I’ve been thinking recently about Grant Underwood’s article in Pacific Historical Review, “Re-visioning Mormon History.” In short, Underwood contends that 1890 is not such a watershed year for Mormon history as historians have led us to believe. Underwood argues, at most times convincingly, that Mormons had not Americanized nor become much less peculiar since the year of the Woodruff Manifesto.
I don’t want to rehash his entire argument and evidence here (those who are interested in a deeper dive should consult Christopher’s excellent rumination on the article here and David’s follow up questions on the article here). However, I find that I generally agree with Jan Shipps on the importance of 1890. She wrote, “Whatever else it did, the Manifesto announced that the old order would have to pass away.” Despite my belief that 1890 is a very important year for Mormons and historians of Mormonism, I think reducing the large-scale changes in Mormonism to 1890 alone is unproductive. If historians are seeking a sort of “trigger year” where Mormonism struck out on a new course, what date would be more appropriate than 1890? Here are a few options:
1867: in this year, Brigham Young, Eliza R. Snow, and others reorganized the Relief Society all across the Mormon settlements in the West. This re-introduced new sites of gendered power for women within Mormonism. Future LDS Church President and theologian Joseph F. Smith was sustained as an apostle and Mormons participated in the first General Conference held in the Tabernacle. Smith’s decisions and theologizing fundamentally reshaped Mormonism during and after his tenure. The Deseret Telegraph Company also opened, sanctioning a church-owned means of communicating relatively quickly with the rest of the United States. This signaled a Mormon embrace of mass-media with the world beyond formal religious pamphlets.
1869: The completion of the transcontinental railroad was the beginning of the end for Mormon isolation. In combination with the telegraph, Mormons began to embrace pluralism and capitalism (although it took the hierarchy longer to embrace the ideas).
1877: The dedication of the St. George Temple ushered in a new period of LDS temple worship and liturgy and, I would argue, an acceptance that Mormonism would be in Utah for some time to come. The death of Brigham Young created financial problems for the LDS Church and was the first transition in the church presidency since 1847. 1877 also marked the end of the Reconstruction of the South and Congress concentrated on the Reconstruction of the West, including the crusades against Mormon polygamy.
1887: John Taylor’s death sparked a controversy over succession in Brighamite Mormonism, although Wilford Woodruff eventually overcame objections and was set apart as president of the LDS Church. The Edmunds-Tucker Act brought on the future financial disincorporation of the LDS Church and prefigured the Woodruff Manifesto.
1896: Utah attains statehood after the LDS Church publicly abandons plural marriage (although polygamous marriages are still solemnized) and ceases open participation in politics on a partisan level.
1904: Joseph F. Smith issues the Second Manifesto, attaching penalties to entering into plural marriages. Two men are dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles over plural marriage. This measure, and the fallout of the Smoot Hearings in which it was released, catalyze widespread changes for the LDS Church.
1936: The First Presidency of Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, and David O. McKay enact The Church Welfare Plan. Two stake presidents that helped shape the plan, Hugh B. Brown and Harold B. Lee, are later called as apostles. The LDS Church also releases a statement opposing communism, which led to all sorts of interesting developments after World War II.
1968: Correlation is implemented across several church organizational units. Belle Spafford, President of the LDS Relief Society, is elected president of the National Council of Women.
1978: All worthy individuals, no matter ethnicity or descent, are eligible to participate in temple liturgy. Mormonism becomes a religion in which all peoples across the globe can participate.
What other years could be added? What evidence would you add to these years? Or what would you contest?
 Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 115.