Later this week bloggers associated with the Juvenile Instructor will assemble at the Mormon History Association annual conference in St. Charles, Missouri (just outside of St. Louis), a yearly highlight for us. Many of us will be participating in the program as presenters, commentators, and chairs. This post summarizes our contributions.
Session 2B: Competing Conceptions of Authority in Mormon Nauvoo
Paper Title: The Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book: A Politics of Personality
Abstract: After the first meeting of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society on March 17, 1842, Secretary Eliza R. Snow copied the words of Joseph Smith into the organization’s official minute book. Smith had instructed the newly elected leaders and members: “Let this Presidency serve as a constitution—all their decisions be considered law; and acted upon as such. If any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart, . . . The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon—your Constitutio[n] and law.”
This “constitution”—the presidency as well as the minutes recorded in the Nauvoo Relief Society minute book—became the establishment, the decree and ordinance, the regulation of Latter-day Saint female association; the record of minutes and the officers themselves, as intimated by Smith at its founding, determined a new, unparalleled course for Mormon women. This record provides a valuable history that is not actually complete. The subtext of the written words and the complex hierarchies of the women in both public and private contexts, indicates much more than the inked letters could ever tell.
The Nauvoo Relief Society minute book provides authenticity and legitimacy regarding membership, political and economic activity, theological discourse, and benevolent efforts. Both the connections and discrepancies of the public record and the private relationships and actions of the women among each other and with the larger public signals additional layers of meaning. Reading between the lines, including connecting private diaries and writings with the timing of the individual Relief Society minutes, reveals valuable information to understand the disruptions, transitions, and politics of personality among Relief Society officers and members as well as their relationships with the male church hierarchy.
Session 2B: Competing Conceptions of Authority in Mormon Nauvoo
Paper Title: The Perils of Protestant Democracy: Mormon and Catholic Conceptions of Democratic Rule in the 1840s
Abstract: America’s democratic experiment was predicated on predominantly Protestant understandings of religion, liberty, and authority. Disestablishment, originally conceived to separate ecclesiastical and civic modes of governance, forced the policing of correct religious expression to the private sphere, as what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority” punished those on the mainstreams of society who refused to assimilate to cultural norms. Recent scholarship has emphasized the ragged and uneven nature of religious liberty in the nineteenth century, though there still remains a need to unearth how these marginal groups responded to the requirements of America’s democratic majority.
This paper focuses on how Mormons and Catholics during the 1840s—perhaps two of the largest challenges to America’s religious order—conceived of countering models of sovereignty and democratic participation. Catholics like Orestes Brownson imagined modes of governance in which citizens coalesced with divine dictates of priestly guidance; Mormon groups like the Council of Fifty inaugurated novel methods of mobilization. Both activities courted violent responses: Catholic churches in Philadelphia were burned in a string of riots just months before Joseph Smith was killed at the hands of a mob. Instigators in both setting defended their actions through appeals to preserving democratic purity. Identifying and contextualizing alternative modes of political and religious sovereignty outside the Protestant mainstream helps flesh out the tale of those on the margins of society who felt the nation’s democratic order had failed. Only by better understanding the angst on the peripheries can we get a better picture of eventual dominance of those in the center.
Session 4D: Mormonism, Gender, Nationhood, and World’s Fairs
Paper Title: Mormon Women, World’s Fairs, and the Politics of Polygamy: From Chicago in 1893 to the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904
Abstract: On June 18, 1893, Augusta Prescott of the Chicago Inter Ocean announced to her readers: “MORMON WOMEN Who Will Take Part in the Fair Congresses ARE NOT POLYGAMISTS.” Reporting on the World’s Congress of Representative Women, Prescott had met with May Wright Sewell, president of the World’s Congress and also a friend of Wells, and asked her to “tell me something new and interesting about the work which is going on in Chicago for the benefit of women.” Sewall chose to single out Mormon women’s presence at the fair: “Have you heard that we are to have Mormon women to take part in all our congresses this summer?”
Between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904, Mormon women experienced a significant transition of self-identity, working toward deemphasizing their polygamist past, and emphasizing a modern, enlightened, and monogamist present and future. As Mormonism in general shifted to a new religious identity focused on Americanness and assimilation, Mormon women sought to define their place within a gendered version of nation and religion. This public self-construction was focused on suffrage activism, progressive reform, and traditional families. For some Mormon women, this boundary shift toward monogamous marriage also marked a new boundary for what it meant to be a “representative” Mormon woman.
The summer of 1904 brought the even more impressive Louisiana Purchase Exposition, or St. Louis World’s Fair; it also brought a new tipping point for Mormon public relations: Reed Smoot faced a highly-contested Senate hearing to determine whether a Mormon elder, associated with plural marriage, could be seated in a national elective body. Mormonism found itself once again trying to shake the legacy of polygamy, this time, once and for all. And Mormon women once again found themselves engaging a national and international world’s fair audience, to prove their place within the American nation. This paper will examine how Mormon women navigated their very public transition out of polygamy at two world’s fairs from 1893 to 1904.
Session 4C: George Q. Cannon and Second-Generation Mormonism: A Roundtable
Paper Title: N/A
Abstract: Robin Jensen will participate in a panel on the insight gained from George Q. Cannon’s journal now being released through the Church Historian’s Press website. Jensen looks to the changes in the way Cannon kept his journals throughout the nineteenth century. The changing format and medium in which he recorded his life’s story offer ways to assess the personality of Cannon, the changing nature of Cannon’s attempt to leave a heritage, and his uses of the past for the present and future.
Session 3G: Crossing and Dwelling in Utah History
Paper Title: Polygamy, Immigration, and the Negotiation of Mormon Ethnicity
Abstract: In 1891, the United States Congress passed an Immigration Act that prevented polygamists from entering the country. Restricting migrants who demonstrated “moral turpitude” supposedly ensured social harmony and promoted American superiority. Subsequent immigration legislation further entrenched this ban to control who could enter the American nation.
This paper traces Mormon involvement with and responses to these legislations throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These responses demonstrate tensions atypical within histories of assimilation, and highlight the Protestant nature of immigration restriction legislation. The 1891 Act tailed the federal government’s efforts at ending polygamy within Utah throughout the 1870s and 1880s. For example, in 1879, secretary of state William M. Evarts sent out a circular urging foreign governments to prevent the emigration of Mormon converts. Evarts’ circular and foreign responses were ineffective and reflect the federal government’s lack of control over immigration. Subsequent legislation and congressional debates identified immigration as a central problem for stopping Utah polygamy, and came to fruition in 1891.
While previous Mormon scholarship identifies the 1891 Act as “anticlimax” to the Mormon Question, this paper instead suggests that 1891 was vitally important for dealing with federal concerns over polygamy and for the creation of a Mormon culture region. Mormon responses through church magazines, newspapers, religious speeches, and immigration experiences themselves highlight divergent responses in rhetoric and practice: while Mormons vocally accepted immigration restriction legislation by the 1920s, they continued to facilitate the safe immigration of their foreign converts through newly created federal border regulation. It was not until the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924 that Mormon missionaries slowed the migration of their converts because of restriction based on ethnic origins.
These actions and attitudes are indicative of a transformation within the Mormon culture region toward whiteness, and reveal a Protestant moral establishment in immigration restriction legislation.
Session 4G: The Visionary Worlds of Nineteenth-Century Mormonism
Paper Title: How Joseph Smith Might Have Come in Contact with Jane Lead’s Writings
Abstract: The similarities between Joseph Smith’s and English prophetess Jane Lead’s (1634-1704) writings are overwhelming, leading to the questions of did Smith come in contact with her writings and how. Though Lead likely influenced visionaries like Emmanuel Swedenborg and Ann Lee, her most devoted disciples (outside of her own movement, the Philadelphians) were the German Brethren also known as the Dunkers. They explicitly followed Lead’s revelation and the Ephrata Cloister, who broke from the Dunkers did as well: the Cloister’s distinctive doctrines like baptism for the dead and Melchizedek priesthood were explicitly discussed in Lead’s revelations.
Yet Ephrata was some distance from New England and though John Brooke sought to establish links, his evidence was minimal (55-58). Yet reinterpreting Brooke’s argument though the lens of Lead’s writings makes his case more suggestive. Brooke noted that missionaries from Ephrata preached to Rogerenes in New London, Connecticut, in 1744 and made an impression there. Brooke then noted that after that time, New Light Separates in the region became more radical, and placed the later New Israelites, whom Joseph Sr. and Oliver Cowdery’s father were rumored to be involved in, as inheritors of that radicalism. Such may have been a pathway through which Lead’s writings passed.
Almost all of Joseph Sr.’s dreams that Lucy recalled has striking parallels in Lead’s writings, Oliver Cowdery made a clear use of Lead’s language in an 1835 letter to W. W. Phelps, and all of the practices and beliefs attributed to the New Israelites can be found in Lead’s writings. Furthermore, the Separates that Brooke noted used Lead’s wording for their most radical ideas including deification and the leader of the New Israelites (Nathaniel Wood) was from a Separate congregation in nearby Norwich, Connecticut.
The remarkable similarities between Smith and Lead suggest influence and Brooke’s pathway is one possible explanation.
Session 4A: Crossing and Maintaining Boundaries: Mormon Women’s Experience in Nineteenth-Century Utah
Paper Title: “Woman, Know Thyself!”: Mormon Women’s Spiritual and Medical Care of the Sick
Abstract: In the wake of several women in Utah obtaining medical degrees in the northeastern United States and subsequently teaching midwifery and hygiene among Latter-day Saint women, I ask how women negotiated between scientific and religious epistemologies of the body. My paper, titled “Woman, Know Thyself”, is about how women understood health and what this knowledge meant during a period of unrest in Utah in the late nineteenth century. I argue that the contested discourse about the body during this period reveals Mormon’s fraught relationship not only with scientific medicine but also the United States.
Session 5A: Faithful Healing: Mormons, the Body, and Health
Paper Title: “We Should Produce a Race of Men”: Gender, Eugenics, and the Making of the Mormon Race
Abstract: Non-Mormons portrayed Mormons as members of a distinct race by comparing them to Native Americans, Africans, Asians, and Middle Easterners throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mormons, though, simultaneously did their best to identify their members as white, fit for inclusion in both racial and religious discourses. Mormons engaged in proto-eugenic thought years before Darwin popularized notions of evolution and decades before Francis Gault coined the term “eugenics.” LDS Church leaders like George Q. Cannon, Parley and Orson Pratt, and others argued that Mormons moved beyond the physical and spiritual fitness of white Americans. They argued that the benefit of their religion’s truthfulness, including the practice of plural marriage, would make their children more than white—superior to whites intellectually, physically, and tacitly, spiritually.
Mormon leaders constructed a definition of super children upon notions of childhood innocence to argue for their religion’s veracity. After all, children, born innocent in Mormon theology, could not have yet claimed a belief in Mormonism to earn their superiority over other Americans. Their genetic makeup, provided by righteous mothers and superior fathers, provided them a physical, mental, and spiritual advantage over other children—through no effort of their own.
Drawing upon sermons, periodicals, and diaries from the late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, I examine the ways that Mormon leaders constructed new forms of masculinity and femininity predicated on obedience to the practice of plural marriage. Obedience to this eternal law, the logic went, allowed for the creation of stronger, faster, and smarter children. Through doing so, I hope to open up new avenues of understanding the theologizing of plural marriage in the LDS community and the construction of gender in the first century of Mormonism.
Friday Evening Plenary: Author Meets Critics, Thomas W. Simpson, American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940
Session 3G: Crossing and Dwelling in Utah History (also chairing)
Session 5A: Faithful Healing: Mormons, the Body, and Health (also chairing)
Session 6B: Permanent Settlement or Pending Migration?: Exploring the Frontier of Mormon Studies (co-commenting with Patrick Mason)
Session 6E: Zion and the City (also chairing)
Session 2G: Mormon Colonialism in the West and Pacific
Session 4C: George Q. Cannon and Second-Generation Mormonism: A Roundtable
Session 5B: Religious Migrants
Session 4B: The Intersectionality of Race, Gender, Sports, and Mormonism
Session 5C: Crossing and Dwelling in Mormon Missouri
JIers on the Program Committee
David G. (co-chair)
Ben P. will be one of the guides for the Nauvoo tour.
Ryan organized an Author Meets Critics panel for Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females. Due to an Ulrich family tragedy, this panel has been canceled.
As the student representative on the MHA board, Joey played a key role behind the scenes assisting the program committee with various items over the past several months.
How many JI readers plan to attend the conference this weekend? What sessions are you anticipating the most? Let us know in the comments.