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Digital Exhibit on Utah’s Air Quality History Features Early Women Environmentalists

Inversion at base of Wasatch Mountains, 30 January 1962. Used by permission, Utah Historical Society.

The Wasatch Front region of Utah, home to most of the state’s population, has a long history of poor air quality and civic action to push for air quality reform. The J. Willard Marriott Library’s new digital exhibit The History of Air Quality in Utah chronicles the state’s unique air pollution problems. Utahns have been pushing for improved air quality for over a century and have battled differing sources of pollution over the years. During the early to mid-twentieth century the widespread use of coal combustion to heat homes and buildings in the Salt Lake region’s bowl-like topography created some of the worst air quality in the world (see Utah’s Air Quality History pages which includes a Utah Timeline and pages dedicated to different eras of air quality history).  While everyone wanted to breathe cleaner air, pollution impacted segments of society differently.

Women Environmentalists Led Air Quality Reform

It was women, the homemakers who bore the brunt trying to keep homes and laundry clean of soot and residue from filthy air. It was women, the mothers who nursed sick children and other family members, who witnessed first-hand the health impacts of the suffocating coal pollution. It was also women who formed clubs and other groups to push for air quality reform during the first half of the twentieth century (see Women Environmental Leadership pages). The clean air movement in the early to mid twentieth century appealed to women to join the fight for better air quality, as evident in the Has Science Solved the Smoke Nuisance? pamphlet published by Alice Merrill Horne, leader of the Smokeless Fuel Federation of Utah, circa 1935 (see full pamphlet in the Smokeless Fuel Federation of Utah page).

Illustration from “Has Science Solved the Smoke Nuisance?” pamphlet published by the Smokeless Fuel Federation of Utah, circa 1935. Used by permission, Utah Historical Society.

“Because upon women falls the task of attempting to remove the blight of dirt and smoke, they sense smoke’s damage to property, clothing, house-furnishings, houses, public buildings.”

In the early 1900s, the Ladies Literary Club, took aim at enforcing smoke abatement measures and was instrumental in creating a smoke inspection department in SLC to enforce smoke regulations in 1914. The Salt Lake Women’s Chamber of Commerce formed in 1936 with the mission to eliminate coal smoke pollution by building a processing plant in Utah to create smokeless coal. The first and only Salt Lake Women’s Chamber of Commerce President, Cornelia Sorensen Lund, led the extensive campaign on how to rid Salt Lake City of its smoke nuisance problem (see Salt Lake Women’s Chamber of Commerce page). To learn more about how women’s clubs in Utah that pushed for improved air quality, see the Women Environmentalists Timeline. The digital exhibit also features sections on a historic and modern comparison of  Innovation and Consumer Cost, looking to Utah’s Future, and more.

Salt Lake Telegram, 31 January 1914
Salt Lake Telegram, 06 March 1936
  • Mary Ann Wright
    Posted at 17:06h, 18 March Reply

    Yes, and a number of women are again leading the charge for cleaner air., some wonderful men as well. UPHE, HEAL Utah, Stop the Polluting Port, Sierra Club, Save our Canyons, Friends of the Great Salt Lake and others. have all been working hard for the past six or seven years. on the issue of breathing good air along the Wasatch Front. Wishing the EPA and State Air Quality Division were as concerned as they should be.

  • Allyson Mower
    Posted at 20:21h, 21 March Reply

    The exhibit is amazing! I hadn’t known the fuller history of poor air quality in SLC. I feel much better informed after viewing it.

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