USHS at 125 Speaker Series

In commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Utah State Historical Society, we are offering a series of monthly presentations or roundtables beginning January and culminating in August 2022. The purpose of the series is to highlight good work of Utah scholars and researchers, bring attention to UHQ and its authors, and tie into Peoples of Utah, Civic Season, and other initiatives of the public history program. Each lecture or panel will be tailored to both a general and academic audience. 


August 24, Wednesday @ Noon

Who Tells Your Story? Analyzing a Century of Utah History

In the final installment of our USHS at 125 Speaker Series, we feel it important to reflect on the state of Utah history as published by the state’s flagship historical institution. Spencer Stewart and Eliza McKinney will share a “distant reading” analysis of Utah Historical Quarterly–an exploration of the who, what, when, and where of the journal during its nearly one hundred years of publishing. Gary Topping, Holly George, Jedediah Rogers, and Susan Rugh will then respond to Dr. Stewart and McKinney’s analysis, paying particular attention to the following questions:

What is the current state of Utah history, and what are the major themes, ideas, and approaches that animate it?

What are new frameworks for documenting Utah history that are inclusive and amplify the voices of those individuals and communities who may be left out of traditional histories of the state?

What is the role of the state historical society and other local institutions in advancing and turning a new page on the study of the state’s past?


January 26, Wednesday @ Noon

Henry Wallace and the Utah Left

Lecture by John Sillito

In January 1947, former vice president Henry Wallace announced his independent candidacy for president, running on a platform of peace, freedom, and abundance. First and foremost for Wallace and his supporters was staving off a war with Russia, which they believed was the inevitable result of American foreign policy. Beyond that, however, the Progressives of which he was a part championed civil rights and desegregation, universal health care, federal aid to education, and a constitutional amendment to “prohibit every form of discrimination against women–economic, educational, legal and political.” During the campaign, Wallace and his supporters were labeled as tools of the Soviet Union. Despite these attacks, their message struck a responsive chord among many Utahns, who built a coalition to further the Wallace candidacy and the party’s message. As such, it represented a much more diverse group in terms of race, religion, gender, and economic status than the state itself. In my presentation, I will explore the history of that movement in Utah, what they undertook to do, and how successful their efforts proved to be.

February 23, Wednesday @ 7:00 pm

Race and Housing in Utah

A conversation with Tonya Reiter, Nicole Bordeaux, and Kellen Perkins

The discussion will focus on historical attempts to segregate housing in Salt Lake City and Ogden and the response by members of the Black community. Lucille Perkins Bankhead, a descendant of Black Mormon pioneers, helped to defeat a bid to create a segregated neighborhood in Salt Lake City. The Bankhead family has continued to carry on her legacy of community involvement. Two members of the Perkins and Bankhead families, Nichol Bordeaux and Kellen Perkins, will join Tonya Reiter, author of “Not in My Neighborhood: The Controversy Over Segregated Housing in Salt Lake City” published in the winter 2022 issue of Utah Historical Quarterly, to share their views on housing problems among people of color in the state.

March 23, Wednesday @ Noon

“A Nation’s Wealth Surrounds a Worm”: Mulberry Trees, Silk Cocoons, and Women Workers in Mormon Country, 1850s-1910s

Lecture by Dr. Sasha Coles

After Latter-day Saints began to colonize the Great Basin region in the late 1840s, church president Brigham Young tasked his followers with establishing a homegrown silk industry as one pillar of a self-sufficient economy. Young and other church leaders envisioned silk as a viable source of employment for household “dependents”–namely women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. From the 1850s to the early 1900s, it was primarily Mormon women who fueled local silk. They attempted to plant mulberry trees, raise silkworms, and produce cocoons, thread, and cloth of a high-enough quality to use and sell. By most measurements, they failed. Even so, there is much to learn about Mormon women’s working lives, market entanglements, and political engagements from this silk experiment. As producers and consumers of silk, these workers reconciled tensions between economic cooperation and competition, market isolation and integration, and religious exceptionalism and American belonging. 

April 27, Wednesday @ Noon

Native Places Atlas: An Indigenous Atlas of Utah and the Intermountain West

A conversation with Dr. Greg Smoak, John Flynn, and Darren Parry 

Native Places is a geospatial humanities project from the American West Center at the University of Utah. It consists of an interactive, layered map centered on Utah that encompasses the homelands of the state’s traditionally associated tribes. Native Places uses GIS, digital media, historical research, and Tribal consultation to create an interactive map that prioritizes the Indigenous names of geographic features and cultural sites that settler-colonialism has erased. By using publicly available data from the USGS, Native Places works against a colonial framework to create a decolonized map of place names in the Intermountain West.

May 26, Thursday @ Noon

Mental Health Care in Early Utah

In the late 1800s, Utahns created institutions of varying quality to house and care for the mentally ill. This virtual lecture will explore the history and background of those hospitals.

Utah’s First Mental Hospital, 1869–1886, by Dr. Laurie J. Bryant

Care of the mentally ill in Utah Territory could be described as primitive and even punitive. Utah’s first “insane asylum” was on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. It held not only the mentally ill but also people with developmental delays and epilepsy. Some of the inmates were kept outdoors in cages. Its superintendents had questionable qualifications, and record-keeping was non-existent. An Australian doctor’s scathing report in 1882 spelled the beginning of the end, but it was three more years before the patients were moved to Provo.

Bryant is the author of A Modest Homestead. She holds a PhD in paleontology from the University of California, Berkeley. After her retirement as Utah’s BLM Regional Paleontologist, her interests shifted to architectural history and to researching little-known events in the history of Utah Territory.

Race and Space and the Utah Territorial Insane Asylum, by Dr. Cassie Clark

During the nineteenth century, institutions for people with mental illnesses began to dot the American landscape. Before the Civil War, reformers believed mental health was connected to the environment and that well-designed institutions would cure patients. But during the latter half of the 1800s, people lost faith in the healing power of the asylum. Utah’s territorial insane asylum opened its doors during a shift in the way people understood mental illness and physical space during the Gilded Age. During my presentation, I will discuss how assumptions about race and brain function negatively affected patients of the institution. 

Clark is a public historian of women’s history for the Utah Division of State History and an adjunct instructor at Salt Lake Community College. Her research focuses on the environmental history of mental hospitals in the Intermountain West. She received her PhD in US history from the University of Utah.

June 22, Wednesday @ Noon

Senator Elbert Thomas and the Rescue of European Jews

Dr. W. Raymond Palmer

Elbert D. Thomas represented Utah in the United States Senate from 1933 to 1950. Throughout his career, Thomas spoke out against the persecution of European Jews. He voiced his opinions in venues provided by several Jewish organizations—from those on the radical left to groups that were further to the right. Senator Thomas also co-sponsored several congressional resolutions intending to assist victims of Nazism. Dr. Palmer will describe Thomas’s interactions with a wide array of groups and individuals. Despite ideological differences, all of the players had similar objectives—providing assistance to Jews in Europe.

W. Raymond Palmer is a research affiliate at the Max and Tessie Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies, Carleton University. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Sheffield. He also operates a small historical research business. At present, Dr. Palmer is actively engaged in a book project on the activities of the London office of the World Jewish Congress during the Holocaust.

July 27, Wednesday @ Noon

Martha Hughes Cannon’s Legacy of Leadership

Martha Hughes Cannon blazed trails as a frontier doctor, suffragist, public health reformer, and the first female state senator in the nation. When she spoke at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, one newspaper commented that she was “one of the brightest exponents of the women’s cause in the United States.” Historians from the women’s history non-profit Better Days will discuss Dr. Cannon’s unique opportunities and challenges in her work to reform public health and advance women’s rights, and contextualize her involvement with the national suffrage movement and women’s political organizing in the early years of Utah statehood. They’ll also share details about the statue of Dr. Cannon that will be installed in the U.S. Capitol later this year as Utahns mark 125 years of women in public office.

Katherine Kitterman is the Executive Director of Better Days and the co-author of two books about Utah women’s work for suffrage, Champions of Change: 25 Women who Made History, and Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah. Dr. Kitterman holds a PhD in US History from American University, where she wrote her dissertation on Utah women’s suffrage petitions. She has worked to bring history to life at the Smithsonian Institution, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Woodrow Wilson House.

Rebekah Clark is the Historical Director for Better Days and co-author of the book Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah. She holds a law degree from BYU Law School and a History and Literature degree from Harvard University, where her honors thesis was on Utah’s national suffrage activism. She has published numerous articles on the connections between Utah suffragists and the various organizations in the national movement for women’s voting rights.