JI Summer Book Club 2017: A House Full of Females, Chapter 7

By July 17, 2017

This is the seventh entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor, written this week by Charlotte Hansen Terry. Charlotte earned her BA and MA from the University of Utah and will begin her PhD at UC-Davis this fall. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week’s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook.

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. [1] 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?

 

[1] 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.

Article filed under Summer Book Club


  1. Very nice, Charlotte. I like that you call attention to Ulrich’s ability to portray “characters” that readers care about. Novel-esque, even.

    Comment by J Stuart — July 17, 2017 @ 9:59 am

  2. LTU’s use of reminiscences is sometimes difficult I think. Nevertheless, her work with the source materials for the period is excellent. Well done, Charlotte. Thanks!

    Comment by wvs — July 18, 2017 @ 8:05 pm

  3. One of the strengths of Ulrich’s book is her conscious use of sources that were written in the present. This chapter seems to be the one moment in the book when she is willing to explore the realm of memory in her characters reminiscences but only when it can be compared to the contemporary documents. She does this very intentionally as a story teller but also as a historiographical intervention – I definitely see the book as a critique to the ways that previous scholars have relied on memory based sources to unproblematically construct the past.
    Thanks Charlotte!

    Comment by Hannah Jung — July 20, 2017 @ 8:04 am

  4. Hannah, I love this idea of a “historiographical intervention”. Charlotte, thanks for this review. I am fascinated by the act of diary-keeping by women. Could they have foreseen the subversive impact their records would have on our current version of history.

    Comment by Cathy — July 20, 2017 @ 10:13 am


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