Published Sunday, November 26, 2000

The Tribune article on the Sterling Furniture Company (Nov. 12) brings to mind a letter that I discovered in the University of Utah Library rare documents collection some years ago. Titled "Instruction to Employees" and dated July 1875, the letter describes the daily duties of the company's employees, including sweeping floors, dusting furniture, filling lamps, cleaning chimneys and bringing in one bucket of water and one scuttle of coal each day. Store hours were 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Saturdays when Sterling was open until 9 p.m. The store closed each Sabbath Day.

The instruction to employees went on to print out: Any employee who smokes Spanish cigars, uses liquor in any form, gets shaved at a barber shop, or frequents pool halls or public dance halls will give his employer every reason to suspicion his integrity, worthy intentions and his all-around honesty.

Each employee is expected to pay his tithing, that is 10 percent of his annual income, to the church. No matter what one's income might be, he should not contribute less than $25 per year to the church. Each employee will attend sacrament meeting, and adequate time will be given to each employee to attend his weekly fast meeting; and, also, you are expected to attend regularly Sunday School.

Male employees will be given one evening off from work each week for courting purposes -- two evenings a week if they go regularly to church and attend to their church duties. After any employee has spent his full day of labor in the furniture store, he should then spend his leisure time in the reading of good books, in enjoying the company of worthy companions, and in the contemplation of the glories of the Gospel, and in building up of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Emblazoned on top of this 1875 letter was the presumptuous yet prescient motto of this fledgling furniture store: "Quality and Value since 1875." That remains the company's motto to this day. Note that leisure time for courting was explicitly a male benefit. Careful readers will also note that the "Instructions to Employees" did not say that only unmarried men will be given one evening off for courting purposes. Polygamous men in good standing could get up to two nights off per week on an ongoing basis for courting purposes. Apparently, there was no marriage penalty in those days.

PETER PHILLIPS
Professor, Economics Department
University of Utah
Salt Lake City

© Copyright 2000, The Salt Lake Tribune


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