Culture Clash and Accommodation
Frederick S. Buchanan

Chapter 4
A Compromise Outsider Stays the Course
The Administration of Ernest A. Smith, 1916-20

Ernest A. Smith

Ernest A. Smith, 1916-20

[photo p.92]

[p.93]The task of replacing D. H. Christensen deeply divided the board—no possible candidate garnered sufficient support to win the superintendency. This stalemate benefitted a compromise candidate who successfully welded competing factions into a majority The new choice, Dr. Ernest A. Smith, an historian late of Allegheny College, Pennsylvania, was the third non-Mormon to occupy the post since 1890. During his tenure the district faced the Great War, a circumstance that affected—shaped, even—the Salt Lake schools as it did schools throughout the nation. At the same time, of course, other circumstances continued to mold the schools, principally the ideology of “administrative progressivism,” which seemed compatible with the local culture’s continually evolving emphasis on hierarchy, organization, and conformity

Within a few years of taking the district’s helm, Smith would realize that no superintendent has a guaranteed tenure, even at the best of times. Smith would come under fire in the local press for not being able to control the board’s factionalism. Then, in 1918, the board make-up, for the first time ever, was eight Mormons and two Masons. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Ernest Smith tendered his resignation to the dominantly Mormon board in 1920.

Apathy, a Divided Board, and a Compromise Superintendent

In the Board of Education election of 1916, only 1,072 of a possible 26,000 electors cast ballots. Some credited the poor turnout to inclement weather, but with only five negative votes cast in the entire slate—the lowest negative vote ever cast in a board election—a better case could be made for dampened public enthusiasm, satisfaction with the status quo, or involvement in the national war effort.1

The 1914 and 1916 elections not only indicated a profound voter apathy, they also yielded boards evenly balanced between Mormons and non-Mormons (mostly Masons)-a condition similar to that which existed at the turn of the century. In spite of some evidence that Salt Lake City schools were becoming more progressive, the old politics of “insiders” and “outsiders,” or Mormons and [p.94]gentiles, persisted. When Christensen resigned, then, the reemergence of this rhetoric hardly surprised the community.

On Christensen’s departure the board split over choosing someone already in the system Mormon George N. Child, the supervisor of the grammar grades, or non-Mormon George A. Eaton, supervising principal of the high school department—or a genuine outsider, such as H. B. Wilson of Topeka, Kansas, or B. B. Jackson of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The president of the board, W. J. Barrette, and board member George Sullivan, both of whom were Christensen nemeses, strongly favored Wilson, while the other three Masons on the board apparently supported Jackson. Given the probability that the four Mormons on the board (Howard, Cutler, Moyle, and Bradford) favored a local appointment, it was numerically impossible for any of the candidates to be selected. When this situation became obvious, a compromise candidate became the unanimous choice of the factious board.

Dr. Ernest A. Smith was a recently married, forty-one year old Methodist Episcopalian from Meadville, Pennsylvania. The professor of history and economics seemed an odd choice, given the movement toward professional educational administration, but Smith had impeccable academic credentials: an A.B. from Ohio Wesleyan and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, with additional studies at Oxford and the University of London. Smith also actively participated in the National Education Association and had served as principal of Valdosta Collegiate Institute from 1890-94; professor of History and Politics at Allegheny College from 1898-1910; and was Albert Shaw Lecturer in Diplomatic History at Johns Hopkins University in 1908. From 1910-13 he was an assistant professor of history at Princeton University, a position, some claimed, secured for him by his friend Woodrow Wilson. Prior to taking the position in Salt Lake, Smith returned to Allegheny College (1913-1916) where he married and also wrote the institution’s centennial history: Allegheny, A Century of Education. His earlier publications included The History of the Confederate Treasury (1901) and The Diplomatic Contest for the Ohio Valley (1909). Smith was clearly the most distinguished scholar ever to have served as superintendent of Salt Lake City’s public schools, and perhaps remains so. Nineteenth-century Americans viewed such academic credentials as sufficient preparation for an administrator, fitting rather nicely Tyack and Hansot’s notion of “aristocracy of character,” as opposed to the professional “managers of virtue”—the typical, business and efficiency oriented twentieth-century administrators. By the early twentieth century, such credentials as Smith’s were viewed as professionally minimal; formal preparation for administrative leadership was more and more the rule.2

Little information exists about the selection process, except that Smith was an acceptable compromise. Some objections to an outsider surfaced in the Deseret News, and locals  were said to favor the appointment of Child or Eaton. As im-[p.95]pressive as Smith’s academic record was, the Salt Lake Herald attacked the appointment because Smith lacked professional training or experience: He had served only a short time as the superintendent of “an unimportant Georgia community [Valdosta] of 7,656” prior to 1898 and theoretical or academic experience were not deemed good preparation for dealing with the practical problems of the schools. Further, the Herald argued, the board had conducted its business too secretively, with “disregard for public opinion.” The Tribune weighed in with criticism that other outside candidates (Wilson and Jackson) were much better prepared. According to the Deseret News, part of the compromise between factions (Mormon/Mason?) on the board was that George Child (a Mormon would retain his position as grammar school supervisor and speculated that he might even be appointed assistant superintendent. Whatever the private board discussions entailed, once a compromise was reached, the board, in an amazing show of unity, voted unanimously to elect Smith to a two-year term.3

Schools Respond to National Needs

Although some nationally prominent progressives, such as Randolph Bourne, actively opposed U.S. entry in to the Great War, John Dewey threw his support behind President Wilson. As might be expected, public schools across the nation did the same. In Utah, the Mormon leadership demonstrated considerable pacifist sentiment and called on Mormons to resist U.S. involvement. However, once Wilson committed the nation to “save the world for democracy,” the Mormon community and its leaders filled in the ranks. According to historian Thomas Alexander, the alacrity with which they did this “helped in changing the national image of the church.”4 Such support for the war, like their unabashed commitment to public schools, was concrete evidence that the Mormons were truly integrated American citizens.

The war and its aftermath overshadowed Smith’s first year as superintendent as well as most local political concerns. In spite of the war, and his lack of experience as a public school administrator, Smith kept the agenda of “progressive” development on track, especially in administration. The Salt Lake District, in the four years of Smith’s incumbency, continued to gradually evolve in terms of the centralized, efficient system of D. H. Christensen and his predecessor, Jesse F. Millspaugh.

The barrage of graphic propaganda to “Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds” and the need to preserve civilization from being crushed by the blood-drenched boots of “barbarians” resulted in numerous student enlistments in the armed services and in the cancellation of German as a language taught in the [p.96]schools. students also responded to the need for more farm workers and the district promoted “war gardens” at private homes and at the schools. With 200 prizes offered for the best gardens, thousands of gardens sprouted throughout Salt Lake City Domestic arts programs met the war’s needs as suggested by the American Red Cross, as students snipped cloth for pillow fillings, made gun wipes, knitted mufflers, rolled bandages, prepared first aid kits, and raised money for Liberty Bonds, French orphans, and Belgian relief. Even teachers were enrolled by the U.S. War Department to read Selective Service questionnaires from all males 21 to 31 years of age. The teachers composed an index that allowed quick retrieval of the names of persons with particular qualifications and received a commendation from the War Department for their work.5

High school principal George Eaton reported that the “abnormal conditions” of war created a deep feeling of unrest in the work of the schools, although he was pleased to report that by the end of 1916 some 88 students had volunteered for service in the armed forces. Salt Lake City schools had offered “cadet training” as part of the curriculum, enabling many students to qualify as officers. By the end of 1917 over 600 high school cadets had joined the armed forces; the war, Superintendent Smith noted, had effectively demonstrated that “school is life.” “The war,” he continued, “had been carried into the school” and was infusing the traditional curriculum with a “new and engrossing significance” as “the circumstances of the time” touched history, geography, civics, music, and languages. War poems “possessed immediate vital appeal” and arithmetic lessons were constructed around calculating food problems and the collection of thrift stamps. Essay competitions on the themes of “Why Every Family Should Purchase Liberty Bonds” and “Why the United States Entered the War” reinforced political realities. Without even a hint of questions about whether the United States should have gone to war, educators claimed, quite frankly, that students benefitted from the broadened perspective forced on the schools. Students seem to have followed W. H. Auden’s “Unknown Citizen”: “When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.”6

Although the war may have had an invigorating influence on some aspects of the curriculum, Eaton also noted a “very heavy decrease in attendance.” Some Utah schools outside the Salt Lake District closed six weeks early because of student withdrawals. Eaton hoped parents would realize that, in spite of the national war crisis, their children belonged in school. After all, he argued, “upon the education of the youth our ultimate strength and advancement as a civilized nation depend .7

“Strength” for Eaton meant more than morality and intellect, as indicated by his subsequent plea for increased physical education. Salt Lake City high schools [p.97]retained only one physical education instructor for every 600 students, and most of their energy went into coaching rather than giving instruction in the theory and practice of physical education. Students, Eaton averred, graduate with “sound bodies as well as trained minds.” To this end he proposed “a systematic and scientific” program of “physical training.” Again, Eaton’s main rationale was that such a program would serve the needs of the country, a common theme in war-time education.

Progressive Education—Salt Lake Style

When, in 1915, Brigham Young’s statement that “Education is the to think clearly; the power to act well in the world’s work, and the power to appreciate life” marked the entrance to the official Utah State exhibit at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, Mormon/gentile conflict appeared to be declining. Such a universal definition of education appealed to both Mormons and gentiles. It was also thoroughly American in placing the pragmatic first and “appreciation” last. By 1916 Salt Lake City’s schools were well on their way to reflecting, not the parochial interests of one particular group, but what was then called “progressive education.”8 Another symptom of change came in 1917, when Democrat Simon Bamberger, a Jew who had served on the Salt Lake Board of Education between 1898 to 1903, took office as governor of Utah-the first non-Mormon to serve in that capacity since the much disliked federal territorial governors.

In his first message to the legislature, Bamberger noted that “Utah has finally and definitely succeeded in removing the schools from any vestige of partisan political influence.”9 Perhaps he overstated the case slightly, but compared to the wrangling of most of the period from 1890, a greater degree of pluralism was evident as was increased openness to outside influence.

As Allan Payne points out in his study of the Mormon response to progressive ideas, the big names of so-called progressive education—including its “father” Francis W. Parker, John Dewey, G. Stanley Hall, Willard Wirt, and Charles Eliot—visited Utah, as did other progressive luminaries such as James L. Hughes, Liberty Hyde Bailey, and Jacob Riis. University of Utah faculty such as William Stewart and Mosiah Hall were personally acquainted with Parker and Dewey Milton Bennion of the University of Utah and John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve Apostles had “studied in the Midwest and East and … came under the progressive spell.” Payne argues that such contacts with progressive education sustained in Utah schools a relatively progressive environment generally unexpected from such a religiously oriented community Utah embraced progressivism, according to Payne, because a large degree of congruence [p.98]existed between some Mormon social ideals and those espoused by progressivism. For example, the Mormon focus on a redemptive earthly community called for such attributes as manual labor, mastery of the environment, and economic stability rooted in agriculture and handicrafts. Such emphases on practical education may have been “unconscious vehicle[s] to preclude critical thinking that might threaten Mormon ideology” at a time when the church was under the pressure of external criticism over the recently abandoned practice of polygamy and the church’s long-standing role in Utah’s economic and political affairs.

Mormon thinking also seemed congruent with American progressivism’s emphasis on “child centeredness.” According to Payne, the language of child-centeredness was familiar to Mormon educators. However, Mormons were less inclined to promote individualism in children; under the stress of accommodating to external social and political pressures, extreme individualism was the last thing Mormons needed. Leaders were more interested in obedience than in self-expression. During the 1920s one of the “memory gems” recited by Mormon children at their weekly Primary held that “Obedience is heaven’s first law/ And order is its result./ This is a lesson good to learn/ For child and for adult.”10

One Utahn, Edna Clark Ericksen, who met Jane Addams in Chicago, became a member of the general board of the LDS children’s Primary organization in the 1920s. In that capacity, she introduced the “Trailblazer” concept as part of the church’s weekday instruction for young boys. This program emphasized activity, including crafts, instead of passive listening for children, again reflecting a commitment to the progressive ideal. 11

Payne also identifies as progressive the correlation of school and out-of-school experiences. Mormons embraced this notion in building the Kingdom of God as a community enterprise, which had led to the overlapping of church and school functions that many Protestants found so objectionable in the late nineteenth century. Closely related to this was the notion of the school viewed as an instrument of social reform. However, using schools to control social change was probably more attractive to Mormons than active participation in social and political protest movements.12

The above examples suggest that Mormonism was not necessarily reactionary to all progressive educational reform, and that a religious, hierarchical community could have public schools reflect at least some aspects of the national progressive mainstream. Although “progressive” education was at this time defined by the national network of professionals (the “administrative progressives” who were closely linked to Ellwood  Cubberley and other university based educa-[p.99]tors), many locals used the “old-fashioned technique of urban politics” to promote their interpretation of a progressive agenda for public schools.13 In Salt Lake City, D. H. Christensen used the community’s unique religious orientation to promote his notion of progressivism. And his successor, Ernest Smith, in spite of being an “outsider,” could adeptly size up and meet the local community’s needs. Progressivism did not rule out flexibility Additionally, progressive education, in spite of its liberal aura and claims to the contrary, was a conservative movement. Mormons did not have to change radically to fit the progressive mold, at least as many of America’s “administrative progressives” defined it.

In reality, the progressive movement was a rather commodious umbrella under which a multi-faceted array of educators assembled (or more precisely, under which they were placed in an attempt to simplify their complexity). They ranged from “child needs” enthusiasts and other social reformers to administrators who emphasized social efficiency, differentiated vocational goals, and centralized control. Nationally, the latter, conservative tendencies overshadowed the child-centered and social-centered variety. In Salt Lake City, in spite of local enthusiasts such as Lizbeth Qualtrough, the same conservativism prevailed. The fact that people as diverse as Charles Eliot of Harvard, Ellwood Cubberley of Stanford, and John Dewey of Columbia could all be accommodated under the “progressive” sobriquet illustrates, even as it complicates, the issue of exactly what progressive education was. 14

Focus on the Child

In spite of a predominant conservativism that viewed the school as an agent of the state, many Salt Lake educators focused on individual children in the context of a putative democratic society In 1918 George N. Child, Smith’s Assistant Superintendent, plead for removal from the schools of anything extraneous to student progress. For Child, schools were democratic institutions preparing all children—not just the “fittest”—to survive in society Attempting to democratize the schools, Child advocated eliminating “autocratic” school discipline and replacing it with “intelligent and willing obedience to constituted authority.” He reported that most grammar school held enlightened views on discipline, but that too many still demanded a “blind, unwilling forced form of obedience,” which reduced education to “a suppressed and lifeless thing.”15

Consistent with Child’s “pedagogical progressivism,” Lizbeth Qualtrough, Supervisor of the Primary Division, believed, with John Dewey, that children need physical involvement in learning and should creatively express themselves through “tearing, paper-cutting, clay-modelling and the sand-table.” Modern [p.100]classrooms needed to be changed from “listening places” to “doing places” where children can move around freely, unrestrained by stationary desks. 16

The shift from a subject-matter, rote learning approach toward the progressive, child-centered methods finds illustration in an enforced, eleven-week vacation during the influenza epidemic of 1918. While many bemoaned the loss of learning time, Qualtrough asserted that during the vacation children had continued to mature. In spite of uncovered subject matter, children returned to school, according to Qualtrough, with greater power of concentration and had soon made up for lost time. Qualtrough believed schools spent too much time and effort “in getting ready to function in the social and industrial organism.” Reduced school time meant saving money for taxpayers. Over the next decade this notion was put into effect when time devoted to schooling was cut from twelve to eleven years. 17

Whether Child’s democratic measures were successful is open to question. Some oral history interviews indicate the period’s dominant theme was strict discipline. Merle Colton Bennion recalled that class work included memorizing much poetry from authors such as Sir Walter Scott. Teachers also persistently emphasized formal grammar. Lowell L. Bennion recalled a similar traditional focus but identified teachers as “moralizers as well as teachers of subject matter.” Through personal stories they “humanized the subject matter,” which students enjoyed. Bennion held one Irving Junior High mathematics teacher (a Mr. Winward) in high esteem for his ability to relate to the students.18 What occurred in Salt Lake City classrooms near the end of World War I was probably a mix of traditional and progressive ideas, mediated through the dispositions and training of individual teachers. However, schools certainly became more pleasant places in which to spend time as children’s needs increasingly became a component of the modern school curriculum.

Less evident than child-centered classroom activity, in Salt Lake schools at least, was another element crucial to progressivism: the extension of the curriculum beyond school walls into the community’s social life and problems. 19 In Salt Lake’s schools, progressivism ultimately remained more in written school reports than in actual classroom practices, in spite of teachers and supervisors such as Lizbeth Qualtrough who were more willing to light a candle than curse the darkness. Like so many dedicated teachers, they assumed they could make a positive difference in their students’ lives.

Diverse Students and a Differentiated Curriculum

As Salt Lake City schools became increasingly mainstream, Superintendent Smith and others continued to advocate progressive postures taken by D. H. [p.101]Christensen. War might hinder pedagogical innovation, but it also facilitated programs to meet society’s demands, as discussed above. Ironically, lessons learned from the Germans—especially industrial efficiency—were being used to resist Germany’s military might.20 Ironic too, was Cubberley’s assertion that America’s “city schools will soon be forced to give up the exceedingly democratic notion that all are equal, and that our society is devoid of classes.” For Cubberley, diversity of students and too much democracy in the schools led inexorably to a differentiated curriculum: “an attempt better to adapt the school to the needs of the many classes in the city life.”21 Schools met the needs of the individual as a creature of the state, not as a semi-autonomous entity.

However, even such systematic school programs did not necessarily mean that students would be attracted to them. Given increasingly diverse student populations (in age and social class, at least), schools now had a correlative need to “hold” them in place. Apparently a differentiated curriculum did not always succeed in doing that. In 1917 the high schools’ failure to retain ninth graders was attributed in part to the schools not being “adapted to the need of the children of the city as they should be.” This, as would be expected, was noted by the “progressive” Cubberley team in 1915.

Another factor weakening the high school’s holding power was inadequate counselling in junior high school. In this respect Salt Lake City seemed to lag behind other districts in the state. At least as of 1918, Millard County High School, North Sanpete High School and Spanish Fork High School all reported having “departments or bureaus designed to assist young persons in securing employment.” In 1917 in Salt Lake’s schools only 177 boys out of 1,213 were enrolled in shop work a meager fourteen percent and a number that put Salt Lake City schools “somewhat behind in the [national] procession.” All teachers in all grades should consequently “encourage and advise boys—to pursue the technical course in high school.”22

One bright spot, however, was West High School’s commercial course in which 600 out of 1,200 students were enrolled. Requiring only three years to complete “added incentive to the vocational significance of the work.” The growing need for clerical expertise made such courses relevant. By contrast the “mechanic arts course … has attracted scarcely a corporal’s guard”; in Dr. Smith’s opinion, the $150,000 spent in equipment for only fifty students was a “wholly inadequate return upon the investment.”23

Smith’s negative assessment was repeated in other areas of the country. Studying vocational education in California, Harvey Kantor argues that voca-[p.102]tional programs throughout the nation had virtually no “economic relevance.”24 For vocational education, the “fair-haired boy” of the social efficiency administrators, to fail the crucial test of cost-benefit analysis must have been difficult to accept. Educators seemed to follow Robert Frost’s advice: “For dear me, why abandon a belief/ Merely because it ceases to be true./Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt/It will turn true again.”25 The lines summarize American infatuation with vocational education since it became a staple commodity of educational reform in the first decades of the twentieth Century.

Like the mechanical arts course, the domestic science course, designed to make high school more meaningful for females, drew comparatively few students. Perplexed over the low enrollments, the head of the Department of Domestic Arts, Anna L. Corbett, could find “no sane reason why the matter of patching, darning and other phases of mending should be less dignified than the translating of foreign languages.”26 What Corbett meant by “sane reason” is less clear than the fact that parents and students perceived social class reasons for not making the patching of clothes in school equal to academic work.

When young people rejected “darning” and mechanics over language study, educators assumed the lower grades were at fault and increased the emphasis on industrial education in grammar schools. The Manual Training Supervisor, Milton Clauser, drew attention in 1917 to the inescapable realities of the work place. Eight-Six percent of Salt Lake’s boys were being funnelled toward occupations “that are so crowded that only the exceptional man could expect to succeed in them.” The solution was to socialize boys—especially in junior high—not to have unrealistic expectations. In junior high school, Clauser held, the “function of all studies … should be considered as largely pre-vocational,” giving boys a broader view of vocational opportunities. With such a program in place the inevitable result would be that the industrial education “shops at the West High School should not only be filled, but they should be running on double time.”27

Smith’s tenure also saw increased attention to mental measurement in organizing the curriculum. This stemmed from the development of testing instruments designed to identify those fit and unfit for military service. According to Clarence Karier, “Historians generally mark the beginning of the testing movement with the mass testing of 1.7 million men for classification in the armed forces during World War I.”28

In Salt Lake City prior to 1916, children who did not seem to fit the “normal” range of mental ability were assigned to the “Atypical School” (the old [p.103]Twelfth Ward School on the corner of First South and Fourth East, and now the site of the district offices). The Atypical School provided special education to fit students’ needs, but by 1915 such a “complex variety of mental aptitude and inaptitude” existed that the supervisor of special classes decided that the “scholastically subnormal” or “merely dull normals” needed different instruction from those who were “feeble minded.” Mingling types, this administrator believed, cast “a stigma … unkindly and unnecessarily upon the majority of those enrolled in school.” Subnormal and dull students returned to schools near their homes, where they received special help in subjects in which they were “backward.” They also attended the regular classes for other courses, thus benefiting from the stimulation of the brighter students. The transfer reduced the Atypical School by two thirds and led to more efficient use of special education teachers. The district remained responsible for the “feebleminded” at the Atypical until the state later established an institution at American Fork.29

According to George Snow Gibbs, head of the Department of Exceptional Children, public schools needed to restructure to better accommodate those “exceptional” children who had particular “fundamental capacities imposed on them by Nature’s selective draft.” Most of these children, Gibbs felt, “will be compelled by society to assume the responsibilities of normal adulthood.” The extent to which schools met the needs of exceptional students is, of course, difficult to determine. Notwithstanding this, educators felt that they were successful in preparing students for their role in life, limited though it might be.

The Utah Plan of 1919

In 1917 the National Education Association, in response to what many were calling “The Emergency in Education,” formed the “National Emergency Commission” to investigate ways in which the schools could best serve the nation’s needs after the war had ended. According to this commission, the public schools could be at the forefront of efforts to: eradicate illiteracy, Americanize foreigners, equalize educational opportunity, promote physical and health education, and improve the preparation of teachers, especially in rural areas.30

Utah’s educators responded enthusiastically; early in 1918 they put forward the “Utah Plan,” which had four main parts: every student up to the age of eighteen should be enrolled in compulsory and part-time education; all aliens between sixteen and forty-five who could not read or write English at a fifth grade level should attend compulsory Americanization classes; all students between twelve and eighteen should be under school supervision even when not in school; and all children should have a physical examination under the auspices of the school system.31

The “Utah Plan” received rave reviews from national educators. Charles [p.104]Prosser, the leading exponent of vocational education (and later the promoter of “life-adjustment Education” of the 1940s) called it a “model, compulsory, part time education law” and claimed Utah was leading the way in year-round education. The program, he said, represents the idea that the state has the right “to regulate and control not only the education, but the employment of children.” A. E. Winship, editor of the Journal of Education and one-time critic of the Mormon domination of Utah’s educational scene, visited Utah with Prosser to campaign for the new law’s acceptance. Claiming that Utah had “made greater strides in the fundamentals of public school education in thirty years than any other state” he praised the 1919 law as the nation’s first “which eliminates loafing of young people up to the age of eighteen.”32

Dr. Ernest Smith observed, as he left his post as Salt Lake’s superintendent, that Utah’s religious climate was a major reason the plan was so enthusiastically promoted in the state: “the discipline and training of the majority of the Utah people contribute to the favorable acceptance of the new plan. The moral instruction of youth is a cardinal tenet of the dominant church and the close supervision of personal affairs is an accepted practice.” 33 The person implementing the Utah Plan was George N. Child, who served as State Superintendent for a short period before succeeding Smith as superintendent of Salt Lake District in 1920. But a variety of reasons kept the plan from ever really taking off: partisan political interference; the war left people wary of change and wanting to return to “normalcy”; reduction in taxes limited experimentation; a lack of organized public support; and a general public impression that the plan was overly “ambitious and pretentious.”34 And it is no wonder. The plan apparently demanded that schools prepare three sets of reports dealing with each student’s health, employment, and out-of-school activities. The reports would include details concerning “the use of narcotics, care of person, sleeping habits, and kind and amount of recreation.” Perhaps not realizing the amount of time that would be required (“three thousand waking hours they spend out of school”), superintendents throughout the country praised the plan as a “call to civic and moral righteousness for all the youth.” The Utah Plan, described by David Tyack as “social uplift with a vengeance,”35 could not have happened in the 1890s heyday of Mormon/ gentile conflict. As it was, however, this Mormon-inspired “social uplift” program was not criticized in the local press; it was readily accepted—in spirit, at least—by all facets of the community. One of its outgrowths—a committee on Americanization and citizenship—had a highly ecumenical profile consisting of, [p.105]among others Adam S. Bennion, superintendent of LDS schools; Bishop J. S. Glass of the Utah Catholic diocese; W. H. Reherd of Westminster College; and John A. Widstoe of the University of Utah. Apparently even these diverse people could agree on the general meaning of citizenship. However, local superintendents were left with the task of initiating the campaign.36

While the Utah Plan was not adopted in toto, it represented the direction public schools outside and inside Utah were taking: away from an academic emphasis and toward an individual and social emphasis, expanding the role of school in the child’s life and family It also expressed the progressive faith in school as a panacea for whatever ails society.

In the next few decades this paradigm would play a crucial role in establishing the character and mission of the American comprehensive school—serving, it was claimed, all the needs of all children of all people. Compulsory schooling (including lower socio-economic groups previously excluded), would bring schools under obligation, politically and pedagogically, to fit the practical needs of students into the curriculum.

Friction and Faction

Unlike the strong support that D. H. Christensen enjoyed throughout most of his fifteen year tenure, the unanimous decision to appoint Smith as superintendent in 1916 began to erode in 1918 when two of the board’s prominent Mormons, Oscar Moyle and Arnold Giauque, voted against another two-year term. Board president Moyle explained his vote as a protest against the friction that had plagued the board—presumable between Mormons and non-Mormons—recently and in the past. Because Smith had been a compromise choice, it was perhaps inevitable that the artificial unanimity would begin to fray. A few months later, the board elections reflected a comparative resurgence of interest in the schools (compared at least to 1916)—the numbers voting (2,843) almost tripled the 1916 totals. This was, of course, still less than ten percent of the eligible electorate, prompting the Salt Lake Herald to comment that “[i]f election returns are a criterion, Salt Lake voters take little interest in their schools.”37 In contrast to the previous two elections, voter apathy in 1918 favored the dominant cultural group. A clean sweep, Mormons secured eight of the ten seats on the board.

No direct link between Moyle’s complaints against Smith and the 1918 election results can be precisely documented, but Moyle’s role in driving off non-Mormon Superintendent Cooper in 1901 makes it reasonable that Moyle helped orchestrate the Mormon landslide. Masons George E. Wasson and Dr. F. S. Bascomb were defeated in normally strong Masonic municipal wards by Mormons I. E. Willes and G. A. Iverson. All this was done, of course, in the spirit of bi-partisanship and non-sectarianism. This time around the newspapers did not frame [p.106]the election as an issue of church domination, as was commonly done between 1890 and 1910. With eighty percent of the board seats held by Mormons, even the casual observer must have seen such numerical domination, if not as ideological hegemony, then as a fact of life in the City of the Saints.

However, having a Mormon majority on the board did not always mean unanimity, in spite of stereotypes. At least some Mormons on the board were willing to take stances not always endorsed by other Mormons. One such instance occurred in December 1919 when the “Mormon Battalion Memorial Committee” petitioned the school board to set aside the week of 5 January 1920 as a time “devoted to the study of the early Utah pioneers.” According to the board minutes, “various opinions” were expressed and the issue was left to the “discretion of the Superintendent.”38 The minutes, however, offer an incomplete account. The request actually asked the board to designate that the story of the “Mormon Battalion”—a group of Mormon pioneers that marched from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to California in 1846-47 as a U.S. Army battalion—be taught as a special history lesson during the first week of 1920.

The discussion included six Mormon board members and two Masonic members; in spite of a clear Mormon majority the proposal was rejected. Most felt it was simply not within the prerogative of the board to designate when the topic should be taught. Mormon board president Oscar Moyle opposed the idea on the grounds that it would open up the school to the influence of other “outside organizations.” He did not want the school used for propaganda or for a drive to raise funds for the proposed Mormon Battalion Monument. Moyle’s motion to refer the matter to the Committee on Teachers and School Work was approved unanimously; a special Mormon Battalion week apparently never fell within the superintendent’s “discretion.”39

By all indications, Mormons, as a group, did not have a specific, identifiably “Mormon” agenda for “their” public schools. Satisfied with a significant majority on the board, they did not shape the curriculum to exact Mormon specifications. Given the pre-eminence of Mormon culture in Utah, however, the schools would still reflect Mormon community values whether specific lessons were taught or not.

It would be naive to assume that LDS leadership was disinterested in developments that might diminish their influence. The church has always been concerned that in giving up its role in secondary education it would lose an important means of influencing its youth. Consequently, the LDS Church Commissioner of Education, David O. McKay proposed in March 1920 that the church should increase the number of Latter-day Saint students who were training to be teachers. In an address to the Church Education Committee, McKay “pointed out that this was a psychological moment for the L.D.S. Church to move into the field of teacher education. There was, he said, a shortage of trained teachers in the State of Utah. He reasoned that if the L.D.S. Church normal schools were strengthened immediately, in five years these schools could turn out [p.107]enough teachers to dominate the teacher supply situation in the state.”40 McKay also reported conversations with Presidents John A. Widtsoe of the University of Utah, President E. G. Peterson of the State Agricultural College in Logan, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, George N. Child (all of whom were members of the LDS church), in which each of these “secular” educational officers was willing to cooperate with the LDS Church Board of Education in implementing its teacher education policy.41 Ernest Smith was not included.

With such far-reaching guarantees of maintaining the Mormon cultural/religious influences, the Mormons on the Salt Lake City Board of Education did not need to concern itself with overtly Mormonizing the schools.

School Politics and Smith’s Retirement

The absence of an account by Ernest Smith of his experience in Salt Lake City, and the paucity of official school board minutes create difficulty in documenting the reasons behind Smith’s resignation as superintendent. No public discussion explains why Smith was not even considered for re-election—he was simply described as “retiring from the position.” It seems reasonable, given his initial appointment as a compromise between various factions on the board, that he did not enjoy the kind of support necessary for both the board and him to be effective. His departure in 1920 may have been an extension of the factionalism of 1918, which had led Oscar Moyle and Arnold Giauque to cast negative votes for his retention. The Salt Lake Telegram, while praising Smith for doing his work in a “conscientious manner,” in the same sentence mentioned “school politics” that reduced the schools’ effectiveness. The editorial suggested that Smith “permitted” the political issue to develop to “a point that it threatened to be a real disturbing problem in connection with local educational activities.”42 Although the newspapers reported that the board passed “vote of appreciation for services performed” by the outgoing superintendent, the minutes are strangely silent about any such words of appreciation (not even the vote is mentioned) and none of the local papers (except for the Telegram’s terse and partly critical comment) seem to have taken the opportunity to thank Ernest Smith for four years as the city’s superintendent.43

Dr. Ernest A. Smith did not stay long enough to make any lasting personal mark on the schools of Salt Lake City. After he left Salt Lake, he became an assistant professor of education at Northwestern University from 1920 to 1925; president of Wisconsin State Teachers’ College in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, for one year; and as president of the University of Toledo in Ohio in 1925. He served in this capacity for only a few months before he died of a heart attack, “superinduced by in-[p.108]digestion, following a Beta Theta Pi banquet at Troy, Ohio, in December 1926.44

National Politics of Education Comes to Salt Lake

In spite of the politics involved in Smith’s removal as superintendent, he perhaps could feel some satisfaction in having the NEA once again choose Salt Lake City as the location for its annual convention. To have a relatively small city host the NEA twice in seven years was seen as another evidence that Salt Lake was exchanging its image as the Mormon mecca to being a mecca of modern education.

According to the national Journal of Educational, American educators who attended the convention would be able to bathe in the Great Salt Lake and partake of Utah’s cooperative spirit, aside from observing a model school district: “Utah had made greater strides in the fundamentals of public school education in thirty years than any other state in the Union.” Those who came to Salt Lake City would have the opportunity “to study the working of the best public school laws in America.”45

Some less educationally viable, and unannounced, reasons for meeting in Salt Lake City surrounded the politics of education. If 1920 can be seen as the watershed year when the old religious/political antagonisms faded, it may also be viewed as the year Salt Lake City school teachers became active participants in the politics of national education. They, or at least their rural compeers, were employed to change the very face of the National Education Association. In his opening remarks, delivered in the Mormon Tabernacle, Ernest Smith alluded to the far-reaching implications of the business to be conducted in Salt Lake City Referring to Brigham Young’s statement “This is the place” on his first viewing the Salt Lake Valley, Smith announced that “this is the place” where the crisis in the NEA’s governance would finally be resolved through a representative assembly.46

Until 1920, annual conventions of the NEA were actually democratic assemblies in which all teachers who attended had a vote in the deliberations of the convention. This led to the conventions held in Boston, Chicago, and Milwaukee controlled by radical teacher organizations, much to the discomfiture of the conservative, administrative-oriented NEA leadership. With radicals in the majority of packed assemblies, there had been no chance to change the constitution to allow a “representative assembly,” a move that would displace the influence of such radical urban teachers as Margaret Haley of Chicago. No chance, that is, until the decision was announced to hold the 1920 meeting in Salt Lake City.

The NEA leadership (among whom was the nationally recognized educator, Dr. Howard Driggs, professor of English at the University of Utah) had come to the conclusion that the only way to beat the radicals was to pack the assembly in Salt Lake City with teachers who would vote in favor of the constitutional [p.109]change Salt Lake City was “far enough away from the great centers of population so as to make it quite impossible to pack the meeting [with radicals] .” The NEA leadership’s plans ran into opposition at a meeting of the classroom teachers from Salt Lake City School District and a rebellion of Salt Lake City teachers (who like urban teachers elsewhere tended to be more liberal in their thinking) threatened to sidetrack the proposed changes. To counteract this possibility, hundreds of telegrams were sent to the state’s rural districts summoning conservative teachers to the convention. The rural Utah teachers (most of whom were Mormon) swarmed into Salt Lake City on command of their supervising officials. Predictably, the motion to change the constitution was approved overwhelmingly.47

When Margaret Haley, the feisty Chicago radical, stood in the Tabernacle and protested the “steamroller” tactics she was booed down, in spite of the efforts of Mormon apostles David O. McKay and Richard R. Lyman to allow her a hearing. The event, said Upton Sinclair, reminded him of a story he had read in his childhood, “a fearsome story about an innocent American virgin lured into the clutches of a diabolical Mormon patriarch; and here is the story made real the victim being the associated school marms of America.”48

Sinclair, of course, was the dean of American muckrakers, whose literature was not known for its balanced perspective. He claimed direct collusion between the Mormon church and the NEA leadership. Although former superintendent D. H. Christensen favored the changes, he opposed the strong-arm tactics utilized by the NEA in gaining their objectives. He was cited by Sinclair as one of the plot’s opponents, but the fact that he was also a committed Mormon was not mentioned.49

In the aftermath of the NEA’s “democratization,” some Utahns feared that the NEA would never meet again in Salt Lake City. Whether for that or other reasons, it never has. There can be no doubt, however, that Salt Lake City’s schools, as they began the 1920s under the leadership of George Child, would more and more reflect the shaping and shaking influences that were emerging throughout the United States.

The fact that Smith, an “aristocrat of character,” was replaced by George N. Child, a “manager of virtue,” at this particular time, indicates the significant changes taking place in the purposes the public schools served. By personal disposition, by professional training, and by cultural/religious orientation, the new superintendent was more aligned with the social focus of the city’s schools.50


[p.93]1. “Vote is Close to Unanimous,” Salt Lake Tribune, 7 Dec. 1916.

[p.94]2. Details on Smith’s life and many accomplishments are contained in Allegheny College Bulletin (Nov. 1926); David Tyack and Elizabeth Hansot, Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1982).

[p.95]3. “Smith is Appointed as Superintendent,” Salt Lake Tribune, 25 Apr. 1916; “Salt Lake’s New Mystery,” Salt Lake Herald, 26 Apr. 1916; “E. A. Smith Here to Meet School Board,” Deseret News, 24 Apr. 1916; “Ernest A. Smith Head of Schools,” Deseret News, 25 Apr. 1916; “School Board is Criticized,” Deseret News, 17 May 1916; Board of Education, Minutes, 11 June 1916.

4. Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 46-49.

[p.96]5. Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Annual Reports, 1915-17, 138; Twenty-eighth Annual Report, 1917-18, 12-19. See Liberty Bond posters published in newspapers at this time in Christensen Papers, Special Collections, University of Utah Library.

6. Twenty-eighth Annual Report, 1917-18, 9-21; W. H. Auden, “The Unknown Citizen” in Lawrence perrine, ed., Sound and Sense (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1956), 103.

7. Twenty-eighth Annual Report, 1917-18, 154-55

[p.97]8. The quotation attributed to Governor Brigham Young was made in an address to the Regents of the University of Deseret in 1851. “The Utah Educational Exhibit,” Utah Educational Review 9 (Sept. 1915): 1.

9. Governor’s Message to the Legislature of Utah, 18 Jan. 1917, cited in James R. Clark, “Church and State Relationships in Education in Utah,” Ed.D. diss, Utah State University, 1958, 286.

[p.98]10. This verse was brought to my attention by Martha Stewart of Salt Lake City She recalled it being used in the Forest Dale Ward in Salt Lake City. The Primary was the LDS weekday religious activity program for young children.

11. Edna Ericksen related her interest in progressive education and its connection with the evolution of the “Trailblazer” program in a conversation with me shortly before her death in 1983.

12. The discussion of the degree to which Mormons were able to use progressive educational ideas is based on Allan Dean Payne, “The American Response to Early Progressive Education, 1892-1920,” Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1977.

[p.99]13. Tyack and Hansot, Managers of Virtue, 140-44.

14. For discussion of the varieties of progressive education see John and Evelyn Dewey, Schools for Tomorrow (New York: S. P. Dutton & Co., 1915); Lawrence A. Cremin, The Transformation of the School (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 127-239, and Tyack and Hansot, Managers of Virtue, 105-14.

15. Twenty-eighth Annual Report, 1917-18, 41, 46.

[p.100]16. Ibid., 50.

17. Twenty-ninth Annual Report, 1918-19, 76-77.

18. Lowell L. and Merle C. Bennion, Oral History, 29 Mar. 1990.

19. Arthur Zilversmitt, Changing Schools: Progressive Educational Theory and Practice, 1930-1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 16-18.

[p.101]20. Ellwood P. Cubberley, Changing Conceptions of Education (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1909), 53-54.

21. Cubberley, Changing Conceptions, 56-57.

22. W. Carson Ryan, Jr., Vocational Guidance and the Public Schools (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of Education, 1919), 137-147; Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Annual Reports, 1915-17, 178.

23. Ibid., 138.

[p.102]24. Harvey A. Kantor, Learning to Earn: School, Work, and Vocational Education in California, 1880-1930 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 168.

25. Robert Frost, “The Black Cottage,” in J. H. Nelson and O. Corgill, eds., Contemporary Trends: American Literature since 1900 (New York: MacMillan Co., 1949).

26. Twenty-ninth Annual Report, 1918-19, 81.

27. Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Annual Reports, 1918-17, 178-80.

28. Clarence J. Karier, et al., Roots of Crisis: American Education in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1973), 112.

[p.103]29. Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Annual Reports, 1915-17, 135-36

30. Catherine J. Rogers, “The Life and Work of George Newport Child,” M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1941, 14.

31. Rogers, “The Life and Work of George Newport Child,” 20.

[p.104]32. Charles A. Prosset, “Utah Educational Program,” in “Utah Educational Pamphlets,” Special Collections, Brigham Young University; A. E. Winship, “Why Go to Salt Lake City,” Journal of Education (3 June 1920).

33. Ernest A. Smith, “Compulsory Character Education,” in National Education Association Addresses and Proceedings. Fifty Eighth Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City, 1920, 473

34. LeRoy E. Cowles, “The Utah Educational Program of 1919 and Factors Conditioning its Operation,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1926, 5; Rogers, “Life and Work,” 37.

35. David B. Tyack, ed., Turning Points in American Educational History (Waltham, MA: Blaisdell, 1967), 323.

[p.105]36. “Committee in Charge of Better School Work Outlines Observance,” Salt Lake Tribune, 20 Nov. 1920.

37. “Willes and Iverson on Education Board,” Salt Lake Tribune, 5 Dec. 1918; “Few Citizens Help to Elect School Board,” Salt Lake Herald, 5 Dec. 1918.

[p.106]38. Board of Education, Minutes, 9 Dec. 1919.

39. “Battalion Study Request Argued,” Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Dec. 1919.

[p.107]40. Extracts from David O. McKay comments in Minutes of the General Board of Education of the Church, 1911-1928, LDS Historical Archives, cited in Clark, “Church and State,” 282-83.

41. Clark, “Church and State,” 282-83.

42. “School Situation Clarified,” Salt Lake Telegram, 10 June 1920.

43. “George N. Child Made School Head,” Salt Lake Telegram, 9 June 1920.

[p.108]44. Allegheny College Bulletin (Nov. 1926).

45. “Why Go To Salt Lake City?” Journal of Education (3 June 1920): 650.

46. Ernest A. Smith, “Introductory Remarks,” in National Education Association, Addresses and Proceedings of the Fifty-Eighth Annual Meeting held at Salt Lake City, Utah, July 4-10, 1920, 29.

[p.109]47. Upton Sinclair, The Gosling: A Study of the American Schools (Pasadena, CA, 1924), 204-57. For a detailed discussion of the NEA meeting in Salt Lake City, see my “Unpacking the NEA: The Role of Utah Teachers at the 1920 Convention,” Utah Historical Quarterly 41 (1973): 150-61.

48. Sinclair, The Gosling, 250-51.

49. Sinclair corresponded with Christensen about the convention and used him as a source. See correspondence, Upton Sinclair to D. H. Christensen, 18 Oct. 1923 and D. H. Christensen to Upton Sinclair, 23 Oct. 1923 in Christensen Papers, Special Collections, University of Utah.

50. Board of Education, Minutes, 11 June 1918; Deseret News, 21 Apr. 1920; Salt Lake Tribune, 9 June 1920.