Women of USU: Then and Now, Women in the Legislature

Since its earliest days, women at Utah State University have had a huge impact on the cultural, scientific, economic, and social fabric of the institution. The Year of the Woman shares these critical voices simply because their stories matter.

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of national suffrage. This change allowed for more people to participate in local and national government and opened the door for women to become political leaders. With the opening of the 2020 Utah legislative session, we commemorate and highlight those women who serve and have served in political capacities.

Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon (1896–1900)

History is full of women who have had the strength and courage to break down political and social barriers. Martha Hughes Cannon is one such woman. While Cannon did not attend Utah State as it was not yet open, we recognize her as an influential woman in Utah’s history.

Martha Hughes Cannon was born in Wales and immigrated to the Utah Territory with her family. Impacted by the deaths of her father and baby sister, Cannon aspired to become a medical doctor. She pursued a degree in Chemistry from the University of Deseret (presently University of Utah). Cannon earned her medical degree from the University of Michigan in 1881 and a degree in pharmaceuticals at the University of Pennsylvania in 1882; she was the only woman in her program. When Cannon returned to Salt Lake City, she opened a private medical practice and was soon called to become the resident physician at the Deseret Hospital.

Cannon was exposed to the women’s suffrage movement as she worked as a typesetter at the Woman’s Exponent, a periodical that was a strong voice in support of woman’s suffrage. Cannon later became a leader in the Utah Women’s Suffrage Association and was often a featured speaker, advocating for women’s rights based on equality, arguing, “that all men and women are created free and equal.”

After Utah gained statehood in 1896 and Utah women regained the right to vote, Cannon became the first female senator, defeating her own husband. During her 4-year term in office, Cannon sponsored many bills, several of which promoted topics relating to medicine and healthcare. She was also the first woman to be elected to the United States Senate.

This August, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of National Suffrage, a statue of Cannon will be installed to represent Utah as one of two in the National Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) introduced a bipartisan resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, co-sponsored by Utah’s other representatives, to designate Jan. 11, 2020 as “National Martha Hughes Cannon Day.” The legislation also recognizes the value that women bring to good governance and encourages them to become involved in Federal, State, and local government.

Beverly Jean Larson White (1971-1991)

Beverly Jean Larson White has been a pioneer for women working in the professional sector. She has held many local, state, and federal government positions throughout her career and has been heavily active in the bettering of her community through these positions.

White was the first woman on the Board of Corrections for the Utah State Prison. During her service in this position, White developed outreach programs for inmates and began church services for inmates and their families.

White first became interested in politics while serving on her high school student government. From her initial appointment to the Utah State House of Representatives to fill a vacant seat, White went on to be elected and then served for twenty years as a legislator, longer than any other woman in Utah. While in office, White introduced and supported legislation relating to domestic violence, child abuse, and mental health. She also helped establish the Children’s Justice Center in Tooele and worked for the Tooele Adult Probation and Parole Office until she retired at the age of 78. White also served as a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (1986–1993).

White was also instrumental in the establishment of Utah State University Tooele. She assisted in obtaining appropriations and served on the Advisory Board. White was a force in initiating a nursing program at the USU Tooele campus.

For her service, White has been the recipient of the Susa Young Gates Award (1975), Legislator of the Year (1981), Woman of the Year from the Central Women Club of Utah (1982), Service in Nursing Award (1988) and Democratic Legislator of the Year (1987), and for her service to community and country, Beverly White was given an honorary degree from Utah State University in 2017.

Ronda Rudd Menlove (2004–2014)

Ronda Rudd Menlove graduated Magna Cum Laude from Utah State University in 1973 with a degree in Spanish and minor in History. Following completion of her bachelor’s, Menlove attended Indiana University, graduating with an M.S. in Secondary Education. She returned to Utah State and graduated with a Ph.D. in Special Education in 1999.

Menlove taught in Granite, Tooele, and Rich School Districts, and served as an administrator in Cache School District. She held several positions at Utah State University, including Associate Professor of Special Education, Executive Director of Distance Education, and Senior Vice Provost for Regional Campuses and Distance Education.

Menlove was elected to serve in the Utah State House of Representatives in 2004 when a graduate student in her USU Special Education Law and Policy class asked her to run. Menlove served for 10 years including two years in leadership as Assistant Majority Whip with Speaker Becky Lockhart. She held committee positions in social services and education appropriations, health and human services, economic and workforce development, child welfare, agriculture and natural resources, and ethics.

Patricia Jones (2000–2014)

Patricia ‘Pat’ Jones attended Utah State University, completing bachelor’s degrees in Communications and Journalism at the University of Utah. Along with her husband, Jones was the co-founder and former President of Dan Jones & Associates, a public opinion and market research firm, where she worked for 35 years.

Jones served in the Utah State legislature for a total of 14 years (2000–2014), six of those years in the House of Representatives and eight in the Senate. Twelve years in the legislature were spent in leadership positions. While in the legislature, Jones sat on multiple committees that covered topics relating to education, human services, law enforcement, government operations, and economic development.

Jones currently serves as CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute, an organization whose mission is to elevate the stature of women, develop future female political candidates, and help women improve their career trajectories. Additionally, she is a member of the Utah Board of Regents, and several other boards and foundations. Jones is also a member of the recently announced women’s advisory council created by Representative John Curtis.

Current Legislative Members

Christine Facer Watkins (2009–2012; 2017–present)

Christine Watkins is a native Cache Valley resident, who graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education (1974) and she received a Master of Educational Administration from the University of Utah. Watkins served as an educator for over 20 years in multiple positions. She has also served as the Executive Director for the Southeastern UniServ and as the UniServ Director for the Bonneville UniServ.

Aside from her leadership in education, Watkins has served on the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Utah State House of Representatives (2009-2012; 2017-present). She is currently the only rural woman in the legislature.

Kathleen Riebe (2018–present)

Kathleen Riebe graduated from Hofstra University in 1991, and obtained her Master’s degree and Administrative Certificate from Utah State University in 2006. She was employed by the Granite School District for 15 years.

In 2017, Riebe assumed her position on the Utah State Board of Education, taking her experiences as a student and as a teacher to work to create a stronger, more functional education system.

Riebe began her term in the Utah State Senate in 2019.

LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff (1999–2008; 2019-present)

LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff received her bachelor’s degree in Business and English Education from Utah State University in 1957. She began her teaching career in Weber School District and taught English for 28 years at Ogden High School. Shurtliff served as President of the Ogden Education Association and served two years as the director from Utah on the National Education Board in Washington D.C. In 2008, she was honored with the Alumni Merit award from Utah State University.

Prior to her current term, which began in 2019, Shurtliff served in the Utah State House of Representatives from 1999 to 2008. In all her years in the legislature, education has always been her top priority.

Elizabeth Weight (2016–present)

Elizabeth Weight graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education, and a Master’s degree in Linguistics and Bilingual Education from the University of Utah.

Weight taught junior high and high school for over 30 years. During her time as a teacher, she became a spokesperson for students and teachers. Weight has also served on the board of a small water company. Her community involvement questions the future of social infrastructure which is developed through employment, the economy, and the environment.

Weight was first elected to the Utah State Legislature in 2016 and reelected in 2018.

Stephanie Pitcher (2018–present)

Stephanie Pitcher graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Creative Writing before pursuing her passion in law. She graduated from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah in 2015. Since then, Pitcher has worked as a Deputy District Attorney and an Associate City Prosecutor. She has been an advocate for innovation and reform in the criminal justice system throughout her career.

In 2015, after seeing a need for action regarding women’s issues in the state legislature, Pitcher founded the Utah Women’s Coalition (UWC) – a statewide group working to advance the status of Utah women through public policy.

Pitcher was elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 2018.

In addition to her political work, Pitcher is an avid chess player and is ranked as a Woman candidate master.


More than ever, women’s participation in government is crucial to the development of strong communities. Organizations like Real Women Run Now and the Women’s Leadership Institute work to empower women to participate in government at all levels, whether it be on boards or commissions, participating in campaigns, engaging in political leadership, or simply voting. Each voice matters in the fight to create the nation that we live in. With the opening of this new legislative session and the upcoming 2020 elections, we encourage you to exercise your ability to vote and promote change that you find important.