Strong women: ‘The Untold’
Discovery Road brings historic stories to light
By Robert Stevens
The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA) and Discovery Road are bringing forward historic images, interviews, taping and original research to tell the story of strong women called “The Untold.”
The half-hour documentary episode opens with the story of a Payson school teacher who was forced to leave the classroom, then travel overseas to become a midwife only to tragically perish aboard the Titanic on her journey home.
Payson historian Dee Stevenson operates a school museum that honors the heartfelt story of Irene Colvin. Stevenson says, “But it’s really amazing that she, at this period of time, was one of the forward thinking women of our generation, our previous generation I should say. That really wanted to serve her fellow man. And since she couldn’t become a teacher, she decided to become a nurse or midwife. That’s a very important aspect of her life.”
Discovery Road then travels to a long-ago religious compound known as Home of Truth, started by a sophisticated woman from the east who predicted the end of the world. Marie Ogden’s new age approach to living without tobacco, alcohol and with a vegetarian like diet disrupted surrounding Mormon communities and made worldwide headlines.
Though the colony eventually failed it is still viewed as unique and bold, says Sue Halliday of Moab. “Marie should exhibit, particularly to women, the strength and courage and she never gave up,” she says. “Even when she was by herself and it was basically just three or four people, she still lived where she lived; she lived the way she did; she believed the things she did. So, it wasn’t giving up, it was huh? Maybe, it’s going to be different than I thought it was.”
In the final segment of the program Discovery Road visits an underground department store in the west desert of Utah. The Ajax Underground Store was considered the 8th Wonder of the World in its heyday serving weary travelers’ needs for canned goods, tobacco, shoes, clothing, rooms for the night and corrals for their livestock.
Janette Sharp Bunn, descendant of store founders William and Emma Ajax, tells viewers the underground store featured the basic necessities, but also nice things that pioneer women wanted to have in their lives.
“If the store was just for men, they wouldn’t have the extra things that were in the store,” Bunn says. “Probably because of Emma, she liked nice things, knew other women would like nice things. So, china was imported from England, there were articles from France, all kinds of places in the world. You could order things, they would be sent to the store. So, women played a big part in making things happen.”
Discovery Road producer and creator James Nelson says this episode unearths some powerful stories that occurred at a critical time in U.S. history when women were pushing for the 19th amendment granting them the right to vote. Nelson notes that each story is fitting for the consequential era and the changing landscape of thought and direction that was taking shape across the country.
“I think viewers will find these stories amazing primarily because of the overarching theme that unwavering, talented women were behind them. It’s an important and entertaining history people will really enjoy.” Nelson said.
Discovery Road is an award-winning ongoing documentary series broadcast each Saturday on the Utah Education Network (channel 9) at 6 p.m. and on several local cable television stations in Utah and surrounding states. All episodes can also be found on the website mormonpioneerheritage.org.
The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA) is a federally designated area of central and southern Utah running along the beautiful and historic U.S. Highway 89 — including the All-American Road Utah State Route 12, and Capitol Reef Scenic Byway Utah State Route 24, which both intersect with U.S. 89 and together form the MPNHA’s Boulder Loop. The area includes the counties of Sanpete, Sevier, Piute, Wayne, Garfield and Kane.
The Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance is the local coordinating entity of the MPNHA and receives annual funding from the National Park Service. Its purpose is to preserve, tell and interpret the stories, history and heritage of the area, and to promote its culture and value.