Looking back on the Labor Commission

Guest post by Archives and Records Service volunteer Dani Newton.  

I came to volunteer at the Utah State Archives and Records Service through a class I took this semester at Salt Lake Community College. We were required to spend a few hours every week at an archives and help with any projects.  I also had to pick my own research project and write a paper. I was not entirely sure what to expect when I started since it is pretty easy to get overwhelmed when you walk into the permanent repository, or even just listen to staff members list all of the ongoing projects as they try to figure out which one most needs an extra set of hands. I was assigned to process the Industrial Commission reports, which mostly focused on people who had been injured in mining accidents in Utah. Around the same time, while doing personal family research, I found documentation of some of my ancestors who had been killed in mining accidents, including my 2nd great-grandfather’s obituary, which listed a wife and six children still living. I began to wonder what happened in such situations. Did the company offer any kind of compensation to the family? Did the state or federal government? What about injuries? Were workers given any help or compensation? That is where the Industrial Commission comes in.

In 1916, the State Legislature allowed Governor William Spry to create a commission to investigate industrial accidents in Utah and the liability of the employers associated with the accidents. He was also to draft a tentative bill to create a permanent Commission to oversee industries and labor in Utah that would then be presented at the following session of the legislature. Governor Spry appointed the following men to his commission: Senator Don B. Colton of Vernal, Ira Browning of Castle Dale, Charles H. Pearson of Ogden, and R.C. Gemmell, H.B. Windsor, and H.K. Russell of Salt Lake City. These men were mostly from northern Utah while the rest of the state had little to no representation. According to a newspaper article published on July 2, 1916, the men of the commission also drew inspiration from other states that had passed similar bills around this time, such as Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia[1]. West Virginia was in a particularly bad situation because the state had funded it’s worker’s compensation. The state was bankrupted by over half a million dollars due to an overflow of claims from two large-scale mine accidents.

From January to March 1917, the debate over the bill was split between two factions. The majority, led by Senator Culbert L. Olson, believed that the new commission should have full control over the compensation funds.The minority, lead by Senator George H. Dern, argued that it would be more beneficial for the industries to go through regular insurance companies. Eventually, the minority’s version of the bill passed with the provision that any compensation should provide for 55 percent of an employee’s average weekly wage, not to exceed more than six years or $4,500 for temporary disability. The provision for individuals with a permanent, total disability included a payment of 55 percent of average weekly wage for five years after injury, then 40 percent of the average weekly wage until death.

July 1, 1917 was the official deadline for every company to have picked their insurance carrier and have their workman’s compensation setup. From then on, workers injured on the job or family members of workers killed during employment could apply to the commission for benefits.

Form C-7: First Report of Injury for Arvid Larson, Box 1, Folder 2, Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 1005.

After an injury, the employer was required to file a claim that started with an injury report such as the one shown below. Each report had to include a variety of information such as the employer’s name, nature of the business, date of the injury, the worker’s nationality, if the injury occurred above or below ground, a description of the accident, and whether or not any unsafe conditions contributed to the accident. A surgeon’s report was also filed with each claim, giving a more detailed record of the injury and the injured worker’s level of disability, including whether it was a temporary or permanent injury, and any treatment going forward.

The Industrial Commission’s own published report states that the commission’s work contributed greatly to helping Utah’s economy by enforcing safety regulations, holding hearings for injured workers or their family members to claim benefits, and mediating disagreements between employers and employees.

“The experience we have had, since the Commission was installed, has convinced us beyond all question of doubt that strikes and lockouts are things that can be prevented if both the employer and the employee make an honest effort to get together. The result of our mediation during the past year, when several grave situations have been met with trouble, indicate the we have been the means of saving the State thousands of dollars and more serious loss through persuasion and conciliation, thus preventing imminent strikes and lockouts.” [2]

With the United States entering World War I in the same year, so much changed in the economy both throughout the country as a whole and in each state. It is difficult to say with certainty how much of an impact this individual bill had in Utah. One thing the Industrial Commission did provide, without a doubt, was an official channel through which working class families could seek financial support when a family member was injured or killed while working. As for my own ancestors, I have yet to find any evidence that their families received compensation after the accidents, though I am still holding out hope that further research will prove otherwise.


[1]”Workmen’s Compensation Bill is Being Shaped by Commission,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 02, 1916. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=19388945.

[2] Utah Secretary of State. Public documents serial set, 1896-1956. Report of the Industrial Commission of Utah Period July 1, 1917-June 30, 1918. Utah State Archives and Records Service. Series 240.

Other References

“Compensation Bill Passes after a Hot Debate.” Ogden Standard, March 07, 1917. https:newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=6898408

“Workmen’s Compensation Act Unanimously Passed by the Legislature.” Ogden Standard, May 26, 1917. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=6901404.

Utah Industrial Commission. Utah Industrial Commission Reports. Utah State Archives and Records Service. Series 1005.

Dani Newton is a volunteer at the Utah Division of State Archives and Records Service. Dani received her BA in history from Westminster College. She has continued her education at Salt Lake Community College and hopes one day to work full-time in an archives or museum. She is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and works with both the Golden Spike Chapter and Utah State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. 
As an intern, Dani completed several projects regarding the Labor Commission records. Her commitment to that project and others has continued after her internship was complete. Her volunteer efforts have provided more accessible records for researchers.

Goodbye and Good Luck!

Tricia’s time with the Utah State Archives has affected more than just policy and programs. This week I spent some time with our employees trying to understand the impact she has had on their lives.

When asked what they will miss most about working with Tricia, employees’ responses varied. Many commented on Tricia’s knowledge and her ability to defend the Archives and the laws that govern our state’s records management.  Others noted her positive and passionate personality. Employees noted her kindness, respect, and professionalism. As our microfilm technician Jim Duke said, “No matter if you were a [security] guard or a new employee she counted your opinion and listened.”

The employees also have a number of favorite memories over the years. While many recall her various costumes at the staff Halloween parties over the years, the Cruella DeVille shown here was fondly remembered by more than one employee, Tricia’s ability to recognize the importance of her employees was the most common theme among the memories. Small moments that impacted individuals in great ways were often remarked upon. Jim Kichas remembered her repeated encouragement and constant support just before and after the birth of his daughter. Janell Tuttle recalled how she was allowed to rearrange her schedule during one summer so she could help care for the new puppy she and her husband had just adopted.  Rosemary Cundiff recalled that when Tricia’s brother passed away Tricia still came to work to lead the staff retreat, even though the funeral was that same evening.  In these and many other ways Tricia has supported her staff and helped them to become the wonderful team that we are. As Heidi Stringham stated: “Tricia always had our back.”

Tricia’s unique personality and leadership skills will be remembered long after she has begun her relaxing retirement.

Today we had to say goodbye and Tricia finally allowed us to take her picture with her good-bye gift: A year’s supply of Diet Coke.

We will miss you and wish you all the best!

Patricia Smith-Mansfield Transformed the Utah State Archives

Alan Barnett, our Reference Room Manager, has stated, “From the beginning Tricia pushed the staff to establish better intellectual control of the collection, [we inventoried] everything as it moved to the new Archives building, emphasized the key objective of open public access to records, and worked for a more efficient, streamlined process for scheduling records.”  

Tricia understood that the State Archives is more than just the keeper of governmental records. We are the custodians of the records, we preserve them so we can provide access to them. Yet, if we don’t understand what we have (intellectual control) then we can’t provide access or ensure preservation. The initial inventories were the foundation of the barcoding system we use today. With increased intellectual control came the need for better records management and public access. Tricia worked with our records analyst team to ensure an update of the General Retention Schedules and provide records management education, as well as create easier record series scheduling processes for state and local agencies. Tricia also championed our Digital Archives, which now has over 1 million historic public records available online for public access 24/7.  

With these changes Tricia also continuously encouraged professional development and outreach programs. Our employees have remained informed on the best practices in our field and networked with a variety of groups, such as the Conference of Inter-Mountain Archivists (CIMA), the Utah Manuscript Association (UMA), and ARMA International (the records management professional association). Tricia’s understanding of outreach has ensured that the Utah State Archives has a number of programs to support our sister agencies. Our Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board (USHRAB) has provided grant funds to a number of smaller cultural heritage institutions. Our regional repository and local government programs work to provide broader access and long-term preservation to our historical government records.  Finally, Tricia introduced our volunteer program and has been instrumental in initiating our Friends of the State Archives program.

There are many other initiatives that Tricia supported over the years, if only we could discuss each one. Thanks to Tricia’s intelligence and forward thinking, the Utah State Archives has moved into a position of being a respected national leader in the archival profession.

Tricia leading the 2016 Staff Retreat.



The Impact of Patricia Smith-Mansfield

As we spend our last week with Patricia Smith-Mansfield we are reminded of the great work she has done for our institution. Over the years, Tricia has steered the Utah State Archives and Records Service through a number of difficult situations and we want to highlight some of the great initiatives she has spearheaded.

Tricia’s clear direction has pushed the Archives to new levels of professionalism among the staff, in our procedures, in our customer service, in our intellectual control of the collection, and in our planning for future challenges. She has navigated our agency through the budget crunches and staffing stresses of the “Great Recession.” She has also managed a number of major projects including the building process for our current Archives building on Rio Grande St., the overhaul of the new Records Center in Clearfield, and the expansion of our current permanent repository.

Archives Building Ribbon Cutting, October 2004. Patricia Smith-Mansfield (Archives), Keith Stepan (DFCM), Camille Anthony (DAS), Rep. Lorraine T. Pace, Governor Olene S. Walker

Most importantly, Tricia has successfully managed each of the legislative changes the Archives has faced during the last 14 years. During her tenure the legislature has worked to update our Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), created a Public Notice Website (a responsibility then assigned to the Archives), created an Open Records Portal, designated a government records ombudsman, and led the State Records Committee (SRC) during a period when the number of appeals before the SRC grew exponentially. With each situation, Tricia used her extensive knowledge of Utah’s laws related to governmental records, her understanding of governmental functions and the value of records, and her willingness to embrace the necessary concept of Open Government to influence the Archives in a manner that will be felt for years to come.

The State Records Committee , July 2016


As our Archives and Patron Services Manager, Jim Kichas, has stated:  “The programs and personnel of the Utah State Archives are all better off because we have been fortunate enough to have Tricia as our leader these past 14 years.”

Patricia Smith-Mansfield is retiring.

It is with mixed emotions that we announce the retirement of our long-time director Patricia Smith-Mansfield.

Tricia has played a vital role in guiding the Utah State Archives for the last 14 years. Her knowledge, leadership, and fun personality will dearly be missed. At the same time, we are excited for her as she embarks on the next phase in her life–maybe she can finally find enough time for her art.

Over the next few days we are going to take some time to honor her and all she has done for the Utah State Archives and Records Service Division.


The Beginning of History in Utah

In July of 1897 Utahns gathered to celebrate the Pioneer Jubilee. This was not the first time people had celebrated the anniversary of the Mormon Pioneers entering the Great Salt Lake Valley.

 Anniversary events reportedly had been happening for years. Yet, it was the first time that Utahns began to look at the event as a celebration of history rather than an anniversary.

For the first time, the organizers worked to put on an event that would not only celebrate pioneers, but would tell the story of what was finally being recognized as history.  The original pioneers were declining rapidly in numbers and taking their stories with them. Events that had seemed contemporary in the previous decades, were becoming hazy memories to older generations, or just hearsay to newer generations. If the original pioneers were to have an official place in the halls of history, the generation of 1897 was going to provide it. The Jubilee was an opportunity to celebrate pioneer heritage while capturing evidence of the events that had formed society throughout the inter-mountain region.

Organizers intended the Pioneer Jubilee to celebrate, memorialize, and preserve history.  Parades, concerts, and baseball games celebrated the anniversary. Unveiling of the Pioneer Monument memorialized the pioneers. Photographing the surviving pioneers, gathering and displaying artifacts, and creating the Book of the Pioneers captured evidence of the pioneer story.

For the first time Utahns began to look at and document their own history and, today, we still see the effects of that Pioneer Jubilee celebration held 120 years ago. The current State Historical Society and the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers organization both were a result of increasing historical awareness that was so evident at the Pioneer Jubilee. Many Utahns are familiar with the annual Days of ‘47 parade that takes over Salt Lake City and many other towns throughout the state on July 24th. That celebration and others can trace their roots to the Pioneer Jubilee. This was just our first steps along the path of understanding our larger history. This step led to exploration into the fields of mining history, Native American history, military history, and so many more.

Come celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Pioneer Jubilee with us. Visit our short digital exhibit which examines the documents of Utah’s Pioneer Jubilee Celebration, the Book of the Pioneers, and the founding of the State Historical Society. Understanding that first celebration can help us understand the evolution of the way we view the pioneers and our state’s founders and even our larger history.

Newly Processed: May 2017

With the new website design, the publication of online series inventories was delayed. We’ll be highlighting all the new ones a month at time over the next week.

All public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during the month of May 2017:

Newly Processed: April 2017

With the new website design, the publication of online series inventories was delayed. We’ll be highlighting all the new ones a month at a time over the next week.

All public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during the month of April 2017:

Newly Processed: March 2017

With the new website design, the publication of online series inventories was delayed. We’ll be highlighting all the new ones a month at a time over the next week.

All public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during the month of March 2017:

Newly Processed: February 2017

With the new website design, the publication of online series inventories was delayed. We’ll be highlighting all the new ones a month at a time over the next week.

All public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during the month of February 2017: