The winners of the 2009 Leonard J. Arrington Writing Awards were announced on Thursday, March 4, at Utah State
University's Merrill-Cazier Library Spring Lecture. Barbara James Brown was awarded $1,000 for first place. I received the second place prize of $500 for my entry, "The Logic of Religious Studies and Kathleen Flake." Third place, $250, went to Audrey McConkie Merket.
For the Spring Lecture, historians Brian Q. Cannon and Jessie L. Embry discussed their recently-published book, Utah in the Twentieth Century, a collection of essays on, you guessed it, Utah in the twentieth century. The following are my notes, which have been edited for clarity. This is not a transcript
Why a book focused on the 20th century? When we think of Utah history, many of us tend to think of the 19th century. Beyond 1890 Utah history and western history become less exotic. One historian (S. George Ellsworth) says people believe the state’s history after 1920 holds little uniqueness, and by implication, less intrinsic appeal. Instead, we think about the exotic and romantic developments of the 19th century. The pioneers started this narrative with their exploits and triumphs and their descendents continued it. We have a state holiday, Pioneer Day parades, etc. (Showed some pictures from a Pioneer Day parade in the 1950s). Our fascination with 19th century Utah doesn’t mean historians have entirely neglected the 20th century, but many history teachers have a harder time getting into it, and we haven’t studied it as carefully as we should, which was a key objective of this book.
The book is divided into four sections, Jessie Embry will talk about the first two and I about the latter.
Jessie L. Embry-
The first section talks about how Utah images have changed. Most of our mental images of the19th century are somewhat incorrect. For instance, there was more than one tree, and there was grass, [laughter]. But the pioneers wanted to emphasize the desert as blossoming as a rose. The first chapter answers question of how that changed. There were many parts of the desert that didn't blossom as the rose, like Blue Valley, where dams broke, crops didn’t grow, though a few still struggled there they didn’t find much success.
Not only did the land not produce, but Utah was also a cultural desert in first decades of the 20th century. Over time the desert attracted people who were interested in travel, prompted by the discovery of red rock country. The Utah government sponsored tourism slogans and emphasized the beauty of south, but many believed these canyons, etc. were in Arizona. Visitors first came on the railroad, but increased largely after WWII, coming in cars, to visit red rock and then on to various Mormon sites.
This era brought on the rise of new industries, including motels for visitors. This is discussed in a chapter called “Selling Sleep.” The era after WWII was the golden age of motels. Fold-out maps, travel guides, postcards, are rich sources for history. Local culture was introduced to travelers seeking unique experiences throughout the US. These small motels were the kind of places my family stayed as we criss-crossed the country. My father would look for the vacancy sign, check out the room, perhaps to see if it was clean enough, then we would all cram into one room.
There was the Spiking Tourist Lodge in SLC. Bob’s Zion Hotel, the Temple City Motel, and the Covered Wagon Motel. St. George had motels like the Coral Hills. In SLC the Lakehills motel became Dream Hill motel. These places have been in decline. In 2006 a woman was murdered in room 26 at 1865 north temple as part of drug deal gone bad. Nevertheless, an online review of the place a few months earlier still had a rave reaction: “My wife and I had a splendid second honeymoon at this motel. The people seem to know each other...EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT!" in all caps. The author of this essay, however, nevertheless hired a graduate student to stay in them! I don't mind them, they are generally clean, with a TV and a telephone with free local calls! [laughter] Though my friends at WSU say don’t stay at local motels here in Ogden, so I stay at the Marriott. But they charge for local calls! [laughter].So tourism is one way Utah invites the nation and world to come.
The second essay deals with national experiences in the 20th century and how Utah responded to them. Brigham Young's 19th century hope for Utah was that the early Mormons were to be self-sufficient and produce their own goods, like the sugar beet industry. Early in the 20th century many continued the beets, only market them to other places. The section discusses when the US congress passed tariff acts, and Reed Smoot's support for sugar tariff. Matt Godfrey's essay looks at the battle over tariff reductions and the Utah-Idaho Sugar companies. A descendant of Reed Smoot came home from school one afternoon and asked "did grandpa really cause the great depression?" [laughter] Well, his work had an impact.
The section also discusses Heber J. Grant and J. Reuben Clark who did not approve of the dole system, but wished to improve the welfare system of the Church. In this section are discussions of interaction between LDS leaders and the government. For example, when Ronald Reagan proposed the underground missile defense system in Utah, the desert might have blossomed with MX’s in late 1970. This time, non-LDS voices helped convince LDS leaders to oppose, which may have helped convince Reagan to stop the plan.
The nation united in times of war. Known as the "greatest generation," many were fighting in WWII, many others helped the cause by raising crops, rationing sugar and producing war materials. Women went to work to help produce weapons and were praised for their efforts. In Utah, women got jobs at arms plants and rural Utah also benefited. An essay talks about the parachute plants in Manti. The workers took great pride in their work, saw themselves as doing their part of winning war. Some said jobs saved my sanity. They took jobs seriously. One woman watched closely for bad stitches to avoid soldiers being killed because of shoddy work. "Our parachutes are safe, we've inspected them til they've worn out." [laughter]. Some women would put notes in with parachutes noting the care they took in crafting them, etc. "I made this parachute so you can arrive safely." Sometimes the men wrote back. "You'll be pleased to know that so-and-so soldier successfully landed with parachute 123712-f." etc. [laughter].
Brian Q. Cannon-
Moving on to the next two sections of the book. The first deals with politics and participation. The mid twentieth century was a time for legal equality and campaigns for constitutional rights. We often think of the women's and civil rights movement in America from the 1950s onwards. These movements played a role in Utah history, but not in a typical way.
Take civil rights alone, for instance. The KKK had 5,000 members in Utah during the teens and twenties, and actively worked to discourage settlement and intermarriage by immigrants from Europe. The Salt Lake Theater celebrated the debut of the film "Birth of a Nation." In terms of civil rights, Utah was home to the denial of civil rights for Japanese Americans who were relocated to Topaz camp in central Utah. Japanese were subjected to racial epithets, threats of attack, expulsion from schools, etc. Latinos and Latin Americans were restricted from living in certain neighborhoods. In 1964 Utah was one of only three states outside of the south that did not positively prohibit public discrimination. (Utah, Arizona and Nevada).
Also, the rights of polygamists, gays and lesbians, people who lost jobs as a result of sexual orientation. There are lots of stories throughout the 20th century of margin groups struggling for civil rights. Some of these things have resonance even today.
McCormick and Sillitoe's essay deals with the SLC attempt to restrict free speech rights of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World. Local chapter 69. Their article describes ways the SLC government tried to restrict what could be done in terms of protests. The protesters had to obtain permits, they were restricted to certain areas for street meetings--to the red light district of Salt Lake, essentially. This tremendously limited the opportunity of IWW to promulgate their cause. A group of IWW protesters tried to defy this ordinance and a some deputies and irate citizens basically created a riot, abused them, and were allowed to go scott free while the IWW faced trial for trying to protest out of the approved area.
Embry's chapter focuses on local government impact on Utahns lives, using Provo as an example. She charts changes in the structure of Provo’s government over the course of 20th century from a strong mayoral role to a council managing structure to various commissions. National forces and trends contributed, and this chapter highlights the important role of local politics and personalities.
Another chapter covers Utah's denial of the vote to American Indians on reservations in the 1950s. The Utah legislature, shortly after statehood, prevented military reserves or Indian reserves from voting. In the 30s the state's attorney general decided so much had changed that this rule was obsolete, so it wasn't enforced but remained on the books. In the 50s another attorney general determined it was constitutional and should be enforced. This was related to the refusal of full-blooded Ute Indians to go through the process of citizenship, Many leaders in Utah believed Indians were unwilling to accept full obligation of citizenship, including taxes, etc. so they should be forbidden right to vote. Which they were in the 1950 election. But when the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge, Utah lawmakers and governor said they supported the repeal of this law. What was striking to me when I worked on this paper was the lack of attention this received in Utah press in terms of reporters commentary and letters to editor; it seemed a non-issue. The civil rights movement was not large in Utah in mid 1950s.
The article I really want to highlight is the one by Roberts and Hinton on partisanship and ideology in Utah. Over the last two decades of 20th century especially. It makes use of interesting data from BYU-collected exit polls. These included questions about the degree to which religious affiliation governed political position.
The paper used other measures and data from public opinion polls, CBS news and New York Times surveys to compute measures of partisanship and ideology by state. These track issues over a few decades, and the responses show that Utah was the most conservative state from about 1976 to 1988 and Idaho the second most. In state partisanship over those years, Utah and Idaho ranked as most conservative in the 70s and 80s. The paper employs a technique devised by political scientist Austin Ranney, tracking competitiveness of parties in states, the degree to which one party dominates, etc. In terms of party control, Maryland and Arkansas most heavily democrat, while Utah and South Dakota were most heavily republican in the 70s and 80s. States in the rural west made up 6 out of 8 most republican states. Utah was the most republican state in that era.
It is interesting to look at stances LDS leadership took on issues like liquor by the drink, abortion, gay marriage, etc. The conclusion is that stances taken by the LDS church helped encourage Utahns on conservatism. But some elements of conservatism can't easily be contributed to the LDS church, like guns and hunting. A strong right to bear arms place. This seems to stem not from religious orientation but from western tradition of gun toting cowboys romanticized into self-reliant individuals, the masculine hunter culture. Growing up in 70s I remember receiving a Monday off for the deer hunt each year into the 1980s. Especially in southern Utah and rural areas the tradition is still strong. Perhaps many Utahns rationalized these outings as a family outing aspect, given that LDS leaders like Spencer W. Kimball spoke out against killing the little birds. The chapter also discusses white flight from California in 70s which may have contributed to Utah conservatism, and the Reagan revolution in the 80s that Utah was part of. Overall, a historically conservative moralistic state, and 2002 exit poll affirms this, a major factor is the dominant religion. But Utah is changing somewhat. Salt Lake county is more democratic and liberal. But Utah is still not diverse and especially in rural areas the Mormon church dominates.
The next section talks about growth over the 20th century and its challenges. How did state and federal government and residents deal with population increase? Increase put demands on resources like water, land, etc. Utah's population multiplied by 8 times over the 20th century. There was a tremendous era of growth in the first decade of 20th, with new smelters, mines, dry farming boom, etc. In the 40s and 50s, influence of WWII and the cold war included defense installations. 1970s, grew by 38%, a mini baby boom. In the 90s, grew by 30%, an influx of Latino residents in the 90s that contributed to tremendous growth in that decade.
One challenge this growth posed for Utah is addressed in the chapter by James B. Allen, discussing education. The ongoing issue is how to fund education for all these children. Uutah has one of youngest populations in the US. In 1990 the proportion of children in population was 35%. Jim explores problems associated with how to fund, different alternatives proposed, and some political infighting, particularly with J. Bracken Lee, whose reputation as governor was as ruthlessly cutting budgets. Regardless of the decisions, leaders have encountered resistence no matter what.
The 2nd challenge of growth is water. Eastman discusses the history of federal water projects, designed to take water from Colorado river and tributaries and divert it to the Wasatch Front. Jordanelle dam, the crown jewel of projects. By the 90s environmentalists were able to influence the appropriations process,. The chapter praises Wayne Owens for his role in bringing diverse people together, water conservationists, environmentalists, and he brokered a compromise for wetlands, that many Utahans could live with.
Doug Alder's chapter juxtaposes growth of Cache county with Washington county, two areas he lived in and knows well. Who in 1960 would have imagined that Washington county, then one fourth the size of Cache, would grow large enough to rival it by the close of the 20th century. Discusses reasons for the growth.
The last essay in the section is Jedediah Rogers on development versus preservation of land. He points out that by the 1960s many Americans including Utahans concluded that the US Forest Service and B. of Land Management didn't provide adequate protection for natural resources and wilderness. Growth in urban populations explains the wilderness act of 1964.12 years later, congress said Bureau of Land Management was to survey its lands for wilderness areas. Lots of concerns among Utahans with restrictions imposed by these and other federal laws, Utahans questioned the rights of the federal government to do this. The "Sagebrush Rebellion." Orrin Hatch praised it as a second "American revolution," calling opponents "dandelion pickers" and a "cult of toadstool worshipers." Some Utah environmentalists attacked greedy motives of the rebels, calling it the "sagebrush ripoff." It is regrettable that the two sides couldn't get past rhetoric to propose a solution together. Utah governor Scott Matheson was cautious but interested in rebellion. Senate Bill 5 was to cede land from federal government to the state. This made public enemies of employees of BLM. SB5 passed in the house and senate. Gov. asked a committee to see how much state would have to spend to govern the land, said state could do it, has budget. The recommendation failed to note some important contradictory views but on the strength of the report, Governor signed the bill after they repealed a provision of jailing federal employees who tried to enforce their ownership. Jedediah takes issue with Matheson's view of the situation as important for public involvement, etc. and doesn’t see as rosy a picture. Instead he sees a lot of angry people and angry rhetoric with few solutions.
The most visible controversy involved lands in the Moab area. A canyon was designated as part of wilderness study area, this disallowed motor vehicles. But the county announced it was going to upgrade road up the canyon with bulldozers anyway on July 4 ,1980. There was talk of the cancerous growth of federal bureaucracy. They bulldozed the road and found out they actually missed boundary, so they sent another crew to complete the work. BLM ordered the county to restore the road within 10 days or be billed for federal employees to do it. County commissioners facing lawsuits backed down. BLM soon cut that canyon from its protected area, but then the Sierra club complained and it was put back. BLM re-stationed a controversial director of BLM into the Moab area, a hated man there by rebels. Environmental organizations including the Sierra club and wilderness associations discredited the sagebrush rebels. Coverage in press on the rebels was overwhelmingly negative. It all ended quite quickly and not in the expected way. Reagan was elected and appointed James Watt director, who said he was in favor of the rebels but later came up with a compromise to work around them The "good neighbor policy," a four-prong strategy for multiple use while retaining federal ownership. The rebellion collapsed. Besides, the new administration was favorable to their interests anyway.
Conclusion, both sides had plenty of contradictions and inconsistencies in their rhetoric. The fed government said it was safeguarding the place from ruin, but pushed for devastating projects like missile projects and toxic waste dumps. The rebels said the feds would lock up the land from access, but that’s exactly what would happen if it became privatized as they wanted. Plus they enjoyed subsidies and government funds. Few if any attempts were made to work together by either side. They mostly postured, protested and used rhetorical flairs. Consequently, they helped polarize, fracture, alienate, and entrench, but not bring together.
We've given you a taste of the new book and the variety of the topics discussed. Hopefully this gives an idea of the ways Utah changed over the course of the 20th century. An interesting question is whether Utah was more American in 2000 than in 1900, and whether a reversal occurred mid-century where the Mormon church reasserted political and economic power in 60s and 70s, thus influencing less separation of church and state than in 1900.
Question and Answer-
Q- What prompted the project?
A- We are both 20th century historians, and few have done much work in this area. We saw a need for a book like this and wanted to encourage, promote and showcase scholarship of the 20th century. We need this stuff for history classes. There are 16 essays in book, some involved in the seminar that resulted in this book didn’t finish their papers. We sent out a call for papers but primarily people tied to Utah responded.
Q-During research what did you find most interesting that you didn’t kknow.
A- [Embry] I knew about the federal governments involvement in Utah, and there were some attempts made to eliminate my article on local politics, but I learned how much local politics affect our lives. Local government makes major differences.
[Cannon]- I have a greater recognition on the civil rights issue, and now will devote more attention to such an important theme.
Q- When teaching students on issues regarding race and so forth, do you sense much discomfort, much pushback? What is response?
A- [Cannon] These issues are important because they allow us to hold up a mirror to ourselves, and these issues still surround us. It is important to talk about. Lewsis’s essay brought out the most comments from my students because De Voto came out so strongly against Utah and it raised the defensive pro-Utah sense in some of my students. Overall it helps people to define themselves when they have someone taking such a contrarian position, they have to ask themselves what are the grounds for the opposition views and my views? [Embry]- Yes, there's nothing like a good "us or them" argument to get things moving [laughter].
Q- Have many of the students heard of Topaz?
A- [Cannon] Many students hadn’t heard about it. They usually know about relocation camps, but are surprised at the location in Utah. In teaching at BYU some of the students are surprised that the LDS church didn’t take some sort of stance against relocation at the time. There were other groups, like the more liberal Protestant denominations and Quakers who were more ready at the time to take a stance.