Utah in 1900:  The Second Generation of Pioneer Progress

Utah in 1900: The Second Generation of Pioneer Progress

In 1896, a grand reunion of the pioneers of 1847 was held at the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square. Those gathered shared many memories of a time when they had been forced to leave their homes and move across half a nation to make new homes in a challenging land. Seventeen hundred Latter-Day Saints entered what would become Utah in 1847. By 1896, only several dozen survived. Four year laters, in 1900 the original Pioneer Era had clearly passed. But progress was yet to be made by the children and grandchildren of those hardy stalwarts who journeyed to Utah for religious freedom, economic opportunity or both. However, the year 1900, the turn of a new century, marked one of their milestone years.

UTAH: 1900

via Wikipedia Commons

Utah had been a state for four years. The Indian Pioneer conflicts of early years were a distant memory. The transcontinental railroad had been complete for 31 years. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had abandoned the practice of polygamy and U.S. authorities had decreased their fight of it in Utah, although LDS politicians in Washington D.C., such as B.F. Roberts and Apostle , would be challenged for several more years.

If you lived in Salt Lake City, you were likely to ride around town on street cars and shop at ZCMI Auerbachs or J.C. Penney.

Vacations were likely spent at on the Great Salt Lake or perhaps up one of the city’s neighboring canyons. Mormons generally read the or Salt Lake Herald. Non-Mormons (or “Gentiles”) preferred the Salt Lake Tribune. Babies were almost always born at home. Folks burned coal to keep warm in the winter and most bathrooms were still located outside. School was mandatory through the eighth grade. Challenges and hardships remained, but compared to obstacles faced by Utahns 50 years earlier, life in Utah was pretty good.


The LDS Church had survived the trials and challenges associated with its defense of the practice of plural marriage. However, the Church found itself in severe financial difficulty. An answer to the Church’s pressing financial needs came on May 8, 1899. President Lorenzo Snow, speaking at a conference in St. George, Utah, admonished the Saints to start paying a full tithe (10 percent of their income or increase) to the Church,.President Snow repeated this message at conferences throughout Utah. On July 2,1899, a solemn assembly was held in the Salt Lake Temple, and Church leaders agreed that full payment of tithes was the will of the Lord.

In 1900 a major organization change affected Church members living in Salt Lake County. The old , comprising 41 wards, was divided. The Jordan and Granite Stakes were the first to be created out of the old Salt Lake Stake. From this time forward, the Church sought to keep stakes a fairly uniform size.

A “” was also issued in 1900. This declaration, signed by the First Presidency, reaffirmed the Church’s commitment not to support or sanction the practice of plural marriage by its members.


Many other faiths were well-represented in Utah by 1900. Most members of these churches and synagogues were immigrants who brought their faith with them as they came to Utah. Others came from those who had left the LDS Church.

By 1900 there were over 1,000 Jews in Utah supporting three Jewish congregations. The congregations were divided among followers of the Orthodox and Reform traditions and were located in Salt Lake City and Ogden. Many of the Jewish faith were prominent area merchants.

The Roman Catholic Church was the second largest after the LDS Church. It had congregations throughout Utah, particularly in urban areas and in mining camps. In 1899, under the direction of Bishop Scanlan of the Salt Lake City Diocese, construction began on the Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake City. The Roman Catholic Church also built schools, a hospital, an orphanage and homes for retired miners during this period.

Relations between Mormons, Jews, and Catholics were fairly good at the turn of the century. However, several Protestant Evangelical churches and their members in Utah remained openly hostile to Mormons. They openly fought the teachings of LDS leaders and actively sought converts from the LDS faith. During the 1870s and 1880s, these churches had established numerous schools throughout Utah, in part to help them win converts. By 1900, many of these churches had declining membership. Mormons would often send their children to Protestant schools, but the children remained true to their LDS faith.

The lack of gaining converts, the LDS abandonment of the practice of plural marriage and Utah’s achievement of statehood decreased the interest of many missionary boards in the United States of aggressively proselyting among the Mormons. They felt their resources could be better used elsewhere. Despite the challenges, many of these Protestant church congregations remained firmly established in Utah and continued to provided strong spiritual and social support for their members.


Farming requires land. Large Mormon families required lots of land suitable for farming in order to survive. By the 1880s, the best farming lands in the arid state of Utah were occupied. Useable lands in Washington and Iron counties in southern Utah, Sevier and Sanpete counties in central Utah and counties in the northern part of the state, from Utah County to Cache County, were almost filled to capacity. The colonizing of Utah was coming to an end.

Utah farmers at the turn of the century had to look to lands they had previously ignored in order to expand. Irrigation and other improved methods of agriculture made farming possible in areas like La Sal and Blanding in San Juan County, Carbon and Emery counties and areas of Millard, Tooele and Utah counties. New crops like sugar beets and turkeys were also adopted as farmers sought to find crops they could profitably raise in Utah’s different climates.

The last major area of Utah settled for farming was the Uintah Basin. Previously set aside as a reservation for the Uintah and Ouray bands of the Ute Tribe, large portions of the reservation were opened up for homesteading by President Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s.

Mining also continued to play an important role in Utah’s economy and settlement patterns. The gold mining town of Kimberly, in Paiute County, was established in 1899. New, generally non-Mormon, coal camps opened in Carbon and Emery counties soon after the turn of the century. They joined established mining towns like Park City in Summit County and Eureka in Juab County. On the other hand, by 1900, other once-prominent mining camps were well on their way to extinction. Towns like Mercur and Ophir in Tooele County had reached their peak and would soon be ghost towns.

By the turn of the century, 27 of Utah’s 29 counties were established. After 1900, residents of northern Uintah County declared the distance to the county seat of Vernal was too difficult to reach and so they established Daggett County, with the county seat in Manila. Duchesne County, comprised primarily of the former Ute reservation, broke off from Wasatch County; its new county seat was Duchesne City.

Utah’s population in the 1900s gravitated to the cities. The rural areas could only support so many residents. Others migrated to sources of greater employment, namely Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties.

In 1900 Garland and Tremonton in Box Elder County were founded.

In 1900, 38 percent of Utahns lived in urban areas. Today that number is over 85 percent.


By 1900, Utah had several women in elective office. Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, a Democrat, had defeated her husband to gain a seat in the Utah State Senate.

The year 1900 still found most Utah women working on the home front. Many Mormon women were involved in helping husbands farm in rural communities throughout the state. They cooked, sewed, cleaned, gardened, raised chickens, milked and did a host of other essential activities for their often large families. They also found time to be involved in Church programs, such as Relief Society, and community literary and artistic groups.

Other Utah women, often immigrants from places like Greece, Italy, Serbia and Slovenia, supported their husbands, who toiled as miners in places such as Carbon County, Park City and Bingham Canyon. In addition to their duties as housewives and mothers, these women often struggled to learn a new language and adapt to a new American culture.

The 1900 census noted that 8 percent of Utah women were gainfully employed. A third of these women were domestic servants, another third worked in manufacturing and the rest were involved in professions, such as teaching, nursing, stenography and operation. A few women were practicing attorneys and several, including Dr. Ellis R. Shipp, who helped run the Deseret Hospital, were medical doctors. Dozens of women in Utah also found employment as “soiled doves” (prostitutes). Salt Lake City had a red-light district on Commerce (now Regent) Street located between State and Main Street and 100 and 200 South. Ogden’s red light district was located near the railroad station on Twenty-fifth Street. Local officials felt it was better to heavily regulate and control this age-old profession than to let it spread unchecked throughout their communities.

The end of the 1800s still found Utah’s Mormon women much maligned and misunderstood. The practice of plural marriage had officially ended 10 years earlier with the adoption of the Manifesto, yet many viewed Mormon women as completely subject to the will of their husbands. In contrast, many Mormons in Utah felt they had more rights than their sisters in other states.

Mormon women had gained the right to vote while Utah was a territory. They lost the vote with passage of the anti-Mormon Edmunds-Tucker Act. Female voting rights were restored with the adoption of Utah’s Constitution in 1895. By 1900, Utah had several women in elective office. Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, a Democrat, had defeated her husband to gain a seat in the Utah State Senate. Two women were elected to the State House of Representatives and eleven as county recorders. They brought a unique insight into the male-dominated political arena and worked to promote issues, such as education, public health and the arts.


By 1900, Mormon Church officials were no longer encouraging all converts to emigrate to Utah. “Zion” would be wherever Saints were located. New groups of immigrants, however, continued to find their way to Utah. In the past, the Mormon pioneers had traveled primarily from the British Isles, Scandinavia and Germany. These new immigrants came to Utah from southern and eastern Europe searching for economic opportunity rather than religious freedom.

Brigham Young and other Latter-Day Saint leaders admonished the Saints to stay away from mining and focus their endeavors on agriculture and manufacturing. Yet the mountains of Utah were filled with precious metals and ores. Miners were needed to extract these metals and ores and refine them. Workers were also needed to build and maintain the railroads. Most who did this task were these new non-Mormon immigrants.

The Carbon County coals camps and mining and smelter towns of Utah, such as Eureka, Bingham Canyon, Magna, Midvale and Murray, were occupied by a variety of nationalities. In 1900, for example, there were 1,062 Italians and 3 Greeks in Utah. Those numbers would soon dramatically increase. These immigrants were unlikely to join to the Mormon Church. They generally socialized and worshiped together. The general practice of immigration first saw men arrive in this country to earn and save enough money to send for their families or a possible spouse. Unlike most Mormons, many immigrants actively supported unions. They often suffered from dishonest labor agents, discrimination and having one group of ethnic workers pitted against others from another country

In Utah, and throughout the West, it always seemed as though there was a new group of workers desperate enough to work for even lower wages. Workers were also forced to live in company towns and shop at company stores.

Conditions were challenging. Yet, the prospect of better times ahead and the bleak poverty of their homelands kept immigrants coming during 1900 and beyond.

In 1850, Utah’s population was 11,380: 11,330 were Anglos and 50 were African- Americans (Native Americans were not included in the count until 1890). Eighteen percent of Utah’s population was foreign-born. In 1900, Utah’s population was 23.9 percent foreign-born.


The general challenges of life in a mining community were dwarfed by the worst mining disaster in Utah history. On May 1, 1900, at Scofield’s in Carbon County a deadly explosion took place. The blast itself killed numerous men. Others later succumbed to carbon monoxide gas while trying to escape. Coal dust igniting inside the mine was determined to be the cause of the blast.

Tragically, 200 miners were killed. Others were presumed dead, yet their bodies were never recovered. The mine explosion was the worst-to-date in America. Many young boys and foreign immigrants were among the dead. Families of deceased miners were given $500 by the mine company owners and were forgiven of the debts at the company store.

Utah mine owners had actively fought unionization. This disaster, and others, would lead to increased union organizing activities and political activity by miners in the early years of the 1900s.


The presidential election of 1896 was the first one residents of the new state of Utah could vote in. Gone were the territorial party divisions of the People’s Party, supported by Mormons, and the Liberal Party, comprised mainly of non-Mormons (Gentiles). Utahns now aligned themselves with either the Democrats or Republicans. Despite strong support for the Republicans in electing pre-statehood officials, including Republican Governor Heber M. Wells, the 1896 election showed Utahns were strongly in the Democratic camp.

That year they gave Democrat 83 percent of the vote. They supported his silver policy that promoted use of silver and inflationary policies that helped farmers. Many were also appreciative that Democrat President signed the act making Utah a state. Democrats controlled the statehouse by a margin of 40-2 in the Utah House of Representatives and 17-0 in the Utah State Senate.

Four years later, in 1900, the political tide was to turn. The United States had just defeated Spain in the Spanish-American war. The economy had begun to improve under President William McKinley. Area industrialists also appreciated the high tariff policies of the Republican Administration that kept locally manufactured products competitive with those from overseas.

The election ended with a Utah vote total of 47,139 votes for Republican William McKinley to 45,006 for Democrat William Jennings Bryan. The control of the state legislature also dramatically switched. Republicans now controlled the State House of Representatives 28 to 17 while Democrats retained control over the Utah Senate, 10 to 8.

Michael L. Mower, an attorney, works in public relations and is a member of the Temple Quarry Chapter of the .


  • Utah’s History, Richard E. Poll, General Editor; Utah State University Press, 1989
  • Deseret News 1999-2000 Church Almanac, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1999
  • Utah History Encyclopedia, Allan Kent PowelL Editor, University of Utah Press, 1994
  • Atlas of Utah, Wayne L. Wahlquist, Editor; Weber State College, Brigham Young University Press, 1981
  • In Another Time-Sketches of Utah History, Harold Schindler, Utah State University Press, 1998
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Pioneer Magazine
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