Utah History Encyclopedia


By William Mulder
The motto Wij zijn klein maar groot ("We are small but great") expresses the sentiment of the Dutch in Utah as well as of tåheir countrymen in their native Holland. Habits formed by centuries of reclaiming their diminutive but productive land from the sea, and proud memories of Holland's maritime greatness in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, persist in the works and lives of Dutch citizens in their adopted state.

Like their English, Scandinavian, and German counterparts, the immigrants from Holland came primarily as Mormon converts, beginning in the 1860s and peaking in the 1920s, with a surge of new immigration in the 1950s after World War II. The 1980 census profiled this new immigration, which included a number of non-Mormon immigrants sponsored by the First Christian Reformed Church of Salt Lake City. The census counted 3,009 persons born in Holland, 1,352 of whom had immigrated during the 1950s, 277 during the 1960s, and 214 during the 1970s. There were 2,280 of the 3,009 who had become naturalized citizens. In 1980, however, persons of Dutch ancestry numbered 44,308 (32,038 of multiple ancestry, 12,270 of single Dutch ancestry). Salt Lake and Weber counties number their inhabitants of Dutch ancestry in the thousands, with distinctive Dutch names (names with the prefix "Van," for instance) prominent in the Salt Lake and Ogden directories, an impressive growth from the 523 residents who listed Holland as their country of birth in the Utah census at the turn of the century. Their story began in 1861.

A master mariner living in Cardiff, Wales, was the first Dutch convert to Mormonism. Baptized in 1852, Anne W. van der Woude left for Utah the following year, and by 1861 was back in his native land as a Mormon missionary. Converts from a community of Nieuwlichters, or New Lighters, formed the first company of sixty Dutch emigrants who left Rotterdam in June 1864, crossed the plains in Captain William Hyde's wagon train, and arrived in Salt Lake City on 26 October. Timothy Mets of the company settled on a farm in Morgan County, helped build up Morgan City, and later became superintendent of the Morgan co-op.

Later converts from Holland settled in Ogden and Salt Lake City, which have continued as centers of Dutch population in the state. The concentration of Hollanders in two neighboring cities made group activity possible, and soon in both Ogden and Salt Lake there were Dutch-language meetings, study groups, choirs, socials, theatricals, soccer teams, and, for a time, even a Dutch band. Although Dutch meetings for a handful of immigrant converts were held in Ogden as early as 1870, and off and on for several years thereafter, religious, social, and cultural activities in the Dutch language could flourish only after the turn of the century, understandably during the years of ongoing immigration.

"De Hollandsche Vergardering," or Dutch Gathering, begun in 1903, met on Friday nights; and it could be turned into a social occasion as well as a religious service. A Sunday School was taught in Dutch as early as 1907. The "Holland Dutch" conference was held twice a year, in Ogden and Salt Lake City. The best years for the Dutch choirs were from 1918 to 1933, when the Excelsior Choir numbered ninety voices, which are still ringing in the memories of present-day survivors. In the early 1900s a Dutch band played for outings at Lagoon and Liberty Park. "The Happy Eight" was a popular Dutch double quartet. Hollandia, a music-drama society, was formed in 1908, the Holland-Dramatic Club in the 1920s, and the Holland Players in the 1930s. "Utile Dulce," a literary society, and a Holland Educational Society had brief lives. Dutch bazaars, missionary farewells, and handicraft exhibits rounded out the activities. But the statistics, a generation apart, tell a story of decline before the revival that came with the new immigration after World War II: 1,000 attended a general Dutch conference in 1906; 115 in 1933.

From 1914 to 1935 Dutch activity in Utah was fully reported in De Utah Nederlander, a weekly which claimed to be "the only Dutch newspaper in the Inter-Mountain States." Church-subsidized but editorially relatively independent, it was intended to serve as the counterpart of the Danish-Norwegian Bikuben, the Swedish Utah Posten, and the German Beobachter which, also church-assisted, formed the Associated Newspapers. Nederlander's editor for its twenty-one years was Willem Jacobus DeBry, who in 1915 had briefly brought out Utah's first Dutch publication, De Huisvriend (The Housefriend), as a liefhebberij, an amateur's labor of love. DeBry believed that the Nederlander should "spread the principles of democracy as well as the principles of the gospel." Through local and foreign news, articles on American history and traditions, personal narratives of the Dutch immigrant experience, and serial fiction in translation by Mormon writers like Nephi Anderson, the Nederlander gave the Dutch newcomers a dual perspective helping them to make their way in their new environment. One regular contributor was Frank I. Kooyman, a young bookkeeper and immigrant of 1904, who had made his literary debut in 1907 as editor of the short-lived weekly De Hollander. As Jacob Cats, Jr., a take-off on the seventeenth-century Dutch household poet Jacob Cats, and as "K," his signature on a steady succession of clever essays and verses, Kooyman himself became a household word among his Dutch readers.

American businesses appealed to Dutch trade by advertising in the Nederlander that "Wij spreken Hollandsch" ("We speak Dutch"). At the same time, a number of business enterprises in Utah have been/are wholly Dutch, though not always as recognizable by name as a Holland Bakery or a Holland Furniture or Van Komen's European Specialties; yet Fashion Furniture, Boogert Painting and Decorating, Rosenhan's Brushes and Brooms, Mercury Publishing, Steenblik Brothers Dairy, and Springer's Tamales were/are all Dutch. In the 1950s and 1960s Cornelius Kapteyn, a carpenter-builder, put his countrymen from the "new immigration" to work as artisans, making use of the skills they had acquired in Holland, and saving them from the menial, custodial jobs for which the new arrivals often had to settle.

Two Utah Hollander professionals have enjoyed visibly distinguished careers: Gerrit DeJong, Jr., an immigrant of 1906, Professor of Music and Languages and Dean of Fine Arts at Brigham Young University; and Willem J. Kolff, a more recent arrival with degrees from Leyden and Groningen, who as Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Surgery, Research Professor of Engineering, and Research Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Utah has achieved international recognition as a pioneer in the development of artificial organs. The faculty rosters at Utah colleges and universities are dotted with Dutch names across a wide spectrum of disciplines: Bakker, Beyers, den Blyker, DeVries, Dick, Grundmann, Mulder, Steensma, Stroop, Tiemens, Van Dyck, Van Orden, Van Wagenen, to name a few. Daniel Dykstra was an academic vice president and Arvo Van Alstyne the provost at the University of Utah. Paul Van Dam was Utah's attorney general. In Mormon official circles, Hollanders have presided over wards and stakes; one, Jacob de Jagger, a former Norelco executive, became a general authority as one of the Council of Seventy. Non-Mormon clergy include the pastors of the First Christian Reformed Church of Salt Lake City, and the Christian Reformed churches in Ogden and Brigham City, the Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Cottonwood, and, in the 1930s, Jacob Trapp, son of Dutch parents, minister of the Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City.

Netherlands vice-consuls have served in Utah since 1920, when Evert Neuteboom kept office in the Eccles Building in Ogden. Among vice-consuls residing in Salt Lake have been Berent Tiemersma, immigrant of 1918, a retired businessman; Sebastiaan (Bas) Van Dongen, a 1930s immigrant, founder of Fashion Furniture; and Gerrit Van Tussenbroek, immigrant of 1915, an officer with Continental Bank. More recently, Nicholas J. Teerlink, successful jeweler, former state legislator, former president of Wells Stake, and for seventeen years president of the Netherlands LDS Branch in Salt Lake after its organization in 1962, served for more than thirty years. When the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, the national symphony of Holland, played in Salt Lake's Symphony Hall in 1982, Teerlink reminded local Hollanders of their long Dutch colonial heritage in the New World and of the 200th anniversary that year of friendly diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and the United States.

A tangible token of the continuing Dutch presence in Utah is their attractive plot in Salt Lake City's International Peace Gardens. Its colorful tulips and miniature windmill are a pleasant, if conventional, reminder of a "small but great" country which has given the state so many model citizens.