The experience of women in Cedar City and at the B.A.C. could be summarized as a clash between tradition and progressivism. The Cedar City community upheld family values which drew parallels with Victorian ideas of “spheres of influence.” Men managed the world of public affairs while women tended to domestic matters, such as cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. These values were promoted by predominate religion in the region, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and so these family values were a common element among the community and reflected in the configuration of B.A.C. One of the five groups of study the B.A.C. included in its catalog was the subject of Home Economics, which offered courses such as: “Principles of Cooking, Sanitation, House Construction and Decoration, Home Nursing and Personal Hygiene, Household Management, Advanced Course in Cooking, Household Chemistry, Hand Sewing and Machine Stitching, Dressmaking, Millinery and Art Needle Work.”1 Such courses were directed at educating women to be care takers of the home. In addition, female students were required to wear school uniforms throughout the entire year. What’s interesting is that this measure was enacted because of desires of the female students. The 1916-1917 Student Catalog stated that, “the girls of the Branch Agricultural College have voted unanimously, to prescribe a uniform dress… The girls passed favorably upon this measure because they realize that the wearing of uniforms makes them more democratic, gives them more time for study and lessens their expenses at school.”2 This explanation shows that the women at the B.A.C. were happy to wear modest apparel, but a reversal of opinion would occur within a few short years. Discussions in the school newspaper, The Student, gives insight to the views possessed by students of the B.A.C. concerning women. In the February 1915 issue of the Student, several pages were dedicated to discussion of the Home Economics Club – a campus organization exclusive to female students in pursuit of endeavors akin to the Home Economics Courses. Willard Canfield, a student of the B.A.C., wrote an article where he proclaimed suspicion towards the club because of what can now be considered as sexism. Believing the name of the club was a front to deflect concern of men by appealing to the idea the members were working towards becoming better house wives, Canfield proceeded to go on a tirade of how the “secret society” was plotting to subjugate men. “Since the beginning of history woman has been prying into and meddling with man’s affairs, until today it has resulted in the organization of a ‘Home Economics Club’ – a secret society from which man is excluded. It is true that they give many good lectures and demonstrations, but that is done merely to deceive man. Why do they hold secret meetings, and why does a woman always tun red and guilty when disturbed, or surprised by a man? Let every young man and every married man think seriously of this matter… Let man put a stop the the meetings of SEDITION.”3
This sexist and anti-feminist view point by no means is representative of the attitudes of all the B.A.C. students; Afton Watson wrote a response to Canfield’s article, which was also published in the same issue of The Student. Watson lauded the opinion in sarcastic manner and looked to praise women’s involvement in “man’s world.” Poking fun at Canfield’s accusation of secrecy from men, Watson wrote: “The reason a woman always turns red and looks guilty when disturbed or surprised by a man, is that she blushes when he sees his awkward movements and feels guilty when she realizes that her own fair appearance is the cause of it all.”4 Perhaps other students agreed with Watson and laughed off Canfield’s rantings: perhaps some shared his suspicions. Regardless, pushes for women’s involvement in the work force and politics came from some in Cedar City as a result of the Great War. Throughout the United States, as men were conscripted or volunteered into the army, women were given an opportunity to enter the work force to fill the positions soldiers had left. In Cedar City, women helped in their own ways with the war effort. However, after the war ended and the soldiers returned, there were some women who did not want to give up the new industrial freedom they had been given. This was a byproduct of the political progressiveness of the time which would give women the right to vote in 1919, and Cedar City was not immune to the politics of the time.
An article written in The Student’s Reconstruction Issue in April of 1919 raised questions about women’s place in society after the war. It recognized that some women wanted to keep their jobs, but labor unions would rather have them leave or be removed in order to make room for men to return to the work force. “True, our war heroes must have employment,” Mrs. G.L. Janson wrote, “but must the women relinquish positions which their efficiency has more than proved their right to hold? Is this democracy?” Janson continued in her article, calling for women’s political participation by forming their own unions and voting women into congress.5 Considering that these arguments were presented by a woman and published in the school newspaper, the conclusion can be made that Cedar City at least had some sympathy for progressive ideas after the war. When the Influenza Epidemic hit Cedar City, women in the community stepped forward to help Macfarlane care for the sick. Once the B.A.C.’s facilities were used as a makeshift hospital, Rena B. Maycock ,the county home demonstrator, was placed at the head of the organization. She was aided by B.A.C. faculty member Amy Bowman and other volunteer nurses. The nurses worked with “merciful dedication” to aid those families who had fallen sick.6 While the view can be taken that these women were simply adhering to traditional gender roles by conforming to the expectation that women, as domestic workers, cared for the sick, their courage and contribution should not be overlooked. The epidemic was contagious; even the wearing of gauze masks could not stop its spread. Furthermore, these women were not simply staying within their homes and caring for their own families, but had stepped forward to care for others and willingly exposed themselves to the disease in order to save as many lives as they could. The efforts of the Maycock, Bowman, and the nurses should be credited as an act of human compassion, and not of feminine domesticity.
1. Catalog of the Branch Agricultural College of Utah: Cedar City, Utah, for 1916-1917, Branch College Bulletins, Vol 4. 24.
2. Ibid., 18.
3. Willard Canfield, “My Opinion of the Home Economics Club,” The Student, February 1915, 17.
4. Afton Watson, “An Answer to ‘My Opinion of the Home Economics Club,'” The Student, February 1915, 18.
5. G.L. Janson, “Woman and Reconstruction,” The Student, April 1919, Reconstruction Issue, 13-15.
6. L.W. Macfarlane, Dr. Mac: The Man, His land, and His People (Cedar City, UT: Southern Utah State College Press), 144.
Fig. 1. Image reproduced with permission from Janet Seegmiller, Home Economics Club, 1915, Still Image, Sherrat Library, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Accessed April 22, 2014, <http://contentdm.li.suu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/BAC_Photos/id/946/rec/6>.
Fig. 2. Image reproduced with permission from Janet Seegmiller, Relief Society Building, Still Image, Sherrat Library, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Accessed April 22, 2014, <http://contentdm.li.suu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/DUP/id/279/rec/42>.