Skip to content
Secondary Content

Category Archives: About History

66th Annual Utah History Conference

Call for Papers

Transportation and Movement

History Sessions to be held on September 28, 2018

It’s possible to read Utah history as a story of movement and transportation. The centrality of movement to exploration, industry, and travel—major themes in Utah history—is obvious. Less so is the way movement can be seen on a more conceptual level as a way to evaluate change over space and time: the variation and transformation of the landscape, the flow of ideas and people into and out of the state, the mobility of groups and individuals, the development of transportation-related infrastructure, and the transportation and communication networks connecting the state to regional and national systems. The flow of ideas and people is now more global than ever before, rendering traditional boundaries that confined physical movement less operable.

The 66th Annual Utah History Conference will take a deep dive into the themes of transportation and movement. This theme will include the study and commemoration of America’s first transcontinental railroad completed and joined at Promontory, Utah Territory, on May 10, 1869. We invite the public, scholars, students, policymakers, and organizations to submit proposals for papers, panels, or multimedia presentations on this theme. This is both a call for papers and a call for community recognition of the centrality of transportation and movement to Utah and the western region.

Submissions on other aspects of Utah history will also be considered. We welcome a range of formats, from the traditional panels and sessions to more innovative formats. We encourage full session or panel submissions, though we will make every effort to match single paper proposals with other panels and papers.

Each proposal must include:

  • Each paper proposal, whether individual or in a session, should include a 500-word abstract detailing the presentation, its association if any with the theme, and its topic’s significance. Submissions for entire sessions or panels should include a session title and a 500-word session abstract that outlines the purpose of the session, along with a confirmed chair and/or commentator, if applicable.
  • Brief bio (50-word limit) and accompanying c.v. with address, phone, and email for each participant
  • Audio-visual requirements
  • Your permission, if selected, for media interviews, session audio/visual recordings, and electronic sessions or podcasts during or in advance of the conference. The Historical Society will use these recording in its effort to meet its history-related mission.

We will accept submissions January 1, 2018, to April 13, 2018.

Click here to submit a individual paper proposal

Click here to submit a panel or multiple presenter session proposal

Please direct questions regarding submissions to Dr. George or Dr. Rogers at uhq@utah.gov.

For general conference information, please contact Alycia Rowley at 801-245-7226 or aaldrich@utah.gov.

2018 Utah State History Conference home page

2018 Outstanding Achievement Awards

Nominations are now being accepted

The Utah Division of State History’s annual awards recognize individuals and groups who have made a significant contribution to history, prehistory or historic preservation in the state of Utah. Whether these efforts on behalf of the past are quiet or prominent, they benefit the state’s citizens in tangible and intangible ways. Utah State History therefore invites nominations of persons or organizations who have given extraordinary service or completed outstanding projects in the field of Utah archaeology, preservation or history, or in support of one of Utah’s heritage organizations. This project or activity may include research, preservation, education, fundraising, community programs, volunteerism, journalism or other activities.

All projects must be completed within the past two years prior to nomination. Organizational nominations should include description of organization, mission, and programs. Documentation must accompany the form and should include a minimum of two letters of support, photos of project, exhibits, or visual arts, or copies of articles, books, videos, or scripts.

Nominations will be accepted until May 31, 2018.

Awards will be presented at the 66th Annual Utah State History Conference, “Transportation and Movement” on September 28, 2018 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.

Submit an Outstanding Achievement Award nomination

2018 Utah State History Conference home page

Call for Papers

This is both a call for papers and a call for community recognition of the centrality of transportation and movement to Utah and the western region. We invite the public, scholars, students, policymakers, and organizations to submit proposals for papers, panels, or multimedia presentations on this theme.

For additional information, please email lbuckmiller@utah.gov or call (801) 245-7231

Board of State History

 Meeting Agenda
Thursday, January 25, 2018, 12:00 – 3:00 pm

Rio Grande Depot, 300 S. Rio Grande Street, Board Room

TIME:  Noon – working lunch for Board members

12:15 p.m. – WELCOME – Dina Blaes, Chair

OCTOBER – DECEMBER STATE HISTORY PROGRAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Brad Westwood – Administration (5 min)
1. State Historical Administrators Meeting (American Association for State and Local History)

Roger Roper – Historic Preservation (5 min)
1. New coordinator for the Certified Local Government program, Alena Franco.
2. Prepared and submitted the required annual report to the National Park Service related to our federal funding and the SHPO programs we administer.
3. Hosted the 3-day conference of the International Society for Landscape, Place, and Material Culture

Wendy Rex-Atzet – History Day (5 min)
1. Holocaust Education teacher workshop and Antisemitism brownbag
2. New registration system
3.  K12 curriculum project Our Past, Their Present
4.  History Day on the Hill

Doug Misner – Library and Collections (5 min)
1. Assisted in the take down of the “Utah Drawn” exhibit, which was transferred to Southern Utah University.
2. Participated in an event at the University of Utah celebrating the return of the ship’s bell from the USS Utah.
3. Publishing online information and photographs of artifacts from the collection using our new collection management system. https://heritage.utah.gov/history/artifacts-collection
4.  Conducted 6 tours of the collection spaces for the Lt. Governor, various legislators, students, and private citizen groups. .

Chris Merritt  – Antiquities (5 min)
1. E106 Launch
2. Public Archaeologist Position

Jed Rogers, Holly George – Utah Historical Quarterly (5 min)
1.  Winter UHQ
2. World War I Commission

Kevin Fayles – Communications (5 min)
1. Website stats and social media
2. Cemetery and burials database 

ACTION ITEMS 

  1. Approval of the October 26 2017 Board of State History Retreat Minutes – Dina Blaes
    (Board motion required) (3 min)
  2. Committee reports
    (Board motion required if any action items are requested)
    A) Historic Preservation & Archaeology Committee – David Richardson (5 min)
    National Register of Historic Places Nominations – Chris Merritt, Roger Roper (30 min)
    National Register for Historic Places Nominations Summaries
    a) Paso por Aqui – Año 1776 Inscription (Federal nomination – no vote required)
    b) Coal Bed Village
    c) Ron’s Phillips 66 Service Station
    d) Harold B. and Fern Lee House
    Request For Removal from National Register of Historic Places – Roger Roper (10 min)
    All have been demolished
    e) Planing Mill of Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association, Brigham City
    f) Clotworth-McMullin House, Heber
    g) Erekson Artillo Dairy Farmhouse, Murray
    B) Major Planning, Gifts & Awards Committee – Brad Westwood (5 min)
    C) Library, Collections & Digitization Committee – Steve Olsen (5 min)
    D) Utah State Historical Society Committee – David Rich Lewis (5 min)
    a) Awards Policy
    – Governor’s Medal in History
    – Achievement Awards

DISCUSSION ITEMS

  1. Recap of Jan. 18th Dept. of Heritage & Arts Joint Board and Staff Retreat  – Steve Olsen (5 min)
  2. Follow-up discussion from the Oct. 26th Board Retreat – Dina Blaes, Brad Westwood ( 45 min)
  3. Fellows and Honorary Life Member Nominations – Jed Rogers (5 min)

OTHER BUSINESS
5.  Historical Markers – Ken Gallacher (5 minutes)

NEXT MEETING:  April 26, 2017, 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

ADJOURN

 

 

Archaeology & Preservation Month 2018

Utah Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month celebrates Utah’s rich archaeological and historical resources with a month of lectures and hands-on learning. Statewide events include:

  • Open house at the Natural History Museum of Utah with educational activities for (kids and adults
  • Hands-on experiences
  • Lectures and paper presentations
  • Tours of archaeological and historical sites

Printable version of the events calendar is available!

Please note: Updates occur regularly, but may take up to 48 hours to appear. Please note: Jumps may land slightly below their marker. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

Do you have an event? Please email cmerritt@utah.gov and fill out the Archaeology and Historic Preservation Event Form


Brigham City

  • Third Annual Academy Center Art Show & Sale in the Historic Box Elder Academy of Music and Dancing Building
    Date & Time: Memorial Day Weekend, May 25 and 26
    Location:
    For More Information (contact info): Lanan Donovan (artshow@historicbrigham.org)
    Sponsors/Organizations:
    Historic Downtown Brigham City
    Admission Cost: Free
    Event Description: The annual Academy Center Art Show & Sale, held on Memorial Day Weekend, is gaining attention as one of the Top of Utah’s finest art venues. It is set in the stunningly restored Academy Conference Center Ballroom, in Historic Downtown Brigham City. This event will showcases over 100 works of art in professional, amateur, and student divisions. Media includes oil/acrylic, watercolor, drawing, and sculpture portraying a wide range of subjects.  www.visitbrighamcity.com/artshow

Golden Spike National Historic Site

  • Transcontinental Celebration (149th Anniversary)
    Date & Time: Thursday, May 10 (9am to 5pm)
    Location: Golden Spike National Historic Site, 32 miles west of Brigham City
    For More Information (contact info): 435-471-2209, ext 29
    Sponsors/Organizations:
    National Park Service
    Admission Cost: Free
    Event Description: Golden Spike National Historic Site will celebrate the 149th anniversary of the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad on  May 10th, 2018.  Events marking the May 10th occasion include the recreation of the historic “champagne photo”, a performance by Box Elder High School Band, traditional anniversary program, a re-enactment of the original 1869 ceremony, and locomotive steam demonstrations.

 

CacheCounty

Hyrum

  • Riding Tours of Historic Hyrum
    Date & Time: Saturday, May 12 (11am & 2pm)
    Location: Meet at the Hyrum Museum, 50 West Main Hyrum
    For More Information (contact info): museum@hyrumcity.com or (435) 245-0208
    Sponsors/Organizations:
    Hyrum City Museum and Hyrum Historic Preservation Commission
    Admission Cost:  Free, but sign-up with the museum to guarantee spot
    Event Description: Join us for a riding tour of the historic structures and sites of Hyrum. Enjoy 45 minutes of a guided tour including historic pictures of the places we’ll be viewing along with interesting facts, stories, and maybe a tall tale or two!

Logan

  • A People’s Story of the Land
    Date & Time: May 19, 10am to 4pm
    Location: Stokes Nature Center, 2696 E Hwy 89, Logan, UT 84321
    For More Information (contact info):  Stokes Nature Center, nature@logannature.org, 435-755-3239
    Sponsors/Organizations:
    Stokes Nature Center, USU Museum of Anthropology, NW Band of the Shoshone Tribe
    Admission Cost:  Free
    Event Description: The month of May has been designated as Annual Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month to promote Utah’s historical heritage throughout the state. Here at Stokes Nature Center, we are teaming up with the USU Museum of Anthropology, and the NW Band of the Shoshone tribe to take this opportunity to showcase the diverse history of the native people’s relationship with the land. Please join us on Saturday, May 19th, from 10 AM – 4 PM at Stokes Nature Center to celebrate the Shoshone heritage and story. We will have special exhibits, demonstrations of skill such as basket-weaving, bead-making, using natural dyes, edible and medicinal plant identification, and more! Chairman Darren Parry will be closing the day’s festivities with a presentation about balancing the needs of the Shoshone people with environmental stewardship.

66th Annual Utah History Conference

Transportation and Movement

September 27–28, 2018

It’s possible to read Utah history as a story of movement and transportation. The centrality of movement to exploration, industry, and travel—major themes in Utah history—is obvious. Less so is the way movement can be seen on a more conceptual level as a way to evaluate change over space and time: the variation and transformation of the landscape, the flow of ideas and people into and out of the state, the mobility of groups and individuals, the development of transportation-related infrastructure, and the transportation and communication networks connecting the state to regional and national systems.

The flow of ideas and people is now more global than ever before, rendering traditional boundaries that confined physical movement less operable.

The Utah Historical State Society, thanks to our generous sponsors, offers the conference free to scholars, writers, educators, students, and the general public. Registration is required.

Register to Attend! 


CONFERENCE SCHEDULE OVERVIEW

Thursday, September 27 
8:30 am–5:00 pm
Workshops
Rio Grande Depot, 300 S. Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City
State Archives Building, 346 South Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City

Friday, September 28 
7:45 am – check in and morning refreshment
9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Plenary, lunchtime keynote and awards presentation, history and panel sessions
Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 West 3100 South, West Valley

We are pleased to announce David Haward Bain, author of “Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad,” will provide the conference keynote address. Bain is the author of dozens of books and articles.

Empire Express is an epic narrative history covering not only the dramatic struggle to link the oceans with twin bands of iron but three decades in which America doubled in size, fought three wars, and discovered itself. A main selection of the Book of the Month Club and a selection of the History Book Club, Empire Express was a finalist both for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in History and the Francis Parkman Prize, and won the New England Historical Association’s and the National Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society’s annual book prizes; the author was elected a Fellow in the Society of American Historians. The work was featured on Brian Lamb’s C-SPAN show, “Booknotes” and adapted by PBS “The American Experience” into a 2-hour documentary.

See http://www.davidhbain.com/

Saturday, September 29th
A tour is being planned by the Fort Douglas Military Museum, likely addressing transportation in the West Desert.  We will send additional details about the tour once it has been confirmed for registration separately.



DETAILED CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Thursday, September 27
Workshops

Volunteer Management Training
LaDawn Stoddard and Mary Buehler
9:00 am – 3:30 pm (45 min break for lunch – on your own)
Zephyr Conference Room, Rio Grande Depot
300 S. Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City, UT

UServeUtah’s Volunteer Management Training was created as a resource for organizations to more effectively and efficiently engage volunteers. Based on international best practice research, this training walks participants through foundational principles like developing position descriptions, recruitment, interviewing, placement, orientation & training, retention, and evaluation. You will learn the necessary skills to assess volunteer needs and match those needs with the strategic goals of your organization and develop relevant, competency-based volunteer opportunities that attract and retain high caliber volunteers.

Utah Geographic Names: how geographic names in Utah are proposed, managed, and officially reviewed
Arie Leeflang
9:00 am – 10:30 am
West Lecture Room, Rio Grande Depot

The names associated with natural geographic features often carry significant history, character, and meaning for the nearby communities or local cultural groups. Since 1890 and 1978 respectively, the U.S Board on Geographic Names and the Utah Committee on Geographic Names have been reviewing proposed geographic names in an effort to standardize naming efforts. This workshop will address how geographic names are proposed and reviewed – including the various national policies the state Committee and national Board follow. Resources on researching geographic names will be also covered. Finally, current trends and topics in geographic names, including the recent Grandstaff Canyon proposal, will be reviewed.

Family History Meets History
Holly George
1:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Board Room, Rio Grande Depot
300 S. Rio Grande, Salt Lake City

The world of family history has much to offer—both tools and stories—to the writers of history. At the same time, historical writing and genealogical work are not always the same thing.

This workshop will address
1) How to use the tools of family history research in historical writing
2) How to craft family stories into articles for journals such as Utah Historical Quarterly

Utah History in 3D: The Use of 21st Century Technologies in Archaeology
Shawn Lambert
1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
West Lecture Room, Rio Grande Depot
300 S. Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City

When people think of archaeology, they mainly think of excavations and artifact recovery. There is another facet of archaeology that involves photogrammetry and 3D printing technologies. In this workshop, you will receive an introduction to photogrammetry and 3D printing and their applications in archaeology and public outreach.

Friday, September 28

7:45 am – 9:00 am:  Check in and morning refreshments
9:00 am – 10:15 am: Opening Plenary
History Session 1:  10:30 am – 11:45 am
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm:  Lunchtime Keynote Speech by David Haward Bain, author of “Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad” and Outstanding Achievement Awards Program, by Dina Blaes, Chair, Board of State History
History Session 2:  1:45 pm – 3:00 pm
History Session 3:  3:15 pm – 4:30 pm

**Detailed session information will be finalized and announced in May


Call for Papers – Submit a Session Proposal

This is both a call for papers and a call for community recognition of the centrality of transportation and movement to Utah and the western region. We invite the public, scholars, students, policymakers, and organizations to submit proposals for papers, panels, or multimedia presentations on this theme.

 

2018 Outstanding Achievement Awards – Nominations are Now Being Accepted

The Utah Division of State History’s annual awards recognize individuals and groups who have made a significant contribution to history, prehistory or historic preservation in the state of Utah. Whether these efforts on behalf of the past are quiet or prominent, they benefit the state’s citizens in tangible and intangible ways. Utah State History therefore invites nominations of persons or organizations who have given extraordinary service or completed outstanding projects in the field of Utah archaeology, preservation or history, or in support of one of Utah’s heritage organizations. This project or activity may include research, preservation, education, fundraising, community programs, volunteerism, journalism or other activities.

 

Helen Z. Papanikolas Award
Best Student Paper on Utah Women’s History

Utah State History sponsors the Papanikolas Award to encourage new scholarly research in the area of Utah women’s history at colleges and universities. Submit your paper by clicking on the above link.

 


Thank you to our generous conference sponsors!

    
                    
    
    

Register to Attend! 

For general conference, award nominations, or session proposals questions, please contact Alycia Rowley at aaldrich@utah.gov or 801-245-7226

Utah State History Conference Podcast


2017 State History Conference “Local Matters”

Listen to select sessions from the 2017 State History Conference

 

 

 


2016 State History Conference “Rural Utah, Western Issues”

Listen to select sessions from the 2016 State History Conference

 

 

 


2015 State History Conference “Deep Roots: Many Voices

Listen to select sessions from the 2015 State History Conference

USS Utah

The USS Utah During World War I and World War II

On December 7, 2017, the bell was placed on permanent display in the University of Utah’s Naval Science Building.

Background of the USS Utah

President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy William H. Moody proposed naming a battleship for the state of Utah on their visit in 1903. The proposal became reality when Congress authorized its construction on May 13, 1908.

Built by the New York Ship Building Company and launched on December 23, 1909, the USS Utah was sponsored by Alice Spry, daughter of Governor William Spry.

Commissioned in August 1911, the USS Utah joined the Atlantic Fleet in 1912 after Captain William S. Benson led this ship through its shakedown cruise.

In 1914 the Utah participated in action at Vera Cruz during the Mexican Revolution. She assisted in the transport of refugees to Tampico, Mexico and sent a landing force to occupy Vera Cruz, Mexico to prevent weapons and ammunition from being delivered to General Huerta.

After the United States entered World War I, the USS Utah was stationed at Bantry Bay, Ireland and served as the flagship for Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers, Commander of Battleship Division 6. Her main responsibility during the war’s final months was to protect supply convoys. She ended her service in Europe by joining the honor escort carrying President Woodrow Wilson to France.

After the London Naval Treaty of 1930, the USS Utah was redesignated as a “miscellaneous auxiliary ship.” She now served as a remote controlled target ship to train anti-aircraft gunners. She effectively filled this role for the Navy from 1931 to 1941.

On December 7, 1941, the USS Utah was moored on the northwest side of Ford Island opposite Battleship Row. In the first minutes of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Utah was struck by at least two torpedoes and began listing heavily to port. The order was given to abandon ship and by 0812 the ship had rolled over and sunk. Six officers and fifty two enlisted men were killed, including Chief Petty Officer Peter Tomich, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.

After the attack, the Utah was partially turned “… inshore to clear the approach to an adjacent pier.” The Navy began to assess the damage to determine if she could be repaired and if salvage operations could begin. On September 5, 1944 she was declared “out of commission, not in service” and was struck from the Navy’s list of ships on November 13, 1944.

How Did the Ship’s Bell from the USS Utah End-Up at the University of Utah?

The ship’s bell from the USS Utah was originally presented by the United States Navy to the Utah State Historical Society in April 1961. Transfer of the bell was arranged through the office of Senator Wallace F. Bennett and was given to the Historical Society on an indefinite loan basis. For almost six years the bell was housed at the Historical Society’s offices in the Kearns Mansion on South Temple.

Discussions began in 1965 to loan the bell to a new Naval History Museum that was to be located in the Naval Science Building on the University of Utah campus. The museum was to be an affiliate of the Utah State Museum of Natural History. In January 1965, the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society passed a resolution supporting the creation of the museum.  Everett L. Cooley, Director of the Utah State Historical Society and Major Gaut, curator of the Naval History Museum, began communicating to arrange the loan of the ship’s bell and other items from the Historical Society’s collection. The bell was to be loaned to the museum with the condition that the Historical Society could ask for its return if in the future a new Utah State History Museum was established. The bell was transferred in February 1966 with the intention of either displaying it inside the Naval Science Building or on an appropriate foundation outside the building.

Pearl Harbor’s Forgotten Hero: The Story of the USS Utah

1961 Press Release from Senator Wallace F. Bennett

1961 Press Release from the Clearfield, Utah Naval Supply Depot

USS Utah The Utah Daily Chronicle Feb. 10, 1966

USS Utah Salt Lake Tribune April 11, 1961

2017 State History Conference Sessions

If you missed our 2017 history conference “Local Matters,” you can listen to selected sessions, the plenary presentation, and the keynote address.

Plenary Session — Peril, Conflict, and Storytelling in Community History

  • David Rich Lewis (moderator), Utah State University emeritus
  • Elizabeth Clement, Department of History, University of Utah
  • Gregory Smoak, American West Center, University of Utah
  • Benjamin Pykles, LDS Church History Department

Keynote I’m Not a Historian, But I Played One on TV
Ken Verdoia: Through a forty-five year career in broadcast journalism, Ken Verdoia chronicled many individuals, episodes, and eras that shaped Utah, the region, and the nation.

Cache Valley Utah Drug Court Oral History Project: A Community-Driven Effort

  • Randy Williams (moderator), Fife Folkfore Archives, Utah State University
  • Jennifer Duncan, Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University
  • Thomas L. Wilmore, Utah First District Court
  • Andrew Dupree, Drug Court Graduate and Community Scholar

The Impact of Independent Film on Local Communities

The panel will discuss the many facets of documentary filmmaking, film exhibition, economics and the impact documentary film has on local communities.

  • Doug Fabrizio or Elaine Clarke (moderator), KUER, RadioWest
  • Patrick Hubley, Program Director, Utah Film Center
  • Virginia Pearce, Director, Utah Film Commission
  • Local Filmmakers: Tyler Measom, Film: Sons of Perdition; Jenny MacKenzie and Jorden Saxton Hackney, Jennie MacKenzie Films, Film: Dying In Vein

Interpreting Controversy: Preserving and Presenting the Story of Joe Hill

A panel highlighting the story of Joe Hill, discussing the value of preserving the original records that help tell the Joe Hill story, and explaining how teachers make use of primary sources to instruct students on controversial and difficult histories.

  • Jeremy Harmon, Salt Lake Tribune
  • Jim Kichas, Utah State Archives
  • Quinn Rollins, Granite School District

Trail of the West

Free Film Series: Classic Hollywood Cinema and the Imagination of the American West

The Utah State Historical Society, Ms. Naoma Tate, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and others invite you to celebrate the spirit of the American West through art, movies and events.

The films will be shown on third Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., January – June 2018, at the Fort Douglas Post Theater (245 S Fort Douglas Blvd). See a list of all screenings.

  • January 18, 2018Buffalo Bill (1944)
  • February 15, 2018Ramona (1928)
  • March 15, 2018Ramrod (1947)
  • April 19, 2018Wagon Master (1950)
  • May 17, 2018Brigham Young (1940)
  • June 21, 2018Westward the Women (1951)

The series focuses on Utah’s storied landscapes and how classic Hollywood films used them to create an ideal, imagined American West. Dr. James V. D’Arc, a retired BYU motion picture curator and professor of film, will offer a brief lecture before each screening and lead a post-viewing discussion.

At the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, you’ll find activities from December 2017 to June 2018. Read a booklet of all events.

As part of this effort, join us for Screening Utah, a free, public film series done in partnership with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

 

Parking Instructions: Please park behind the Ft. Douglas Post Theater (taking Ft. Douglas Blvd.). Parking lot 84 is the closest, but lots 77, 78 ,79 are also available. Parking is free at the University after 6:00 p.m. See the map to the left.

Founding of the Utah Historical Society

The Founding of the Utah State Historical Society

The following text comes verbatim from Glen M. Leonard’s “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972” (Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 40, Number 4, Fall 1972) and Gary Topping’s “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society” (Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 65, Number 3, Summer 1972).

[On July 14, 1897, the Deseret Evening News carried] a “Historical Society Call” addressed to the people of Utah and inviting all interested persons to an organizational meeting at the Templeton Hotel on July 22 to form a Utah State Historical Society.[1]

The resulting call of Governor Heber M. Wells brought twenty-seven persons together at the Templeton Hotel on Thursday, July 22, 1987. The Utah State Historical Society was on its way exactly fifty years after the vanguard of pioneer wagons entered the Salt Lake Valley.[2]

Why form a historical society at all and why at that particular time? There is an obvious and simple answer in the interest in history naturally aroused by the pioneer Golden Jubilee. That emotional impetus, the organizers hoped, could be carried through to institutional expression. The “Historical Society Call” began by recognizing that “the ‘Jubilee celebration’ of the advent of the Pioneers [is] an appropriate time for the founding of a society.”[3]

Governor [Heber M.] Wells called the July 22 meeting to order, recognized the fact that the organization was the brainchild of Jerrold R. Letcher, and appointed him chairman.[4]

Letcher’s stated goals for the organization in the “Historical Society Call” have a familiarly modern ring to them, for they anticipate, at least in embryonic form, some of the … major programs in our own day: … the exploration and investigation of aboriginal monuments and remains” (thus anticipating the Antiquities Section); collection and preservation of “manuscripts, documents, papers, and tracts of value” (anticipating the Library); and dissemination of historical information and “inter-change of views and criticisms” through scheduled meetings (anticipating the annual meetings … and perhaps even the Publications Section). Little imagination is required to foresee the Historic Preservation Section developing as an extension into the historical period of the concern for aboriginal sites (though historically the Historic Preservation Section would slightly precede the Antiquities Section).[5]

Participating in the founding rites were the key figures of Utah’s new government, civic leaders, and prominent religious hierarchs. In the slate of thirteen names proposed as officers and board of the initial organization one senses a careful balancing of sectarian, political, suffragist, and geographic interests.[6]

The Society’s earliest annual meetings were lively affairs featuring both music and intellectual stimulation. The first one took place in the Theosophical Hall on West Temple on the evening of January 17, 1898.[7]

[Jerrold R. Letcher] kept the minutes faithfully for eighteen years and provided a thread of continuity during that first period of the Society’s history. These were years in which the officers served as little more than a caretaker government for an organization which everyone agreed had ample reason to exist but no sizeable treasury from which to operate. The only visible activity from 1897 to 1916 was the meeting convened annually on the third Monday of January, often in the Deseret National Bank. … [The] sole purpose of many of those small gatherings was the constitutionally required election of officers.[8]

After the 1918, 1919, and 1920 annual meetings which featured addresses (though only the 1918 meeting included music), the tradition was completely abandoned except for the perfunctory elections, until 1930.[9]

The Society’s hard times following World War I are graphically symbolized by the board minutes themselves. Handsomely typewritten on ledger sheets during Jerrold Letcher’s tenure as recording secretary, they rapidly declined in both content and appearance. When Letcher resigned in 1920 to fill a state position …, his successors sometimes penciled their minutes on odd chunks of scratch paper, and in three instances merely on 3-by-5 index cards.[10]

The Society achieved the status of a state agency in 1917 and received its first state appropriation in that year—two hundred dollars to care for the artifacts from the Hall of Relics. It is hard to overestimate the importance of that achievement. … Becoming a state agency laid the groundwork for shifting the Society’s base of support from a tiny group—wealthy and influential though they were—to the people of Utah themselves. It was the beginning of the democratization of the Society, and that democratic support has been the Society’s greatest strength.[11]

It was obvious from the beginning that if the Society were to fulfill any part of its ambitious goals of assembling a library and manuscript collection and curation of the Hall of Relics artifacts and other material objects, some kind of office or museum space would be required. With both the governor and the secretary of state of Utah present on the Society’s board, it was natural that the possibility of rooms in the future State Capitol, then under discussion, would be considered.[12]

Thus, even though the minutes laconically mention the Society’s first meeting in its new room in the basement of the Capitol on January 17, 1916, the event must have been the occasion for considerable rejoicing. At last, cramped and isolated as its new quarters were, the Society could begin its full role as initially planned.[13]

The Society in the early 1920s was searching for an identity within the halls of government where it had been provided with a tiny, first floor Capitol office and minimal expenses. It found itself—and inaugurated a new period of significant accomplishment—after almost fading into disorganization. During several years of inattention to the details of staggered terms, the board of control, traditionally elected by the general membership, had come up short two members. Society leaders decided the solution was appointment by the governor; Governor Charles R. Mabey, a friend of history, liked the idea. It would strengthen state control over the policy-making board and tie the Society closer to state government. The change was authorized by the 1925 legislature.[14]

[Starting in 1927 J. Cecil Alter began] the transformation of the Society into a vigorous organization with authentic scholarly standards fulfilling a vitally important function in Utah cultural life. [Encouraged by the businessman-scholar Herbert S. Auerbach, aided by the tireless secretary-manager Marguerite L. Sinclair, and supported by the remarkable self-made historian Dale L. Morgan], Alter started the Utah Historical Quarterly [in 1928], began assembling a serious Utah history library, and secured the first regular appropriation from the state legislature. The modern Historical Society had begun to emerge.[15]

This thirty-two page [Utah Historical Quarterly] fulfilled the Society’s longing to disseminate historical information in a more permanent format than was possible through letters or sporadic lecture meetings.[16]

The Great Depression had so constricted state revenues by 1933 that the legislature was forced to cut the Society’s budget deeply enough to kill the young Quarterly. … In 1939, the legislature was able to appropriate $5,000 for the next biennium, and the Quarterly was resurrected.[17]

The Society … [from 1936 to 1948] moved through three overlapping phases. The creation of a small research library with a generous gift of books from Alter and revival of the Quarterly in 1939, accompanied by a consistent membership effort by Sinclair established the Society on its modern foundation.[18]

Marguerite Sinclair’s office from the early 1940s fulfilled numerous requests to proofread inscriptions written for state highway markers and some inquiries from private history groups seeking verification of their proposed historical markers.[19]

[F]or several years after 1941 the Society was transformed into a historical records office. It chronicled Utah’s participation in World War II, an assignment which diverted it from other planned activities. In the late 1940s an awareness born of New Deal records surveys turned the Society toward its obligation to preserve noncurrent state and county records. An archives program was the hope of board member William R. Palmer, but more pressing challenges faced officers as first J. Cecil Alter moved and then Miss Sinclair married and both resigned.[20]

The first goal of Utah State University history professor Joel E. Ricks when he began an eight-year term as president in 1949 was to find a qualified editor for Society publications. … From a field of a half-dozen candidates, the board selected A. Russell Mortensen. … He was hired September 1, 1950, as an executive secretary-editor, a position renamed “director” midway in his tenure to reflect his strengthened administrative role.[21]

[A. R. Mortensen] was not only the first Ph.D. to lead the Society but also the first person with any academic training in history at all to have been involved in management of the organization.[22]

The task of building a research library was entrusted to John W. James, Jr., librarian from 1952 to 1971. … Professional direction for the library attracted numerous gifts of all kinds and provided a valuable service for Utah historians. Another major program inaugurated during this period was the archives. Despite inadequate funding and substandard housing, Everett L. Cooley charted a solid path for implementing records management and archival programs as state archivist from 1954 to 1960.[23]

The introduction of professionals as administrator, librarian, and archivist created a new image for the Society. Professional advice had been available to the Society for years from historians serving as part-time, unpaid board members; their determination to introduce trained specialists was made possible through a swelling of financial support from the state. The increase was threefold during the Mortensen years. [24]

[In the early 1950s] the library and manuscript collection were extremely modest; the library consisted of about 1,5000 volumes occupying three glass-front bookcases … and the manuscript collection was little more than the WPA Historical Records Survey materials. … Obviously the Historical Society had reached a limit on its growth and would have to move if it were to expand.[25]

The Society’s most critical physical need in the early 1950s was solved … when Dr. Mortensen obtained the Governor’s Mansion.[26]

Occupant Governor J. Bracken Lee … was known to dislike the home’s lack of privacy. … In February 1957, the staff unpacked Society belongings at 603 East South Temple to begin a new era of growth for the Society on its sixtieth anniversary.[27]

The Society by then was already basking in an aura of new popularity. Professionalizing it had brought new respectability in the academic world. Interestingly enough this had also increased acceptance generally among history buffs. Under Dr. Mortensen’s personable leadership, a well-attended annual dinner and bimonthly lecture series were attracting new members and the public; a redesigned Utah Historical Quarterly with its special summer issues helped boost membership threefold to more than eleven hundred by 1958; and generous publicity and an involved board greatly extended public awareness of the Society.[28]

The original bylaws of the Society allowed for the presentation of certificates of honor. The first were granted when Dr. Mortensen introduced the Fellow and Honorary Life Membership awards in 1960. Since that time other award categories have been added to recognize significant contributions in teaching, scholarship, and service.[29]

The Mansion heralded in 1957 as a cure-all for Society space needs swiftly became crowded as archival work multiplied. … A make-shift records center established in four basement rooms of the Capitol in September 1961 expanded the division’s records management services to more state agencies, while the archives itself began filling available corners in the Mansion’s cellar. With the need for an environmentally-controlled building greater than ever in the mid-1960s, state officials worked with the Society in planning for an appropriate solution.[30]

The State Archives ceased to be a part of the Historical Society’s program in 1968 as a result of recommendations made by the so-called Littler Hoover Commission of 1965.[31]

[The Historical Society] retained its traditional functions and has since moved toward an expansion of activities under the legislative mandate to collect, preserve, and publish Utah’s history.[32]

In the 1967 legislation, the Historical Society is “authorized to solicit memberships” and “authorized to receive bequests, gifts, and endowments of money or property.”[33]

That same year [1967], a Division of State History was created as one of seven units under a Department of Development Services.[34]

Housed within the Division of State History, the Historical Society is now a sister program to entities such as the State Historic Preservation Office, the Antiquities program, and Utah History Day. Today, the Utah State Historical Society continues to serve the people of Utah by publishing the Utah Historical Quarterly, hosting the annual history conference and other events, and serving as a vehicle to obtain and preserve artifacts for the state’s collection.

[1] Topping, Gary, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 65, Number 3, Summer 1972, pages 203 – 204.

[2] Leonard, Glen M., “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 40, Number 4, Fall 1972, page 301.

[3] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society,” 206.

[4] Ibid, 210.

[5] Ibid, 209-210.

[6] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897-1972,” 301.

[7] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society,” 213-214.

[8] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897-1972,” 304.

[9] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society,” 218-219.

[10] Ibid, 219.

[11] Ibid, 219.

[12] Ibid, 219-220.

[13] Ibid, 220.

[14] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 304.

[15] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society,” 224.

[16] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 304-305.

[17] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society,” 226.

[18] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 317.

[19] Ibid, 315.

[20] Ibid, 307.

[21] Ibid, 307 – 308.

[22] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 239.

[23] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 308

[24] Ibid, 308.

[25] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 242.

[26] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 308.

[27] Ibid, 309.

[28] Ibid, 309.

[29] Ibid, 318.

[30] Ibid, 311.

[31] Topping, “One Hundred Years at the Utah State Historical Society,” 261.

[32] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 334.

[33] “Laws of the State of Utah,” 12th Regular Session of the Legislature of the State of Utah, Jan. 8 to March 8, 1917, 478.

[34] Leonard, “The Utah State Historical Society, 1897 – 1972,” 311.