SLC’s Pioneer Museum and the Daughters of Utah Pioneers: A Conversation with Megan Weiss

Date: May 30, 2023 (Season 5, Episode 13: 54 minutes and 21 seconds long). Click here for the BuzzSprout version of this Speak Your Piece episode. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click here. The episode was co-produced by Brad Westwood and Chelsey Zamir with help (sound engineering and post-production editing) from Jason Powers, from the Utah State Library Recording Studio.

The above cropped photo is of Kate B. Carter (left and pointing) and other members of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers gathered around the first eagle sculpture which was previously perched atop Brigham Young’s Eagle Gate (on State Street at South Temple) until 1963. Photography courtesy of the Classified Photograph Collection, Utah State Historical Society. 

Speak Your Piece Host Brad Westwood hosts Megan Weiss, a Ph.D. student specializing in the history of the American West, at the University of Utah, about the fascinating history of the DUP (the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers); officially known as the International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

As one of the last states in the country to establish a state history museum — the Museum of Utah is projected to open in 2026 — Utah has made numerous attempts to tell, officially, Utah’s fascinating yet complex history. The state’s first attempts to conceptualize its history started with the 1897 Pioneer Jubilee, as the state clung to its pioneer narratives and sought to preserve them.  As Weiss tells it, the Jubilee was seen as a “reset” moment for Utah, after pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints of Latter-day Saints arrived in the territory in 1847, and finally achieved statehood in 1896. 

Many of Utah’s history-related organizations and celebrations, still held dear today, were derived from that original 1897 Jubilee festivalthe Book of Pioneers, Days of ‘47’ celebrations, the Utah State Historical Society (1897) and the DUP (1901), were all established in its wake. With this intent to preserve the Pioneer narrative, Utahns also started keeping and preserving objects, which also became a means to re-examine the past. The Deseret Museum, established in 1869, was a private enterprise and a menagerie curio hall to begin with, but later the collection became more professionalized. Weiss adds that during this professionalization stage, Utah women started the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1901. This coincides with the establishment of female-led historical agencies across the country. 

Together, these descendants of Utah’s pioneers commemorated their families, focusing primarily on Utah’s “pioneer period” from 1847-1869. Among many social and intellectual endeavors, in the mid-twentieth century, the DUP envisioned and built a Mormon pioneer museum (something of a de facto state museum), with funds gathered widely from private sources, along with funds and a building site, furnished by the Utah State Legislature. Opened in 1950, this prominently placed building serves as the visual terminus looking northward on Main Street.

This episode offers a heretofore untold story regarding the public history of Utah; also women’s history, twentieth century politics, and perhaps equally as important, how Utah has constructed and presented history in the past. As Utah prepares to open in 2026, a new, more inclusive, state-funded history museum, this backstory is essential listening. 

Bio: Megan Weiss is the Utah Humanities Graduate Fellow at the University of Utah’s American West Center, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in U.S. History. Weiss has worked in numerous museums and historical agencies and is passionate about making Utah history more inclusive and accessible. She is the current voice of the weekly public history radio show, the Beehive Archive (produced by Utah Humanities). Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, race, religion, and historic commemoration in the American West.

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