The central idea of Chapter 11 (“Synopsis of My Labors”) is what can be learned about Wilford Woodruff’s home life from what he does and does not include in his synopses of his labors. These end-of-year tallies are part of what makes Wilford’s journal such a pleasure to read. He writes, for example, that in 1853 he traveled 100 miles, attended 650 meetings at the tabernacle, wrote 38 letters, and so on. Despite this impressively detailed list, Ulrich points out three main events that he did not include: his wife Phebe’s birth, his marriages to Sarah Brown and Emma Smith, and his divorce from Mary Jackson. The chapter is divided into four parts, each dealing with something on Laurel’s list of omitted family events. The Woodruffs (Wilford and the numerous types of marital relationships he had) act as a case study for what marriage, fertility, sex, and divorce meant in early Utah.
Ulrich starts with a discussion of Phebe’s reproductive pattern over her sixteen years of marriage with Wilford. It is no coincidence that Ulrich conducts a deep analysis of fertility and marriage in this chapter: its title advertises a discussion of labor. Ulrich writes, “Phebe’s labors were more difficult to summarize on their own.” (273) Ulrich’s discussion, whether through economics or fertility, forces the reader to consider women’s labor alongside Wilford’s more easily recognized (and countable) tasks.
Ulrich then discusses Wilford’s marriages to Emma Smith (age fifteen) and Sarah Brown (age nineteen). Emma bore her first child nearly four years after her marriage (at age nineteen). Both Sarah and Emma represent a different type of class of wives than Phebe Woodruff, who monogamously married her husband at age thirty. Instead of being Wilford’s peers, these new young wives were integrated into an already functioning household economy as dependents.
Ulrich’s discussion of Mary Ann Jackson’s divorce from Wilford approaches dependency in marriage from a different angle. Ulrich notes how divorce in Utah, as opposed to in other states, was relatively easy to obtain. In fact, she informs us that Brigham Young authorized a shocking 1,645 divorces in Utah. (280) Despite the existence of no-fault divorces, Ulrich shows that the needs of their young son James made Mary Ann and Wilford’s separation messy. The archived letters Wilford sent to Mary Ann gives us a (one-sided) view of the conflict they continued to have even after their marriage formally ended. Their relationship was fraught as they negotiated their economic obligations to their son and one another.
The last segment discusses Wilford’s earlier marriage with Mary Webster in 1852, a woman who was still technically married to her first husband. Her marriage with Wilford only lasted a few months because Mary died in October of 1852. Mary Webster’s story fits into a larger theme throughout the book of women who prioritize their new adopted religious family over their existing marital and family ties. Ulrich compares the letters written by Webster’s husband with the letters the Henry Jacobs writes to Zina years after their separation. Both sets of letters reveal an uncomfortable aspect of Mormonism as they show the raw feelings of the men left behind by these Mormon women. The section also brilliantly shows the fickle nature of the dynamic religious world of Mormon families; some informal divorces were accepted, while other remarriages were considered unlawful and worthy of church discipline. The discussion in this section is expanded in Ulrich’s fascinating article “Runaway Wives 1830-1860.”
Throughout the chapter Ulrich’s writing has an authoritative academic voice, yet she consistently prioritizes her narrative over a systematic analysis of her claims. For example, in the beginning of the chapter Ulrich contrasts Phebe’s birth rate (about one child every 1.7 years) with Parley P. Pratt’s six childbearing wives, who averaged a child every three years per wife. She uses this comparison to suggest that “polygamy increases the number of children per father, it decreases the number of children per mother.” (271) This interesting claim is easy to miss in Ulrich’s unrelenting narrative and deserves more discussion. How does this claim work, for example, with less economically affluent families or religious leaders lower in religious hierarchy than the Woodruffs and the Pratts? Did men who were often away on church missions have fewer offspring than men that stayed local? Was there a potential divide between urban and agricultural polygamists? Even within her qualitative framework there is much more to say. She could have, for example, added information about some of the other families that the readers follow throughout the book, such as the households of Peregrine Sessions, George Smith, Heber Kimball, or the George Taylor.
Using the Woodruff household as a case study, Laurel gives us a macro view of the complexity of the Mormon polygamous household. Throughout the book Ulrich points to gaps in Wilford’s journal pertaining to his children and recently contracted plural marriages. This chapter, then, represents a full-length discussion of what those gaps in his journal could say.
I spent too much of coursework worrying about coursework. Of course, that’s easy to say now that I’m studying for comprehensive exams. Reading several hundred books has a way of putting things into perspective. You realize that there is a LOT of great work out there and that it is very difficult to publish a book. Nary has an acknowledgments section gone by without mentioning that the author reached a point where they nearly gave up or had to rely on their “people” for encouragement. However, something else struck me—very few of the books I’ve read mention anything about the project growing out of a paper written during coursework.
I’m working my way through the production process for my first book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, and I thought it would be helpful to review some of the practical aspects of getting the book together. In this post, I address selecting artwork and acquiring permission to publish from the various repositories.
Saskia pointed out that in chapter 9, Brigham Young had re-framed gendered duty: “building the Kingdom of God required men who were willing to leave their wives for missions and settlements, and women who were willing to be left behind and make do as best they could.” Chapter 10 follows the divergent experiences suffered by the households of three families separated by mens’ mission calls from three to seven years long.
It opens in August 1852. Joseph Smith’s 1843 revelation on plural marriage (now Doctrine and Covenants Section 132) was read and preached on publicly for the first time, and one hundred Mormon men were called on foreign missions. Eighty-four men departed for Britain or its colonies, seven to continental Europe, and nine to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). While today the majority of Mormon missionaries are young and single, these were “mature men” whose absence for three to seven years fractured households, interrupted marriages, and removed fathers from their children’s lives. The chapter follows three diarists as they traveled to their assignments and began the daunting task of converting people to a faith that had just openly jettisoned monogamy as a pillar of Christianity and civilization. Starting in 1852, Mormonism entered an era of open acknowledgement and defense of plural marriage and expanded its practice, opening its people to mounting opposition on religious, moral, political and legal grounds.
Shinji Takagi, The Trek East: Mormonism Meets Japan, 1901-1968 (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2016)
Most Mormon history books fill the gaps within an overarching narrative that has already been told. Under rare and exciting circumstances, a few books take the chance to establish a broad narrative that provides a framework for future studies to debate, confirm, and clarify. The latter, in my opinion, is the case with The Trek East, winner of the Mormon History Association’s “Best Book on International Mormon History” award. Shinji Takagi, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Osaka University, presents an ambitious work that focuses on a “macro” and “analytical” approach to Mormonism’s historical presence in Japan from 1901 to 1968.
In the previous chapter, we followed Mormon pioneers on the trail west. In Chapter Nine, Ulrich uses the theme of women using their pens as weapons, often aimed at their spouses, other times employed as a kind of self-defense. For example, Augusta Cobb longed to be independent, but found herself needing to defer to both her husband and his plural wives and failing at both. Ulrich weaves together Augusta’s personal circumstances with a larger reflection on the tensions caused by plural marriage in Utah and beyond. Not one to bow down and suffer in silence, her writings to her husband, Brigham Young, reflect either her inability or unwillingness to play by the rules that got things done in Zion–not only did she not submit silently to her husband, but as Ulrich writes, by refusing to participate in the sister-wife system, she took herself out of the political and economic flow, leaving her with few resources and an increasing frustration over the paradoxes and hardships of female independence and existence in Zion.
Brent M. Rogers is the author of Unpopular Sovereignty: The Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017). He holds a Ph.D in American History from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is currently an associate managing historian for The Joseph Smith Papers and he has co-edited four volumes in the series. Brent agreed to participate in our semi-regular series, Scholarly Inquiry, by answering the following questions.
What led you to write Unpopular Sovereignty: Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory?
This was a fun question to think about. The seed was planted as I read a couple of influential books in undergraduate courses and early in my graduate career that had me thinking about Mormons and Utah in the antebellum era (Sarah Gordon’s The Mormon Question and Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets). But, the book project, if I were to pinpoint its true beginning, emerged out of a research seminar I took on war and expansion in nineteenth-century America. Because there seemed to be a lack of western facing history in the course, I decided to examine the role of the western territories in antebellum political discourse. As I dug into the newspaper and congressional sources, substantive discussion about Utah emerged more prominent than I originally anticipated, so I keyed in on that discussion. Secondary sources hadn’t considered the territory west of Kansas as important, but the primary sources said otherwise. After I wrote and presented that research paper, and after subsequent conversations I convinced my dissertation committee that it was worthwhile to pursue a dissertation that placed Utah squarely in the narrative of antebellum political discourse within the context of sovereignty, territory, and power. In the few years following the completion of that dissertation I revised and enhanced that work to produce Unpopular Sovereignty.
It was purely serendipitous that my scheduled review of Chapter 8 happened to land on July 24, and very appropriately so. This is Pioneer Day, in the style of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who treats the years of Mormon overland migration from 1847 to 1850 much in the same way that she approaches other common Mormon narratives. She takes a story that is relatively well-known to Mormon history audiences, at least on a surface level, and reconstructs it with the details, nuance, context and sharpness that deepens and enlivens those events. And she does it in a way that reminds you that you’ve never heard the story that way before, while also leaving with you with the feeling that you must have always heard it that way. And central to her telling are the experiences of Mormon women, told from the perspective of her reliable female diarists, Patty Sessions, Eliza R. Snow, Leonora Taylor, and Caroline Barnes Crosby, along with her roster of helpful and colorful male diarists, Wilford Woodruff, Hosea Stout, and Perregrine Sessions, among others.
Ulrich actually begins with the famed entrance of Brigham Young into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, when he “may well have said something” about the salty desert where Mormons would make their home. She then steps back from that one iconic and mythical moment, by weaving her usual web of characters surrounding and intersecting with that event. Samuel Brannan, for example, had sailed on the Brooklyn, landed in California, and encountered members of the Mormon Battalion during the same weeks that Mormons first entered Utah. Brigham himself returned immediately back to Winter Quarters in the Fall of 1847, not even participating in that first winter of building Salt Lake City. By the spring of 1848, twenty-two hundred saints left Winter Quarters for Utah, while Wilford and Phebe Woodruff were on their way to Boston to set up the the Church’s “headquarters” in the East. Famously, the first company of Saints into the Salt Lake Valley included three women (Harriet Decker Young, her daughter Clara, and Ellen Saunders, who was actually ‘Aagaat Yseinsdatter Bakka,’ one of Heber C. Kimball’s wives), it was not until 1848 and 1849 that Mormonism’s most famous early women came pioneering: Patty, Eliza, and Leonora, of course, but also Mary Isabella Horne, Zina D.H. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith, Margaret Smoot, and Mercy Thompson, among so many others.
Ulrich focuses on three main sub-narratives of women’s pioneering experiences. The first is telling the overland migration through women’s eyes, including descriptions of terrain, weather, and food preparation, to childbirth, interactions with Indian women, the selling of Indian children to Mormon families, spiritual experiences, and how women sometimes had to step up to fill in where male leaders fell short. Ulrich expands women’s “pioneering” into the actual building of Salt Lake City, in that women were central to the construction of the fort and log homes, the delivery of babies, planting of orchards and crops, and establishing or reestablishing in Salt Lake City the close female networks that had begun in Nauvoo and persisted in Winter Quarters.
The second sub-narrative surrounds the travels, family, and ministering of Wilford and Phebe Woodruff in their calling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1848 to 1850, where Wilford was effectively overseeing branches of converts throughout New England and New York. As she does with so many male-centric Mormon stories, Ulrich seemlessly weaves Phebe’s more behind-the-scenes experiences into Wilford’s public leadership role. Ulrich covers Phebe’s crippling grief at the loss and burial of her children, hers and Wilford’s attempts to bring her family members into the fold of the Church, the caring for her widowed father, her sharing in Wilford’s ministering in New England, and their final return overland to Salt Lake City in 1850. Readers will find Phebe’s and Wilford’s saga imminently useful for understanding how the early polygamists of the 1840s were transitioning into the expectations and lived experiences of plural marriage. These are not the unabashed, proud polygamists of the 1860s through the 1880s; no, these are youthful rookies, proceeding cautiously and secretively (even in their diaries, as Wilford almost never mentions his second wife, Mary Ann Jackson, and their son, James), tiptoeing through the “principle” with fits and starts, and reluctance and caution along the way.
The third and final sub-narrative is the most compelling of this chapter, and the most feminist in scope. Early women pioneers, argues Ulrich, kept alive their female networking, socializing, and expressions of spiritual authority that had begun and Nauvoo and blossomed at Winter Quarters. This is not a new history of Mormon women, per se; rather, it is new in that Ulrich brings female authority to the front of the story, even during a period that lacked the formal skeleton of (re)constituted Relief Societies (yet). These started out as organized gatherings and parties. Indeed, even in mixed-gender settings in Salt Lake City, women exerted their feminine authority in unique ways that both supported male leadership as well as challenged it. Women often ‘presided’ at their own meetings, even when men were present, and a woman might ‘delegate’ her authority to other women in the presiding woman’s absence. Of course women also healed other women, in that they “anointed and layed hands.” (p. 196) But they also gave speeches in tongues and interpreted them, taking very literally Patty Sessions’s belief that “it was the sisters’ right to “claim for all that we bestow either spiritually & temporally.” (p. 195)
Ulrich finds completion where she began this story of pioneering, on July 24th itself, in the formal “Pioneer Day” celebrations, now iconic and ubiquitous throughout modern Mormonism. First inaugurated in 1849, Pioneer Day celebrations very quickly eclipsed July 4th in fanfare and attention for early Mormons. In fact, modern super-patriotic LDS might be surprised to note that July 4th in Utah usually passed without any notice at all. But, as Ulrich acclaims, “After their experiences in Missouri and Illinois, they had little reason to celebrate the Fourth of July.” The 24th was different, because, as Patty Sessions explained, “This is the beginning of a new era with us.” (p. 204)
Ulrich finds great gendered meaning in these new refined celebrations marking Mormons’ celebrations of their religious freedom in the West. In the very first parade, the “young men carried swords and copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Young women held a Bible in one hand and a Book of Mormon in the other. Apparently, men were defenders of liberty, women custodians of faith.” (p. 206) In this display, Mormons quite possibly held the “first public event that used both male and female participants in a symbolic performance.” (p. 206). But even more noteworthy was that these young people boasted the symbols of both their theology and their nation– their hopes of what might be possible in America. Ulrich sees no contradictions in the favoring of the 24th over the 4th, while still embracing American political symbolism. As she states, “the exiled Mormons declared their own independence, embracing the ideals of the American Revolution without acknowledging allegiance to the nation they believed had abandoned them.” (p. 204) In fact, they even carried banners “affirming the union of secular and religious authority in the person of their Prophet.” (p. 206) July 24th invited no pretense of false honor to American political authority; rather, Mormons unabashedly celebrated theocracy, and Brigham Young as “The Lion of the Lord” and “Hail to our Chief.” (p. 206)
Without any spoilers, I am excited for you to read how Laurel ends this chapter by linking her sub-narratives into one symbolic moment in July of 1851, with a newborn baby girl, a Pioneer Day parade, and a poem celebrating women’s eternal liberty. Indeed, she finds meaning in the intersection of seemingly unrelated historical moments, as only Laurel can. She also shows how Mormonism’s two July holidays emerged with very complicated and contradictory beginnings, thus allowing us today to continue to think about their very complex historical importance for a people who, even now, want to simultaneously celebrate their religious separateness and their nationalistic assimilation.
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 Biography 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 Biography 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 history 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.
Research Assistant, Joseph Smith Papers (Church History Department) (Contract Worker)
UNITED STATES | UT-Salt Lake City
ID 186732, Type: Full-Time – Temporary
Posting Dates: 06/23/2017 – 07/21/2017
Job Family: Administrative
Department: Church History Department
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)
David Keller on JI Summer Book Club:: “Two different ways to look that how plural marriage affected fertility rates are as follows:
1) Using only 19th century Mormonism data sets (genealogy based) and…”
EmJen on JI Summer Book Club:: “"She uses this comparison to suggest that 'polygamy increases the number of children per father, it decreases the number of children per mother.' (271) This…”
Daniel on What I Wish I: “Thanks much for this post! Great advice.”
Tona H on JI Summer Book Club:: “Good Q, Hannah & I don't know the answer, but I'd surmise 1) the ability to study Indian or Chinese languages was limited in the…”
Mary Lou on JI Summer Book Club:: “Great review of this chapter. I loved reading about these particular women and their different perspectives.
I have a question (or questions) that has been…”
J. Stapley on Publishing a book: Finding: “David, I think that is correct. Many institutions are happy to act like copyrights exist because it is in their interest. I also…”