Socialism in Utah

This episode originally aired December 29, 2006.
This episode’s audio file may be found at http://www.utahhumanities.org/BeehiveArchive.htm.
© 2006 Utah Humanities Council

The Story:

Now that the elections of November are over, let’s take a moment to look back at a time when Utahns found what they thought was a viable alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties.  From 1901 to 1923, more than a hundred Utah socialists were elected to public office in places like Cedar City, Murray, Salt Lake, Lehi, and Salina.  Utah was just one of eighteen states to elect socialists to the legislature.  But it was in the little mining town of Eureka that socialists truly came to dominate the political scene.  Ninety-eight years ago this week, at a public swearing-in ceremony, members of the Socialist Party claimed the Eureka mayor’s office and a majority of the seats on the town council.  Socialists would remain key players in Eureka politics until the 1920s.  

The Eureka socialists were not wild-eyed radicals bent on social revolution as some of their opponents wanted to believe.  Instead, they tended to be careful reformers dedicated to clean, honest governing.  Not only did Eureka’s socialists begin paving the town’s streets once they took office, but they also built the community’s first sewer system, appointed its first dog catcher, and began regular street cleaning and garbage collection programs.  They also passed town ordinances that banned gambling and the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

Eventually, though, the political power of Utah’s Socialist Party began to wane.  The Eureka socialists were able to hold out after party members in other parts of the state started to lose ground, but eventually opposition from political opponents, the press, and conservative religious figures overcame even them.  Fights within the party also weakened the ability of members to mount successful political campaigns.  Yet, the Eureka socialists, and socialists from around the state, were able to leave behind a substantial legacy of reform that still benefits Utah’s citizens.

Sources:

See news reports about the Eureka socialists in the following editions of the Eureka Reporter: December 19, 1902; September 13, 1907; October 11, 1907; November 8, 1907; January 3, 1908; January 24, 1908; September 18, 1908; November 27, 1908; and September 30, 1921.  Also see John S. McCormick, “Hornets in the Hive: Socialists in Early Twentieth-Century Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 50 (Summer 1982): 225-240; John S. McCormick and John R. Sillito, “Respectable Reformers: Utah Socialists in Power, 1900-1925,” in A World We Thought We Knew: Readings in Utah History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995); and John Sillito’s entry on the Socialist Party of Utah in the online Utah History Encyclopedia at www.media.utah.edu/UHE.

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