A year and a half ago, Brittany Chapman and I discussed the need for a space where young female scholars of Mormonism could gain the academic skills necessary to engage in discussion about Mormon women’s history. Although we both felt comfortable with our ability to conduct research in primary sources, write interesting narratives about those who had lived in the past, and to connect our histories to larger historiographies, we felt woefully unprepared to engage with feminist and gender theory. The Mormon Women’s History Tea and Discussion Group was born out of a desire to create a space where young female scholars could gain the tools necessary to participate in academic discourse. As a result, we initially planned to pair an academic article on some issue of feminist theory or women’s history with a piece written on Mormonism and have a discussion about the intersections between the two.
Last year, we read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s address to the American Historical Association in conjunction with Carol Nielson’s The Salt Lake City 14th Ward Album Quilt, 1857: Stories of the Relief Society and their Quilt. The idea was to focus on material culture and to ask what stories could be told using objects. At least one panel at MHA has taken up that theme.
This year, we will be reading Neylan McBaine’s piece from FAIR on women’s lives and the governance structure of the church. We have paired it with Lisa Thomas Clayton’s essay on revelation from Mormon Women Have Their Say, edited by Claudia Bushman. Although both pieces focus on contemporary issues, we have put them together in an attempt to ask questions about how we think about agency and should approach the lives of religious women in history.
We are not attempting to have a discussion about the priesthood or ordination, although such issues may certainly come up, but to think about how these discussions of contemporary women’s lives might inform our historical practice. I also like to formally invite anyone who is interested, whether they are young or not so young, male or female, an academic or an amateur historian. One of the things that we have hoped to have from the beginning with this group is the participation of a wide variety of people, so that we have the opportunity to engage in academic dialogue not just with other women but with the range of people we will encounter in our studies. We are especially hoping to have a few established scholars and women there to serve as mentors and examples.
We will be meeting on Thursday, June 6th @ House of Brews in Layton at 4:30 p.m. We hope to see everyone there!