BRIEF HISTORY OF UTAH
Ron Rood and Linda Thatcher
Utah’s thousands of years of prehistory and its centuries of known recorded history are so distinctive and complex that a summary can only hint at the state’s rich heritage. The synopsis offered here follows major themes in Utah history and includes some of the significant dates, events, and individuals.
Utahns began petitioning Congress for admission to the Union in 1849, but statehood was not achieved until 1896. During most of the intervening years the territory was governed by federal appointees, almost exclusively non-Mormons. Residents chafed under these outsiders. While the number of non-Mormons living in Utah was then 10 percent or less, they were mostly concentrated in the urban areas or in mining and railroad towns. A number of factors made this minority feel fearful of Mormon dominance: communitarian economic practices, lack of free public schools, encouragement of immigration by converts to Mormonism, polygamy, church authoritarianism, and the mingling of church and state affairs.
Congress passed the Anti-bigamy Act in 1862, but it was generally not enforced. The Poland Act of 1874 and the Edmunds Act of 1882 were upheld by the Supreme Court, and after 1883 arrests for polygamy greatly increased. Finally, in 1887 the Edmunds Tucker Act dissolved the church corporation and threatened the survival of all Mormon institutions. Additionally, women, who had the vote under territorial law, were disfranchised by this act. Clearly something dramatic had to be done to reverse this trend. In September 1890 LDS President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto renouncing the practice of polygamy.
In 1891 the two national political parties were organized in Utah. Careful teamwork by Mormons and non-Mormons in Washington, D. C., and positive recommendations by the Utah Commission led to the passage of the Enabling Act, signed by President Grover Cleveland in July 1894. Utah held a Constitutional Convention in 1895, and statehood became a reality on January 4, 1896. Utah women, who had been at the forefront of the national suffrage movement, campaigned vigorously and successfully for restoration of the vote and achieved a full equal rights provision in the new state constitution.