Mormon-themed Aphrodisiacs, Part 2 of 4: Market Penetration

By September 22, 2013

Note: this post discusses sexual activity in general and erectile dysfunction in particular, though mostly with nineteenth-century language.

Two weeks ago I discussed the “Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafer,” a late-nineteenth-century sexual cure-all for males and females. The wafer was not alone. “Mormon Bishop Pills” and “Brigham Young Tablets” also did their parts for the health and happiness of humanity—though I imagine they did more enriching of peddlers than anything strictly physiological. In this post I will argue that Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs were not one-off gags that popped up in a few times or places but were, in fact, a persistent instantiation of a stereotype of hyper-sexual Mormons. [1]

Assertions in print that Mormons used chemical aphrodisiacs appeared for sure by 1884 and possibly as early as 1881, with advertisements for Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers by at least 1885. [2] Mentions of the Wafers are pretty easy to find from the 1880s and 1890s. Mormon Bishop Pills appeared in the late 1890s and lasted a few years. I find catalog entries for the Wafers in 1906-8 and 1911-1912; Bishop Pills and Elders’ Wafers appeared in the same catalog in 1906. [3] Brigham Young Tablets didn’t come on the scene until the 1930s, it seems, but, ignoring them, there were still, at a minimum, three decades of frequently-advertized Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs, with lesser mentions over five decades.

The Mormon motif wasn’t just spread out in time; the Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafer proprietor, one Franklin Bosworth Crouch, seems to have marketed it diligently throughout the Euro-American world. The earliest advertisement for the wafers in my notes comes from a Canadian journal. [4] Crouch registered the trademark for Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers in Brussels in 1888 and Vienna in 1889. [5] In both cases Crouch is identified as being from London. An 1882 circular lists offices in Paris, London, and New York, as well as “Wholesale Druggists” in the UK and “all Wholesale and Retail Druggists” in the US. [6] Mormons and damiana were mentioned briefly in two French pharmaceutical journals in 1884 in the context of aphrodisiac drugs (summarizing an American report). [7] Mormons were again mentioned in an 1891 French textbook (citing the same report as before) as well as a review of the textbook. [8] In the US, one of Crouch’s 1888 advertisements listed dealers in nineteen cities. [9]

In addition to Crouch’s advertizing claims, an 1894 editorial against a pill manufacturer asserted that the company made “such goods as The Mormon Elder Damiana Wafers, Mother Siegel’s Curative Syrup, Dr. Campbell’s Arsenic Wafers, any number of the patent pills, orders for which are frequently taken for 1,000,000 or more….” [10] Besides the alleged size of the orders, note that the five items identified by name are a tiny sampling of the thousands of patent medicines available at the time. [11] I take inclusion in such a list as evidence of market prominence or marketing success: either the frequency with which the list maker encountered the product or the tenacity with which it embedded itself in the author’s memory, and what was true for the author was probably true for others. Another 1894 editorial illustrates the process when it criticized a new drug and “the fairy tale of its wonderful powers” as

entering a field previously occupied by ‘The Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers,’ ‘Wilcox’s Chichester Pills,’ and other nostrums of that peculiarly nauseous class, which is doubtless profitable enough to such persons as do not value their self-respect too highly. [12]

Mormon Bishop Pills probably “take the cake” in this regard, however, in that they drew the attention of one LF Kebler, who included them in his article “Nostrums and Fraudulent Methods of Exploitation” (1908). [13] The Bishop Pills were further singled out by a committee (citing Kebler) of the US federal government’s “President’s Homes Commission,” also in 1908. [14] Most importantly, the Post Office Department suspected Mormon Bishop Pills of possibly fraudulent claims and referred them for chemical testing, which subsequently (1904) revealed them to a committee of the US Senate as “undoubtedly valueless for the purpose designated.” [15]

Another reason for thinking that Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs achieved market success is the number of explicit detractors. “Mormon Elder” drugs appeared, with disapprobation of such “rascally things,” in textbooks in 1887 (along with a review) and 1905. [16] The famous pharmacist Friedrich Hoffman used Wafer advertisements as an example of “the most absurd and vulgar illustrated ads” in a German-language editorial published in New York (1887). [17] A Boston journal took aim at the wafer marketing in 1889 and a New York editorialist spent five-hundred words on it in 1891.* [18] An 1899 editorial treated the wafers snidely:

The celebrated “mormon elder tablets,” I believe, were in part of damiana. The happy conception to which they owed their name, perhaps, added more to their ready sale and commercial value than the presence of actual merit. [19]

An 1891 editorial lamented that an “unfortunate man” suffering from impotence who might have “good reason to hope for a cure” from a physician, was instead

more likely to fall into the hands of wretches of the Mormon Elder Damiana Wafer stripe. Who can tell how many men have been ruined, body and soul, by that nostrum! [20]

Sometimes Mormons just showed up: in a recipe, allegedly matching the Wafers (1904) [21] or in a filler joke in a medical journal: “The style of skirt now worn might be called the ‘Aphrodisiac.’ Whatever be the intention, the effect is more pronounced than a mormon wafer.” [22] Twenty years later, the wafers appeared in a self-consciously prurient novel, Painted Veils, by James Huneker included an anecdote in which a “rejuvenated old goat bounded over the sidewalk, his blood tingling with the passion of youth and Damiana Mormon Elder’s Wafers” to visit a mistress. [23]

So… there you have it: I find evidence of Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs from the 1880s to the 1930s, with at least one appearance each in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, and Austria, respectively. Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs were not a one-off joke but a persistent instantiation of a stereotype. I don’t think a better understanding of the aphrodisiacs will significantly re-write any histories of the period, but I do think they illustrate an aspect of Mormonism’s cultural position that complements what we can learn from their contemporary political and religious contests.

* Edit, 2013 Sep 22 Sun 2355: The indicated sentence originally referred to the wrong dates: “A 500-word editorial criticizing the Wafer marketing techniques appeared in New York, 1891, echoed by a much shorter critique eight years later in Boston” was changed to “A Boston journal took aim at the wafer marketing in 1889 and a New York editorialist spent five-hundred words on it in 1891.”


[1] Some caveats: I think I’ve got a pretty good sketch of a pretty good case for broad and persistent market penetration but my evidence is limited. I don’t have any production or sales numbers. Erectile dysfunction, even with “respectable” treatments, was something most people tried to keep private. Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs were not “respectable,” so there was even more motivation to stay quiet. Furthermore, almost all of my sources are from advertisers—who have strong incentives to inflate the popularity of their product and, even without misrepresentation, tell us about the marketing and not how many people purchased the product—and critical pharmacists and doctors—who also have strong incentives to make it seem like the thing they criticize is a “serious,” “real” problem, and who wrote for relatively narrow, professional audiences. I have suggested the details of a circumstantial case, but it mostly boils down to this: the advertisements and critiques span five decades, so somebody must have been using the stuff.

[2] An 1881 editorial mentioned Mormons in a sarcastic list of various “Others” and prominent personalities used as marketing vehicles for patent medicines, but there is no indication that the author was thinking of a specific product or that it was an aphrodisiac. (“…I took…upwards of 50 New Remedies in the form of Fluid Extracts which had been in use—or rather the ‘yarbs’ they were made from—by the Ponca Indians, Mormons, Seventh-day Baptists, Sitting Bull, Moody and Sankey, the Modocs, Bob Ingersoll, the Nautch Girls, Mr. Morcy of Lynn, Mass., and many others…. But for some reason my health did not improve, and I was in despair.” DRGV, letter to Julius G Rathbun, indirectly addressed to the “Committee on Local and Private Formulas,” as reprinted in Proceedings of the Connecticut Pharmaceutical Association at the Fifth Annual Meeting Held in Waterbury, Conn., February 2, 1881 (Hartford, CT: Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co, 1881), 51-53.)

The earliest clear instance I’ve found of someone connecting, in print, Mormons and chemical aphrodisiacs is Francis Evans in 1884: “The Mormon preachers, who certainly use their reproductive organs more than any other class, find in damiana a panacea for their wasted energies.” (Francis A Evans, credited to Keystone Medical Journal (1884 June), “Damiana,” reprinted in The Therapeutic Gazette 8 [New Series 5.8] (Detroit, 1884 Aug 15): 382.) [ii]

The earliest unambiguously dated advertisement for a Mormon-themed aphrodisiac I’ve encountered comes from a Canadian journal in the summer of 1885. (FB Crouch, “The Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers,” advertisement, card insert, Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal 19.1 (1885 Aug): between pages 12 and 13.)

The Church History Library, Harold B Lee Library (L Tom Perry Special Collections), and the National Museum of American History each have “Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafer” materials tentatively cataloged as being from 1882, but I don’t see any clear evidence to support the respective dates. (FB Crouch, [Pair of trade cards for the Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers], New York, [1882], Church History Library, Call Number 359744. Franklin B Crouch, The Mormon Elder’s Book, pamphlet, 36 pages, New York, c 1882, BYU, Harold B Lee Library, L Tom Perry Special Collections, M208 A1 no.17. FB Crouch, “The Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers,” medicine package, presumably cardboard, approximately 4.3 cm x 7 cm x 1.2 cm, manufactured approximately 1882-1905, New York, NY, image courtesy of National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, (ID: MG*M-12151.22, Accession: 271464), gift of Mrs. Edward Mogull.)

[3] No author listed, catalog: “Patent Medicines,” Meyer Brothers Druggist 27.2 (St Louis, 1906 Feb): 54, 63 (37-63). No author listed, catalog listing in back of trade magazine, “Price List of Patents,” Midland Druggist 8.1 (Columbus, OH: Midland Publishing Co, 1906 Sep): 77 (55-77). No author listed, catalog listing in back of trade magazine, “Price List of Patents,” Midland Druggist 9.1 (Columbus, OH: Midland Publishing Co, 1907 Sep): 81 [in later numbers of the same volume, 1907 Oct – 1908 Feb: p 177, 271, 361, 453, 549]. “Druggists’ Price List,” subheading: “Proprietary and Patent Medicines,” National Druggist 38.12 (St Louis, 1908 Dec): 85 (39-92). No author listed, “American Druggist Price List,” American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record (New York, 1911 May 08), list is numbered independent of the accompanying journal, 131 (1-141). No author listed, “‘Red Book’ Price List of Drugs, Chemicals, Biologicals and Proprietary Articles,” Druggist’s Circular 56.4, Part 2 (Whole No. 664; New York, 1912 Apr): 145 (3-162).

[4] FB Crouch, “The Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers,” advertisement, card insert, Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal 19.1 (1885 Aug): between pages 12 and 13.

[5] Franklin Bosworth-Crouch, entry 2987, 1888 Nov 24, “Dragée de Damiana des Mormon Elders,” in Recueil Officiel des Marques de Fabrique et de Commerce Déposées en Belgique en Conformité de la Loi du 1er Avril 1879, Volume 4 (Brussels [Bruxelles]: Bruylant-Christophe & Cie, 1889), 734-735. Franklin Bosworth Crouch, Trademark 6184, 1889 Oct 10, Uebersicht der Gewerblichen Marken 19-20 (1889): 309, bound in General Marken-Übersicht für das Jahr 1888, 1-32 (Wien [Vienna]: KK Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1889).

[6] I will deal with the circular in greater detail in a later post. The 1882 date is as supplied by the library catalog entry; I have not noticed a date in the booklet itself. Franklin B Crouch, The Mormon Elder’s Book, pamphlet, 36 pages, BYU, Harold B Lee Library, L Tom Perry Special Collections, M208 A1 no.17. The addresses are: Paris Depot, Roberts & Co, Chemists, 5 Rue de la Paix; London Office, 51 Strand, W. C.; New York Office, 202 Grand Street.

[7] “Ce végétal, originaire des montagnes Rocheuses, est populaire parmi les aborigènes américains comme stimulant des organes sexuels. Dans ce but, les Mormons en font usage. [¶] Au Mexique, on l’emploie dans les affections des voies urinaires, et l’auteur en a obtenu de bons résultats au début du catarrhe vésical et contre l’impuissance sexuelle par épuisement ou débilité. Cette substance facilite aussi la menstruation et parait agir comme tonique du cœur. Enfin, elle modifierait l’urination à la manière du cactus. (Keystone Medical Journal, juin, 1884, The Therapeutic Gazette, p. 382, août 1884, et Union médicale).” [This plant, native to the Rocky Mountains, is popular among the Native Americans as a stimulant of the sexual organs. For this purpose, the Mormons use them. ¶ In Mexico, it is used for diseases of the urinary tract, and the author has achieved good results for incipient vesical catarrh [flow, drainage] and against sexual impotence by exhaustion or debility. This substance also facilitates menstruation and seems to act as heart tonic. Finally, it would affect urination in the manner of cactus.] Francis Evans, “Les Emplois Thérapeutiques du Damiana,” in “Revue de Thérapeutique,” Revue Médico-Chirurgicale des Maladies des Femmes 6 (Paris, 1884 Dec): 705-705. CLD, summary of reviews in Keystone Medical Journal (1884 Jun) and The Therapeutic Gazette (1884 Aug, p 382) of Les Emplois Thérapeutiques du Damiana, by Francis Evans, L’Union Médicale, 3rd Series, 38.137 (Paris, 1884 Sep 27): 524-524. For what I presume to be a close copy of the original in English, see Francis A Evans, credited to Keystone Medical Journal (1884 June), “Damiana,” reprinted in The Therapeutic Gazette 8 [New Series 5.8] (Detroit, 1884 Aug 15): 382.

[8] “Evans assure que les prêtres mormons se maintiennent à la hauteur de leur charge grâce a la Damiana….” [Evans asserts that Mormon priests keep their high offices thanks to Damiana….] Henri Soulier, Traité de Thérapeutique et de Pharmacologie, Volume 2 (Paris: Librairie F Savy, 1891): 474. “Il y aurait lieu de faire des experiences sur la Damiana qui maintient les prêtres Mormons à la hauteur de leur charge.” [There is a need to make experiments on the Damiana that keeps Mormon priests in their high offices.] J Drivon, review of Traité de Thérapeutique et de Pharmacologie, Vol 2, by H Soulier, Lyon Médical 68.52 (1891 Dec 27): 595-596 (594-599).

[9] I have not verified the accuracy of Crouch’s claim. The cities were: Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, St Paul, St Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Pittsburg, Kansas City, Omaha, Louisville, New Orleans, Charleston, Atlanta, and Nashville. FB Crouch, “Mormon Elders Damiana Wafers: Health, Strength and Energy,” advertisement in Druggists Circular 32.2 (New York, 1888): 26, image courtesy of “Images from the History of Medicine,” National Library of Medicine.

[10] A few sentences earlier it says: “Mr. Stearns says this house is one of the largest, if not the largest, manufacturers of patent medicines in this or any other country.” The quoted text continues: “Shaker Extracts In 10-keg lots, and a well known Sarsaparilla in carload lots, etc., etc., etc.” No author listed, “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” The Pharmaceutical Era 11.1 (1894 Jan 01): 4 (3-4).

[11] I estimate, conservatively, that there are 5,000 entries in the Meyer Brother Druggist cited earlier for listing both Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers and Mormon Bishop Pills at the same time. (There are twenty-seven pages with a bit more than two hundred entries per page.) No author listed, catalog: “Patent Medicines,” Meyer Brothers Druggist 27.2 (St Louis, 1906 Feb): 54, 63 (37-63).

[12] “The Columbia Chemical Company has amply warranted the suspicions of medical men by at last dropping the mask of legitimacy and appealing directly to the general public for the sale of its wares. Current issues of the daily papers contain advertisements of “Testine (Hammond),” with the fairy tale of its wonderful powers, and the statement of its price and dose. This is entering a field previously occupied by “The Mormon Elder’s Damiana Wafers,” “Wilcox’s Chichester Pills,” and other nostrums of that peculiarly nauseous class, which is doubtless profitable enough to such persons as do not value their self-respect too highly. This move of the Columbia Chemical Company fully justifies all the severe things ever said of it by its enemies, and even invites further condemnation. It is said that corporations have no souls. Whether this applies to the officers of corporations, we do not know. A psychical examination of J. C. Hayden, president; M. Lanza, secretary, and W. P. Springer, general manager, might determine this point.” No author listed (editors: A Koenig, TMT McKennan, EG Matson), No title, Pittsburgh Medical Review 8.5 (1894 May): 151-151. Reprinted in No author listed, credited to the Pittsburgh Medical Review, “Just Condemnation,” The Medical Age 12.11 (Detroit, 1894 Jun 11): 342-343.

[13] LF Kebler, “Nostrums and Fraudulent Methods of Exploitation,” Journal of the American Medical Association 47.20 (1908 Nov 17): 1624 (1546-1550, 1623-1630).

[14] George M Kober, chairman, Report of Committee on Social Betterment (Washington DC: The President’s Homes Commission, 1908), 133.

[15] The report was submitted under the signature of Harvey Washington Wiley, Chief Chemist of the United States Department of Agriculture and driving force behind what eventually became the Food and Drug Administration. The report says: “This remedy consists of three kinds of pills—red, white, and blue. The composition of these pills is about the same. They contain red pepper, starch, and a bitter principle. The object of them is undoubtedly to slightly stimulate a disordered stomach and to increase the appetite, but the medicine is undoubtedly valueless for the purpose designated.” 58th Congress, 2nd Session, Senate Document 270: “Investigations of Adulterated Foods, etc.,” 4 pages.

[16] “[Damiana] forms the basis of a “Mormon elder’s cordial,” from which name the peculiar properties claimed for it, as well as the propriety of its use, may be inferred. Its specific action in this direction has been strenuously denied.” Robert Thaxter Edes, Text-book of Therapeutics and Materia Medica (Philadelphia: Lea Brothers & Co, 1887), 206. The review quotes the line cited above as an example of Edes’s failure to provide new information: “Now the majority of practitioners and even first-year students who have ever heard of these drugs, know more about them than Dr. Edes, who has thought them worthy of mention, has seen fit to vouchsafe. … It is the duty of an author who asks professional support for his work in these days, to respond to this demand from his own experience in the testing of these drugs.” No author listed, review of Text-book of Therapeutics and Materia Medica, by Robert T Edes (Philadelphia: Lea Brothers & Co, 1887), The Medical Age 6.2 (1888 Jan 25): 39 (38-39). “Phosphorus or cantharides are highly injurious and many nostrums are based thereon, such as damiana, “mormon elder,” and similar rascally things.” Shobal Vail Clevenger, “Impotence,” in Therapeutics, Materia Medica, and the Practice of Medicine (Atlantic City, NJ: Evolution Publishing Co, 1905), 150.

[17] “…Geheimmittelannoncen und selbst so absurde und gemein illustrirte Anzeigen, wie die der “Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers”….” […nostrum advertisements, and even the most absurd and vulgar illustrated ads, like those of the “Mormon Elders’ Damiana Wafers”….] No author listed (Friedrich Hoffman, editor) “Geheimmittelreklame” [German: “Nostrum Advertising], Pharmaceutische Rundschau [Pharmaceutical Review] 5.8 (New York, 1887 Aug): 179 (177-179).

[18] No author listed (editor: William F Waugh), “Pernicious Literature,” The Times and Register: A Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery (New York and Philadelphia, 1891 Aug 29): 163-163. “So similar to the method adopted by the “Institutes” is that of F. B. CROUCH, DRUGGIST, 202 Grand St., New York City, in his “Mormon Elder’s Book,” that we feel no hesitation in including him this article. The wicked little brochure in question, which is craftily written, and illustrated, with actually a cut in colors on the cover, aims to introduce and spread use of the aphrodisiac Damiana! In the name of nature and of cleanness, what is unsophisticated America coming to? [¶] A business which would accept the agency for this drug, and seek thus impudently to push its sale, richly deserves public contempt.” No author listed, “Medical Institutes Again,” Boston Journal of Health 2.4 (1889 Jan): 86-86.

[19] “Damiana is a much vaunted remedy. It is most nauseating to the taste, and few will take it long, even though the goal be restored, sexual competence. The celebrated “mormon elder tablets,” I believe, were in part of damiana. The happy conception to which they owed their name, perhaps, added more to their ready sale and commercial value than the presence of actual merit. The name of the remedies which have been proposed for the renewal of sexual life is legion. Few of them have real merit. Hygiene, moderation in gratifying sexual appetite, and the exercise of manly virtue, which in itself is a powerful factor in restoring confidence, the loss of which so often is the sole cause of impotency. Moreover medicine has its value too.” JL Gilbert, “Impotency,” The Medical Brief 27.7 (St Louis, 1899 Jul): 1015 (1014-1015).

[20] “The danger of dementia is great, but it is not inevitable. If the physician possesses the acumen to detect the cause of the decay, and can lay the case before the patient in a way to convince him, there is good reason to hope for a cure. But instead of consulting his physician, the unfortunate man is more likely to fall into the hands of wretches of the Mormon Elder Damiana Wafer stripe. Who can tell how many men have been ruined, body and soul, by that nostrum! How many minds have sunk in dementia, with the assistance of the aphrodisiacs so boldly advertised in the secular press; minds that could have been saved, had the victims resorted to a wise physician instead of to a pandering quack. If people could only appreciate the enormity of the evil done by these quacks, there would be less denunciation of physicians for not recognizing them.” No author listed (William F Waugh, editor), “Exhausted Vitality,” The Times and Register: A Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery (New York and Philadelphia, 1891 Sep 26): 243-243.

[21] B Fenner, “Aphrodisiacs,” in Fenner’s Twentieth Century Formulary and International Dispensatory, 13th edition (Westfield, NY: B Fenner, 1904), 1258-1259.

[22] No author listed, No title, Atlanta Journal-Record of Medicine 1.12 (1900 Mar): 908.

[23] For comment on the novel, see the Biblophilia Obscura blog post for 2010 Jul 30. “With the potent fluid of the doctor’s drug sizzling in him he literally, so the Doc averred to me, scampered off helter-skelter to his beloved. Not his wife, mind you. Oh, no! That would be wasting powder and shot on a fortress already captured. He had telephoned the faithful concubine, who awaited him, her curiosity aroused. She felt certain that he would again make his usual fiasco. As the rejuvenated old goat bounded over the sidewalk, his blood tingling with the passion of youth and Damiana Mormon Elder’s Wafers, a pretty puss of eighteen touched his elbow. She was an impudent mutt, but provocative. She winked and whispered: [¶] “Hello Pop! Come along and I’ll give you the time of your life”! and by God he went with her, and that patient Griselda waiting for him in his second home, not to mention the wife of his bosom, at home (where she played a stiff Bridge every afternoon and never bothered her head about her foolish matrimonial partner). Yes, he went to the new rifle-range and heaven knows what lie he invented for the benefit of his mistress. The affair only proves that any woman who can give to an old man the illusion of virility, he will not only marry her, but he will wear her on his heart of hearts; become her slave, in fact. Sex dies hard in us, and dispite popular belief, it is the last of the passions, pushing out avarice and gluttony, which pair of entertaining passions are supposed to illuminate the dusty lonesome years of a man’s existence.” James Huneker, Painted Veils (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 177.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Edje, I continue to find this fascinating. Thanks.

    Comment by Saskia T — September 23, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  2. Excellent work.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 23, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

  3. Thanks, Saskia and J.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — September 23, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

  4. Great stuff, Edje.

    Comment by wvs — September 23, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

  5. Thanks, WVS.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — September 24, 2013 @ 8:02 am


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