Section

Book and Journal Reviews

Author’s Response: Mueller’s *Race and the Making of the Mormon People*

By April 5, 2018


Below is Max Perry Mueller’s response to JI’s roundtable on his book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People.

Thanks to the JI crew, especially to Jessica Nelson, Ryan T, and J Stuart for their thoughtful comments on my book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People. It’s a great honor and an immense pleasure to interact with readers who have read one’s work so deeply and carefully.

Each of the roundtable’s comments/critiques focuses on one or both of two of the major interventions of my book: the first is to theorize “whiteness” and “race” more broadly; the second is to theorize the “archive.” And my response—or, better put, self-critique—is to remind us (me!) not to think too literally about race or the archive. That is, the book tries (intentionally) to have it both ways: that race and the archive are “real”—as in literal, tangible things and/or experiences—as well as “metaphors”—as in literary signifiers of signified (imagined/constructed) things.

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Roundtable: Stuart on Mueller’s *Race and the Making of the Mormon People*

By March 28, 2018


You can read the first and second posts in this roundtable HERE and HERE.

Max Mueller should be commended for his analysis of race and the creation of the Latter-day Saint “archive” in Race and the Making of the Mormon People. Mueller takes the Book of Mormon seriously and considers texts that aren’t considered within broader methodological arguments about the LDS Church’s creation of race in the nineteenth century. I think that Mueller’s attention to patriarchal blessings is worth highlighting (which I do below); I also think that his use of literary methodologies opens new avenues for research in Mormon history. Mueller’s book is the first monograph to engage Mormonism’s race-making project(s) through the interdisciplinary lenses of religious studies. Race and the Making of the Mormon People will occupy a central place in the part conversation surrounding Mormonism and race for the foreseeable future.

Mueller analyzes several patriarchal blessings in Race and the Making of the Mormon People, particularly an African American woman named Jane Manning James’ two blessings.[i] He rightly tries to get into James’ mind as well as the mind of the patriarchs that bestowed those blessings on her head. While Mueller’s book is not a study of “lived religion,” he presents plausible readings of the blessing for both James and suggests how these documents helped place James squarely within the “Mormon archive.” He persuasively argues that James may have seen herself as an heir of what Mueller calls “white universalism,” meaning that everyone’s default pigmentation is white and that she had claim to the highest liturgical practices of Mormonism. Mueller’s innovative inclusion of patriarchal blessings should be taken up by others. I’m not aware of any other sources that offer as much potential for simultaneously presenting the leadership’s and the laity’s understanding of race from the same document.

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Roundtable: Nelson on *Race and the Making of the Mormon People*

By March 26, 2018


This is the first of three posts on Max Perry Mueller’s Race and the Making of the Mormon People. Today’s post comes from Jessica Nelson, who recently completed an MS in history at Utah State University. She is interested in race and Mormonism in the twentieth century and loves riding her stationary bike. 

Max Perry Mueller’s book Race and the Making of the Mormon People actively and deliberately engages with the Book of Mormon. This is significant, and I hope that other scholars will follow suit and take the words of the Book of Mormon—along with its 19th century context and what it represents to Mormonism—seriously in their work. Mueller rightly demonstrates that the Book of Mormon’s stories of racial lineages are critically important to understanding racial constructs in early Mormonism.

Readers familiar with the Book of Mormon will be able to recognize that Mueller carefully read Mormonism’s foundational text. After finishing Mueller’s conclusion, however, I am left wondering how useful textual analysis and literary criticisms of the Book of Mormon are to fully understand race in nineteenth-century Mormonism. How central are Mormon scriptures to Mormon conceptions of racial otherness and whiteness? Can the Nephites as “white” people within the Book of Mormon be problematized any more than the simplistic way that Mueller references them? Did nineteenth-century white Mormons even think of the Nephites as “white” like they were? The Book of Mormon is inherently problematic as primary source material, but evaluating Mueller’s claims begs further examination of scripture and the characters in it.

 

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Roundtable: Liturgy and Practice in Stapley’s *Power of Godliness*

By March 23, 2018


In reflections earlier in the week, J Johnson and J Stuart offered thoughts on how Jonathan Stapley’s excellent new book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, models the kind of attentiveness to “lived theology” that some scholars have called for, and which has been characterized as part of the analytical school of “lived religion.” This is not the theology of the elites, but rather, as Robert Orsi put it, the “theology of the streets”: vernacular meaning-making and ”cultural bricolage” performed by ordinary people [1]. It is colored by the vicissitudes of ordinary life and, while informed by the pronouncements of religious authority figures, it is not bounded by them. This is experiential theology, and it matches with the premium valued place by the “lived religion” approach upon experience. Johnson and Stuart are quite right; Stapley has, in his deployment of “cosmology,” certainly succeeded in his aspiration to ”[open] new possibilities for understanding the lived experiences of women and men in the Mormon past and Mormon present” (pg. 2).  In this reflection, however, I offer a few thoughts not (or at least not directly) on “cosmology” or theology, but on the other major category of Stapley’s book, “liturgy,” and on how The Power of Godliness relates to the study of religious practice in Mormon history and in American religious history more generally.

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Roundtable on Stapley, Power of Godliness: The Cultural Context(s) for Mormonism’s Priesthood

By March 22, 2018


[This is the fourth in our week-long roundtable on Jonathan Stapley’s The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Oxford University Press). You should make sure to read Tona’s post here, Joey’s post here and Janiece’s here. Building on their excellent reviews, I’d like to focus my remarks on a couple questions Stapley’s book raised.]

Modern Mormon discourse often revolves around the priesthood. Does the LDS Church’s conception of the priesthood lead to too much of a hierarchical organization? Does it inevitably result in abuses of power? Does it make gender equality impossible?

Jonathan Stapley’s new book does not seek to answer these questions. He makes it clear in the introduction that he wishes to steer clear of the political implications of Mormonism’s priesthood tradition. But what he does is destabilize the very conception of the “priesthood” itself. For the church’s first century, early Mormons believed in what Stapley calls a “cosmological priesthood,” a heavenly network that bound individuals together in order to form a communal salvific unit. Mormons were, quite explicitly, creating the celestial kingdom, and the priesthood served as ligaments holding everything together. But starting during the progressive era, members of the faith shifted toward an ecclesiastical framework for understanding the priesthood, a paradigm that focused entirely on ecclesiastical offices held by men. That shift eventually led to the Mormonism of today.

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Roundtable: Stuart on *The Power of Godliness*

By March 20, 2018


Jonathan Stapley’s The Power of Godliness is a landmark for Mormon Studies. There are precious few academic, peer-reviewed publications that succinctly and accessibly explain the development of Mormonism’s definitions of priesthood and liturgical practices. While there are certain rough edges that could be smoothed out, it’s altogether remarkable that Stapley produced this book. It’s even more astounding that he wrote the book while working in the private sector, without summers for research or other designated “work” times that many academic need to produce scholarship.

I’d like to focus on two aspects of Stapley’s work that I think are worth emulating in future work in Mormon Studies. First, I consider how Stapley’s work “does” theology in an academically viable way. Second, I reflect on Stapley’s use of religious studies methodologies throughout his manuscript.

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Book Review: The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Oxford, 2018)

By March 19, 2018


As Joan Scott said, “Those who would codify the meaning of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history.” [1] Jonathan Stapley’s important new book, Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology explores the history of priesthood, one of Mormonism’s most fractious and fertile ideas, a word that contains worlds of complex meaning and diversity of lived practice about sacred authority and divine power. His work does so primarily by cleaving elements of Mormon priesthood into two general categories, which have too often become conflated in contemporary Mormon discourse and history: cosmology and ecclesiology [2]. Both deserve closer examination if we are to understand just what makes this book so significant and refreshing.

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Book Review: Terryl Givens, Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis (Oxford, 2017)

By March 12, 2018


With Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis, published with Oxford last year, Terryl Givens has brought us the second installment in his magisterial and systematic treatment of Mormon theology. It follows on the heels of Wrestling the Angel, issued from the same press in 2014. That book explored what Givens designated as the global themes of Mormon thought—history, theology, and “restoration”—as well as core elements of its Christian theology—its cosmology, its theology proper (that is, its conceptions of the divine), and its theological anthropology. This second volume (which, like the previous one, weighs in at over four hundred pages) has a different and narrower scope: it is devoted almost entirely, as Givens acknowledges, to ecclesiology—to Mormon teachings about the church, its activities, and the theological structures which undergird them. Suffice it to say, as an opening, that Feeding the Flock offers the ambitious, expansive, visionary style that we’ve come to expect from Givens. It is a well-wrought, elegantly gathered work. As he did in Wrestling the Angel, Givens once again sets an entirely new standard for the study of Mormonism’s theological foundations. And he sets the bar high.

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Book Review: When Religion, Race, and Sport Collide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)

By March 4, 2018


We are pleased to post this review from Craig Yugawa, a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow Craig on Twitter

Darron T. Smith’s When Race, Religion and Sport Collide: Black Athletes at BYU and Beyond is a skillful recounting of the tenuous status black college athletes face in the larger American context, especially those at “Predominantly White Institutions” (PWIs). While covering athletics in America more broadly, Smith uses BYU’s unique institutional and racial history as a lens to focus on the societal and cultural barriers commonly faced by black athletes who repeatedly face “objectification of their bodies, [while at the same time] leav[ing] the ivy tower battered, bruised, and empty-handed” (148). This timely work is a compelling narrative which weaves together easily understood personal anecdotes; high level social science, medical, and humanities research; and theological summary to flesh out the complicated relationship between the LDS church and the athletes of color at its flagship university.

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2017 in Retrospect: An Overview of Recent Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 4, 2017


Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found hereherehereherehereherehere, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevant. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.

The Instant Classic

Readers of this blog should already be familiar with Ulrich’s new book. (And hopefully everyone has already read our summer book club devoted to the masterpiece.) If you’re interested in my take, my review is found in Dialogue. In short: it’s perhaps the most significant book in Mormon studies since Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, and perhaps surpasses even that. Make sure to read the roundtable devoted to Ulrich in the most recent issue of Mormon Studies Review; and while you’re there, make sure to subscribe to the field’s best review journal.

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Review: Östman on Allen, Danish, But Not Lutheran

By November 30, 2017


We are pleased to post this book review by friend of the JI Kim Östman, who has researched and written extensively on Mormonism in the northern-European country of Finland. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative religion from Åbo Akademi University (2011) and a D.Sc. in microelectronics from Helsinki University of Technology (2014), and works as a Senior R&D Engineer with Nordic Semiconductor.

Dr. Östman’s research on nineteenth-century Mormonism in Finland was published as a doctoral dissertation by Åbo Akademi University Press. It discusses how Mormonism was viewed in Finnish print media, by local civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and what kind of results the LDS church’s Swedish-led missionary efforts in perilous legal conditions led to. A co-founder of the European Mormon Studies Association (EMSA), he is continuing his Mormon history research into early twentieth-century Finland and Sweden on his free time, as a post-doctoral scholar affiliated with Åbo Akademi University.

Julie K. Allen: Danish but Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850–1920. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017, 288pp.

Scandinavians are overwhelmingly Lutheran to this day, although religiosity has tended to give way to “believing in belonging” during the past centuries. Their national churches are still seen as custodians of culturally significant rites of passage, bringing people together at life’s critical junctures. As Prof. Julie Allen explains in her study of Mormonism’s impact on Danish culture and identity, Denmark was the first Nordic nation to officially decouple citizenship from Lutheranism. Being a Dane had meant being Lutheran, but the new 1849 constitution separated the two identities by legalizing the activity of new religious movements while retaining the privileged position of the state church. This leap in religious freedom was preceded by for example Baptist activity in the kingdom.

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Review: Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (University of North Carolina, 2017)

By November 27, 2017


On the surface, Max Perry Mueller’s book is, like several other recent works, a study of the shifting racialist ideas in nineteenth century Mormonism. Like those books, Mueller argues that early Mormonism is a particularly useful illustration of the fluidity of race, particularly in the early decades of the United States. When, as Mueller argues, white Americans began in the nineteenth century to understand “race as (secular) biology,” (12) they began arguing that those characteristics they used to classify and label “races” were organic, functions of one’s biological makeup, and though these characteristics extended from the merely physical (like skin color) to issues of intellect and temperament, most people determined them to be inborn and hence immutable.

 

The Mormons, Mueller argues, were different, in two ways.

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Review: The Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832-1877

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.


Scholarly Inquiry: A Conversation with Stephen C. Taysom, II

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.

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JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females Chapter 15

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?

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JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females Chapter 14

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.


JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females Chapter 13

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.

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JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females Chapter 11

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.


JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females, Chapter 10

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.

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JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females, Chapter 9

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. 

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