By July 24, 2017
This is the eighth entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. 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.
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.
By July 25, 2016
This is the eighth installment of the Summer Book Club, this year focusing on Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. You can read installments one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven here.. This part focuses on chapters 21 through 23 (Epilogue), which follow Emma at the end of her life through her passing in April of 1879 and continuing her legacy.
Chapter 21, “Josephites and Brighamites: 1870-1877” continues with Joseph III’s leadership of the new Reorganized Church, and his attempts to proselytize for membership in Utah and California, first through assigned missionaries and later by sending his own brothers to Utah. These meetings in the 1860s and 1870s were awkward and politely cautious at best, and volcanic at worst. Mormons in Utah seemed fascinated by these visits from the offspring of their beloved dead prophet, even holding out hope that they might reconvert to the “true church.” Cousins met cousins on politely civil ground, but the visiting “Josephites” from Illinois and the established “Brighamites” in Utah could only dance in cold, tense circles around each other, until some visits escalated into blow-ups, sometimes over succession, but always over polygamy. Of course, Brigham Young consistently placed blame for all of this squarely on Emma. This chapter highlights how the visits of the sons only heightened Brigham’s pent-up anger toward Emma. At one meeting with Church leaders, someone tried to remind Brigham that “We love these boys for their father’s sake,” but still he blew up, insisting that Emma was “the damnedest liar that lives,” (285) and that she had tried to kill Joseph twice through poisoning. Honestly, I was struck by the very sexist way these grown men on both sides used this aging woman as a pawn in their tit-for-tat over plural marriage. Just as Brigham was absolutely obsessed with proving the divinity of plural marriage and it connections to Joseph, so did Joseph III have a “recurring preoccupation with separating his church and family from the taint of plural marriage.” (291) The two could never be reconciled.
By July 22, 2016
It is that time of year again, when members all over the world are asked to give talks honoring July 24, 1847– the official date when a company of Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley via Emigration Canyon. For Mormons, this is a significant date of historical and spiritual meaning: it marks the moment of relief after years of persecutions in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; it represents finding formal safety in their exile, freedom from religious persecution, distance from the oppressors, and arrival and rebirth in a land of spiritual and physical possibility. In Utah, Idaho, and other western states where members might be more likely to trace some ancestry back to the original pioneers, the third Sunday in July is usually set aside to honor the pioneer experience in a religious setting.
By June 7, 2016
Speak ‘friend’ and enter.
Please join Juvenile Instructor’s Andrea R-M and tour co-director Janelle Higbee for the second round of fantastic Mormon women’s history on a bus, Thursday, June 9, leaving from Snowbird at 8:30 a.m. and returning after 5:00 p.m.. Tour spots are still available, and even those not registered for the conference may register for the tour.
By May 27, 2016
The Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team (MWHIT) is pleased to announce its first annual Relief Society Bazaar and Silent Auction, to be held at the Mormon History Association Conference, June 9-12, 2016 at the Snowbird Resort. (For overall conference program and registration information, please see Mormon History Association 2016 conference registration.) MWHIT encourages MHA attendees to visit our booth in the book exhibit space at the conference, where we welcome browsing, bidding, and purchase of our team members’ contributions. Many of you know our members, from whom you can expect personal and detailed work: Lisa T., Jenny R., Kate H., Sheree B., Taunalyn R., Andrea R.-M., Susanna M., Janelle H., Anna R., Barbara J. B., and Brittany N.
By March 7, 2016
Perhaps you have heard or read that I gave a talk called “Beyond Petticoats and Poultices: Finding a Women’s History of the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838” at the Beyond Biography: Sources in Context for Mormon Women’s History conference at Brigham Young University. My paper sought to address the history of how women experienced the violence in Missouri, particularly as victims of sexual violence. As part of that research, I examined the case study of Eliza R. Snow as a possible victim of a gang rape that might have left her unable to have children. I looked at a few of the rapes and attempted rapes in Missouri, recalled by various witnesses, legal testimonials, and personal accounts, with a discussion of why women are not specifically named in most sources. The scarcity and limitation of sources has presented historians with the difficulty of uncovering a history of sexual violence in Missouri, and of identifying actual victims. So I concluded with an examination of a primary source that amazingly came to me only three weeks prior to the conference, via a colleague who received it from a member of the family where the source is held. That source gives a description of Eliza’s rape, and its larger meaning in Snow’s life and possible motivations for her polygamous marriage to Joseph Smith.
By August 12, 2015
CALL FOR PAPERS:
Race, Gender, and Power in the Mormon Borderlands
Mormon history lies at the borders between subaltern and dominant cultures. On the one hand, due to their unusual family structure and theocratic government, Mormons were a persecuted minority for the better part of the nineteenth century. On the other, Mormons played a significant role as colonizers of the North American West, extending their reach to the borderlands of Mexico, Canada, and the Pacific Islands. There Mormon colonists intermarried with Native Americans, Mexicans, Hawaiians and Samoans, even as they placed exclusions on interracial sexual relations and marriage. During the nineteenth century, Mormons also discouraged Native peoples’ polygamous practices while encouraging plural marriage for white women. And Mormon religious doctrine subordinated persons of color within church hierarchy well into the twentieth century. African-American men, for example, could not hold the priesthood until 1978. Historically, then, Mormons have navigated multiple borders– between colonizer and colonized, between white and Other, and between minority and imperial identities. This limnal position calls for further investigation. We propose an anthology of essays on race, gender, and power in the Mormon borderlands.
Over the past thirty years, historians of Mormon women have expanded our understanding of gender and power in Mormon society. However, most of these studies focus on white Mormon women, while Mormon women of color have remained largely invisible. This volume seeks not simply to make visible the lived experiences of Mormon women of color, but more importantly, to explore gender and race in the Mormon borderlands. Taken together, these essays will address how Mormon women and men navigated the complications of minority and colonizer status, interracial marriage and doctrinal race hierarchies, patriarchy and female agency, violence and religious responsibility, and plural identities. These metaphoric borders were brought into play on the geographic and cultural borders of the United States. Specifically, this volume will encompass the continental U.S. West, the borderlands of Canada and Mexico, and Pacific Rim islands such as Samoa and Hawaii, exploring the intersectionality of race and gender in Mormon cultures on the borders from the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. This focus will open new directions in Mormon history in concert with recent trends in western history. The anthology will have full scholarly apparatus and we welcome both historical research and interdisciplinary work.
Please submit article proposals/manuscript drafts by Sept.15, 2015, to Dee Garceau at <firstname.lastname@example.org> (901-484-1837)
Co-Editors: Dee Garceau, Rhodes College email@example.com ; Sujey Vega, Arizona State University, Sujey.Vega@asu.edu; Andrea Radke-Moss, BYU-Idaho firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Editors’ Faculty Profiles:
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.
By April 7, 2015
President Barack Obama met with LDS Church leaders on April 2, 2015, for a little under half an hour during a brief scheduled visit to Utah. In attendance were President Henry B. Eyring, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder L. Tom Perry here. President Thomas S. Monson was unable to attend the gathering due to health reasons, but online feedback also quickly picked up on the noticeable absence of any high-profile female leaders of the Church. Mormon women have not always been left out of presidential visits; in fact, various meetings between Relief Society leaders and American chief executives in the last 150 years are worth the retelling, and serve as a reminder of the stature and influence that elite Mormon women held in representing the Church to the nation.
By March 17, 2015
On this, the anniversary of the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, I come out of a long and silent hibernation from blogging to write this, a love letter, to my Relief Society sisters, for each one of you, whether in the church or out of the church, whether fully active or barely hanging on.
By May 22, 2014
The story of Zion’s Camp has usually been told absent its female participants. In fact, it might surprise most readers that women (and children) even participated in Zion’s Camp.
By May 8, 2014
As a professor of history at a predominantly Mormon university, lately I have been a magnet for students with questions about the changes for Mormon women, especially considering the recent public attention to the roles of women in our traditional religious culture.
By September 23, 2013
To historians, collectors, and aficionados of 19th-century America, it is no surprise that the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 is highly popular for its abundance of collectible items still in circulation among antique dealers, collectors’ sites, and Ebay, of course. Indeed, a cursory search of “Chicago World’s Fair 1893” on Ebay brings up hundreds of items, from paper weights, silk scarves, plates, bowls, medallions, shaving cups, lamps, bookmarks, coins, spoons, Fair tickets, and every variation of printed and photographic material imaginable. One could literally lose fortune, space, and sanity to build a personal collection of World’s Fair memorabilia.
By August 17, 2013
In yesterday’s post, “Eliza R. Snow as Dorm Mother and Concert Master” here, I wrote about the challenges faced when institutions fall short of representing their female members’ historical presence, and how the limited efforts of BYU and BYU-Idaho have tried to meet those challenges in sometimes interesting ways, but have often fallen short. In contrast, I have also found an example, right here in Rexburg, Idaho, of how private individuals, families, or businesses, when equipped with adequate resources and far-sighted motives, can advance the purposes of public history, choosing to represent the contributions of women and other underrepresented groups in ways that tradition-bound institutions might not.
By August 16, 2013
One trip through Rexburg, Idaho, or any amount of time spent there, reminds visitors of the methods of honoring the institutional, religious, and pioneering heritage of western settlements, in ways that often emphasize the prominence of male actors in that history, and the absence, or lesser importance, of female actors.
By April 5, 2013
This is Part One of my interview with Maxine Hanks, who edited and published her well-known feminist anthology, Women and Authority: Re-Emerging Mormon Feminism, with Signature Books in 1992 here.
By April 4, 2013
The Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team (here) is pleased to announce an Evening with the Editors and Authors of Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume 2, on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, at 7:00 p.m., at the 10th Ward Building in Salt Lake City.
Please join us for a thoughtful discussion of Mormon women’s biography, featuring editors Brittany Chapman and Rick Turley, a few featured authors of the biographies (to be announced), a brief program, refreshments, and opportunities to meet, mingle, and purchase books. For an excellent review of Women of Faith, Volume 2, see Tona’s post here, and for a discussion of the complications of using biography in Mormon women’s history, you may reread Janiece’s excellent post here.
Also, look for biographies in Volume 2 by J.I.’s own Jenny R. and Andrea R-M. Come and celebrate this excellent series!
Hope to see you there.
By December 14, 2012
“Mark what I say: the woman who quarrels with her clothes, and puts on the dress of a man, is like the man who throws off his fur gown and dresses like John the Baptist: they are followed, as surely as the night follows the day, by bands of wild women and men who refuse to wear any clothes at all.” — The Inquisitor, St. Joan (Penguin Books, 1982).
George Bernard Shaw’s interpretation of the life of Joan of Arc reminds us of an element of Joan’s influence– her straining of a woman’s role by dressing like a man– that caused such discomfort for her contemporaries and partly led to her excommunication and execution in 1431. The zealous reactions to Joan’s gendered nonconformity in the 1400s allow us to think about similar ways that modern faith communities are also stretched by challenges to their gender expectations.
By October 8, 2012
President Thomas S. Monson’s announcement in General Conference on Saturday, October 6, 2012, that young women can now serve missions at age 19 is no less than revolutionary. This move might seem like a pragmatic attempt to boost global missionary efforts. However, a brief historical overview of the last century’s changes for sister missionaries provides some useful context for how remarkable this policy really is.
By September 13, 2012
The Mormon Women’s History Initiative
invites you to an evening of insights into the KUED documentary film
By August 27, 2012
Overheard at this weekend’s conference: “This could be Mormon women’s Seneca Falls.”