The American Guide Series: American Culture Defined: Utah: A Guide to the State
Utah: A Guide to the State
Utah: A Guide to the State is Utah’s contribution to the American Guide Series. Published in 1941 by the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) as a part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Utah guide was designed to advertise the state through exhaustive descriptions of the landscape, people, and history of the state. The Utah FWP workers took this as an opportunity to address any apprehensions felt by the nation about Utah and showcase the unique features of the state.
Utah had struggled to achieve statehood for nearly 50 years before being granted acceptance into the United States in 1896. Utah’s ability to interact with the rest of the nation was heavily impacted by its strong ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as LDS or Mormons). The rest of the nation’s understanding of the Church of Jesus Christ was still mired in misconceptions and fears. One of the setbacks Utah faced in achieving statehood was Washington politicians’ perceptions of Utah as an “un-American . . . Mormon Empire.” Utah had struggled against the perception that all Utah culture was “Mormon” culture, aided by the fact that even through much of the 20th century, most historical study into Utah focused on Mormon-gentile relations. (Gentile is a term members of the Church used historically to refer to any person who was not a member of the Church.)
The Utah state guide’s first essay, “Contemporary Scene,” addressed the common misconceptions about Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ. “Contemporary Scene” strove to normalize LDS culture in the eyes of the nation by clarifying that polygamy had been abandoned by the Church of Jesus Christ and, while the state was very conservative, Utahns were not resistant to outside influences. The essay asserted that there was no longer contention between members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—who they clarified only made up three-fifths of the state—and nonmembers. Alongside normalizing LDS culture to the rest of the nation, the guide marketed the state’s remarkable natural landscape. America as a nation lacked a history in the arts that could be observed in European or many Eastern cultures. In the early 1900s, there was a movement to dedicate areas of natural beauty as national parks, which would represent America’s identity in place of artworks. Utah established Zion National Park in 1919. Local journalists compared Zion National Park to European scenic landscapes as well as other American national parks in an attempt to convince America of its worthiness as a member of the nation.
Even with the remarkable sites in Zion National Park, many Americans maintained their reservations about Utah and what they perceived as synonymous—Mormons. With the Utah guide, America saw Utah and members of the Church of Jesus Christ in a new light with explanations of LDS customs and Utah history removing the myths and stereotypes they feared. The guide redefined the appearance of Utah’s culture while explaining LDS culture in such a way so as to alter its public perception from an “un-American” way of life to another example of American diversity. The existing marketing of Zion National Park combined with the newly recommended sites and natural wonders found in Utah (such as the Bonneville Speedway, Bridal Veil Falls, Bear Lake, and Bryce Canyon National Park) provided a compelling advertisement for American tourists to explore Utah. Arches National Park saw a rise in attendance from 400 visitors in the 1930s to 2,512 in the 1940s, a 628 percent increase with each of these visitors paying entry fees. The resulting increase to Utah tourism served as a boost to the state’s economy and would develop into a lucrative industry.