Kate B. Carter
If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed…
nothing shall be impossible unto you
Catherine Vigdus Bearnson was born July 30, 1892 in Spanish Fork, Utah. She is the daughter of Josephine Marie Christine Jensen (Mary Bearnson) a Danish emigrant and Finnbogi Björnsson (Tim Bearnson) an Icelandic emigrant.Catherine was known as Kate or Kate B. She began her education in Scofield, Utah and later in Rush Valley, Utah. Kate’s mother felt the children would receive better training in a larger school so the family moved home or Spanish Fork as it was always considered to be home. Kate graduated from Spanish Fork High School. Next she graduated from Henager’s Business College, and at different periods in her life she took courses from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. Education was an important part of her family’s home life the children were provided with as many books as it was possible for them to obtain.
During the years of her young girlhood Kate served in every female organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the age of fourteen she taught Sunday School. At sixteen she taught girls her own age in the Mutual Improvement Association (M.I.A.), which led to her appointment to the Nebo Stake Board of M.I.A. About this time Kate and a partner won several debates, an activity she enjoyed and for which she did much research.
When Kate was only twelve years of age an elderly neighbor asked her to write letters for him, as he could not write the English language, this led her to write his life story as he dictated it, thus began her interest in the Utah pioneers and their history.
On 14 June 1914, Kate married Austin Carter in the Salt Lake Temple. Austin was a fine man, patient, kind, and affectionate. They made their home in Spanish Fork, Utah until 1926, when the moved to Salt Lake City. Their children were born to them: Boyer, Paul, and Kathryn. The whole family cooperated in helping Kate, especially her husband, who took her to conventions in distant areas, handling the books and arranging travel schedules.
Kate B. as she was often called, was a charter member of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) in Spanish Fork and joined camp #2 when she went to Salt Lake City to reside. Realizing that people cannot be fully informed unless they have a thorough knowledge of their forebears, she began researching into the records of the pioneers. In 1930, Kate was asked to prepare the first outline of the lessons for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. At this time the organization could not afford to have them typed, so she, her friends, and children typed them. Later they were mimeographed and sold to various D.U.P. Groups. Thus began the great publish career of Kate B. Carter. She was elected president of the Daughters of Utah pioneers in 1941; she served until death in 1976. During her time as president she compiled, edited, and did much of the writing for twelve volumes of Heart Throbs of the West, six volumes of Treasures of Pioneer History, and nineteen volumes of Our Pioneer Heritage, as well as numerous pamphlets.
Kate was especially interested in the everyday pioneer life, how the ordinary emigrant lived. This was often overlooked by many historians. The common everyday life of these Utah pioneers are preserved forever in the many volumes of history she compiled.
The sale of these books and pamphlets provided funds for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Organization to erect a Pioneer Memorial Museum completed in 1950 and the Carriage House added in 1973. Kate did not receive any salary for this work; her pay was the satisfaction of achievement and the knowledge that she had the love and respect of the members of the organization.
Two important educational projects are notable in her achievements: the placing of 396 historical markers throughout the United States and Europe. One of the historical markers is the Icelandic Monument in Spanish Fork, Utah. In 1938 Kate was vice president of the National Association of Daughters of Utah Pioneers and was a part of the planning committee to erect this monument. At that time Kate B. Carter said, “The Icelanders in Utah are said to have preserved the folklore and customs of their mother country more than any other nationality that pioneered in Utah.” As part of the Utah Iceland Days on 2 August 1938 this monument was dedicated. It remains a reminder to all of Icelandic descent of our Icelandic heritage. Every visiting Icelander to Spanish Fork, Utah goes to that monument and has their picture taken with the monument in the background.
Kate was recognized for her work with a number of awards. In 1945: Kate B. received an award of merit for work as a Minute Woman and also an award as a member of the Bushnell Recreational Fund Committee and a special citation and medal from the National War Salvage Board. Mr. J. C. Krug, chairman of the War Production Board of the United States of America issued the following citation to her: “In acknowledgement of meritorious services rendered in behalf of the National War Salvage Program. Given under my hand this 30th day of September 1945”. September 26, 1953 she received an award for distinguished service in the cause of making Americans aware of their local history from the American Association for State and Local History.
1953: The Soroptomists Club presented Kate B.’s name for the Mary Margret McBride Award, sponsored by the National Broadcasting Association. This honor was given to her for preserving western history, which she had done by housing documents and relics of the Utah pioneers. On January 27, 1953, seven women were named to the Salt lake Council of Women’s Hall of Fame for their outstanding service over a number of years. Kate B. Carter was one of those seven.
1955: High honors were given to two people at the concluding event of the Icelandic Centennial Celebration. Kate B. Carter and her brother John Y. Bearnson each received the Order of the Falcon Award from Peter Eggerz, Minister of Legation of Iceland at Washington D.C. He was the official representative of the government of Iceland and a representative of the president of Iceland at this event. This award is one of the highest given by the Icelandic Government. The award is presented to Icelanders and foreign men and women who above all others have furthered the welfare and honor of the fatherland achievements in the interest of mankind. At the time of this presentation Kate said; “I come from a people who are history minded and from a people who make up a very literary country”
1960: Kate B. was awarded an honorary life membership in the Utah Historical Society for distinguished service to Utah.
In 1967: Kate B. was appointed a member of the Golden Spike Centennial Commission by Utah Governor, Calvin L. Rampton.
1969: The Salt lake City, Lions Club gave Kate B. a certificate of appreciation and in 1973 they again honored her for thirty five of years of community service as co-chairman of ’47 Committee’. Kate was co-chairman of the annual Days of 47 parade and celebration for many years, an event observing the entrance of pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
1971: The Utah Woman’s Review honored Kate B. as a true woman of the week who had dedicated her life to compiling the history of the Mormon Pioneers. Responding, she said: “I had no real history training. My desire and love of history came from my father, an Icelandic pioneer who settled in Spanish Fork. Utah Governor, Calvin L. Rampton presented Kate B. with a plague of the Great Seal of the State of Utah for her outstanding contribution to the state as president of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
1972: The Salt lake Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers honored her for her outstanding service as co-chairman of the Days of 47.
1973: The Mormon Battalion gave Kate B. their Distinguished Service Award.
1974: In her eighty-second year, she received an honorary doctorate of humanities from Southern Utah State College.1975: The National Association of Secretaries of State honored Kate. B. with a medallion for “meritorious public service”, presented to her April 5, 1975, by Secretary of State Clyde Miller. Every year in May a tree is planted in the southwest corner of the Utah State Capitol grounds by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. This ceremony was started by Kate B. Carter.
Visiting in Sacramento, California for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers county convention, Kate B. told of various awards and prizes her history volumes have brought her, she said; “But the one that mean the most to me is the Order of the Falcon from Iceland. It means the most to me because it’s from the land of my father”
Her writings dealt with the personal stories of thousands Utah pioneers, and to the end of her life she admonished modern-day Utahans to compile their own histories for future generations.
Kate B. Carter was a student of the scriptures. Starting in the home of her parents and continuing throughout her life daily scripture study was a priority. She started every article and lesson she wrote with a scripture from the Bible or The Book of Mormon. That is why this article starts with a scripture.
Kate B. Carter is to be considered one to of the truly great women of our time. Her attributes were many. She was a born leader and doer. She was a humanitarian, historian, student, researcher, genealogist, church worker, executive, and a friend. Through her leadership and love of history, Kate B. Carter brought the Daughters of Utah Pioneers from a largely social organization to one of great renown in gathering and preserving the history of the pioneers of Utah. Spoken words soon pass on, written words, like the books by Kate B. Carter, well preserved, will forever be a monument to her and a gift to future generations.
Andrew Jensen, Assistant Historian, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave Kate B. a new title, “The greatest woman historian the West and the L.D. S. Church has ever known.” Those who worked closest with her in this life’s work called it “Icelandic determination”.Kate B. carter passed away 8 September 1976, she is buried in the Spanish Fork City Cemetery.
Spanish Fork, Utah