Everyone worked. It didn’t matter if you were young or old, man or woman, rich or
poor. Out here on the eastern edge of the Great Basin, everyone pitched in to overcome the challenges of a harsh environment. But who you were mattered to what kind of work you did. Gender, race, and class differences decided who worked, where, and for whom.
Utahns often worked communally. Utah’s indigenous people relied on kinship networks to determine what kind of work people did. Mormons looked to church and family to decide the same thing. As Utah became more industrial, workers formed unions to protect themselves and their economic gains. Even government-sponsored programs helped to foster communal work.
In Utah, perhaps more than in other places, nature influenced work. When the state was mostly farms, people had to manipulate and manage water to keep crops. When the mines dominated the economy, workers delved deep into the earth for mineral resources to supply a global market. Work in Utah demanded a close and often dangerous relationship with nature.
Diverse peoples from all around the world made Utah a crossroads of the West. Generations of immigrants came in search of a better life. Often what they found was toil and hardship. Nonetheless, through work, many Utahns forged identities that make their descendants proud. The Indian weaver, the Mormon teacher, the Mexican miner, the Swedish troubadour – and so many more – have all made Utah what it is today.
“Workers are we / No idlers here shall live among our busy, happy band / We gather honey all the year / And plenty can be found on every hand”*
Work is a key component of Utah’s own identity. Some Utahns used to sing this song to praise hard work and those willing to do it. Everyone – from the farmer to the miner, from the housekeeper to the factory worker – labored to make Utah the Beehive State. With “industry” as their motto, they grew food, extracted minerals, raised families, and produced goods according to a work ethic that remains essential to understanding Utah identity.
This event is part of Washington County Works!, a county-wide celebration of work that accompanies the Smithsonian The Way We Worked exhibition, stopping in Leeds from September 16 to November 4, 2017 at the Silver Reef Museum.
The Way We Worked, an exhibition created by the National Archives, is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Utah Humanities, is touring in partnership with the Silver Reef Museum and Arts to Zion. For more information about the traveling exhibit, see www.utahhumanities.org.