What do you get when you combine a garden in the desert, a breathtaking sculpture, and an exhibit that honors more than 100 women who have shaped Utah’s history? The Utah Women’s Walk at Thanksgiving Point, which is all that and more.
I was introduced to the project many years ago when a student of Michele Welch, the Walk’s founder, interviewed me for one of the women’s histories. When I learned about its origins, I was fascinated. After Michele completed her undergraduate degree, she invited her niece to join her at Thanksgiving Point to walk through the Ashton Gardens. They spent the day talking, soaking in the scenery, and reminiscing about her niece’s mother who had passed away from cancer. This day spent surrounded by natural beauty was celebratory, therapeutic, and inspirational. Out of this experience the idea for a “Women’s Walk” was born.
Welch, who went on to teach American Studies at Utah Valley University (UVU), felt “called” to gather histories of Utah women, which she says, “is the greatest story never told.” The Walk features women who have made an impact on Utah, through influencing their families, communities, and beyond. There are nine areas of distinction that document their service: science, education, religious roles, business, the arts, charity, public service, common roles with uncommon lives, and letters, which includes writers and historians.
As you tour the gardens, you can listen to excerpts of interviews of these notable women via a mobile device. The Walk strives to include women from all demographics and regions of the state. Some women are prominent, and all are important. Full interviews and transcripts are housed at UVU’s George Sutherland Archives and can be accessed via UtahWomensWalk.org.
Part of the visual wonder of the Walk is the statue at the center of the garden. Created by local artist Ben Hammond, “Connextion” is a bronze sculpture that represents so much about Utah’s history and the importance of women of all kinds. When I look at it, it reminds me that I am standing on the shoulders of the many women who came before me, and that the work I do for women and families in Utah will help elevate and empower those who come after. It’s exhilarating and humbling all at once.
Remembering the past and celebrating our legacy as women can help us find our power. Women in Utah’s history were strong, vocal, caring, full of integrity, and so much more—yet I think we sometimes forget this strength. The Walk reminds us of the effect of women’s leadership and education. The more we study our history the more we know that we need to strengthen the impact of Utah girls and women and that we need to use our heads, hearts, and hands to help all Utahns flourish.
Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the Founding Director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.