On March 8, 1924, an explosion in a coal mine near Castle Gate killed 172 men. The disaster widowed 150 women and left 266 children fatherless. With the death of their fathers, most of these families lost their means of support. And many of the widows were recent immigrants who hardly knew the language and customs of their new country.
Governor Charles R. Mabey called on the people of Utah to donate funds to help these families. Utahns responded by giving $132,445, money that would supplement the $65 per month that, on average, families received as compensation from the mine company.
Social worker Annie D. Palmer regularly visited the grieving families, took stock of their needs, and reported to the relief committee.
One of the families she helped had immigrated from Italy. When the explosion killed her husband, “Mrs. T,” age 40, was left with eight children ranging in age from 15 years to nine months. Annie Palmer’s notes tell of the family’s struggle to survive and of their gradual recovery from calamity. Here are some excerpts:
Visit by Mrs. Palmer. Home very poorly furnished. Bare floors, little furniture, poorly kept. Mrs. T. very sad—seemed unable to take hold of affairs. Mary [the eldest] a rather bright-looking girl but with very bad skin—face covered with blotches and pimples. Schools have reported Beatrice and Frank need tonsillectomy. Mrs. T. wants to sell the car, and suggested raffling as she said other women are doing. Buys all her groceries at Riverside Grocery, Helper, and suggested that the monthly grocery bill might be learned there. She had chickens in the back yard, fenced in.
Riverside Grocery reported monthly bills about $60. With $60 spent for groceries and only $64 coming in, it was not to be wondered at that the children were out of shoes and necessary clothing. $25 emergency relief was asked of the Relief Committee, and granted.
The committee voted an allowance for the family of $45.
Visit by Mrs. Palmer, who gave the check and talked with Mary about keeping the house in better condition. The girl took suggestions kindly and promised to try. She was holding school two hours each day with her little brothers and sisters, and some of the neighbors’ children. Mrs. T. seemed much happier than on the former visit... A neighbor reported that the family seems better provided for and gets along better since the death of the man than before. She thinks Mrs. T. is doing better than when he was there.
Dr. McDurmid promised to look after the tonsils and collect from the Red Cross, $17 each.
Mary is washing dishes at Castle Gate Hotel. One of the other children or her mother is always there to walk home with her at night. The others are in school. Mary stated that they are all well.
In adjusting allowances committee changed that of Mrs. T. to $35.
Visit by Mrs. Palmer. Mrs. T. very angry about allowance. Mary was still at the hotel, and well liked.
Visit by Mrs. Palmer. Mary has been out of work for a month. The hotel changed hands, and the new management preferred to have a man for dishwashing. Mrs. T. had now three boarders. The home showed a very big improvement. Rooms had been calcimoned, dishes were washed, beds made up, and a general air of tidiness never before seen there by Mrs. Palmer. Mary said she had done the calcimining herself. Mrs. T. was not very well. Probably had Grippe.
Letter to Mary enclosing five-dollar check to encourage her for the big improvement in the home. Letter commended her effort and explained need of clean American homes.
Letter from Mary saying she bought a dress for the five dollars and was very grateful. She means to have the home much cleaner than when last visited.
Visit. Family all in good health. Mary married and living in Helper. Older children in school. Two boarders. Mrs. T. in fairly good spirits. Grateful for extra five dollars sent this month.
Visit by Mrs. Palmer. Family all well. Peter [age 15] has work permit and was working in mine No. 1. He seems to have been almost a failure in school and feels that he is much too big for his grade.
Visit. Mrs. T. said Dr. Goetsman advised her to have all her teeth extracted. She does not want this done, so she has had no more than the few formerly reported. Children all well. One boarder.
Visit. Mrs. T. reported Peter needs tonsils out, but does not want it done. She will write when he decides to have them out. He is working on the tipple [where the mine cars were unloaded by tipping them].
Visit. Mrs. T. still hesitating about removal of her teeth. Frank’s school report showed need of treatment for goiter and attention to teeth. Beatrice’s teeth were also reported as needing attention. Mrs. T. stated she has been assessed three dollars for taxes on furniture and the old car that stands useless in the yard. She is unable to pay the taxes.
Visit. Mrs. T. stated Dr. McDurmid giving medicine to Frank for goiter. She had not yet decided to have her teeth out. She had sold the old car for $50. Peter had bought a Ford for himself. Paid $50 down and has monthly payments to keep up. He spends all the time he has off from work in the car, and she is greatly worried about him.
Visit. Family well. House in good condition. A boarder was present. He stated that Mrs. T. has much trouble with her children. Visitor tried to explain through him that Mrs. T. and children must both try to make adjustments as children are fairly Americanized and Mrs. T. is still foreign. The boarder seemed to understand. Mrs. T.’s garden had been totally wrecked by a flood. Several chickens had been drowned. She had taken the children out of bed and ran up the hill with them. She did not yet want anything done for her own teeth.
Letter from Mrs. T. stating she had been to Dr. Hardy and had 9 teeth extracted. Could not get to Price and face was so swollen she was obliged to have attention immediately. Had moved to house no. 368 on hill because of floods.
Visit. Family now located in eight-room house. Said they had barely got moved when the last big flood came and washed through the house where they formerly lived. They were now much more comfortable. Place was clean. New linoleum on two rooms and hall. Two boarders. Children attending the Catholic school in Price.... Peter now doing man’s work and making payments on his car. Mrs. T. had had all her upper teeth extracted.... Expects to get new teeth about May. Her health was improved.
Committee allowed $12 to Dr. Hardy for extraction.
Visit. Family all well. Frank had lost a filling from one of the teeth recently filled.... Two boarders in the home. Place clean and comfortable. Children still attending school at Price—well satisfied. Peter working. Mary, at Rains, rejoicing over arrival of a baby.
Notes from Palmer’s remaining visits—which lasted until June 1928—deal mainly with teeth and tonsillectomies. Palmer’s notes on the Castle Gate families are at the Utah State Archives. Because the file is classified as private, the names of the children have been changed.