Spring 2023 Utah Historical Quarterly
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Within the pages of this issue, women raise children, spin cloth, found hospitals, operate hotels, homestead ranches, advocate for rights, and much else—an amount of effort that attests to the fact that whatever the venue or the capacity, women have always worked. Women’s opportunities for education, remuneration, public engagement, personal fulfillment, or even physical comfort, on the other hand, depend in part on the societies in which they live. This issue of Utah Historical Quarterly focuses on women in nineteenth-century Utah and illustrates a few of the laws, community ties, money-making options, and institutions that affected their business and personal lives.
In 1870s Utah, Latter-day Saint and Catholic leaders separately called on women to expand their traditional healing roles; and in Salt Lake City, two sets of women responded by founding Deseret Hospital and Holy Cross Hospital. Deseret Hospital closed just over a decade after its opening, while Holy Cross continued operating for more than a century. In our first article, Colleen McDannell compares the two institutions and their underlying structures, concentrating especially on the women of Deseret Hospital. She concludes that the hospitals’ disparate outcomes resulted, in part, from how they interfaced with a modernizing world: both groups of women wanted to help the sick, but the Catholic women were better equipped—particularly from an organizational standpoint—to manage the contemporary transition to care based in hospitals rather than homes.
Our second article provides another perspective on the frameworks that influenced how women could conduct their lives. In it, Jill Thorley Warnick mines land records and family histories to understand how Utah women used homestead laws to their benefit, from the late nineteenth century into the first years of the twentieth. She argues that many kinds of women—married, plurally married, separated, divorced, widowed, or single—jumped at the opportunity to own land and used homestead laws as part of a strategy to stay afloat economically or even to create intergenerational wealth. These were adventures of their own making, Warnick writes, not actions taken at the insistence of personal or ecclesiastical patriarchs.
The third article in this issue centers on one woman, Eliza Shelton Keeler, a Canadian who made her way to Utah territory as part of the Latter-day Saint migration. Author Hovan Lawton traces Eliza’s life after her 1856 marriage to James Keeler, who married Eliza’s younger sister Emily a year later. The growing polygamous family always seemed to struggle financially and moved often, which fed into their economic instability. The Keelers experienced some of the most difficult aspects of Latter-day Saint life in nineteenth-century Utah, as well as the poverty, illness, and untimely deaths that haunted other households. Even so, Eliza and her family also drew strength from a network of neighbors, relatives, and co-religionists.
The issue closes with two pieces that showcase the practice of women’s history within the Utah Division of State History. First, Katherine Kitterman introduces the Utah Women’s History Initiative, a new program within the division that was supported by Lieutenant Governor Deidre M. Henderson. An interview with Henderson follows. The second piece is a likely first for UHQ: an award-winning essay written as part of Utah’s National History Day® program by Elsie Grow, then a high school student.
In closing, we note with sadness the passing of two brilliant and gracious historians—Kate Holbrook and Carol A. O’Connor—whose work greatly enriched the Utah history ecosystem.