Section

Women’s History

A Love Letter to Mormon Women on the Anniversary of the Relief Society, from a Mormon Historian and Feminist

By March 17, 2015


On this, the anniversary of the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, I come out of a long and silent hibernation from blogging to write this, a love letter, to my Relief Society sisters, for each one of you, whether in the church or out of the church, whether fully active or barely hanging on.

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MSWR

By January 10, 2015


Keep an eye out, now! A small handful of roundup links on matters of interest from the past few weeks…

TLC’s My Husband’s Not Gay

Just when you’d thought we’d exhausted all the angles for a Mormon-related reality series, we now have My Husband’s Not Gay, from TLC (of Sister Wives and My Five Wives fame). Shot in Salt Lake City, My Husband’s Not Gay premieres tonight at 10 ET, and reportedly it revolves around the lives of four LDS men who, despite feeling attraction to men, do not identify as homosexuals. Indeed, three have chosen (presumably on the basis of their religious convictions) to marry women, and the show will trace the conflicts between sexual desire, human identity, and religious conviction.

In anticipation of the premiere, the show has generated a fair bit of controversy. Gay advocates have turned up the heat on TLC, denouncing the show as “downright irresponsible”; “dangerous for LGBT people”; and “damaging for Mormons, especially gay Mormon youth.” A sizable campaign has also been petitioning for the show’s cancellation. TLC, for its part, shrugged off the criticism earlier this week, and the LDS Newsroom struck a moderating tone. On the basis of his critic’s sneak preview, NYT TV critic Neil Genzlinger characterizes the show as classic incendiary reality tv, although he does note “a few interesting and genuine-sounding moments in which the couples or their friends explore the collision of faith and feelings.” Those kinds of enlightening moments, however, he expects to be inevitably “drowned out.”

Other multifarious tidbits:

Peggy Fletcher Stack reports on Ordain Women‘s new photo illustration series envisioning female officiation in priesthood ordinances.

Regional media continue to track the unfurling of the Book of Mormon musical across the country in smaller markets, the responses of Latter-day Saints and the Church’s proselytizing response.

A new (and largely nonplussed) review of Avi Steinberg’s recent “bibliomemoir” The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri.

P.S. To all last-minute applicants for the Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Theology Seminar, 2015, a reminder that Jan. 15 is your day of reckoning.


More Questions from the Mailbag (On Plural Marriage, Joseph Smith’s Youngest Wife)

By December 22, 2014


Welcome back to our series, wherein we answer questions from our readers about plural marriage. Where possible, I’ve linked to all the available sources for readers, so that others can investigate each question more fully, if they wish.

Apologies for the delay in answering questions (finals, life, etc.), but if you have any more questions, feel free to post them in the comments.

For other posts in this series, see

Samuel Brown and Kate Holbrook (Embodiment and Sexuality)

WVS (D&C 132 Questions)

Miscellaneous Questions

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Questions about D&C 132 and Plural Marriage

By October 31, 2014


Today’s post, the latest in our series where we answer questions about plural marriage, is about textual questions related to Doctrine and Covenants 132. Again, we are grateful to those who asked questions, wrote answers, and helped edit and format the post. Thanks especially to WVS, who answered the questions today. WVS has been a long-time bloggernacle denizen, blogging at his solo blog–boaporg.wordpress.com and at bycommonconsent.org. His fascinating multi-part analysis of the textual development of D&C 107 was recently published in Dialogue. He later wrote an in-depth series of posts at BCC on D&C 132, which he is currently expanding into a book.

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One Memorable(?) Event from LDS General Conference History

By October 14, 2014


Earlier this year, Tona wrote an excellent post about the fragility of digital archives following up on Max Mueller’s AHA paper that explored both the possibilities and pitfalls of the “I’m A Mormon” campaign as a primary source.  Tona noted that, “What is available to historians relies largely upon on goodwill, technology upgrades, and the market.”

Within this context, it is fascinating to observe, in real-time, the debate over whether or not the General Women’s Meeting is a session of General Conference.  This controversy includes the editing of a video of a conference session as well as conflicting (and possibly changing) interpretations about the status of the Women’s Meeting from LDS Public Affairs, the Deseret News website as well as lds.org.  While the debate about the status of the Women’s Meeting has been largely framed as a feminist issue, it also raises questions for researchers in tracing changes to historical documents and other sources as well as how ideas get lodged in the imaginations of religious believers. As Tona states,

Things come, go, vanish, launch, in a constant state of (often unannounced) change that nonetheless presents itself as final, unchanging and authoritative… it is a historian’s worst nightmare. If you cannot see the “manuscript edits” so to speak, how do you know what changed, when, how and why? And if the old just vanishes from the online environment without a trace, what happens to the possibilities for historical research? Most of what we are all busily creating in this decade has simply been written in the equivalent of vanishing ink.

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Exponent II Turns Forty

By September 22, 2014


Exponent II's board in 1974 and 2014 (credit: Heather Sundahl)

Exponent II’s board in 1974 and 2014 (credit: Heather Sundahl)


Exponent II began in 1974 in the Cambridge neighborhood of Harvard Square. On its fortieth anniversary, its founders – silver, sassy, and more than a little surprised that what they had wrought was still going strong – returned to one of the neighborhood’s church halls packed with guests to celebrate the organization and its achievements. I was so, so happy to be there, too.

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“Do You Believe In Lady Missionaries?”

By June 5, 2014


Today’s post comes from Matthew McBride who is Web Content Manager with the Church History Department and author of A House for the Most High.

Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints considered proselytizing missions to be the exclusive domain of male priesthood holders. Women participated in tract societies, shared their beliefs with family and friends, and occasionally accompanied their husbands on missions. But these activities were calculated to keep women in proximity to the domestic sphere and were typically viewed as supportive of and secondary to the full-time missionary thrust. This changed in 1898 when women began to be called to serve full-time proselytizing missions, including the first single sister missionaries in the Church’s history.

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Relief Society Handbook: Spotlight on American Gender Norms

By May 29, 2014


Susanna Morrill is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland where she teaches courses in United States religious history. She received her doctorate in the history of religions from the University of Chicago. Her work in the recent past has focused on how early Mormon women used popular literature in order to argue for the theological importance of their roles in the home, community, and church.

I finally got around to reading carefully the latest handbook of the Relief Society, Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society. It got me thinking about the symbolic connection between women and the home in Mormon and American culture. A little further afield, it got me thinking about feminine divinity in Mormonism and U.S. religious traditions and public discourses.

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Hannah Tapfield King, Gendered History, and Class

By May 21, 2014


This image, from British Chartist George Cruikshank in 1840, raises a provocative question: when tracing the origins of Mormon symbology, why not look at the British political debates over class--an atmosphere most of the Q12 experienced in formative years?

This image, from British Chartist George Cruikshank in 1840, raises a provocative question: when tracing the origins of Mormon symbology, why not look at the British political debates over class–an atmosphere most of the Q12 experienced in formative years?

For a historiographical tradition birthed from the New Social History movement, New Mormon History has certainly lacked attention toward the potent topic of class. Sure, it pops up every once and a while—most expectedly from the economic work of Leonard Arrinton, and perhaps least expectedly in Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow’s biography of Parley Pratt—but historians of Mormonism in general have neglected class tensions as the dominant lens through which to view the LDS tradition. There are probably a number of reasons for this, including the lack of theoretical sophistication in most works on Mormon history, the assumption that Mormonism’s emphasis on communalism has shaped our understanding of distinct social classes, the LDS tradition’s emphasis on the equality of the gospel, most participants’ adherence to economic free markets, and perhaps the expectation that few Mormon historians would employ the tools of Marxist criticism.[1] This lack of focus should give us pause, because of at least three general points. First, Mormonism’s message had significant consequences for the temporal realities of its converts. Second, the LDS Church’s constant migration forced particants to create anew social networks and circumstances in several new contexts. And third, as confirmed through political debates year in and year out, notions of class and societal power have a real impact on how individuals live, work, and socialize, a phenomenon that is especially acute for communities that place religious significance on their cultural surroundings. Religious historiography of recent decades has digested these facts, and it is left for historians of Mormonism to catch up.[2]

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Cheese-Frosted Cauliflower and Other Delicacies

By May 19, 2014


Food is really important to Mormon life, and specifically to the life of Mormon women. Women, by long-seated and seemingly immovable cultural tradition in many (most? all?) world cultures, are the preparers and servers of food. This is especially true across many religious communities, not just Mormonism – church suppers grace all Protestant faiths; Catholic feast days and Jewish holidays and Muslim observances (just to name a few) are built around food and have both women and specialized food preparation at their center. Food made and presented by women marks Mormon occasions: births, funerals, baptisms, weddings, potlucks, “linger-longers,” and of course the ubiquitous and generic “refreshments” concluding nearly every Mormon event I have ever attended.

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Questions on Mormon Women answered by “Real Live Mormons” in a Religious Studies Classroom

By May 16, 2014


My contribution fits under the Mormonism in the Classroom and Women’s History Month at JI.

During the spring semester, I took a course entitled “American Religious Innovation.” The course examined Mormonism, the Nation of Islam, and Scientology. Each unit covered the history of each religious movement and focused on different aspects of the religion’s beliefs, which encouraged discussion and comparison. The readings for Mormonism addressed American religious culture in the early 19th century, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, Mormon Christianity, the Mormon community, and modern Mormonism.

At the end of the class’s section on Mormonism, a group of “real live Mormons” were invited to answer the class’s questions.[i] The panel was comprised of a PhD student in History, a worker at UVA’s hospital, a local bishop and his wife, and a set of Mormon elders (one from Southern Utah and one from Taiwan). As might be expected, there were many questions about the role of women in Mormonism and Mormon history.[ii] I’ve included the answers given (if any were addressed on the panel) in italics.[iii]

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“The cheerless, crushed and unwomanly mothers of polygamy”

By May 14, 2014


When we decided to devote a month to women’s history beginning with mother’s day, I thought about how my research about Mormon girls and young women is also very much about hopes for the future mothers of the next generation of Mormon children. It is clear that the changing (both Mormon and non-Mormon) representations and experiences of Mormon women as mothers is an integral aspect of the church’s metamorphosis from being perceived as an outsider religion to becoming patriotic, religious Americans. A question along the lines of “how did Mormon women transition from a group of polygamist wives who fought for women’s suffrage to embodying the model of wholesome stay at home wives and mothers?” has dominated scholarly research about Mormon women’s history.

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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Mormon Women, Patriarchy and Equality

By May 8, 2014


As a professor of history at a predominantly Mormon university, lately I have been a magnet for students with questions about the changes for Mormon women, especially considering the recent public attention to the roles of women in our traditional religious culture.

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“Judah’s Daughters”: A Reflection on Teaching Women in the Old Testament

By April 23, 2014


Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our latest guest blogger, Spencer Wells. Spencer is currently a PhD student in history at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. His is currently beginning work on dissertation project examining pacifists in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. His research in Mormon studies focuses on issues of religious and sexual tolerance. In his spare time Spencer enjoys hiking and making horrendously bad puns. Seriously folks, his puns are legendary. Here he offers his thoughts on his experience teaching a “Women in the Old Testament” Institute course over the past year.

_________________________

Once every four years the LDS Sunday School trots out the Old Testament for the Saints’ perusal and edification. At times, the decision raises hackles. Complaints, of course, vary. Isaiah’s opacity dismays some, Hebraic ritual etherizes others. And theological protests invariably sprout up. As a personal acquaintance argued with me years ago, God’s actions throughout the Old Testament place Him at odds with modern liberal values. Complicit in razing cities, murdering children, and oppressing women, this teenaged Jehovah played the part of a brooding, angst-ridden Hayden Christiansen (think Anakin Skywalker) to near perfection.

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Practicing Charity: Everyday Daughters of God

By March 19, 2014


By Laura Allred Hurtado

On Monday, I attended a lecture celebrating the Relief Society Commemoration given by Sharon Eubank, Director of LDS Charities, sponsored by the Church History Department. Her comments were titled “Matriarchy” and she indexed the many ways Mormon women have historically performed acts of charity and whose legacy of service continue to have influence on the many projects LDS charities executes today, albeit on a much grander scale.

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Spatial Dynamics and Polygamous Burial Practices

By February 26, 2014


Ironically, on Monday I concurred with Amanda that too much work is focused on the history of polygamy and today I am posting about polygamy.  Oh well…

In 1910, Hannah Adeline Hatch Savage recorded the details of the death of her father Lorenzo Hill Hatch in her journal:

My dear father departed this life April 20 1910 at Logan, Utah, had he lived four more day there would have been two months difference between my dear parents death….He is father of twenty four children, twelve sons and twelve daughters, one son having preseded(sic) him to the other side.  He is the husband of four wives who all departed this life before he did.  He is buried in the Logan Cemetary(sic) by the side of his second and third wives.  His first wife died and was buried on the road between Nauvoo and Salt Lake City [1]

lorenzo hill hatch grave II

(Headstones for Lorenzo Hill Hatch and wives Sylvia Savonia Eastman Hatch and Catherine Karren Hatch – Logan City Cemetery)

When I read this passage, I was immediately reminded of an article written by her lyrical great-nephew, Levi Peterson who described her isolated burial place. He wrote,”Hannah Adeline Hatch lies in the red, wind-stirred soil of the Woodruff cemetery…The wilderness was not a fit habitation for Hannah Adeline Hatch. I am desolated by her lonely, barren grave in the Woodruff cemetery.” [2]

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Sewing Machine as Religious Technology?

By January 29, 2014


Recently, while listening to a podcast of the CBC’s Spark, a radio program that explores the intersection of technology and popular culture I was introduced to the work of Jeremy Stolow.  Stolow is a media historian in the Communication Studies Department at Concordia University.  His principal interest is in religion and media and his research investigates the “sometimes counter-intuitive and often paradoxical ways (ancient, modern, and contemporary) religions relate to processes, practices and technologies of mediated communication.” 

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Responses: Susanna Morrill responds to Boyd Petersen’s JMH article

By January 27, 2014


Susanna Morrill is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of White Roses on the Floor of Heaven: Nature and Flower Imagery in Latter-day Saints Women’s Literature, 1880-1920 and several excellent articles. She has previously guest blogged for JI here and here

In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History, Boyd J. Petersen effectively and succinctly describes Mormon women’s dialogic literary conversations about Eve in the Woman’s Exponent: “The speaking of many voices created a carnivalesque atmosphere where language was at once serious and subversive.” [1] This is a really great description of what was going on in Emmeline B. Wells’ Exponent. This periodical gave Mormon women a distinct, authoritative bandwidth within the community to express their views, views that as Petersen notes sometimes “subvert[ed] and sometimes co-opt[ed] the patriarchal gaze that watched over the publication.” [2] Petersen adds much to our understanding of how the present-day understanding of Eve developed as he meticulously chronicles the diversity of interpretations of Eve that appeared on the pages of the Exponent: she was alternately a hero, a goddess, “the hapless and unintentional instigator of the Fall.” [3]

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A Review of Sheri Dew’s “Women and the Priesthood”

By December 23, 2013


Sheri Dew’s recently released Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes (Deseret 2013) comes on the heels of an eventful year for liberal Mormon women. The day(s) of Pants, the petitions for women to pray in conference, and the launching of Ordain Women’s official site, among other events, have provoked widespread discussion on the well-worn but still dimly understood topic of women and the priesthood.

Women and the Priesthood, despite the title, isn’t so much an attempt to answer questions about women’s lack of priesthood authority (ordination), the nature of the priesthood, or the relationship between gender and the priesthood, so much as it is an attempt to discuss women’s general status and participation in the Church. This is important to note, since readers approaching the book with the former questions in mind will most likely be disappointed. Dew dedicates only one chapter to the topic of women and the priesthood, packed between seven other “contextual” or “foundation-laying” chapters, which highlight ways women should understand their eternal role, identity, and relationship to God and the Church.

It is clear early on that Dew’s imagined audience is split between those who think women have no significance in the Church (i.e. uninformed outsiders or members who are missing the picture) and those wishing to defend women’s current position in LDS belief and practice. As a result of this polarization, a considerable population is excluded: active, faithful members who are uneasy with or puzzled about the relationships between women, gender, and the priesthood, as currently practiced or discussed by the Church.

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Guest Post, Lisa Tait, Thinking Generationally

By October 22, 2013


As part of our monthly series Childhood, Children, and Youth, we are very pleased to have a post from Lisa Tait. She has recently joined the staff at the LDS Church History Library as a Historian and Writer, working on projects to expand the Church history web site. She has a PhD in American Literature from the University of Houston and researches late nineteenth/early twentieth century Mormon history, focusing on periodicals, women writers, and generational dynamics. She also serves on the executive committee of the Mormon Women’s History Initiative. In her spare time (which amounts to about ten minutes every other Saturday), she thinks about how much she would enjoy doing some hiking with her dog.

I am going to start with a few opening observations, by way of theory, and then present a case study.

My interest is not so much on childhood or youth specifically as it is on generational dynamics. The classic study on this subject is sociologist Karl Mannheim’s “The Problem of Generations.” Mannheim observes: “Different generations live at the same time. But since experienced time is the only real time, they must all in fact be living in qualitatively quite different subjective eras…. Every moment of time is therefore in reality more than a point-like event—it is a temporal volume having more than one dimension, because it is always experienced by several generations at various stages of development.”[1] Another study builds on Mannheim’s ideas to assert that history must be viewed in terms of “generational constellations”—that is, the “lineup of living generations ordered by phase of life.”[2]  Any given historical moment will be characterized by a particular lineup of generations, and members of those generations will therefore experience, participate in, and react to those events according to their position on that generational spectrum.

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