Women in Utah History: Paradigm or Paradox?

By Patricia Lyn Scott; Linda Thatcher | Go to book overview

4
Ethnic Women
1900–1940

Helen Z. Papanikolas

Forty years after the Mormons entered the Salt Lake Valley and many centuries after the Anasazi Indians left traces in Utah’s varied terrain, immigrant women from the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and Asia began long fearful journeys that led them to Utah. They would not see Native Americans on far-off reservations, but perhaps they would pass an occasional African American woman on the streets. These newcomers were impelled forward by ancient needs to go beyond their current arduous existence in search of a brighter destiny. They were among a legion of women throughout the ages who left their homelands, willingly or unwillingly.1

American immigration has been divided into the “old immigrants” and “new immigrants.” The old immigrants came to Utah in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Most immigrated from Britain, northern Europe, and Scandinavia, and came in family groups. They intended to stay and immediately accepted the United States as their adopted country.

After 1900, the new immigrants began arriving in Utah in increasing numbers from Mediterranean, Balkan, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. These new immigrants were primarily men who expected that their sojourn would be short. Except for the Asians, they had come from countries that had recently freed themselves from foreign rule, and all were intensely nationalistic. They became the force that industrialized Utah.

When the new immigrants lengthened their stay in the United States and sent for brides, the women obediently followed. They had no other choice; in their impoverished countries, dowries were necessary for marriage. Isolated and unassimilated in the larger American-Mormon culture in Utah, they lived as ethnic women did in the East and Midwest—in neighborhoods where religious rituals were recited in old-country languages. As mothers they instilled the traditional ways in their children, hoping to return eventually to their people.

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