My ghetto isn’t a slum; I’m quite comfortable here. My ghetto has lovely wallpaper, good hot (chocolate) drinks, and great stories. Really amazing stories. But it is separate.
Tona has given us a great review of Volume 2 of Women of Faith here. I think that Women of Faith is a fantastic contribution in which I have thankfully had the opportunity to participate. I do not want to take away from that. At the same time I wonder how long LDS women’s narratives will remain just here separate and apart—in the ghetto of women’s history.
Women of Faith continues the biographical standard for Mormon women’s history started by Edward Tullidge in his classic 1877 The Women of Mormondom and spread to the four corners (of at least Utah) by the voluminous publications of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. We may malign Kate Carter and her possible document burning ways, but during her 35-year tenure as president of the DUP she compiled, sometimes authored, but always published women’s history prolifically. (If her Wikipedia publications list is right, her list of publications is unrivaled within Mormon history.) We certainly wish her methodology was a bit more rigorous (o that she had cited or even included primary sources), but hers is a very important part of this tradition.
Tona’s Mormon Women’s History reading list demonstrates the continuation of this tradition of biography—particularly those publications written for a general audience. There is much to be said for the need for compensatory history and there is still much compensatory history to be done for Mormon women. Women of Faith certainly fits and flourishes there. And though biography is often the much-maligned stepchild of history (at least among academics), its potential profitability is indisputable.
Women of Faith is a momentous stride, but I wonder how Mormon women will be completely incorporated into the larger narrative of LDS Church History if their main source for Mormon women’s history is biographical narrative histories? When will Mormon women play a greater role in the complete narrative of the Restoration?
The straight biographical form is great to learn about the women of the Restoration, but not easily incorporated into the larger narrative of church history. I would love it if Gospel Doctrine teachers, early morning seminary teachers, Relief Society teachers, Priesthood quorum teachers, and CES personnel across the globe were reading Women of Faith. Not to mention Young Men and Young Women’s advisors. Yet even were that the (very unlikely) case, readers would have to scour each volume for a tidbit here and a morsel there that might work into their Sunday School, Seminary, Relief Society, Priesthood quorum lesson, or Institute class. The same could be said for other sources that focus on biography. Though I wish people would take that time to look for sources that better round out the narrative, hoping that that they will consistently do it for themselves is merely a pipe dream. And really, that is the job of a historian.
When I cracked open my copy of Rough Stone Rolling for the first time and read Richard Bushman’s prologue, I began to understand the almost hackneyed Josiah Quincy quote about Joseph Smith as I better understood the context. As the prologue continued, Bushman argues that Quincy was so wrapped up in the personality of Smith that he could not see Joseph as did Joseph’s followers, as a prophet. I then read the words written by an early convert, Phebe Crosby Peck, to her sister, “Did you know of the things of God and could you receive the blessings that I have from the hand of the Lord you would not think it a hardship to come here for the Lord is revealing the misteries of the heavenly Kingdom unto his Children.” It was a poignant moment for me because I knew someone had not only read something that I published, but they thought it significant enough to quote it.
As I think upon it now, I recognize the calculated choice that was the inclusion of Phebe’s words. Bushman doesn’t even call her by name, it is only the inclusion of the pronoun “her” that tips us off to the gender of the source. Bushman could have more easily found a quote from male LDS Church leadership that would have reflected essentially the same sentiment. But not only male LDS Church leadership believed Joseph a prophet, “approximately half the people in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been women.” This seemingly tiny thing becomes weighty in context. Including Phebe reminds the reader of experience of this other half, juxtaposes nicely with “The Great” Josiah Quincy, and in the process produces a more balanced representation of the past.
It takes time and effort to conceive of a more complete and whole narrative of LDS history. Academics have begun the process of a more inclusive understanding, but when will that narrative be more accessible to not only academics, but LDS Church membership as a whole?
I hope that CES instructors reading Women of Faith will take the time and effort to find sources and rework how they teach the narrative of church history, yet I know how much time it takes to rework lesson plans. If someone whose career is devoted to Restoration doesn’t have the time (even when The Religious Educator pleads with them here), how much less likely is it that your local ward Gospel Doctrine teacher, struggling to learn the basics of the narrative, will incorporate women’s voices–no matter how enthusiastic they may be? Until there begin to be popular LDS sources and church curriculum that incorporate women’s voices into the larger story of the Restoration, LDS women’s history will remain in the ghetto rather than taking the equal place it deserves in the narrative of the Restoration. I suppose I’m impatient waiting in my ghetto—as much as I like the stories.