reformer, and the 1st female senator in the country, beating her husband in the race for the state Senate. She revolutionized public health and sanitation in Utah and continued her work to promote women’s rights, including testifying before Congress in favor of a national suffrage amendment. Dr. Cannon founded the first State Board of Health, which later became the Utah Department of Health, and established a nursing college and school for the deaf and blind in Utah all while raising her three children. 

Dr. Cannon’s legacy is at the heart of the new DHHS leadership team, led by Tracy S. Gruber — who will serve as the DHHS executive director, the 2nd woman to lead the state public health agency in Utah history—and includes Dr. Michelle Hofmann, who serves as the state’s executive medical director The Executive Director’s Office also includes Operations Director Nate Winters, Integrated Healthcare Director Nate Checketts and Community Health and Well-Being Director David Litvack.

The DHHS held a celebration event at the Utah State Capitol celebrating the legacy of Dr. Cannon and the future of public health in Utah. 

“Dr. Cannon’s vision and voice built the foundation for the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who spoke at today’s event. “She was a vocal advocate for healthy communities and today we’re carrying her torch with ambitions to advocate for, support, and serve all individuals and communities in Utah with effective policy and a seamless system of services and programs. We believe that all Utahns deserve to live safe and healthy lives.” 

The Utah State Legislature passed House Bill 365 State Agency Realignment during the 2021 general legislative session, requiring the consolidation of the Utah Departments of Health and Human Services. The DHHS is now the largest state agency serving Utahns across the lifespan. 

“Thousands of our employees, partners, and members of the public participated in meetings, provided input, and actively worked alongside us to gather, evaluate, inform, and align the elements of our departments to best serve the people of Utah. This consolidation process has allowed us to not only identify challenges and barriers to accessing care for those most in need, but also opportunities to unify services, reduce redundancies, improve equity, and offer more efficient services,” said Gruber.

The DHHS and Better Days—a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on women’s history in Utah—will host a traveling exhibit on Dr. Cannon’s life and legacy at the DHHS administration buildings. The exhibit is open to the public during normal business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.):

  • Cannon Health Building (288 N. 1460 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84116) from Friday, July 1, to Friday, July 8. 

To learn more about the life and legacy of Dr. Cannon, visit https://www.utahwomenshistory.org/bios/marthahughescannon. A list of locations where the traveling exhibit will be located throughout the year can also be found at https://www.utahwomenshistory.org/2022/03/mhctoolkits/

To learn more about the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, visit dhhs.utah.gov