I live a little over 4000 km from Jonathan Stapley which brings some unique challenges to researching and writing together. Once we had compiled hundreds of healing accounts, they were arranged in a document chronologically. We read through them separately, made notes and then had a couple of marathon phone calls to discuss our findings. During one phone conversation, we discovered multiple appearances of two healers who seemed to work together. Several references to a Sister Piper/Pyper and a Brother Patison/Patterson piqued our interest and led to deeper research into their stories. No familial connection was obvious – Christiana was married to Alexander Pyper and the mother of George D. Pyper who among other things managed the Salt Lake Theatre, was the leading tenor in the Salt Lake Opera Company and the editor of The Juvenile Instructor. Alvus Patterson had four wives, however he did have a daughter named Christiana. They received their patriarchal blessings from the same patriarch on the same day in February 1888.
We were excited to discover that Christiana had a diary that was listed in the register of the George D. Pyper manuscript collection at the University of Utah, but then disappointed that the diary couldn’t be found and the general consensus was that the old inventory was incorrect. A diary was reviewed and it was determined to be George D. Pyper’s. On a research trip to Salt Lake City, I spent some time in the Special Collections section of the Marriott Library and decided to read through George Pyper’s diary to see if I could glean any insights into his mother. It seemed that George was also a healer and that he sometimes administered with Brother Patterson as well. He recorded the completion of temple work for female relatives which in retrospect should have seemed odd, but as I knew this was a man’s diary, I chalked it up to having submitted names to be completed by female ordinance workers. The item that jolted me out of framing these events through the eyes of George Pyper was an entry deep in the diary about receiving a dress as a birthday gift. I checked the date and went to Family Search and entered the name Christiana Dollinger Pyper. Sure enough – the dates matched. The diarist was Christiana Pyper! Re-reading the entries a second time – knowing the true author and looking at the document through a different “lens” – changed my perspective. It also corroborated other diarists’ accounts, happily revealed a full listing of her administrations to the sick in 1888 and 1891 and provided many insights into the culture of collaborative healing. (1)
Finding Christiana Pyper’s diary underscored the idea of the paradigm shift. As I have written elsewhere, when I began the study of women’s history, the idea of “separate spheres” or a separate women’s culture was the dominant paradigm of historical interpretation. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s groundbreaking article, “The Female World of Love and Ritual” as well as Barbara Welter’s work on the “Cult of True Womanhood” and the feminization of religion set the tone for a generation of historians who focused upon the unique bonds between women and the distinctive world they created and inhabited. Studying the participation of men and women together in healing rituals seemed to subvert the idea of separate spheres (see here) and I wondered about a new framework for interpreting women’s history. Rachel Cope’s excellent dissertation underscores this point. She states:
Although women and men both had spiritual experiences and became engaged in the conversion process, important aspects of the revival story are distinctly female, not because nineteenth century-religion was feminized, but because religious experiences thrust women into a world where they could escape the expectations of “true womanhood,” “separate spheres,” “feminization” and “sentimentality.” (2)
While part of the work of Mormon women’s history is simply unearthing untold stories, it is clear that a new interpretive framework needs to be developed. Scholars of American women’s religious history have already begun this work, but the study of Mormon women – who Cope points out were religious “outsiders” – will also require its own unique reading while being grounded in American history. A distinctive system of marriage, ritual participation and theology shaped Mormon women in the past. By placing their voices in the centre, instead of on the margins of history, new interpretations of the past will be developed and shed new light on the whole, just as the diary of Christiana Pyper did.
Kris Wright has a M.A. in History from The University of Western Ontario. She has co-authored three articles with Jonathan Stapley on Mormon healing rituals. The most recent, an article on female ritual healing, is available online.
- Christiana D. Pyper, Accounts of Administration to the Sick, 1888 and 1891, manuscript, George D. Pyper Papers, MS 1, Bx 2, Fd 19, Special Collections, Marriott Library; Christiana D. Pyper, Diary, 1886-1889, November 9 and 10, 1888, George D. Pyper Papers, MS 1 Bx 6, Fd 1, Special Collections, Marriott Library
- Cope, Rachel, ‘In Some Places a Few Drops and Other Places a Plentiful Shower’: The Religious Impact of Revivalism on Early-Nineteenth-Century New York Women,” (Doctoral Dissertation, Syracuse University, 2009), p. 12-13.