Dispatches from Graduate School – Part 26

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University.  For earlier posts in this series click here. –JF

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time working on a seminar paper (which will hopefully evolve into a dissertation one day). Since this has been near and dear to my heart in the past three weeks, I thought I’d include the intro to my paper.  Here it is:

Mesa, Arizona. March 1993. I sit uncomfortably in my chair. The gentle scoop of the plastic doesn’t quite meet the slight of my back. I draw my knee into my chest and set the heel of my Reebok sneaker onto the edge of the chair. Between my fingers I feel my tattered shoelaces, long faded to gray from the playground sand and dirt. The classroom, tucked into the breezeway, doesn’t allow the spring sunlight to penetrate the room. The diffuse glint of a decade-old incandescent light casts a yellow glow over the desks.

The perspiration has yet to evaporate from my brow—an intense game of chase under the clear blue sky leaves a gentle heaving in my chest even after Mrs. Gaberdale’s whistle ushered us back into our seats. Keaton, in his typical impolite manner, tells me he’ll surely beat me at “Around the World” next trecess, but before I can snarl a rebuttal, Mrs. Gaberdale’s steady hand begins to scrawl a capital letter C on the chalkboard. She continues. One C follows the next creating a vertical stack of five, one on top of the other. What emerged from that tidy acrostic would escort me through the rest of my days in Arizona public schools. From an early age, I learned of Arizona’s 5 C’s: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus, and Climate. Year after year, from elementary school onward, my teachers carefully wrote the words across the chalkboard, each capital C further emphasizing the importance of each to Arizona’s economic history.

Emblazoned in relief on the state seal, the 5 C’s represent the resources that facilitated the growth and development of Arizona in its most formative years—the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Copper mines, cattle ranches, cotton fields, citrus groves, and an arid climate provided both the impetus and the environment necessary to draw hoards of Americans westward in search of economic gain and physical health.

Without one C, however, the other C’s might not occupy such a prominent position. Climate provides the context for Cattle, Cotton, and Citrus. Clean air and mild temperatures made cattle into hamburgers and milkshakes without the worry of tuberculosis inflicting the herds. Arid lands and warm, predictable weather promoted the year-round growth of long-staple cotton. Sunshine nurtured the juiciest citrus—profits from oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes dropped off of branches and into citrus growers’ pockets. Climate made possible the early economic growth of the valley—every other C hinged upon the “336 days of sunshine” and the clean, dry air.[1]

Increasing urbanization and the rising cost of land in the eastern U.S. pushed people farther and farther westward. At the same time, long established settlements in the west had evolved into thriving urban centers. By 1860, San Francisco was the ninth-largest manufacturing city in the U.S. and Portland’s waterborne commercial enterprise linked the settlement to the transcontinental system. Americans from the east and the west—tourists, investors, health-seekers, and farmers—sought after Arizona in hopes of gaining tangible or intangible assistance from the sun.[2] Pull factors enticed easterners dissatisfied with filthy, drab, overpopulated city streets, while many Californian prospectors traveled across the Sierra Nevada’s to Colorado and over the Rocky Mountains before descending south into Arizona to establish mining camps in hopes of striking it rich.[3]  The Tucson Chamber of Commerce, advertising in a 1904 issue of Sunset Magazine, promoted their city of “health, wealth, and golden opportunities in the land of sunshine.” Arizona offered not only the promise of economic advancement, commercial opportunities,and land ownership, it also boasted of clean air and blue skies as a component of those other material advantages.[4]

In both territorial days and in the early years of statehood, sunshine did facilitate commercial interests, but the sun served Arizona residents in a variety of means outside the pocketbook. Defining the sun and sky as commodities or complementary goods to the sale of another asset or service tells only half the story of the importance of the sun and the perception of clean air in Arizona. Although economizing the sunshine promoted the growth and development for Arizona in the early twentieth century, the significance of blue skies and sunshine extends far beyond the selling of a room at a resort or the sale of a thousand acres of arable land. In Arizona, the sun and sky function aesthetically and psychologically. They hold a strong cultural significance in the minds and bodies of Arizonans’ art, photography, film, literature and poetry, and reminiscences from early pioneers will prove to be symbolic representations of Arizonans’ needs and wants and how those needs and wants are satisfied in a particular place. For the purpose of this paper, however, the analysis of visual and print culture is limited to promotional materials. Rather than explore the creative works of photographers, painters, and writers, this paper seeks to show how the sun and sky not only satisfied financial purposes, but also had physical implications. Health seekers descended on  Arizona in the early twentieth century, and although these people show how the climate “sold” sanatoriums, they also present for us two important roles of the sun and sky: mental health and wellness. There are real and also long perceived physical and chemical benefits of sunshine and clean air on human health. The idea of the physical and psychological benefits worked in tandem with the economic opportunities to establish Arizona as a thriving state at the turn of the century.

[1] A.J. Wells, “The Salt River Valley, Arizona” Sunset Magazine Homeseekers’ Bureau,1909, 27; Tucson Sunshine Club, “Tucson,” 1939.

[2] Carl Abbott, How Cities Won the West: Four Decades of Urban Change in Western North America (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2008), 59-60.

[3] Rhonda Tintle, “A History of Chinese Immigration into Arizona Territory: A Frontier Culture in the American West,”(M.A. Thesis, California State University Los Angeles, 2006), 23-24.

[4] Advertisement, “Tucson: The Ideal City of the Southwest,” Sunset Magazine 1 (1898).

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