For years, our hi-fi stereo languished in the attic. But it’s been dusted off and now resides in a place of honor in our teenager’s room, because vinyl is hip again, and suddenly we’re glad we saved our record collection all these years. Recently an LDS friend passed along some records she thought our teen might enjoy spinning, and tucked into the stack was a genuine piece of 1970s Mormon culture, a double album cast recording of the 1977 musical My Turn on Earth. With lyrics by poet Carol Lynn Pearson and music by Lex de Azevedo, My Turn on Earth turned the Plan of Salvation into a modern-day child’s parable tracing one girl’s journey from her preexistence in heaven, through allegorical earth life and back.
Over the past few weeks, a white woman that goes by the name “A Purposeful Wife” (Ayla) has garnered a lot of attention on Twitter and was featured in an article on Buzzfeed for dual loyalties to Mormonism and the Alt-Right Movement (a political movement whose explicit purpose is to create a white, Christian nation). She spends her days spewing Alt-Right messages to her 20,000 followers and thousands more that respond to her. Her alt-right beliefs inform her “white nationalism.” Although she rejects the label of “Nazi,” she subscribes to Nazi race theory. She has issued a “white baby challenge,” encouraging people now considered to be white to bear more children than people of color in order to maintain white supremacy. This cannot be called anything other than a call to eugenics–commonplace rhetoric in the Alt-Right.Ayla has a Mormon.org profile, seemingly written before her adoption of Alt-Right politics [it has been taken down as of 11:40 AM MST, but you can see the profile courtesy of the Wayback Machine].
Despite the unsavory, dangerous, and abhorrent rhetoric, it’s important to know Mormonism’s long history of supporting eugenics—even when they were not considered white or Christian. As Ardis at Keepapitchinin has rightly written, this flies in the face of current Mormon teachings. I applaud the LDS Church’s statement condemning all forms of racism past and present, and join in that call. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the LDS Church condemns its past subscription to eugenics, not only the priesthood and temple restriction or other better-known racist or racial beliefs and practices.
While this post is a very short introduction, I will provide a brief overview of the Mormon embrace of eugenics, explicitly, and implicitly, in terms of race and gender. Mormon eugenics and political history will come in a second installment.[i]
When you live in a place over twenty years, and you come to know people who’ve lived there even longer than you, now and then you stumble over something in what we might call the local archives. Much of both the material and intellectual culture of Mormonism – indeed, of any group through which a thread of commonality can be drawn – never makes it into a formal archival collection. This is true even for old things, which have had more time to make their way out of private trunks, attics, and boxes into museums and historical societies and libraries. Just this week I saw someone on Twitter threatening to make a list of things offered for sale on eBay that, by rights, should belong in a public records office. But I daresay it’s even more true for things from recent history. For starters, no one fully knows which items of the endless detritus of the 20th century deserves preserving, and for seconds, a lot of it is still counted among living people’s prized possessions.
One of those possessions was recently lent to me by a friend. The provenance of this object is probably convoluted, but suffice it to say, it’s from the local archives, and there’s more where this came from. It’s uncatalogued. But it’s a gem, nonetheless.
The object in question is a revised 1973 edition of a book that was first published in 1966. Its author, whose name no doubt is familiar to all our readers, has just released a new book, which arrived crisp and thick in my mailbox this very week. But this is her very first book.
Last night the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center hosted a panel discussion on race and gender in Mormonism. The panel featured talks from Margaret Toscano and Paul Reeve, and was part of Marlin K. Jensen Scholar in Residence Brian Birch’s class, “The Intellectual Life of Mormonism: Reason, Faith, & Science Among the Latter-day Saints.” We tweeted about it here!
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.
[We are pleased to post this book review from Hannah Jung. Hannah lives and works in Boston and will be starting her PhD in History in the fall.]
Eds. Kate Holbrook and Matthew Bowman, Women and Mormonism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016.
During my undergrad there was a mature student who seemed to be in all of my classes about women and religion. This woman had a particular word for whenever we studied examples of women who seemed to be furthering patriarchy. She called them brainwashed. At the time, it was hard for me to articulate why I did not like the label “brainwashed” for women who did not appear to be living life worthy of feminist praise. This task would be taken on by historians much more clever and experienced than I. Indeed, in 2011 Catherine Brekus rocked the Mormon Studies world with her Tanner Lecture “Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency”, which she delivered at the Mormon History Association. Brekus observed that,
Although historians of male leaders had never felt compelled to argue that men’s agency was politically subversive or liberating … historians of overlooked groups – including women, Native Americans, African Americans, and Latina/os – were searching for a ‘usable past’ and so they looked for evidence of individual or collective resistance to a white male hegemony. (p.23)
Welcome to week 2 of this Summer’s Book Club. We’re reading Mormon Enigma, and this week’s post focuses on four chapters: “Gathering in Ohio, 1830-1834,” “‘Seas of Tribulation,’ 1834-1838,” “Strife in Missouri, 1838-1839,” and “Sanctuary in a Swamp, 1839-1841.” For the first two chapters, see Robin’s helpful post for week 1.
The next four chapters of Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippett Avery’s Mormon Enigma focus on Emma Smith’s experience throughout the 1830s. Emma’s life during this time period was marked by transition: she trekked over one thousand miles, lived in at least seven different households (that’s after I started counting), birthed six children (and adopted three more), hosted countless “boarders” who passed through her homes, and earned money from home economics, to trade, to real estate. And she was faithfully married to a religious prophet who polarized nearly everyone he came into contact with. In spite of Emma Smith’s many accomplishments and fortitude, her inner life is hard to get to. Sources are simply scarce, and seeing Emma Smith the individual becomes murky through the refracted and power-laden narratives that constitute Joseph Smith’s history. I read these chapters with these thoughts in mind, and this post will survey and suggest some ways into Emma Smith’s life.
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.
On November 29, 1838, Major General John B. Clark wrote his final report to Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs reviewing the state militia’s recent operations against the Latter-day Saints. “The whole number of Mormons killed through the whole difficulty as far as I can ascertain are about forty and several wounded,” while one non-Mormon had been killed. Verifying Clark’s figure presents a challenge. Although Clark, as the commanding officer overseeing the campaign, was interested in total casualties, neither he nor anyone else in the state government had an incentive to record the names of Mormons who died. It was therefore left to the Saints themselves to document their losses of human life.
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.
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.
This is part two of a three-part series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. For part one, see here. Part three will be posted tomorrow morning.
Isaiah Cummings presents a lesson on “Blacks in the Bible,” Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, September 2011.
The Friends Group arose out of the African American cultural celebration as the brainchild of Brother Lee Cook, a white member of the Durham 1st Ward. Lee grew up in Richmond, Virginia, as a Southern Baptist. He described his younger self as a hippie and college dropout who joined the Air Force, which is where he met missionaries and joined the LDS Church. After moving around with the Air Force and then living for a while in New York, he returned to the South. It was exciting to see all of the changes that had occurred since the Civil Rights movement occurred, he explained. Yet, he noticed that, in many places, there was still that separation—a “wall of partition,” he called it. So he started visiting black churches as part of his own quest to overcome that partition and he became very spiritually impressed (a common Mormon term for inspiration from the Holy Spirit) “that the Lord has a great work for us to do together.” Then he met Christina and after one of the African American cultural celebrations she confided in Lee that, as he remembered her statement (which he shared with her permission), “this is the only day I feel good as a black Latter-day Saint.” So, to remedy that sense of loneliness that she and presumably other black Latter-day Saints in the stake feel throughout the rest of the year, he proposed the organization of a support group—“so instead of once a year—once a month.”
One of my dissertation chapters deals with gender and the family as protectors of religious order, discussing how Mormon discourse contributes to the erasure of women’s voices on a local and institutional level. During my research, I read Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women, edited by Jamie Zvirzdin. It’s a book filled with essays by seasoned writers, and not-so-seasoned writers, traditionalists and progressives alike, and one of the essays that really struck me was “Giselle,” written by the editor herself.
The December 11, 2015 episode of the impeccably crafted history podcast BackStory is worth a listen, on the topic of “American Prophets.” In many ways, it’s a sequel to their “Born Again” episode on the history of American religious revival back in April, continuing the story of charismatic leaders and religious movements forging transformation and innovation in an intense cultural pressure cooker. In “American Prophets,” the hosts explore Neolin (Delaware / pan-Indian), William Seymour (Asuza Street, Pentecostalism), Brigham Young (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) and Elijah Muhammed (Nation of Islam). When added to the earlier episode’s portrayal of the First and Second Great Awakenings, Handsome Lake, Sam Jones, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham, we now have a nice two-hour audio documentary on diverse American new religious movements featuring a stellar cast of religious scholars. 
Nikki Hunter’s beautiful “Sunday Morning” quilt (“The Pants Quilt”) adorns the cover of the new Oxford Press Publication Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. The quilt is accompanied by this note: “On December 16, 2012, Mormon feminists around the world took action to raise the visibility of feminist issues by wearing pants to local LDS Church Services….Although not officially prohibited, pants-wearing by women at Sunday services jarred with deeply held gendered dress customs in many Mormon communities around the globe.” (xi) Women who participated sent their trousers to Hunter, who created a material sign of their community. The front cover encourages us to begin to think about Mormon feminism in terms of female identity, activism, and the place of community on a global scale.
The Tanner Humanities Center has made the videos for the Black, White, and Mormon Conference available. The conference, held at the University of Utah on October 8-9, 2015, was an incredible experience for me as a participant. I would love to see more opportunities, funding, and venues dedicated to this type of public engagement.
The McMurrin Lecture by Lester Bush:
A Commemoration for Those Who Have Died
Race and the Inner City
Race and Mormon Women
Race and the International Church
Race and Brigham Young University
Race at the Ward Level
VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO THE EVENT’S CO-SPONSORS
George S. & Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation | Greg Prince | Jess Hurtado | Smith-Pettit Foundation | Anonymous | DESB Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative (Utah) | Charles Redd Center (BYU) | College of Humanities (BYU) | Laurel Thatcher-Ulrich | Utah Valley University | Department of History (Utah) | University of Utah Press
Christine Talbot is the author of A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013). We are delighted that she agreed to an interview with the JI about this important new book. Christine is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Northern Colorado.
Yours is the latest entry in a number of books on polygamy in the Utah territory. What makes yours distinct from, say, Sarah Barringer Gordon’s, or Kathryn Daynes’s?
I think my work builds on the previous work of Sarah Barringer Gordon, Kathryn Daynes, Terryl Givens, and others by bringing in a cultural perspective, especially in terms of anti-Mormon rhetoric. Cultural history led me to different conclusions about the nature of the Mormon question. A cultural history allows us to see what I think is one of the central roots of the Mormon question, issues of American national identity and citizenship. These issues were profoundly gendered in nineteenth century America; citizenship was built on the idea of a masculine public sphere where citizenship was enacted, juxtaposed to a feminine private sphere in the home where future citizens were trained. (However, married women’s property acts and the woman suffrage movement provided ample ammunition to contest the masculinity of citizenship). My book shows that the practice of polygamy upset the historical distinction between public and private in ways that many Americans found troubling precisely because it is a distinction that never held in the first place. Plural marriage denaturalized and deconstructed the distinction between public and private that upheld American ideals of citizenship. That, I think, is one of the things about plural marriage that so upset other Americans.
Having spent so much timewith polygamy, what do you think are remaining areas that are worth exploring in relation to it?
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 Garceauat <email@example.com> (901-484-1837)
Matt Grow’s contribution to the Journal of Mormon History 50th anniversary issue takes as its subject the place of biography in Mormon Studies. As the author (or co-author) of two significant biographies in the field, Grow is well positioned to assess the state of Mormon biographical writing.
In short, Grow believes that “the genre of Mormon biography has answered many of [the] rallying cries” of the New Mormon History’s call for “engage[ment] with larger historical themes” and “greater attention to women, race, ordinary Saints, the twentieth century, and international Mormons” (185), pointing to the spate of biographies produced in the last three decades on Mormon leaders (of both the Latter-day Saint and Latter Day Saint variety), dissenters, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. “There is much to celebrate in in the outpouring of scholarly biographies in the past few decades,” he concludes (196). Nevertheless, work remains to be done, and that work mirrors the shortcomings of Mormon history more generally: “More biographies of women, twentieth century, and international Mormons are particularly needed to advance the field” (196).