When the Mormon pioneers planned Salt Lake City, they expected to live in a garden-plot city of wide streets, comfortable homes, and flourishing vegetation watered by streams flowing down the sides of the roads and emptying into the lower Jordan River, which would serve as a natural sewage treatment facility.1 As the city grew, businesses and laborers constructed improvements. In 1889, just two years after Richmond, Virginia, inaugurated the nation’s first electric streetcar system, the Salt Lake Rapid Transit Company (previously a mule-drawn system) installed an electric railway. Between 1888 and 1931, the city negotiated a series of exchange agreements and purchases, and workers built reservoirs to supply additional water from Emigration, Parley’s, and Big Cottonwood Canyons.2
By 1890 the city had set aside land for parks for the health and recreation of the people and, like most other cities, had attempted to reconstruct in an urban setting something of the natural world. The parks included Liberty Park (between Ninth and Thirteenth South, and Fifth and Seventh East), purchased from Brigham Young’s estate in 1881; Pioneer Park (bounded by Third and Fourth South, and Third and Fourth West), where the Mormons had established their first fort; Washington Square (the site of the City and County Building); and a nature park in City Creek Canyon.3
Nevertheless, the pains of rapid growth began to take their toll. Population increased 116 percent between 1880 and 1890—from 20,800 to 44,800. The cost of city lots doubled between 1886 and 1891. Between 1890 and 1930, the addition of nearly 100,000 more people strained the city’s amenities and services. Although the city had constructed water mains and a settling tank in City Creek Canyon by 1884, the existing system generally fed municipal hydrants, and many people still drew their culinary water from open ditches or wells. Sharing the shame with Stockton and Kansas City, Salt Lake’s streets in 1880 were rated among the dirtiest in the West, and, in inclement weather, the people sloshed through mud and filth from home to business to church.4 The citizens suffered from recurrent epidemics of typhoid fever flushed into the homes and businesses from open-vaulted privies, and they contracted smallpox and tuberculosis due to inadequate vaccination and sanitation. In an initial effort, contractors in 1890 laid sewer pipe along a pitiful 5 miles of Salt Lake’s 275 miles of streets in a district bounded by North Temple, Second East, Fourth South, and First West. Had the three-year-old Chamber of Commerce not lobbied aggressively for this rudimentary system, the Deseret News believed, the “property owners would have defeated” even this inauspicious start.5
The people of Salt Lake drank their polluted water while breathing acrid smoke. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, Utah became one of the nation’s most active mining centers, and, by 1919, Salt Lake Valley had become the largest smelter district in North America. These smelters added their disgusting and unhealthy fumes to the coal-generated smoke from railroads, homes, and businesses. All of these noxious vapors turned Salt Lake City into a sinkhole that rivaled Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis in airborne filth.6
Into this mixture of mud, disease, and fumes, strode groups of women and men who loved their city and who were inspired by their belief in progress and uplift. Beginning in 1906, they battled like Saints at Armageddon to vanquish these devilish environmental problems. As did progressives throughout the United States, many of these generally middle- and upper-middle-class citizens believed in the ideals of the City Beautiful movement. Inspired by the prospect of changing cities into beautiful and livable urban paradises, these people adopted a set of notions based on the landscape and urban planning theories of Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York City’s Central Park. Olmsted thought the construction of parks and boulevards in a setting of competent urban planning could enhance the quality of life for city people while increasing the value of urban property. Others believed in the “city functional” and paid less attention to aesthetics than to the practical needs of an urban population.7
As in other American cities, people in Salt Lake responded to the large number of problems by organizing into voluntary associations, some of which attacked the environmental problems.8 The oldest of these associations, organized in 1877, bore the unlikely name of Ladies’ Literary Club. Its founders—Mormons, Protestants, and Catholics—included Georgia Snow, one of Utah’s first female attorneys; Eliza Kirtley Royle; Tina R. Jones; Cornelia Paddock; Helena Gorlinski; Sarah Ann Cook; and Vilate Young, a daughter of Brigham Young and Miriam Works. The club leaders organized a number of committees, or sections, to cater to the varied interests of its members.9 Perceiving the city’s environment as an extension of their homes and working through their sections, some of the women began to agitate for improvement of Salt Lake City’s physical environment.
Other organizations joined in the efforts of these public-spirited women. In 1887, Salt Lake’s male business and political leaders organized the Chamber of Commerce as a blanket organization to focus on common interests.10 This step heralded change in Utah. During the nineteenth century, Utahns had suffered through battles between Mormons and Gentiles over religion, politics, and economic development. By 1887, Territorial Governor Caleb W. West and others had come to regret that these religious conflicts had ripped the fabric of Utah’s community and retarded its economic growth. After consulting with a number of leading business, political, and religious leaders in April 1887, West called a group of men together to attack this problem. In organizing the Chamber, the members adopted a rule that banished politics and religion from its activities. Republican, Democrat, or Socialist; Mormon, Protestant, Catholic, or Jew—all were equal in the Chamber of Commerce. The founding members included the Chamber’s first president, William S. McCornick, a prominent gentile banker; Heber J. Grant, Mormon businessman and member of the Council of the Twelve; Patrick H. Lannan, publisher of the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune; prominent Mormon businessmen such as James Sharp and Heber M. Wells; and apostates such as James R. Walker and Henry W. Lawrence.11
As the men organized their efforts through the Chamber of Commerce, women’s clubs, which had proliferated in the early 1890s, began to recognize the importance of coordinating their activities. An umbrella organization, the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs, was organized in Salt Lake City in April 1893 by women from Salt Lake, Provo, and Ogden.12
By 1912 a bumper crop of women’s clubs in Salt Lake City led to the organization of the Salt Lake Council of Women to correlate the activities of the various clubwomen. The Salt Lake Council of Women organized standing committees to investigate and act on questions of importance concerning libraries, parks, Girl Scouts, public health, city beautification, smoke pollution, women’s legislation, and social welfare.13
All of these organizational developments fit into a context of change and optimism characteristic of the Gilded Age and Progressive Period of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America. Inspired by commission governments in Galveston, Texas, and Des Moines, Iowa, where citizens had modeled their administrations after the business corporation, many Americans thought they had found a path away from the corrupting influence of political parties to an Eden of efficiency. In the commission system, each commissioner supervised and accepted responsibility for a set of municipal departments. Apostles of the gospel of efficiency believed that by banishing partisanship, they could achieve a quality of life and civic harmony unprecedented in human history.14
In Salt Lake City, however, the people faced added challenges since they had painted partisanship with the passionate hues of religion. For a decade prior to 1903, Utahns had managed with some success to suppress religious partisanship as Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews left the religiously oriented parties of the nineteenth century to join the national Republicans and Democrats.15 After the state legislature elected LDS Apostle Reed Smoot as United States Senator in 1903, however, a group of non-Mormons tried to persuade the Senate to expel him. The group charged that Smoot and other leaders of the LDS Church dictated both in religious and political matters and that they had encouraged the continued practice of polygamy.16 In 1904 a group of these protesters, under the leadership of Judge John A. Street and attorney Parley L. Williams, organized the American Party, which captured control of Salt Lake City’s government. Under Mayors Ezra Thompson and John S. Bransford, the American Party governed Salt Lake City from 1905 through 1911.17
In the face of this religious bigotry, people in Salt Lake still continued to dream of a civic paradise. In March 1906, after the American Party took power, a group of like-minded citizens met together to organize the Civic Improvement League and, in the process, to demonstrate that Mormons and Gentiles; Democrats, Republicans, and Americans; and women and men could work together on social, cultural, and environmental matters.18 Improvement League members included Susa Young Gates, a Republican, Mormon women’s leader, and daughter of Brigham and Lucy Bigelow Young; William H. King, a Mormon Democrat and former congressman; Orlando W. Powers, a Protestant Democrat and former federal judge; Bishop Franklin S. Spalding of the Episcopal Church; Frank B. Stephens, former city attorney and the first president of the league; prominent gentile American Party stalwart W. Mont Ferry; and Republican businessman and Salt Lake Stake President Nephi L. Morris. Improvement League members and like-minded people from throughout the state got the legislature to pass enabling legislation, and in the 1911 elections, a new nonpartisan city commission dominated by local businessmen wrested control from the American Party.19
City Beautiful Movement
As the Improvement League fought for a commission government, they also battled to improve the city’s physical environment. Disgusted with the muddy streets, in 1906 they began to agitate for increased paving. They favored macadam, a compacted conglomerate of gravel bound with asphalt or cement instead of asphalt alone. They also asked for changes in the sewer ordinances, apparently so the city could lay more pipe over the objections of abutting property owners. At the same time, they began a campaign for city beautification and cleanup.20
Inspired by the potential effectiveness of voluntary organizations, people from all quarters of the city organized to refurbish their neighborhoods. From the West Side, the East Bench, Riverside, Sugarhouse, the Liberty Stake, and the Third Ward, men and women organized associations variously called Improvement or Betterment Leagues. These leagues lobbied for cleanup, beautification, paving, parks, and sewers in their vicinity. Often they supported one another in promoting citywide campaigns.
Explicitly adopting the City Beautiful slogan, the Improvement League urged the mayor and council and, after 1911, the city commission to remake the city into a beautiful and functionally planned urban place. In April 1906, Mayor Ezra Thompson and the Improvement League jointly announced plans to convert a number of Salt Lake’s streets into beautifully landscaped boulevards by paving them with macadam, by planting parks in the median strips, and by abutting the streets with curbing. Unfortunately, in this early effort, the city did not test the batches of macadam for durability before approving their use. The material soon proved to be of poor quality, and the streets rapidly broke up and fell apart under the pounding of weather and traffic.21
Undaunted by this setback, representatives of men’s and women’s organizations continued to agitate for city beautification. In April 1911, while the city remained in the control of the American Party, Anna Margaret F. Beless, a native of Fountain Green in Sanpete County and president of the Seeker’s Literary Club and the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs,22 persuaded George Y. Wallace of the city council to support the employment of “a landscape artist of national repute to plan a ‘City Beautiful’ for Salt Lake City with parks, boulevards, and public grounds.”23
The proposal to hire an outside consultant failed to attract sufficient support until 1917, but city employees began to plan the City Beautiful under prodding from men’s and women’s organizations. In April 1912, in the second meeting after its inauguration, the Salt Lake Council of Women set up two committees to work on city beautification. Elizabeth M. Cohen, a New York native who had moved to Utah in the 1880s, the president of the Women’s Civic Club, and later State Commissioner of Indian Pensions, chaired the committee to abolish billboards. Anna F. Beless chaired the committee on beautification.24 Although they struck out in their attempt to regulate billboards, the women succeeded in promoting voluntary campaigns to clean up vacant lots and school grounds, and their labors led eventually to a citywide beautification movement.25
Cleanup Campaigns. The first citywide cleanup campaign since the efforts of the Civic Improvement League nearly a decade earlier seems to have taken place in 1912 under the auspices of the Salt Lake Council of Women. In planning the cleanup, the clubwomen approached the city commissioners, who agreed to clean and repair streets if the women would promote the cleanup of private property. Continuing the cleanup campaigns from year to year, the city government in 1913 worked with the assistance of the Salt Lake Council of Women, the City Board of Health, the Association of Realtors, the Chamber of Commerce, and the local schools. Both Anna Beless and Elizabeth Cohen spearheaded the work for the Women’s Clubs.26 In 1914 the Chamber of Commerce appointed a “Clean Up and Paint Up” committee to promote the annual city cleanup.27 Similar cleanup campaigns continued through the 1920s.
The Ash Can and Garbage Can “Evil.” More serious than the annual cleanup campaigns was the attempt to address the perennial problem of filth produced by unemptied and uncovered garbage and ash cans, a condition some people began to call the ash can and garbage can “evil.” As early as 1916, women in Salt Lake City, like women in other cities throughout the nation, had begun to complain about uncovered garbage cans.28 Trying to put off the determined women, Chief of Police B. F. Grant said that compelling people to cover their garbage cans would “work a hardship on some.”29 By the early 1920s, however, city officials had come to believe that covered garbage cans were an absolute necessity for public health. That accomplished, the Salt Lake Council of Women began to agitate to get the city to transport the garbage in covered vehicles as well.30 Leah Eudora Dunford Widtsoe, daughter of Susa Young Gates and wife of John A. Widtsoe, led the fight against the garbage can evil in the 1920s for the Salt Lake Council of Women.31
By the 1920s, the city had a rudimentary system for garbage disposal. In 1922, using one “covered nonleakable garbage wagon” and anticipating the purchase of six more, the city transported edible garbage to local animal-feed companies. Householders had to segregate their garbage into edible and nonedible units. The city considered incineration of garbage too expensive at the time, but they developed a system for using the nonedible waste as fill in road construction.32
That the Salt Lake City government believed it could dispose of the ashes and garbage for 140,000 people with just one or even seven garbage wagons seems incredible. Needless to say, the system broke down quite rapidly. In 1926 an investigation for the Chamber of Commerce, chaired by Ben F. Redman, owner of a moving and storage company, showed that garbage and ash cans often remained on the streets for days at a time. Accidents and mischief scattered garbage and ashes along the streets, contributing to filth, ugliness, and disease.33
The Pest Problem. The garbage and ash can evil was only a part of a much larger problem of ridding the city of filth and pests, including rats and flies. In 1914 and 1915, the city tried to exterminate these disease bearers by offering bounties to children who turned them in. Offering ten cents for each dead rat delivered to the Board of Health and ten cents per hundred flies, the city appropriated $1,000, hoping to make a major dent in the vermin population.34 The fly eradication program failed to dent the insect population, and although efforts at rat extermination continued into the 1920s without the bounties, it also failed to achieve lasting success.
Apparently the children of Salt Lake City proved somewhat more public spirited in the antifly campaign than a similar group at Worcester, Massachusetts. In Worcester when the city offered a bounty for flies, some child entrepreneurs went into the fly-breeding business. Raising the insects in their homes, presumably on rotting food, they collected the adult flies in bottles and cleaned up on the bounties. In contrast, Salt Lake children organized clean-town clubs in each school district, subdividing themselves into squads responsible for exterminating vermin in their neighborhoods.35
Promoting the City. Cleaning up the town, disposing of garbage, and eradicating rats and flies fit in well with one of the goals of the men’s organizations: to promote the city as a destination for business and tourists. Knowledgeable observers predicted that at least a half million sightseers would pass through the city between 1912 and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition planned for San Francisco in 1915. Early in 1912, the same year that the Salt Lake Council of Women started their cleanup campaign, the Chamber of Commerce’s Publicity Bureau approached the city commission about undertaking a “City Beautiful Contest.” They offered a total of $650 in prizes for the beautification of residences and vacant lots throughout the city.36
City Planning and Urban Improvement
As early as 1912, the city had begun to draft plans for urban improvement.37 Following on the heels of these efforts by the women’s and men’s organizations, in November 1913, in a reform similar to those in cities such as Washington, D.C.; New York City; Boston; Cleveland; Detroit; Los Angeles; and St. Paul, the Salt Lake City Commission organized the Civic Planning and Art Commission to coordinate efforts to create a City Beautiful by proposing and implementing a twenty-year improvement plan to beautify the city with boulevards, parks, playgrounds, street parking, and cleanup. The founding members of the commission were Mayor Samuel G. Park, a Salt Lake Jeweler; William H. Bennett, manager of ZCMI; George F. Goodwin, a local attorney; Maude Smith Gorham, President of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs; Albert Owen Treganza, one of the city’s most creative architects; and J. Leo Fairbanks, a painter and sculptor of considerable regional reputation.38 Fairbanks, who chaired the Chamber of Commerce’s Civic Improvement Department, served as the commission’s executive secretary.39
Although the women failed in their attempts to control the proliferation of billboards, the Planning Commission, the Chamber of Commerce’s Civic Improvement Department, the Salt Lake Council of Women, and various voluntary organizations lobbied throughout the first decades of the twentieth century for urban beautification and improvement. They sought, among other things to pave streets, to lay water mains and sewers, to construct curbs and gutters, to improve urban lighting, to cover exposed canals, to repair Eagle Gate, to protect and plant trees and flowers, to clean trash from streets and lots, and to revegetate the city’s watersheds.
In April 1914, after the appointment of the Planning Commission, Superintendent of Parks Nicholas Byhower renewed the proposal to designate certain streets as boulevards. The first designations included City Creek from 2nd Avenue and 11th Avenue to the junction of City Creek and 2nd Avenue, 11th Avenue from B Street east to Federal Heights, 13th East from South Temple to 12th South, and 12th South from 13th East to Main Street.40 Byhower recommended that the city commission pave, light, and landscape the boulevards; that they induce the property owners to follow a uniform system of streetside landscaping; and that they authorize the department of parks and public property to regulate planting and maintenance along the boulevards.41
Consultants and Experts. Many cities influenced by the City Beautiful movement hired outside consultants to plan their park and boulevard systems. Salt Lake followed suit. In May 1917, Edward M. Ashton of the Planning Commission attended the National Conference on City Planning where he met with George E. Kessler of St. Louis. Kessler, who had studied in Europe and worked on the design of European cities, had designed parks and boulevards in New York, Kansas City, Denver, and Dallas.42 After spending the week of December 15, 1917, in Salt Lake City and returning again in May 1918, Kessler proposed a plan and recommendations for the city which the Planning Commission presented to the city commission.43
Just what influence Kessler’s 1918 proposals had on the city’s subsequent growth is unclear since planning and improvement had already begun in 1914. Currently available records seem to indicate, however, that the city did not adopt comprehensive citywide plans until 1927 under the direction of City Engineer Sylvester Q. Cannon; his successor, Harry C. Jensen; and the Planning Commission.44 Cannon, a son of Elizabeth Hoagland and George Q. Cannon, had graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served in the post of city engineer in 1913 until his call as Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 1925. As in many other cities, the Salt Lake City engineer became a significant player in the development of conscious urban planning.45
During the 1920s, Cannon and Fairbanks took pains to emphasize the need for planning. In 1924, after returning from the National Conference on City Planning in Los Angeles, for instance, Cannon filed a report with the city commission urging them to adopt a comprehensive plan for the entire city; the plan should pay particular attention to “major streets and thoroughfares; the eliminating of railroad grade crossings and the compulsory filing of plats of subdivisions.” By the fall of the following year, just as Cannon was preparing to leave to take up his call as Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, the Planning Commission had begun to adopt zoning regulations for various sections of the city.46
To what degree Cannon believed in the City Beautiful movement and to what degree he saw himself as promoting the City Functional is unclear. The two movements were not entirely compatible, though some planners like George Kessler championed both. Best known for his efforts at improving the city’s water supply, constructing sewers, facilitating the city’s smoke abatement program, and protecting and revegetating the city’s watersheds, which had been badly fouled and overgrazed by sheep, Cannon worked vigorously for comprehensive city planning.
Street Improvements. With the inauguration of commission government and prodding from the voluntary organizations, the city had begun paving in earnest in 1914. Nicholas Byhower’s proposed boulevard plans only scratched the surface. Fighting an unsuccessful holding action against street improvements that threatened to undermine their business, representatives of the Salt Lake street railway company tried to stop the state legislature from passing a bill to remove a limit on cities to pave no more than three miles of street per year. After the legislature had passed the bill, however, Utah’s conservative governor William Spry offered the street railway company a temporary victory by vetoing the act.47
Salt Lake seems to have short-circuited the limitation through the passage of a municipal improvement bond in early 1914, and the city undertook an unprecedented campaign of paving and improvement. Virtually every week during 1914, one of the local civic improvement leagues, groups of neighbors, or individuals appeared before the city commission to lobby for new streets, curbs, gutters, and sewer and water hookups. Few went home empty-handed.48
Parks, Playgrounds, and Recreational Facilities. One of the major features of the City Beautiful movement was the designation and beautification of parks and playgrounds. Under the influence of the Improvement League, the city government established a park board in January 1908.49 In December 1909, much like citizens in ninety other cities around the country, a group of men and women met at the home of Corinne T. and Clarence E. Allen to organize a Parks and Playgrounds Association with a religiously mixed and bigender board of control consisting of George Y. Wallace, Kate Williams, John E. Dooley, Russell L. Tracy, and Willard Young.50 In spite of its mixed gender membership, the Parks and Playground Association joined the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs in June 1911.51
In this spirit, various organizations pressured the city to improve existing playgrounds and to open new facilities. Lobbying by women’s groups convinced the city government to agree to open what may have been the city’s first designated public playground for children in 1910.52 Byhower oversaw improvements in the playgrounds at Liberty and Pioneer Parks, especially during 1912.53 In February 1914, the Free Playground Society leased to the city land at 2nd South between 2nd and 3rd East for a children’s playground.54 The women’s clubs lobbied for improvements on school playgrounds. In December 1915, the Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee to investigate the need for more public playgrounds and parks.55
At the same time, various organizations lobbied for adult recreation. In 1914 the Chamber of Commerce Field Sports Committee under R. J. Armstrong endorsed a plan for a municipally owned golf course. The committee members called on Commissioner Heber M. Wells, urging the city to support the plan. They recognized that some opposition might arise from members of the country club, but since only the wealthy could afford country club membership, Armstrong’s committee saw the municipal course as a means of introducing people “rich and poor alike . . . [to] a most healthful outdoor exercise.”56 Apparently fearful of reducing membership in the country club and believing that other public improvements ought to take precedence, the Chamber’s board of governors undercut the efforts of the Field Sports Committee by refusing to support the project.57
Not until 1922, when the LDS Church’s Presiding Bishop, Charles W. Nibley, donated the land for Nibley Park stretching south and west from Twenty-Seventh South and Seventh East, did the city open a municipal golf course. Born in Scotland, Nibley believed “that this generation and the generations of men and women yet to come, shall find healthful enjoyment and rare pleasure here in playing that splendid outdoor Scotch game. . . . That thought,” he said, “gives me the highest satisfaction and most genuine pleasure.”58
While the men worked for construction of a city golf course, the women pressed for the designation and landscaping of more parks. Perhaps their most successful venture was the purchase and creation of Lindsey Gardens between 7th and 11th Avenues and M and N Streets. In February 1921, the Salt Lake Council of Women appointed a committee chaired by Kate May Erskine Hurd, a Latter-day Saint of British descent, to lobby for the park.59 Collecting names on petitions and reminding the city commission that the north bench had no parks, the women urged favorable action on the proposal.60
Like the Field Sports Committee, they failed at first. The United States and, with it, Utah had sunk into a depression in 1919 that continued well into 1922, and the city fell into such “financial stress” that it could not afford to purchase land for the park.61 Hurd and her supporters refused to give up, and when better times returned in 1923, they again renewed their petition for Lindsey Gardens park.62 In early May, the Auerbach Estate, which owned the land, agreed to lease Lindsey Gardens to the city for seven years. In the bargain, residents from the east bench agreed to pay half the lease cost, and the city commission agreed to pick up the remainder.63 In 1928, largely through Hurd’s continued efforts, the city purchased the park from the Auerbach Estate for $15,000, and they retained the name Lindsey Park in memory of Mark Lindsey, whose family had previously owned the property.64 On May 1, 1934, club members honored Hurd for twelve years of work in promoting Lindsey Gardens. They planted a European Linden tree in her honor and formally presented a sundial for the park to City Commissioner Harold B. Lee.65
Perhaps the leading problem, for which the city managed to offer only a partial solution, was the pollution of the air that Salt Lake City’s citizens had to breathe.66 Although in 1890 the city council had passed an ordinance to regulate the burning of soft coal, the ordinance was seldom enforced.67 As the farmers of central Salt Lake County entered suits against the smelters, some observers believed that smelter smoke had damaged foliage in Liberty Park and the surrounding residential areas.68 In 1908, Mayor John Bransford, who had earned a fortune in mining at Park City, suggested that smoke reduction presented one of the city’s most pressing needs.69
Smoke Abatement. Unlike the national antismoke movement, which was dominated by women, in Salt Lake City both men and women fought against what George H. Dern, a Nebraska native who had moved to Utah to manage mining and milling properties and who eventually became the state’s governor, called the smoke “nuisance” that threatened the “lives and property of the people.”70 All groups urged the city to determine the sources of the pollution and eliminate them.71 In 1912 the worst polluters seemed to be apartment houses.72 From 1910 to 1920, leaders in the smoke abatement movement included Lucy M. Blanchard, Corrine T. Adams, and Anna F. Beless of the Salt Lake Council of Women; and George H. Dern, Frank W. Jennings (an insurance agent), and Charles W. Fifield (a special agent for an oil company), who represented the Chamber of Commerce.
By February 1914, the pressure by women and men led the city commission to pass an ordinance modeled after those in force in other cities.73 Instead of trying to get businesses to turn to alternative fuels like coke or anthracite coal, the city required businesses to obtain permits to install efficient furnaces and to train their employees to operate the furnaces properly.74 Unfortunately, even though perhaps 65 percent of the pollution came from private residences, the ordinance did not regulate home furnaces. The city appointed Salt Lake native George W. Snow—a son of Federal District judge Zerubbabel Snow and Mary Augusta Hawkins and a graduate of the University of Utah and Lafayette College—as head of the Department of Mechanical Inspection to enforce the ordinance. Active not only in the enforcement and engineering aspects of the smoke problem, Snow lobbied for public support for better enforcement by talking to women’s clubs and the Chamber of Commerce about the activities of his department.75 His first report in 1915 showed considerable progress in getting businesses to rebuild or replace their furnaces so they burned fuel more efficiently.76
Some conservative people feared for the economic consequences of regulating smoke pollution. Duncan MacVichie, a mining engineer, argued that the smelters produced too much wealth to ignore, and he defended the smelters against charges of pollution. Equivocating on the matter like many a politician—nonpartisan or not—Mayor Samuel Park favored smoke abatement but deplored the attack on the smelter industry and radical action.77 Nevertheless, because of the support of George Dern and Frank Jennings, the board of governors for the Chamber of Commerce endorsed the ordinance and recommended a larger salary for the chief inspector.78 Dern also got the chamber to urge the public schools to teach classes on the dangers of air pollution.79
The Monnett Plan. Leaving no stone unturned in his effort to solve the smoke pollution problem, Dern, as a member of the state legislature, proposed legislation in 1914 to set up a cooperative research program in which the state, the city, and the United States Bureau of Mines would investigate the smoke problem.80 He failed at the time, but in 1919 the city, the Bureau of Mines, and the University of Utah undertook a research arrangement in part through the influence of Utah Senator Reed Smoot and the well-connected Sylvester Cannon. Under this arrangement, Osborn Monnett, Fuel Engineer for the Bureau of Mines, conducted extensive research and completed a report in 1919 and 1920. In this cooperative effort, 2,000 members of the Salt Lake Council of Women conducted a house-to-house survey of the city to determine the types of furnaces and fuels used by the people.81
Monnett thought that an expenditure of $15,000 per year for two years would “largely” rid the city of “the smoke trouble.” Subsequent events would show that he woefully underestimated the cost and the time needed to control air pollution.
As optimistic progressives, the Salt Lake Council of Women and the Chamber of Commerce took the lead in a smoke abatement campaign that included among others the Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts, the realtors association, and school children. In 1920, George D. Keyser, manager of an insurance company and head of the Chamber of Commerce’s Smokeless City Committee, urged the Salt Lake Council of Women to help in pressuring the city commission to adopt the Monnett plan.82 The realtors association, in a campaign doubtless inspired by the meatless Fridays of World War I, urged the people to observe “Smokeless Fridays.”83 In November 1921, under the leadership of Emily L. Traub Merrill (whose husband, Joseph F. Merrill, headed the University of Utah’s College of Mines), the Salt Lake Council of Women questioned each candidate for the city commission to learn their views on eliminating smoke pollution and on other issues.84
The city began to implement Monnett’s plan in January 1921 under a new ordinance that also regulated residential heating. Throughout the year, officials and leaders campaigned to gain support for smoke abatement. The city appointed a citizens committee to help plan for action; the committee included Leah Dunford Widtsoe; Joseph F. Merrill; George D. Keyser; mining and newspaper magnate Thomas F. Kearns; Ben Redman; Lafayette Hanchett, a local attorney; and George N. Childs, the city school superintendent.85 Men and women spoke to the city Commission and to various city groups. Mayor C. Clarence Neslen; Commissioner Albert H. Crabbe; George D. Keyser; Lewis J. Seckles, engineer for the city schools; George N. Childs; Joseph F. Merrill; Sylvester Q. Cannon, city Engineer; Helen Sanford, and Lulu Kipp of the Ladies’ Literary Club; Leah D. Widtsoe and Emily T. Merrill of the Salt Lake Council of Women; and Hiram W. Clark, who had replaced George Snow as inspector in the Mechanical Department carried the message to various groups.86 Monnett’s continued monitoring showed that a year of effort had reduced smoke from commercial sources by 50 percent during 1921. One hundred businesses had overhauled their heating plants, and the city had begun urging householders to rebuild or replace their furnaces.87
Campaigns requiring this commitment of energy are very difficult to sustain, and by March 1922, the city commission had begun to retreat, apparently in the face of homeowner resistance and the mounting cost of enforcement. Still concerned about these conditions, George Keyser and Osborn Monnett, together with the Salt Lake Council of Women through its spokesperson Mrs. Corrine T. Adams, continued to press the city commission to get down to the business of eliminating smoke.88 On March 31, the Ladies’ Literary Club appointed a committee of Dora M. Peak, Libbie A. Miller, and Edna B. Dayton to meet with the commissioners to call on them to appropriate more money “to carry on the work of fighting the smoke.”89
This sort of citizen pressure renewed the commission’s resolve, and throughout the remainder of 1922 and 1923, the city stepped up its pollution abatement program. In December 1922, Cannon reported that most businesses had rebuilt their heating plants voluntarily, but he also recommended that the city take legal action against several companies who refused to cooperate.90 In January 1923, the city approved prosecutions of a hotel and an apartment complex that refused to take steps to reform.91
On July 10, 1924, Sylvester Cannon reported to the city commission on the status of the program. In the three and a half years since the implementation of the Monnett report, industrial and commercial plants had reduced their smoke output by 93 percent, railroad locomotives had reduced their production by an indeterminate but considerable amount, but homes had reduced their smoke only “somewhat.” All improvements had resulted principally from the remodeling of furnaces. At the same time, the companies showed a lower cost in their heating bills from the increased efficiency.92 Unfortunately, the Ringleman chart used as a measurement device allowed only gross estimates for mobile polluters like railroads and small polluters like residences.
These efforts continued through the remainder of the 1920s. In 1925, J. Cecil Alter, who headed the Weather Bureau in Salt Lake and who wrote several reports on the effects of smoke pollution, assumed the chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s Smokeless City Committee.93 Cannon became the chair of the committee in 1927, after his call as Presiding Bishop.94
Under Cannon’s direction, the Chamber organized educators, Boy Scouts, railroads, and various other interests into subcommittees to promote the “smoke abatement work.”95 Still concerned about the general failure to reach householders, in 1927 the Smokeless City committee printed cards which they sent out with Utah Power and Light Company bills with information on how to operate home furnaces to avoid excessive smoke.96 In 1927 the members of the Chamber also induced the city commission to appropriate $18,000 to permit five full-time and several part-time inspectors to investigate smoke pollution originating from private residences.97
Unfortunately, between 1927 and 1929, the city had hit against a political and technological wall. Virtually all businesses and railroads had redesigned their furnaces or installed new equipment, and City Engineer Harry C. Jessen, who had replaced Cannon, reported that about 75 percent of the smoke during the 1925–26 season came from “residential sources.” Most of the remainder came from mobile sources, particularly railroad engines. Jessen urged the city to adopt “no half way measures,” apparently meaning that they should vigorously enforce the regulations against the pollution generated by people’s homes.98
The city attempted to enforce the ordinance against householders during 1928, but that proved extremely difficult, and apparently because of the political and economic cost of securing compliance, they cut the budget for smoke inspection. Responding to this ill-advised loss of will, Sylvester Cannon sent his resignation to the Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Governors, citing the “lack of cooperation on the part of the city commission in the enforcement of the smoke abatement program,” particularly in the residential sections. Apparently horrified at the prospect of the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church resigning in protest, the board refused to accept the resignation, sending instead a representative to plead with the commission to increase the appropriation to enforce the smoke abatement ordinance. By late January 1929, the commission had met with Cannon and agreed to hire an extra inspector, and the Presiding Bishop agreed to remain as committee chair.99
Unfortunately, the city seemed to have reached the limit of its capability under the Monnett plan. Further reduction in smoke pollution had to await one of three actions:100 (1) the city would have to regulate residential heating more effectively; (2) the coal industry, the Bureau of Mines, and the University of Utah School of Mines would have to discover ways of processing coal to remove the volatile elements that produced the pollution; or (3) householders would have to adopt new heating technology.
In practice, the people of Salt Lake tried all three approaches. Researchers searched for a smokeless coal during the 1920s and 1930s.101 Moreover, after a period of relative inaction during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the city adopted new ordinances in 1941 and 1946 that regulated residential users more effectively.102
New technologies eventually gave the city a reprieve that lasted until recent years, when industrial and automobile pollution overwhelmed the entire Wasatch Front region. During World War II, in a technological change proposed as early as 1927, many residences began installing stokers which burned oiled slack much more efficiently than the lump coal burned in the older furnaces.103 Finally, beginning in the 1930s and continuing at an accelerated rate after World War II, most residences installed natural gas furnaces which virtually eliminated residential heating as a major source of air pollution.
Now, What Does All of This Mean?
Different historians may find different meanings in the story of the activities of women and men in attacking environmental problems in Salt Lake City during the forty-year period from 1890 to 1930. Several points, however, seem most important to me.
First, in spite of the efforts of groups of generally solid and often well-connected people from middle- and upper-middle-class backgrounds, the citizens could not accomplish all that they set out to do.
Clearly, Salt Lake City was a much more livable place in 1930 than in 1890, when filth, disease, and air pollution assaulted the citizens’ health and comfort. Nevertheless, it was not paradise. In spite of the pressure from environmentally conscious women and men, the city fell woefully short of success in such areas as collecting garbage and eradicating vermin such as rats and flies. Moreover, air pollution still destroyed property and created serious health and aesthetic hazards for the people.
On the other hand, improvement took place because middle-class and upper-middle-class men and women committed themselves to the City Beautiful and city functional movements. They achieved no civic Eden, but they did realize short-range and partial successes in solving some problems like providing parks, golf courses, water supplies, sewers, and street improvements and in clearing the air of some pollution. Certainly the people benefited from the beautiful streets with parks in the center lanes, from the addition of Nibley Park golf course, and from the beautiful and functional Lindsey Gardens Park.
Nevertheless, if we learn anything from their experience it ought to be that even our successes will provide only short-term solutions to some problems. Moreover, we may fail completely in solving some of the problems we try to address. Still, we can make our lives and the lives of people in our communities better if we offer solutions to serious problems and insist on their implementation.
At the same time, the Salt Lake City experience can teach us something about the way in which women and men can work together and separately for common goals. All too often, we find in our society a knee-jerk opposition by men to women they choose to label “radical feminists” or “feminazis” and similar antagonism by women to men they choose to label “male chauvinist pigs” and “conservative patriarchs.” The women and men of early-twentieth-century Salt Lake City did not seem to have worried about such labels. Neither men nor women felt threatened when the other gender led out to address particular environmental problems. When the women proposed to clean up the town, the men joined in. While Monnett and other men researched the damage done by industrial smoke, the women surveyed the city’s residences.
Men also recognized the women as a potent political and social force in the city. Organized into individual clubs like the Ladies’ Literary Club and into blanket organizations like the Salt Lake Council of Women, the women wielded considerable social and political power. Men and women who ran for office had to reckon with that power as they responded to questions about their views on environmental questions. Both women and men seemed to take for granted the cooperative and yet independent role that each could play in achieving the common goal of making Salt Lake City a more beautiful and functional place to live. We could certainly learn from their experience.