Today, I am going to be attending the Community of Scholars program, sponsored by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. Each year, the institute accepts a dozen or so students from across the university into a seminar to discuss the ways in which sexuality, gender, and race intersect in their work. My friends and I sometimes refer to it as feminist boot camp. The competition for acceptance into the seminar can be intense, especially for those students whose work is in fields that typically privilege gender as a category of analysis. A few months ago, Brittany Chapman and I were bemoaning the absence of a similar space for people interested in gender to discuss their work in Mormon Studies. Although female historians like Claudia Bushman, Jill Mulvay Derr, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher began the process of unearthing a woman’s Mormon history decades ago, relatively little has been published in the field. Knowledge about the everyday lives of Mormon women – the rituals surrounding childbirth, the difficulty in securing food and shelter during their husbands’ absences as missionaries, the development of bonds between sister wives and children, the inspection of homes through Retrenchment Societies, and the ways in which they maintained contact with their families in the East, Great Britain, Scandinavia, and the Pacific – remains fragmentary at best. In addition to the lack of female subjects, there is a corresponding lack of female models. I have been lucky to have many female friends within Mormon history. Rachel Cope, Brittany Chapman, Andrea Radke-Moss, and Elizabeth Pinborough, especially, have been excellent interlocutors and companions, but many women find it difficult to find female friends and mentors who can help them navigate the difficulties of being a woman in Mormon history. In order to facilitate research on gender and help women find companionship and mentoring within the field of Mormon history, Brittany and I have decided to start a reading group focused on women’s history at the Mormon History Association. It will meet annually at the same time as the annual conference and should offer an informal, supportive space for the discussion of women and Mormon history. To facilitate conversation, we will read a book each year – this year will it will be The Salt Lake City 14th Ward Album Quilt, 1857 by Carol Holindrake Nielson along with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s fabulous companion article “An American Album.” Brittany and I will also bring along herbal tea, non-caffeinated soda, and cupcakes. Although this group will be about privileging the voices of women, especially those who are at the beginning of their careers and have yet to develop an academic voice, we would like to encourage anyone interested in gender studies and women’s history to attend, just check your patriarchal privilege at the door. Here’s the information for this year’s reading group:
Ladies’ Tea and Book Discussion Group
Saturday, June 30th, 2012
Location: TBD, 9 p.m.
Book: Carol Holindrake Nielson, The Salt Lake City 14th Ward Album Quilt, 1857 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2004) Article: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “An American Album,” AHA Presidential Address. Available: http://www.historians.org/info/AHA_History/ulrich.cfm If you are planning on attending, please e-mail us at email@example.com, so that we can make sure to have enough food for everyone.
Note: The picture is of Mary Isabella Horne (1818 – 1905), President of the Retrenchment Society, Treasurer of the Relief Society, and Counselor of the Deseret Silk Association.