METHODISTS IN UTAH
First United Methodist Church, Salt Lake
During the summer of 1868, the Reverend A.N. Fisher, representing the Nevada
Conference of the Methodist Church, visited Salt Lake City. At the invitation
of Brigham Young, he preached the first Methodist sermon in Utah in the
Mormon Tabernacle. His sermon on heavenly riches was reputedly publicly
mocked by Young: Fisher claimed, "I sustained the humiliation of having
my sermon ridiculed before an audience of thousands of people." Nonetheless,
as a result of this trip the Methodists sought a person to supervise their
activities in the Intermountain area. Reverend Lewis Hartsough became the
missionary superintendent of Wyoming, Utah, and southern Idaho under the
Colorado Conference. Because of his work in developing a Utah mission, he
is known as the father of Methodism in Utah. His first sermon in Utah was
preached with the encouragement and aid of the Episcopal Church. Bishop
Tuttle offered the use of the room his church occupied as well as the services
of his congregation's organist.
In the spring of 1870, Dr. Hartsough returned to the east seeking people
and financial aid for the work in Utah. On 22 May 1870, Reverend Gustave
Pierce came to Utah to continue the work started by Reverend Hartsough.
He organized The First Methodist Church of Salt Lake City. Fausts Hall,
the first official meeting place of the church, was an old hayloft over
a stable and rented for fifty dollars a month. Pierce called it "an
exorbitant amount, but our only chance". That same year Reverend Pierce
began the Methodist contribution of education in Utah by opening a school
known as the Rocky Mountain Seminary. Within two years the school had an
impressive enrollment of 220 pupils, and it remained open until 1893. Pierce
later organized other churches and schools in Corrine, Tooele, Beaver, and
Methodists consider their greatest contribution to the development of the
state of Utah to be in the field of education. While Mormons had established
schools in every area they entered in Utah, these schools generally taught
only the very basic fundamentals of learning. They suffered a low attendance
rate and short school year, often less than three months. The Mormon struggle
for survival and effort toward colonization, didn't allow for a concentrated
effort toward education. Non-Mormons in Utah had the resources to focus
on education as wll as the desire to limit the Mormon influence in the school
system. The institution of polygamy and the use of the Deseret alphabet,
for example, were seen as attacks on fundamental American systems.
From 1870 until 1894 Methodist education in Utah thrived. A total of forthy-two
schools had been established. Not all of the schools were open at the same
time, and some lasted only a year. Young women representing the Women's
Home Missionary Society made up a majority of the teachers within the schools.
In 1890, the most successful year, there were 26 schools operating with
32 teachers and 1,467 pupils. These pupils included 544 Mormons, 673 former
Mormons, and 250 Protestants. The effectiveness of the schools helped keep
the conflict between Mormons and Methodists in the area of education to
When the opportunity afforded itself, Methodists worked towards the establishment
of a free public educations system. In 1890 the territorial legislature
passed such a bil, and by 1917 Methodist involvement in education in Utah
came to an end.
As the need for Methodist resources in education diminished, more emphasis
was placed on mission work. Since the church's organization in 1784 the
Methodists had been one of the foremost evangelical groups on the American
frontier. Methodists considered it their responsibility to convert the nonbeliever
to Methodism, which included a desired conversion to the strict moral standards
of the Methodist lifestyle. Mormons were not considered by many Mthodists
to be Christians, and the practice of polygamy was considered evil. Because
of this practice and the theocratic form of government used by the Mormons,
they were considered to be un-American by the Methodists, who set their
sights on Americanizing Utah and winning Mormons to Methodism.
Mormons generally voted as a group represented by one political party. To
Methodists, this was un-democratic, consequently they became involved in
political efforts to prevent Utah from becoming a state until the LDS Church
arranged to have its people divided along national party lines.
Although the Methodists placed prominence on their mission to the Mormons
in Utah, they also established churches and schools in the predominantly
non-Mormon mining towns These were challenging tasks because of the transient
population of those areas and the endangered survival of the towns themselves.
Substantial congregations would be wiped out with a depression or a strike
that would close a mine. However, the church at Park City was at one time
the most successful Methodist church in the state. In 1891 it boasted 300
members, the largest in the territory, and had become entirely self supporting--the
first Methodist church in Utah to achieve this. By 1894, Methodists were
active in at least forty-two towns. According to the census figures of 1895,
church membership was 1,440. Membership increased to 2,021 in 1936, to 4,351
in 1952, to 5,956 in 1971, and to approximately 7,000 by 1990.
The Women's Home Missionary Society is prominent in Utah Methodist history.
The society was founded on 10 July 1880, and in the winter of that year
two of its first missionaries arrived in Utah. The society's focus was on
education and social work. Within six years of its arrival, the Women's
Home Missionary Society had missionaries and teachers in Salt Lake City,
Ogden, Moroni, Spanish Fork, Richfield, Elsinore, Grantsville, Ephriam,
Mount Pleasant, and Spring City. In some areas they worked with missionaries
or ministers from the Utah mission, but in some of the smaller towns they
were responsible for Sunday services including the preaching of sermons.
Shortly after its arrival in Utah, the Women's Home Society became active
in joining the protest against polygamy, and it was active in the push for
a constitutional amendment making polygamy constitutionally illegal. Methodist
propaganda was influential in the Supreme Court's decision in the case of
Reynolds v. The United States, which held that it was in the power
of the civil government to determine whether plural marriage was legal.
Propaganda also had a direct effect on anti-polygamy legislation in Congress
which culminated in the Edmunds Tucker Law of 1887. Antipolygamy activity
resulted in the Manifesto issued in 1890 by the LDS Church President Wilford
Woodruff advising against the contracting of any further plural marriages
in the United States. In 1904 the Mormon Church officially prohibited polygamy.
Angie Newmon, a member of the society, was instrumental in the development
of an interdenominationally supported home which served as a refuge for
discontented or abandoned plural wives and their children. She raised $6,500
at a convention of the Women's Home Missionary Society held in Cincinnati.
The first session of the Forty-ninth Congress awarded $40,000 in aid to
the home in 1886. A year later, an additional $74,000 was appropriated by
Congress. The home was intended to be a refuge for women and children affected
by the legislation against polygamy. It contained forty sleeping rooms which
could be increased to fifty if necessary. The highest rate of occupancy
was in September 1887 when it contained eleven women and twenty-two children.
It ceased operations 15 June 15 1893, and $90,300 was lost when the home
was sold for $22,500. While the home was a financial failure, it represented
a major stepping stone in cooperation between denominations.
The women's society also set up two boarding homes, called Esther Halls,
one in Salt Lake City and one in Ogden. These homes were set up in 1914
as homes for working women who needed shelter. Admission was not affected
by church status or ability to pay.
From its beginning finances were a problem for the Utah Methodist Mission.
The small church membership in Utah could not support the activities deemed
necessary; therefore most of the financing came from outside Utah. From
1879 until 1948 Utah Methodism had the status of a mission. This meant that
its financial burdens came under the general care of the whole church. In
July of 1948, due to the request of the church in Utah, the status of Utah
Methodism changed to the Salt Lake City District of the Colorado Conference.
Under this form of church government, Utah Methodism now carries its own
burdens and represents a significant portion of the non-Mormon community
within the state.
See: Utah Methodist Centennial Committee, The First Century of the Methodist
Church of Utah.(1970); Gustive O. Larson, "An Industrial Home for
Polygamous Wives," Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 38 (1970);
Herbert Ware Reherd, "An Outline History of the Protestant Churches
of Utah," in Utah: a Centennial History ed. by Wain Sutton (1949).