By October 11, 2017
Scott H. Partridge, ed., The Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832-1877 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2016).
Thirteenth Apostle is the first of Signature Books’ Legacy Series, which replaces their award-winning and incredibly valuable Significant Mormon Diaries Series.[i] They chose an excellent set of diaries to begin the Legacy Series. Not only was Lyman an apostle, his sons and grandsons became apostles, and more recently, his great-great grandson James E. Faust served in the LDS First Presidency. The Lyman family have shaped, and continue to shape, the religious and intellectual life of Latter-day Saints.
I first became acquainted with Amasa Lyman while reading Ron Walker’s Wayward Saints: The Social and Religious Protests of the Godbeites against Brigham Young. Lyman is a major character in Walker’s work, an apostle, apostate, and seemingly, a man that never quite fit in either religious or philosophical circles. Lyman’s association with the Godbeites led to his excommunication from the LDS Church in 1870.[ii] Still, most readers will come to the diaries looking for information on the paths that led to his excommunication and later affiliation with the Godbeites and Spiritualists. On the first two accounts, readers will be disappointed. Regrettably, the diaries from Lyman’s time with the Godbeites are not available or do not exist.
Lyman’s life is much more interesting even than his affiliation with the Godbeites. He served multiple missions, joined the first group of Latter-day Saints that received the sealing ritual, was sealed to one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, helped to settle San Bernardino, and labored as an apostle. His rich life is only hinted at in the diaries themselves; however, historians are sure to be able to use Lyman’s diaries to illuminate the broader world of nineteenth-century Mormonism.
Readers are able to see the ways that Lyman was comparable to other Latter-day Saint men at the time—he served missions, he spent a lot of his time in travel, and pontificated on theology (including a controversial sermon that denied the necessity of Christ’s atonement). He participated in the Spiritualist Movement, and claimed to have spoken to his daughter about “the cancer with which he [was] afflicted” among other topics.[iii] I found Lyman a fascinating figure and immediately wished that Lyman had been able to Tweet during his lifetime. Heck, I would have even settle for following him on Facebook.
Lyman’s life, as much as any other apostle, reveals the ways that Mormonism participated in both the American culture and operated on its religious fringes. Lyman spent time on the frontier, moved west, served his community, and tried to serve his religious and secular communities. He participated in popular religious movements like spiritualism and worked on his writing and grammar. However, he was also an apostle in a religious group that wasn’t recognized as authentically religious as much as organized hearsay in the nineteenth century. He had eight wives and fathered dozens of children. I would love to see Lyman incorporated into studies that use those at the edges of Mormonism (intellectually, theologically, racially, sexually, etc.) to reveal more about the average experience of nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints.[iv]
Interestingly, and frustratingly, Lyman’s diaries do not reveal the inner workings of his mind to the degree that the journals of leaders like Wilford Woodruff, Heber J. Grant, or Ernest Wilkinson do. Partridge’s footnotes and introduction will be valuable for readers, although there are a few things that caused me some frustration. First, I would have liked to have seen events in the diaries in conversation with works in the history of the American West and American religious history. I believe Mormon history is best when it can speak to broader topics—pointing readers to works outside of Mormon history would be immensely helpful for non-experts. Second, I would have liked to have seen more works of Mormon history referenced in the text (especially newer works).
These issues aside, Partridge and the Signature Team have much to be proud of. I wholeheartedly recommend Thirteenth Apostle to all those that work in nineteenth-century Mormonism, spiritualism, and the history of the American West.
[i] Many of these volumes, along with other books and primary sources, are available at Signature Books’ Internet Archive site.
[ii] The excommunication was overturned (his baptismal and priesthood blessings were restored) in 1909.
[iii] A study could be done on what he reports seeing and hearing during séances. Emily Suzanne Clark’s recent book “Luminous Brotherhood” makes great use of spiritualist records left behind by black Catholic men in nineteenth-century New Orleans.
[iv] For a rationale behind such projects, see Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, “The Clock and the Compass: Mormon Culture in Motion,” Journal of Mormon History 32, no. 2 (April 2017): 1-19.
By September 19, 2017
Eighteen months ago, Taysom was deep into work on a biography of Joseph F. Smith, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1901 to 1918. We interviewed him then about the project. Taysom recently finished work on the manuscript, and we decided to follow up to see how the project evolved over that period and what Taysom’s reflections in retrospect are.
By September 17, 2017
This is the fifteenth 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!
What did it mean for Mormon women to work “behind the throne” (372) but not as “pawns of the patriarchy”? (385) What did it mean for Mormon women to “speak for themselves,” (387) but in defense of polygamy? In what sense, in other words, were Mormon women free? Were they free?
By September 4, 2017
This is the fourteenth 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
Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward album quilt. Image taken from https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/the-first-fifty-years-of-relief-society/part-2/2-3
Ulrich frames chapter fourteen through her close analysis of a quilt made by different women from the Fourteenth Ward’s Relief society in Salt Lake City. Quilts such as this were commonly made in the mid nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Ulrich shows that the quilt’s intricately sewed flowers and aphorisms become significant when understood in light of the contemporary writings of the women who made it and the tumultuous social backdrop of 1857 when it was produced. Life on the frontier was arduous and uncertain for these women; two immigrant pioneer companies barely survived their passage to Utah and the settlers already there struggled with implementing plural marriage and surviving near famine. Additionally, outside pressures continued to bear down on the saints: Mormon leader Parley P. Pratt died after being shot by a former husband of one of his plural wives, and now a threatening federal army was heading to Utah. Part of what makes the quilt striking is the gentility it projects despite the challenges that faced the women that made it.
The visual language of the quilt becomes increasingly interesting as Ulrich explores the process and context through which it was made. Ulrich examines several of the individually crafted squares and draws out interesting themes such as the women’s commitment to flowers despite the fact that they worked against drought conditions to cultivate their crops. She also focuses on the women’s assertion of defiant patriotism – displayed in Aura Annette Cumming’s folk adaption of the Great Seal of the United States and the eagle in English-born Keziah Pratt’s square – despite the looming conflict with the federal army. In sum, Ulrich highlights the importance of performing respectability for the Fourteenth Ward Relief Society despite the widely held American judgment that these women’s religious and marital practices were considered anything but respectable.
In this chapter Ulrich shows off a skill she uses throughout the book and more generally in her work as a scholar; she takes texts, often ones that have been overlooked by others, and shows us the complex world of women behind the names on a page or signatures on a quilt. In the previous chapter, Ulrich used Caroline Crosby’s diary to reveal a remarkably intimate view of the domestic life of San Bernardino. The steady flow of names in Crosby’s diary, as Andrea R-M discussed in her post yesterday, shows us how San Bernardino became a key part of the migratory route for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. It is this same analytical skill that has earned Ulrich acclaim with A Midwives Tale when she used the diary of Martha Ballard to discuss the economy of women’s labor in medicine and textiles in colonial New England. In the case of Chapter 14, one of the things we see is that despite the diverse backgrounds of its makers, the unified textile emphasizes their new collective identity as refined women of Zion. Ulrich takes women’s names, mentioned in a diary or on the margin of a quilt, and uses them to illustrate women’s social landscapes.
The title of Chapter 14, “The house was full of females” reflects the title of the book itself. The phrase comes from Wilford’s diary where he was describing his attendance of the Fourteenth Ward Relief Society. Ulrich argues Wilford’s interesting phrasing had less to do with the number of women at the meeting. Instead, “This was apparently the first time he had participated in a meeting where women not only filled the benches but presided.” (336) This observation helps give the reader insight not only to the origin of the title but also to what she means by her subtitle “Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism.” Women’s religious authority in the early history of the Latter-day Saints led to their ability to quickly mobilize and establish themselves politically. One early reviewer has negatively reviewed Ulrich’s book based on the assumption that a book that advertises itself as being about women’s rights should feature less “well-behaved” women. Instead, he wished that Ulrich would become a “badly behaved historian calling out fraudulent iniquities faced by female Saints.” Yet Alex Beam’s critique completely ignores the complex ways in which Ulrich shows Mormon women empowering themselves both through negotiating the every day life of the frontier and of their religion. Ulrich’s book shows readers a pre-history of women’s rights that paralleled the traditional narrative of women’s rights in the northeastern United States in the development of women’s charitable organizations and even the bloomer costume. But in other ways, Mormon women gained their empowerment through developing systems of women’s social and religious organizations unique to Mormonism. Ulrich shows how Mormon women developed their own unique brand of women’s rights through their varied experiences of plural marriage, ecstatic religion, and building Zion in their everyday lives.
By September 3, 2017
This is the thirteenthentry 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.
By August 13, 2017
This is the eleventh 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.
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.
By August 6, 2017
This is the tenth 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.
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.
By July 30, 2017
This is the ninth 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.
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.
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 14, 2017
Carol Cornwall Madsen, Emmeline B. Wells; An Intimate Biography (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017).
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.
By June 26, 2017
This is the fourth 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.
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.
By June 13, 2017
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)
By May 19, 2017
This summer, Juvenile Instructor is hosting a series on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s new and long-awaited book A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism. (The first two posts of the series can be found here and here.)
Many of you will have already learned the devastating news that the Ulrichs’ son Nathan, died in a plane crash in the Bahamas earlier this week, along with his girlfriend and her two sons. Out of respect for this immense loss, we will be pausing our discussion of Laurel’s book, to be resumed at a later date. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for more information on this hiatus.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, their friends, and loved ones at this time.
By May 14, 2017
Though it’s not in this chapter, If I were to pull a sentence from Ulrich’s book that I feel summarizes her project, it’s this: “Well before plural marriage became a recognized practice in the Church, these women had learned to value bonds of faith over biological or regional connections.” (xv)
When Phebe Carter Woodruff sent her husband Wilford off to serve a mission in the British Isles, she secured a small poem in his luggage. “While onward he his footsteps bend / May he find Mothers, and kind friends,” the lines ran. (38)
By May 7, 2017
This is the first in a series of sixteen posts 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. Check back every Sunday for the week’s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook
“Light snow obscured the view of the mountains on January 13, 1870 as masses of Mormon women crowded in to the old peaked-roof Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. The pine benches were hard, the potbellied stoves inadequate against the cold. No matter. They would warm themselves with indignation.”
So begins Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s latest book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, in which she analyzes the twin growth of the institution of polygamy within the LDS Church and the place of Mormon women in the broader struggle for women’s rights.[i] Many readers, like the newspaper writers that wrote about Mormonism, may be skeptical that plural marriage created and fostered women-centric organizations and social networks. Ulrich acknowledges their skepticism and asks, “How could women simultaneously support a national campaign for political and economic rights while defending marital practices that to most people seemed relentlessly patriarchal?”
By April 4, 2017
At a recent gathering in Cambridge, MA, Richard Bushman introduced Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to her hometown crowd as Mormonism’s most “distinguished and decorated scholar.” Her Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and many other awards speak to her mastery of the historian’s craft in the broader academy. She is not only Mormonism’s most distinguished and decorated scholars, she is one of the most distinguished and decorated scholars alive today. Ulrich’s research and writing abilities made A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 a natural choice for JI’s Third Annual Summer Book Club. Hundreds of readers have followed along with our book club in the past few years—we hope to read with even more of you this summer!
By March 21, 2017
Greg Kofford Books has been publishing a series on the Mormon image in nineteenth and early twentieth century dime novels for a few years now. The series, edited by Ardis Parshall and Michael Austin, provides a smart, scholarly framework in addition to reprinting books that are disappearing every year. WVS has provided an excellent overview of Kofford’s publicity event at By Common Consent, and because we attended the same event and took roughly the same notes, I thought that I would offer some initial thoughts about Greg Kofford Books, Parshall and Austin’s work, and some possible uses for the series in academic work.
By March 14, 2017
Welcome to the last installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series, in which we collectively read Robert Orsi’s HISTORY AND PRESENCE (Harvard, 2016)! This post examines the epilogue and offers thoughts on the book as a whole. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and chapter 7.
“It is a dreadful thing to be in relationship with the gods really present,” Orsi says at the beginning of this book. (5) Certainly, a reading of its seven chapters is enough to convince us of that. They show that the gods can be capricious and deceptive as often as they are redemptive and healing. His believers cling to bags of sacred soil, icons, and relics. They experience the presence of the divine in their lives. And yet Orsi is hardly telling Sunday school stories. The presence of the gods fails people, hurts them, and tears them up, emotionally and physically. And yet those people keep coming, pressing their foreheads against the tombs of the saints, because the gods save them, too.
By March 7, 2017
Welcome to the eighth installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series! We’re taking a look at the seventh chapter of Robert Orsi’s History and Presence, and as Hannah introduced last week, today’s discussion will be on the meaning of abundant evil. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6.
Where chapter six took on the idea of heaven, this chapter deals more with hell. What happens, Orsi asks, when the abundant event believers encounter is an evil one? He uses the stories of men and women who were sexually abused as children to tease out the question of presence and abundance in light of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
By February 21, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the fifth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are the Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, and Chapter 4.
Chapter 5 begins with a ghost story, or more properly, a story that probes the inextricable relationship–ongoing and mutually conscious–between living people and dead people in 20th century Catholicism. At the center of such relationships is the presence of a bloodied, tortured Christ, and all around the edges of this relationship are rituals of grieving, remembering, reconstituting, and “waking” the dead. Orsi’s haunting chapter narrative builds towards his own encounter with one family on the fringes of the “Catholic supernatural underground,” whose bedroom shrine for their deceased young child had become a portal to the world beyond for those who see(k) and served as a lay counseling center for people in search of connection with loved ones both living and dead.