The strength and independence of Utah pioneer women during the 1860s and ‘70s is well documented in other tales we’ve already told. Working in devilish conditions of the harsh Utah climate to raise a family, supporting a spouse in his arduous tasks to tame the desert, and still expanding her personal life and interests have made these women the stuff of legend. One such pioneer was Hilda Anderson Erickson; who combined home duties with four outside careers and thrived in each of them.
Hilda Anderson came to Utah in 1866 from Sweden as a seven-year-old. She followed her family to Grantsville where she applied her natural drive to work hard and follow a number of diverse interests. At a young age she took a dressmaking course in Salt Lake City and began her first career designing and sewing coats, suits, and ladies’ clothing for clients in the Salt Lake and Tooele Valleys. This wasn’t just a sideline. During one sewing stint she worked 104 full days sewing and could turn out a boy’s coat in one day – without the benefit of a sewing machine.
She didn’t have much time to pay attention to John Erickson when he attempted to court her. It took him two years to finally win her hand. But soon after their marriage they were called on a Mormon mission to the Goshute tribe of Native Americans in the far reaches of Deep Creek tucked away in the far northwest corner of the Utah Territory. For fifteen years the couple worked the “Church Farm” in the small hamlet, teaching the natives how to successfully farm in that barren environment.
It didn’t take Hilda long to realize that the Ibapah Valley needed a trained midwife – the area was losing too many infants due to poor birthing conditions. She left her infant daughter with her mother in Grantsville and again when to Salt Lake City – this time to study obstetrics. A year later, fully trained and certified, she returned to her home and quickly improved the survival rate for infants in the Deep Creek area. She delivered nearly every baby born there for the next two decades – except her own second child. It wasn’t uncommon for Hilda to ride 25 miles on horseback or by buggy to help a woman in the birth of a baby. Did John Erickson worry? No, he had learned long since that his lovely auburn-haired wife would do whatever she wanted.
When she decided to open a general store in Deep Creek, John didn’t try to stop her. This soon became her new career – one that she continued to follow when she moved back to Grantsville. John had built a good business in Deep Creek on a cattle ranch but sold the spread to a New Yorker and moved back with Hilda.
The pair spent the rest of their lives in Grantsville where John passed away in 1943. Hilda continued to serve as a Tooele County civic and church leader, driving hundreds of miles in her Model T Ford on various duties around the area. In 1964 the Daughters of Utah Pioneers honored her as the “sole remaining pioneer immigrant” in Utah. She was then 104 years old. She liked to point out that she had traveled by ox team, mule team, horseback, horse and buggy, wagon, bicycle, car, and finally, airplane. She passed away at the age of 108.