Change and Creativity

Thomas G. Alexander
Utah, the Right Place
Condensed by Brittany Nelson

After the admission of Nevada to the Union in 1864 and Colorado in 1876, low population and political controversy kept Utah’s neighboring territories from statehood until 1889–90 when North and South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Wyoming, and Idaho came in. Arizona and New Mexico had to wait until 1912 for admission partly because of the racial prejudice of northern Europeans against the large Latino population.

Utah had a larger population than any of the northern tier territories except Washington, and, except for the prejudice against Mormons—akin to the racism aimed then at Latinos and Native Americans—perhaps a better claim to statehood. Utahns tried unsuccessfully for admission six times (1849, 1856, 1862, 1872, 1882, and 1887) before they finally succeeded in 1896. With the possible exception of the cultural differences created by the large Latino population in New Mexico, the cultural chasm between Utah and the rest of the nation was the largest of any in the territory.

Following statehood, during the Progressive Era, like people in most other states, Utahns tried to mend the rips in the community caused by large corporations, commercial agriculture, and urban growth. In Utah, a combination of progressivism, feminism, boosterism, Mormon community spirit, and corporate influence produced an unusual mixture of progressivism and conservatism. Harboring a humane and progressive community spirit and acting before most other states, Utahns passed laws to mitigate the most perilous hazards of work and life by enacting an eight-hour law for underground mines, requiring the inspection of coal mines, shielding women and children from dangerous occupations, regulating adulterated food, and establishing a minimum wage for women. Accepting the political equality of the sexes, Utah men shared power with women earlier than in most other estates. Nevertheless, conservative American individualism led Utahns to lag behind most other states in adopting workers’ compensation, in regulating monopolistic public utilities, and in inaugurating political democracy. Utah fell in the mid-range of states in moral reform such as the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

Migration also occurred at the turn of the twentieth century. Attacked by jobs and enticed by labor agents such as Leonidas Skliris, people from southern and eastern Europe—especially Italians, Greeks, and Slavs—together with some Asians, especially Japanese, came to work in the mines and smelters, to open businesses, and to replicate their Old World cultures. Some of the southern and eastern Europeans added the orthodox religious tradition to those already in place, and the Chinese and Japanese brought Asian religions, especially Buddhism.