Public Schooling in Salt Lake City, 1890-1994Culture Clash and Accommodation
Public Schooling in Salt Lake City, 1890-1994
Frederick S. Buchanan

title page:
Culture Clash and Accommodation:
Public Schooling in Salt Lake City, 1890-1994
Frederick S. Buchanan
Smith Research Associates
in association with Signature Books
San Francisco / Salt Lake City

Dedication:To the thousands of teachers who made Salt Lake City public schools possible and to the numerous newspaper reporters who made much of this history possible.

copyright page:
© Frederick S. Buchanan. All rights reserved.
Printed and bound in the United States by Smith Research Associates
in association with Signature books, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Buchanan, Frederick Stewart
Culture clash and accommodation: public schooling in Salt Lake City, 1890-1994 / Frederick S. Buchanan
p. cm.
Includes index.
1. Public schools–Utah–Salt Lake City–History.
2. School superintendents–Utah–Salt Lake City–History.
I. Title.
LA375.S2B83 1996
ISBN 1-56085-082-5 (cloth)

Preface [see below]
01 – “Mormon Country” Schools
02 – “The Dawn of a New Revolution”
03 – “Home Ability for Home Affairs”
04 – A Compromise Outsider Stays the Course
05 – Administrative Progressivism Shapes the Schools
06 – Stability and Change
07 – Managing an Expanding System
08 – “Caught Up in a Whirlwind”
09 – Schools as Participatory Democracy
10 – “Taking It a Year at a Time”


[p.vii]This history was written as part of the public celebration of the 1990 centennial of the establishment of the public school system in Salt Lake City. It was not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of all aspects of public school development in the Salt Lake School District. My intent was to write a history which would communicate some understanding of how the schools came into being, the important changes that occurred and the issues and problems which were faced during the first century.

My decision to focus on the superintendents of the schools from 1890 to 1990, was dictated in part by the availability of primary documents and by the fact that newspaper accounts tended to stress the issues surrounding the board and the superintendents, rather than the work of teachers in the day to-day activities of classrooms. It is regrettable that very few accounts of teachers’ work in classrooms have been recorded or are readily available for use by historians. Even the reminiscences of students who attended the schools during century one would add unique insights not recorded elsewhere. I made a number of attempts to uncover such accounts through radio and newspaper appeals without success. If alternative sources were available, the history of the schools as told from the perspective of classroom teachers and students would be a quite different history from one based on the records of the board and the superintendents. Perhaps some future historian will find what is written here a stimulus to writing a history of Salt Lake City’s public schools focusing on the teachers, the principals, the curriculum or the students.

One might also look at the schools through the lenses of race, ethnicity, gender or social class and present an account of how these issues shaped the schools of Salt Lake. While I have touched on these issues, a major thread of this history has been the way in which the schools became the battleground for the historic culture clash between Mormons and non-Mormons during the past century. During much of that time, the political struggle over who should control the schools had a decidedly Mormon/gentile orientation. For many years the elections to the board of education were clearly Mormon versus non-Mormon. Only in the last thirty years has this been muted and less acerbic than it was in, say, the years from 1898 to 1915.

There are still, however, tensions in the public schools between Mormons and those of other religions and beliefs. Frequently this occurs on a personal level as when non-Mormon students feel excluded by virtue of their being a minority. Some non-Mormon parents view the Salt Lake public schools as Mormon “parochial” schools because of their perceived reflection of Mormon values and [p.viii]hesitate to have their children attend them. From time to time the issue of teaching Utah history (with its obvious Mormon themes) raises hackles on both sides of the “objectivity” issue. More significant, from a school policy perspective at least, is the long-standing practice of public school choirs (consisting of Mormons and non-Mormons) singing in Latter-day Saint worship services. In such circumstances, the religious minority may feel pressured to participate, even though such participation may be “voluntary.” While these tensions are not dealt with directly in this history, perhaps this centennial account of public schooling in Salt Lake City will provide some historical perspective for students of such contemporary issues. Given the nature of our society, the tensions between majorities and minorities will continue for many years as will the need to resolve them creatively and amicably.

In addition to the religious/cultural dimension which pervaded much of what happened in the public schools of Salt Lake, I believe this study is unique as an account of the growth and development of public schools in a medium-sized western city, as distinguished from the histories of urban education which are based on the development of public schools in the east or mid-west. Even though national programs initiated in the east had an influence on the west, this study suggests that there was always a considerable molding of these reforms or movements to meet the needs of the western educational landscape–of which “Mormon Country” is a part.

The principal sources used in writing this history have been annual school reports, minutes of board meetings and newspaper accounts of school related activities. However, time and time again I found board minutes deficient whenever tensions rose in the community over Mormon/gentile conflicts. Hours of serious and sometimes acrimonious debate would be summed up with a terse and bland “A discussion followed.” The work of intrepid investigative newspaper reporters helped fill in the lacuna caused by the boards unwillingness to “go public” with controversy I have also attempted to compensate for too much reliance on official records by using oral histories. These interviews with the last four superintendents and with a few teachers and students were an invaluable source of insights. The willingness of two of the late D. H. Christensen’s children–Dean K. Christensen and Kathleen Christensen Hall–to share their father’s professional and personal papers enriched my understanding of the role of the superintendent in the Salt Lake City school district.

I also benefitted from three master’s theses done many years ago on aspects of the district’s history and gratefully acknowledge the work of Karl E. Lingwall, Catherine J. Rogers, George B. Robinson for their contribution to my understanding of events in the 1890s, 1920s, and 1930s, respectively. Five graduate students, Allan Payne, Dale Rees, Jack Monnett, Dee Darling, and Brian Hardy contributed to my understanding of the Mormon response to public schooling through their Ph.D. dissertations. A recent Ph.D. dissertation by Patricia McLeese was of immense value in interpreting the issues of school governance in Salt Lake City during the 1970s and 1980s.

[p.ix]I appreciate the ‘efforts of a number of my graduate classes in the history of education for assistance in finding relevant materials in the Salt Lake City newspapers. The newspaper references they identified frequently gave me a jump start on a variety of topics and issues.

It should be added that the task of writing this history would have been greatly facilitated had the scrapbooks of newspaper articles dealing with the school district from around 1925 to the 1970s been preserved. Unfortunately, someone, in a fit of presentism and disregard for historical record keeping, disposed of these bound volumes sometime in the mid-1970s and only a few survived. Unless otherwise indicated, source materials (or copies thereof) may be found in the Frederick S. Buchanan Papers, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. Minutes of the Board of Education are on microfilm at the district office in Salt Lake City

A word about Mormon terminology: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is referred to in this history as the “Mormon church,” the “LDS church,” or simply “the church.” It is presided over by a president and two counselors known collectively as “The First Presidency” Next in authority is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The church is divided up geographically into wards (equivalent to a parish), presided over by a bishop and two counselors. A group of wards makes up a stake (roughly equivalent to a diocese), presided over by a stake president and two counselors. The term “ward” is also used to refer to civic precincts in Salt Lake City, but these are not the same entities as the ecclesiastical wards. Finally, the term “gentile” was commonly used in Utah in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to refer to people who were not members of the LDS church.

I am indebted to many people for their help in making this history possible. John and Sylvia Bennion first broached the idea as part of the centennial celebration and have been supportive of my efforts throughout. The Board of Education has been generous in providing financial support which, when combined with resources from the Graduate School of Education and the Department of Educational Studies, allowed me to have two free quarters to pursue my research. The Board also helped underwrite some of the costs of publication. The University of Utah Research Committee provided me with funds which enabled me to hire Dianna Campanella as a research assistant. Her painstaking combing of newspapers, obituaries and the Masonic membership lists were invaluable. Gregory Thompson, Assistant Director for Special Collections at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, generously arranged for the transcription of the oral history interviews which I conducted in the course of my research. Jan Keller and Juanita Barclay Wainwright of the superintendent’s office helped locate numerous hard to find records. Sue Southam and Hilary Bertagnole, English teachers par excellence at Highland High School, gave me the benefit of their skill and perspectives in reading some of the chapters. Zane G. Alder, Professor Emeritus of English at Brigham Young University, and William Mulder, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Utah, provided me with helpful critiques of early chapters of the book. The reference  librarians at the University of Utah and at the LDS His-[p.x]torical Department in Salt Lake City were always gracious and helpful in tracking down obscure citations and references. As always, my wife Rama and our five sons were supportive of my research and writing.

I am very grateful for the support and encouragement of my department chair, Ralph E. Reynolds and for the advice and practical assistance of Ann S. Curtis, one of the departmental secretaries. On numerous occasions she kept me from being lost in the electronic labyrinth of word processing and frequently responded to the content of what I was writing. One could not wish for a better support staff than exists in the Department of Educational Studies. They have my sincere thanks for their skill and patience. I deeply appreciate the sensitive collegial spirit of Robert V. Bullough, Jr., and his consistent encouragement of the project. I am also indebted to Harvey Kantor for his expert critiques of a number of chapters. His insightful commentary helped me focus my research and gave the book some of its dominant themes.

Ultimately, of course, I am responsible for the interpretation placed on the records I have used in writing this history What is presented is a reflection of some of my own personal interests and biases as an educator and as an historian. I have written it in the hope that it may promote reflection on the part of those who read it: reflection about the complex social institution–public schools–which we take so much for granted in our present era; reflection about the promises which schools have often made which are never (or only partially) realized; reflection about the need for continual examination of our schools in terms of what we do expect from them and what we should reasonably expect from them. Lastly, I hope that this account will stimulate reflection on the demands and challenges confronting those who shaped and guided the Salt Lake City schools through their first century.

The time spent on researching and writing this book is my professional contribution as an historian of education to the history of my adopted city and state. It is also an expression of this Scottish emigrant’s gratitude for the many undreamed of opportunities which have come my way through my involvement in American education as a student, teacher, and professor.