While chapter six of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females depicts a people in motion, chapter seven looks at a people in place. Ulrich mainly uses the writings of three people (Hosea Stout, Mary Richards, and Patty Sessions) to unpack the winter of 1847 in Winter Quarters. What is especially interesting about Ulrich’s work in this chapter is how she weaves together the diaries and autobiographies composed by these authors. Since autobiographies are a product of the moment in which they are written, “they are not only windows into [the author’s] early lives but reflections of their minds as they endured the winter of 1847 in a refugee camp.” (160) The experiences of these writers in Winter Quarters shaped how they wrote about earlier periods of their lives at the same time that looking back helped these writers find meaning in their current situation.
Both Hosea Stout and Mary Richards worked on their diaries and autobiographies simultaneously while in Winter Quarters. Ulrich uses their writings to show the different ways that Winter Quarters was experienced, even by those moving in the same circles. She brings both of these historical figures to life by masterfully weaving together their reminiscent and daily accounts. Their actions in Winter Quarters are made all the more compelling since they are placed in context with their previous experiences. Mary Richards emerges as a particularly wonderful character, especially with her sharp wit.
Since Patty Sessions did not write an autobiographical account in Winter Quarters, Ulrich uses the writings of her son Perregrine Sessions to make sense of certain references in Patty’s diary to her earlier life. Patty emerges as a woman who is deeply concerned for her family. Ulrich uses Patty as way to explore the powerful spiritual manifestations that occurred among a certain group of women during this period. Since Patty was generally quite limited in her descriptions of her life, her longer entries on the “religious rhapsody” of the “visionary sisterhood” become all the more powerful and significant. (162) Eliza R. Snow’s diary is also used to provide more information on these gatherings where women employed the spiritual gifts of healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. Patty’s diary entries show the importance of familial relationships in these spiritual gatherings, and encouragement of these gifts in younger generations. I was left wanting more analysis of these spiritual gatherings, as well as the networks of women coordinated by the matrons of the community that are touched on in this chapter.  By placing the descriptions of these spiritual manifestations alongside the writings of others in Winter Quarters who never hint at these occurrences, I wondered how widespread this “visionary sisterhood” was.
Here are some questions to consider while reading this chapter. How can we better approach autobiographies in our own research projects? How can this chapter serve as a model for weaving together the various writings from historical characters in our own work? How do we balance the accounts of experiences in a certain place, particularly when our sources describe overlapping worlds but with such different details?
 Another important piece to read on this period is Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, “Women in Winter Quarters,” in Eliza and Her Sisters (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1991), 75-97.
Emmeline B. Wells; An Intimate Biography is the second installment of Carol Cornwall Madsen’s two-part biography of Emmeline’s life as a Mormon writer and women’s rights activist. Emmeline lived a long, productive, and well-documented life. This meant that Madsen, unlike many other historians of women’s history, faced an overwhelming amount of historical sources to parse and make sense of Emmeline’s life. The 500 page book reflects its vast source base. Despite the daunting physical presence of the book, its prose and short chapter structure makes it accessible for a broad audience. Overall, the book is the culmination of decades of time Madsen dedicated to researching Emmeline’s writing and represents an enormous resource for future scholars of Mormon history.
Madsen’s first installment of the biography, titled An Advocate for Women, discusses Emmeline’s public life as an editor of the Woman’s Exponent publication, suffragist, political organizer, and Relief Society leader. This book is an exploration of Emmeline’s “interior landscape.” I cannot help but wish that she spent more space theorizing about what it means to split someone’s life in this way, especially in the context of the nineteenth century where women are primarily thought of as occupying the private sphere. While it is easier to think of the two biographies as respectively covering her public and private life, I am not convinced this is the best way to understand Madsen’s extensive biographical project.
Instead, I find it more useful to distinguish the biographies by the genres of Emmeline’s writings and records from which the biographies principally drew. The two biographies also differ significantly from one another in form; the chapters in An Advocate for Women are loosely chronological and thematic treatments of Emmeline’s public life, whereas An Intimate History is much more of a traditional chronological narrative of Emmeline’s entire life. An Advocate for Women draws from Emmeline’s political writings as editor of the Woman’s Exponent and focuses on her activity as a political organizer who mediated between local and nationwide women’s organizations. An Intimate History draws significantly from Emmeline’s forty-seven diaries and correspondence to paint a picture of Emmeline’s inner thoughts about her both private relationships and her public life. Madsen not only uses Emmeline’s abundant personal writings but also uses her poetry, fiction, and editorials to understand Emmeline’s inner life. This creative analysis (see especially chapter 11) shows the ways Emmeline used different genres of writing to make sense of her relationships and the respective joys and sorrows that they brought.
The first hundred pages of the book are particularly context-heavy as Madsen explains the forced migration of the Saints to Illinois and then to Utah. Emmeline’s story, whether she explicitly wrote about it or not, is therefore fundamentally connected with the broader historical narrative. Madsen is at her best when she analyzes the nuances of Emmeline’s poetry and fiction. Several times throughout the book Madsen reflects on the role of diary keeping in Emmeline’s life. Emmeline’s diary, Madsen argues, “Is almost an alter ego, the self she does not display to others.” (287) Despite this analysis of Emmeline’s different genres’s of writing, I do wish that Madsen, had more explicitly engaged with Emmeline’s memoirs as memory during her narration of Emmeline’s early life.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is the detail in which readers learn about Emmeline’s three unusual marriages. Emmeline married when she was fifteen and was abandoned by her husband when he left Nauvoo to find work. Just two weeks before her seventeenth birthday, Brigham Young performed a marriage for Emmeline and Newel K. Whitney. Although she went on to have two children with Whitney, Madsen suggests that the nature of the sealing was not immediately clear to young Emmeline. In fact, even after the marriage to Whitney, Emmeline recorded in her diary her dreams of her first husband returning to Nauvoo. Madsen also reproduces an invaluable letter Emmeline wrote after Whitney’s death where she subtly proposes marriage to Daniel H. Wells. The biography sheds light on the depth of Emmeline’s longing for Wells, who only reciprocated these feelings late in his life. In an era when so much angst surrounding the negotiation of polygamous families went unspoken, Emmeline’s writing provides readers with a glimpse of not only the outward arrangements of the marriages but also the feelings of love, abandonment, and attachment that went with polygamy.
The recent volume (which Madsen also edited) has laid important groundwork for historians of Mormon women to understand the early Relief Society but there remains much to be researched about the developments in Relief Society after 1892. Madsen’s An Intimate Biography continues this important work by discussing the intergenerational conflict in the Relief Society Board in the early twentieth century. During this period Emmeline often served as the institutional memory of the organization and conflicted with younger women who desired to steer relief society in new directions. Madsen chronicles Emmeline’s chagrin at the lack of appreciation she feels from younger members, but this is often counterbalanced by the well-attended celebrations in her honor. Madsen’s narrative of Emmeline’s tenure in the General Relief Society shows another side of the tension filled story elucidated. Part of the benefit of this research is showing the depth and politics of the female relationships in this area of the Church. Madsen particularly highlights Emmeline’s relationship with Susa Young Gates, which ranged from being supportive to dysfunctional and everything in between. Future research from scholars such as Lisa Tait Olsen and Andrea Radke-Moss promise to shed further light on these important intergenerational relationships and this general period of change in Relief Society history.
Madsen notes throughout the book Emmeline’s dramatic reactions and ruminations to events in her life. Yet Madsen also does not take these sensational expressions as a sign of Emmeline’s permanent disposition. She writes that Emmeline’s “obsessive embrace of sorrow was almost pathological, but it was not debilitating like symptoms of depression, and she continued to draw on the animating spirit that drove her to be deserving of the accolades heaped upon her.” (475) The intimate biography is important because it recognizes the multiple ways we can know this a woman who is famous for her remarkable public achievements. Readers not only see someone who writes, leads, and organizes. We see someone who feels.
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The Church History Department announces an opening for a Research Assistant with the Joseph Smith Papers project. The successful candidate will assist the Joseph Smith Papers in the Publications Division of the Church History Department with historical and textual research for volumes in the Papers’ Documents series. This is an exciting and unique opportunity for someone interested in pursuing a career in history. We are looking for a motivated, energetic, and skilled individual to join our team!
Chapter Six of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females details the crossing of Iowa and depicts a people in motion, both physically and emotionally. While many histories detail the environmental and emotional challenges of the exodus from Nauvoo, Ulrich adds depth to the story of the Mormon migration and complicates our thinking about it. Like biblical sojourners, who understand that they stand at a turning point in their story, A House Full of Females describes how some diarists began new journals just before leaving the city, while other new diarists appear on the stage.
Ulrich notes that Mormon diaries share many similarities with other Oregon trail journals including records of weather and difficulties with animals. However, she also claims that the Mormon migration of 1846 was unique, highlighting the fact that Mormons leaving Nauvoo were refugees who “had a bit in common with the displaced Potawatomi and Omaha people, on whose lands they took temporary refuge once they reached the Missouri River.”(138). Chapter six fully describes the emotional and physical disorder of the Nauvoo exodus, which made it different from later waves of Mormon migration. Finally, Ulrich also points to the pressures of ideal sainthood that had mounted during the final weeks in Nauvoo, “how much they had to learn about pioneering, and how little they knew about the demands of establishing God’s kingdom.”(139). A House Full of Females paints a visceral picture of a people both moving forward and mired in mud. Men, women and children up to their waists in mud, snakes slithering out of the muck and wagons needing to be extricated from swamps all portray the challenges of a physical journey that dragged on and the need to face new emotional challenges as a radical new family structure took shape during extreme circumstances.
Ulrich deftly illustrates that the earliest Mormon migration should not be understood simply as a move west, an exodus or a displacement. It also needs to be understood as the site of changing domestic and marital identities. In the face of birth, death, disease, separation, and domestic contention, A House Full of Females tells the story of both creating and dissolving families and community. The reality of aging parents, the death of children, changing marital structure as well as conflicts about succession within the church, ubiquitous disease and the physical demands of the journey culminate in Ulrich’s conclusion of the chapter which pushes the reader beyond hagiographic depictions of the Nauvoo exodus noting that, “The Saints had struggled through the mud of Iowa only to reach a worse misery. In their would-be Zion, there was never enough of anything to go around, never enough food or shelter, never enough respect or love or charity. The harder they tried to live by the dictates of their religion, the more they exposed their own lack of perfection.”(155)
The Nauvoo Temple Liturgy, the killings of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the “succession crisis,” and the Nauvoo Temple. There are justifiably entire books and dissertations on each of these. And despite coming in at 26 lean pages, Ulrich still manages to surprise.
“Women employed by the LDS Church may now wear pantsuits or slacks to work,” begins the Deseret Newsarticle that announced a number of new changes to the Church’s employment policies, including a six-week paid maternity leave, one week paid paternity leave, and new fitness space for employees in the Church Office Building. While all these changes are significant and deserve serious discussion, this post deals with what the Deseret News chose to announce first: pants.
My own encounter with the Church’s outdated “dress” code was in 2013, when I began work as an intern for the Church History Library. A few people had warned me that I might have to wear dresses and skirts only, but I simply could not believe them; after all, nothing in my contract mentioned this rule. I even bought a few new pairs of slacks to prepare for my job. I showed up on my first day of work wearing one of these new pairs of pants. I now quote from the blog I wrote the night after I began my job:
The survey I posted on my blog to crowd source protest ideas
The first thing that I noticed when I walked into my first (out of four) orientations that day is that not one of the women was wearing pants. Even all the other new female hires were in dresses and skirts. That’s when it started to sink in that truly, my workplace does not allow women to wear pants… Just to get something straight, I don’t hate skirts or dresses and I don’t mind wearing them to work. But the notion of women wearing pants is symbolic. In the late 19th Century women fought for the right to wear pants right along with the right to vote … Sometimes I complain about my church being stuck in the 60’s with how it deals with women’s issues. But in the 60’s both conservative women and feminists wore pants. I want to write a letter to the leaders of the church and tell this how humiliating this rule is, and that as a member of this church I feel embarrassed both for myself and my church. I want to write a letter to the Prophet about how crazy I think this rule is but I can’t quite seem to form an argument in my head that doesn’t sound totally ridiculous. “Dear Church, Why don’t you let women wear pants to work?” just doesn’t seem quite right to me.
I could not get over the strangeness of being forced to adopt a particular kind of outward femininity while I researched women’s history.
I desperately wanted to protest the Church dress code, but I also wanted to keep my job. In her book, Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler asks: “What would it mean to ‘cite’ the law to produce it differently?” She rejects the idea that agency comes from rejecting regulatory norms and instead focuses on the agency and creativity of re-iterating norms in a different way. In other words, she discusses the subversive potential in performing rules or gender norms in ways that are both recognizable and new. Luce Irigaray also discusses this purposeful performance in her concept of mimesis. To mimic is to intentionally occupy a feminine position. It is when a woman “resubmit[s] herself” to “particular to ideas about herself, that are elaborated in/by masculine logic, but so as to make ‘visible’, by an effect of playful repetition, what was supposed to remain invisible.”** If a woman employs mimesis to enact femininity in a way that simultaneously makes this masculine logic visible, she is enacting the exact process Butler referred to by appropriating the laws within a structure and repeating them in a playful way. I needed a form of protest that would enable me to simultaneously continue my employment and parody the rules.
I called my talented sister, Katie, who is a textile artist and loves collaboration. Together we formulated a plan to create a new kind of dress. I would still wear a dress to work, but the dress would be covered in the word “pants”. She designed a pants print for the dress, printed it on fabric, and I made it into a dress.
Close up of the pants print and me on my last day of work
Despite having a religious culture that disdains protest, the pants dress was an instant success among Mormons and non-Mormons alike. I mention this not to gloat, but instead to unpack why my dress was so loved. Why did the dress garner support but the “Wear Pants to Church Day” a few months earlier was a lightning rod for criticism? Perhaps it was because I was only one measly intern participating in this fight and my protest did not explicitly cite my concern with “gender equality in the LDS Church” like the other protest did. Is it that pants politics are low stakes? Or is this a useful example of Irigaray or Butler’s ideas of simultaneously inhabiting and exposing a rule? I would argue that my protest was more acceptable because, in Butler’s language, the dress conformed to the law (the restriction on what clothing I wore), but at the same time the pants print playfully exposed the flawed logic of the rule.
I do not know why the dress code changed or who changed it. Many of these institutional processes are invisible to outsiders. One year ago the Church bent the dress code for female missionaries in order to accommodate the women vulnerable to the Zika virus. Additionally, female blue-collar employees of the Church who do manual labor or use a ladder are required to wear pants. It is easy to see why the Church made exceptions for modesty or public health reasons, but the cause of this new change is less apparent (except for the fact that, of course, it is 2017 and about dang time).
Perhaps my favourite part of the pants dress was that for a brief moment it gave me a voice in an institutional church whose decisions often seem opaque to me. Why was it that the Church continued this dress code until now and did not end it earlier? What was special about June 2017? More importantly, how can people express disappointment and invoke change in a Church that frowns upon protest? I do not claim to know the answers to these questions. But I do know that I felt empowered as I cheekily wore the pants dress on my last day of work. I do not pretend that it had any sway whatsoever on the policy change, but it was part of the resistance. The fact that my next roommate had heard the pants dress story before she even met me meant that it must have made someone smile along the way.
*Admittedly, the analogy between my protest and Butler’s idea of performativity is not perfect. Butler specifically discusses gender as a regulatory norm. She argues that while no one can escape the construct of gender, people can perform gender differently. I could have escaped that set of rules by opting out of my employment or indeed the Church.
** Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, Trans Catherine Porter and Carolyn Burke, (Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 76.
This addendum has been added to the 2018 MHA Call for Papers (original call here). Paper abstracts are still due on November 15, 2017 and the conference will still be held on June 7-10, 2018 at Boise, ID.
Since its founding in 1965, the Mormon History Association has been dedicated to the promotion of intellectually rigorous, diverse scholarship on the history of the Mormon tradition. To help us create a welcoming space that embraces work from a wide variety of methodological and religious viewpoints, we encourage individuals to organize panels for the 2018 Conference in Boise, Idaho, that include presenters from a variety of institutional, social, and religious backgrounds. The program committee will give preference to panels that reflect the diversity of the historical profession by featuring women and underrepresented minorities. [Bold added by J Stuart]
Among my very favorite parts of archival research is the small and unexpected glimpses into the lives of historical figures that have nothing directly to do with the research at hand.
I was reminded of this last week while going through some of Leonard Arrington’s correspondence to his family at the Arrington Papers at Utah State University. Stashed in between Arrington’s near-weekly typewritten letters to his children was a copy of his diary entry for June 24, 1978 describing a retreat “up the slopes of Ensign Peak” with “all of the persons in the History Division of the Historical Department,” minus the secretaries “and Glen Leonard, who was ill.” As part of the retreat, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher passed out a questionnaire, inviting those assembled “to participate in some self discovery” and “respond to fifteen questions.”
The introduction of polygamy during Nauvoo has received plenty of attention. Starting with Fawn Brodie’s exploration of Joseph Smith’s dozens of wives, scholars ranging from Todd Compton, Richard Bushman, George Smith, Brian Hales, Martha Bradley-Evans, Lawrence Foster, and Merina Smith have offered interpretations of the complex topic. The paucity of solid contemporary documents and proliferation of problematic reminiscences–not to mention the presence of teenage brides and polyandrous unions–make it a briar patch for writers. However, a common theme has dominated much of the general narrative: Joseph Smith, either divinely appointed of personally driven, sought to extend his sacerdotal connections through plural marriages. Fellow male leaders, eager to please their prophet and capitalize on his teachings, entered their own polygamous marriages. This secretive practice drew outside ire whenever rumors leaked, but internally it caused solidarity and strengthened loyalty. In this traditional framework, Nauvoo polygamy revolved around power and confidence.
Laurel Ulrich’s treatment of polygamy in her new book, A House Full of Females, bucks this trend.
Having set the stage of the nature of early Mormon sociality in the first two chapters, in chapter three Ulrich first broaches the topic of plural marriage. But as the title of the chapter suggests, “I now turn the key to you,” the focus of the chapter is the founding of the Relief Society.
With her imposed stricture of not to “merge” reminiscences with diaries, (xx) Ulrich sets up a number of challenges, most notably the fact that very few contemporary early Mormon journals mention it. The focus of the chapter, Eliza R. Snow, said nothing about it in her Nauvoo journal and Ulrich turns to Snow’s much later affidavit to determine that Snow married Smith on June 29, 1842. Ulrich states this fact on page 61, the book’s first mention of plural marriage after the introduction. On that date, Snow wrote, “This is a day of peculiar interest to my feelings” (71).
Charlotte Cannon Johnston, Living the Principle: My Progenitors and Polygamy (Self-published, 2016)
Charlotte Cannon Johnston’s Living the Principle: My Progenitors and Polygamy takes seriously the idea that polygamy is fundamentally connected to the history both of Mormonism as a whole and of families ancestrally tied to plural marriage. She writes that “our past is our present” and argues for the need for Mormons to re-evaluate their relationship to their ancestors’ polygamous past. Many of the stories of early Mormon women, especially in the Church curriculum, are either sanitized or erased because of discomfort around Mormon polygamy. Johnston seeks to discover the history of polygamy through the ways that plural marriage was practiced in her own family. The idea for the book emerged when she wanted to record her own story. She soon realized that before she could make sense of her own story, “I first needed to tell the stories of my ancestors” who are “inextricably linked to the history of Mormon polygamy.” (xi) The reader, therefore, is consistently aware of the relationship between Johnston and her historical subjects. Her subjectivity as author, researcher, and descendant is never too far from the surface of her writing.
Throughout the book, Johnston revisits A Mormon Mother, a memoir in which Annie Clark Tanner discusses her painful and lonely polygamous marriage to and separation from Joseph Marion Tanner, a prominent Mormon educator. Johnston reviewed this book for the famous Pink Issue of Dialogue in 1971 and at that time called the book a representation of an “articulate minority report of a difficult era.” (Appendix A, 225) As Johnston continued to research the experiences of her own family, however, she increasingly recognized the nuance in the written records on polygamy. The book therefore represents a conversation between the viewpoint in Annie Clark Tanner’s memoir and Johnston’s own relatives’ history.
The reader follows Johnston as she takes them on a tour of her polygamous history. The first two chapters are about the lives and personal records of Leonora Cannon Taylor and Elizabeth Hoagland Cannon respectively. Subsequent chapters discuss Johnston’s later polygamous ancestors. As she switches from ancestors whom she knows only through archival records to people she knows from family stories and personal relationships, the tenor of her writing also changes; later in the book, it is harder for readers to keep up with all of the family names and she references. Additionally, it is difficult for readers to disentangle the increasingly complicated family relationships that included marriages “for time,” marriages “for eternity,” and Levirate marriages. Some of this might have been dealt with more clearly, but Johnston’s narrative also points to the basic challenge of representing complicated family relationships. What happens when plural marriage warps family into shapes that no longer resemble trees? How can we visually represent the different kinds of marriages and parental relationships that emerged in polygamy?
Much of the value of this book is the way that Johnston lays bare her assumptions and the process through which her research unfolded. It has more introductory material and appendices than I have ever seen. The book will no doubt be a resource to her family as well as to those interested in the process of making and documenting family history. Johnston is scrupulous, almost to a fault, about conveying her process and how she makes sense of her history. Finally, not only does the book map out familial relationships of the dead, but it also shows the ways in which Johnston’s living family helped her scan and research archival materials as well as edit and format her manuscript. In content and form, the book fulfills the Mormon call to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:6)
The fifty-third conference of the Mormon History Association will be held June 7 – 10, 2018, at the Boise Centre Convention Center and nearby Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho. The 2018 conference theme “Homelands and Bordered Lands” raises questions about how borders both disrupt and generate ideas about individuals’ and communities’ “homes,” broadly construed. The theme highlights the ways in which the dynamic interactions between peoples, places, and identities have always been central to Mormon histories.
The conference theme “Homelands and Bordered Lands” connects the history of the Latter-day Saints to Idaho’s diverse past. Idaho is first and foremost a Native homeland. The first Mormon settlement in the Idaho was created near present-day Salmon, Idaho, at Fort Lemhi in 1855. Immigration by Mormons and other Euro-Americans caused conflict with Native communities and led to the depletion of natural resources as well as outbreaks of violence. On the other hand, there have also been many instances of cooperation and mutual respect between the various communities.
Idaho has also always been a place where the boundaries of Mormon identity have been negotiated. The state has been a refuge and highway for those seeking to practice plural marriage. Polygamy contributed to a pronounced strain of anti-Mormonism in Idaho politics and law in the late nineteenth century. Idaho also has a healthy tradition of Mormon education, intellectualism, and dissent. Ricks College, now BYU-Idaho, has been foundational in LDS higher education. Furthermore, Leonard Arrington was born in Twin Falls and graduated from the University of Idaho, Sonia Johnson was born in Malad, Maxine Hanks attended Ricks, and the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives was founded in Boise.
While Idaho provides a rich tableau for the study of Mormonism in the context of the state’s history as a multiracial, multi-ethic, and multireligious place, we also seek papers and panels that address the theme of “Homelands and Bordered Lands” from any vantage point in the Mormon past. In addition to papers and panels that address the conference theme, the program committee also welcomes proposals on any topic in Mormon history.
The Mormon History Association intentionally embraces both academic and amateur historians. The conference organizers encourage submissions that think outside of the traditional format for conference sessions. We encourage people to organize roundtables, “cafés” in which participants are arranged in small groups to discuss a topic, pre-circulated papers, and so forth. Additional ideas for alternative session formats can be found at: http://solveforinteresting.com/category/good-conference/event-sessions/
Please send 1) a 300-word abstract for each paper or presentation and 2) a brief 1-2 page CV for each presenter, including email contact information. Session proposals should also include the session title and a 300-word session abstract, along with a confirmed chair and/or commentator, if applicable.
Previously published papers are not eligible for presentation at MHA. An individual may only submit one proposal as a session presenter, although it is acceptable for a presenter in one session to be a chair or commentator in another. Limited financial assistance is available to some student presenters and presenters from less economically-developed nations. Those who wish to apply for funding should include estimated travel expenses with their proposals.
The deadline for proposals is November 15, 2017. Proposals should be sent to the program co-chairs at email@example.com. Notification of acceptance or rejection will be made by December 15, 2017.
Please mark if you are attending the 2018 MHA Conference on Facebook HERE.
Then at the Mormon History Association’s annual conference LDS Church historian and recorder Elder Steven E. Snow emphasized the need for the troubling saying, “For too long Mormon women’s voices have been ignored. We, as a people, have suffered because of it.”
Chapter two of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females is a gorgeous example of how incorporating women’s accounts provides a more complete view of all of the colors and textures and corners of the tapestry of early LDS history, but also frays the neatly finished edges in troublesome ways. After the Missouri expulsion, dual male narratives act in concert–miraculous healing and distinct but likewise miraculous missionary work. Joseph Smith offered physical salvation through healing. Healing enabled male apostles to work to offer spiritual salvation to others. In a tidy reciprocal narrative structure, Latter-day Saints are provided with examples of both “what God can do for us and what we can do for God.” In both narratives, men endowed with priesthood power accomplished much.
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This Research Assistant position will support the work of several web content projects, with oversight from the Manager and other senior writers, as well, assist in some writing projects being overseen and led by the Division’s Director.
“Following the death of Joseph Smith the policy of the church was to exclude blacks from ordination to the priesthood and from Latter-day Saint temples. Although some black members of the church were given patriarchal blessings, declarations of lineage were omitted as a matter of policy. But guidelines were not consistent, and the question remained the subject of debate. In 1934 Patriarch James H. Wallis wrote in his journal, “I have always known that one of negro blood cannot receive the Priesthood nor the blessings of the Temple, and are also disqualified from receiving a patriarchal blessing . . . But I am sure there is no objection to giving them a blessing of encouragement and comfort, leaving out all reference to lineage and sealing.” Apostle John A. Widtsoe relayed President Heber J. Grant’s reply to Wallis’s request for a ruling. It stated, “It will be alright for Brother Wallis to bless them, but as to their status in the future, that their status in the future, that is . . . in the hands of the Lord.”[i]
In a previous post, I explored the ways in which racism has been espoused by LDS leaders and average Latter-day Saints alike, and how the vestiges of some of those teachings remain in modern Latter-day Saint doctrine. In today’s post, I’d like to explore the ways in which patriarchal blessings continue to identify Latter-day Saints by racial heritage, and, in some instances, place people of African descent as separate and inferior to “white” Mormons, through the LDS Church’s counsel not to declare an Israelite lineage to African-descended Mormons.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a “patriarchal blessing” is a blessing bestowed by an ordained patriarch (in the vein of Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham), which dispenses direction and advice to the receiver. The blessing also declares the blood lineage of the receiver in relation to his or her connection to the House of Israel.[ii] Smith’s own theology was generally universalist, meaning that he did not preclude any person from obtaining salvation, regardless of racial background. In the New Testament, John the Baptist preached to the Pharisees and Sadducees that their Abrahamic lineage did not elevate their relationship or access to God. Indeed, John the Baptist informed the Jews, “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”[iii] Joseph Smith similarly believed that Abrahamic lineage did not matter in relation to salvation or divine favor. God could raise up anyone, including Africans, as “children of Abraham,” so far as they converted to Mormonism and accepted its principles and ordinances.
Occasionally it becomes prudent for scholars within a field to assess the state of that field and to define its pasts and futures. The Mormon History Association annual meeting provided such an opportunity for Mormon Studies. The panel, “Permanent Settlement or Pending Migration? Exploring the Frontier of Mormon Studies,” featured presentations from Gerrit van Dyk, Trevan C. Hatch, and J.B. Haws.
Each presentation assessed the field in a different way. Van Dyk and Hatch both conducted interviews with prominent professors and asked about definitions, methodology, publishing venues, and the nature and audience of scholarship. Both emphasized the issues of insularity, the roles of “academic”/apologetic/popular scholarship, and ties to institutions and journals of publication. One insight that van Dyk noted was that Mormon Studies has grown in graduate programs before undergraduate programs—in contrast to Catholic Studies and Jewish Studies programs. Hatch offered Jewish Studies as both an example and cautionary tale for Mormon Studies in its strict academic scholarship. Haws’ presentation highlighted the change in institutional attention and broader acceptance of Mormon Studies since the early 1990s. The panel, as a whole, was a pretty fair introduction to Mormon Studies as a field.
Hendrix-Komoto, Amanda. “Mahana, You Naked! Modesty, Sexuality, and Race in the Mormon Pacific.” In Out of Obscurity: Mormonism Since 1945, edited by Patrick Q. Mason and John G. Turner, 173?97. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Rutherford, Taunalyn. “The Internationalization of Mormonism: Indications from India.” In Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945, edited by Patrick Q. Mason and John G. Turner, 37?62. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Later this week bloggers associated with the Juvenile Instructor will assemble at the Mormon History Association annual conference in St. Charles, Missouri (just outside of St. Louis), a yearly highlight for us. Many of us will be participating in the program as presenters, commentators, and chairs. This post summarizes our contributions.
Seth Perry, “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Bible Culture,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84, no. 3 (September 2016): 750–75.
One of the things I appreciate about our Article Review series, episodic as it may be, is that it enables bite-size engagement with some of the most important new scholarship as it comes into being. So much work is produced these days that we may not pay enough attention toward the notable arguments that do appear and a deserve a critical appraisal. And while books may be the gold standard, the genre of the article allows for us to engage at a more granular level, giving us a chance to sample and respond to important monographs in the making. My case in point here is Seth Perry’s JAAR article from September of last year: “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Bible Culture.” This important article gives us a bite of Perry’s forthcoming book on the dynamics of early-national Bible culture. We also get a taste of how his arguments bear on the history of Mormonism and Mormon scripture.
Kerry A. Shirts on JI Summer Book Club: “I have always liked Ben. I am looking forward to reading his paper. Thanks for the heads up. He is one of the more decent…”
THIS MONTH IN MORMON STUDIES: The podcast that addresses the latest happenings in the field of Mormon studies | Mormon Life Hacker on JI Summer Book Club: “[…] now available Ben Spackman, “MHA Presentation and Reconciling Science with Scripture” Joseph Stuart, “Patriarchal Blessings, Lineage, and Race: Historical Background and a Survey&#… Ben…”