By July 24, 2017
This is the eighth entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week?s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook.
It was purely serendipitous that my scheduled review of Chapter 8 happened to land on July 24, and very appropriately so. This is Pioneer Day, in the style of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who treats the years of Mormon overland migration from 1847 to 1850 much in the same way that she approaches other common Mormon narratives. She takes a story that is relatively well-known to Mormon history audiences, at least on a surface level, and reconstructs it with the details, nuance, context and sharpness that deepens and enlivens those events. And she does it in a way that reminds you that you’ve never heard the story that way before, while also leaving with you with the feeling that you must have always heard it that way. And central to her telling are the experiences of Mormon women, told from the perspective of her reliable female diarists, Patty Sessions, Eliza R. Snow, Leonora Taylor, and Caroline Barnes Crosby, along with her roster of helpful and colorful male diarists, Wilford Woodruff, Hosea Stout, and Perregrine Sessions, among others.
Ulrich actually begins with the famed entrance of Brigham Young into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, when he “may well have said something” about the salty desert where Mormons would make their home. She then steps back from that one iconic and mythical moment, by weaving her usual web of characters surrounding and intersecting with that event. Samuel Brannan, for example, had sailed on the Brooklyn, landed in California, and encountered members of the Mormon Battalion during the same weeks that Mormons first entered Utah. Brigham himself returned immediately back to Winter Quarters in the Fall of 1847, not even participating in that first winter of building Salt Lake City. By the spring of 1848, twenty-two hundred saints left Winter Quarters for Utah, while Wilford and Phebe Woodruff were on their way to Boston to set up the the Church’s “headquarters” in the East. Famously, the first company of Saints into the Salt Lake Valley included three women (Harriet Decker Young, her daughter Clara, and Ellen Saunders, who was actually ‘Aagaat Yseinsdatter Bakka,’ one of Heber C. Kimball’s wives), it was not until 1848 and 1849 that Mormonism’s most famous early women came pioneering: Patty, Eliza, and Leonora, of course, but also Mary Isabella Horne, Zina D.H. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith, Margaret Smoot, and Mercy Thompson, among so many others.
Ulrich focuses on three main sub-narratives of women’s pioneering experiences. The first is telling the overland migration through women’s eyes, including descriptions of terrain, weather, and food preparation, to childbirth, interactions with Indian women, the selling of Indian children to Mormon families, spiritual experiences, and how women sometimes had to step up to fill in where male leaders fell short. Ulrich expands women’s “pioneering” into the actual building of Salt Lake City, in that women were central to the construction of the fort and log homes, the delivery of babies, planting of orchards and crops, and establishing or reestablishing in Salt Lake City the close female networks that had begun in Nauvoo and persisted in Winter Quarters.
The second sub-narrative surrounds the travels, family, and ministering of Wilford and Phebe Woodruff in their calling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1848 to 1850, where Wilford was effectively overseeing branches of converts throughout New England and New York. As she does with so many male-centric Mormon stories, Ulrich seemlessly weaves Phebe’s more behind-the-scenes experiences into Wilford’s public leadership role. Ulrich covers Phebe’s crippling grief at the loss and burial of her children, hers and Wilford’s attempts to bring her family members into the fold of the Church, the caring for her widowed father, her sharing in Wilford’s ministering in New England, and their final return overland to Salt Lake City in 1850. Readers will find Phebe’s and Wilford’s saga imminently useful for understanding how the early polygamists of the 1840s were transitioning into the expectations and lived experiences of plural marriage. These are not the unabashed, proud polygamists of the 1860s through the 1880s; no, these are youthful rookies, proceeding cautiously and secretively (even in their diaries, as Wilford almost never mentions his second wife, Mary Ann Jackson, and their son, James), tiptoeing through the “principle” with fits and starts, and reluctance and caution along the way.
The third and final sub-narrative is the most compelling of this chapter, and the most feminist in scope. Early women pioneers, argues Ulrich, kept alive their female networking, socializing, and expressions of spiritual authority that had begun and Nauvoo and blossomed at Winter Quarters. This is not a new history of Mormon women, per se; rather, it is new in that Ulrich brings female authority to the front of the story, even during a period that lacked the formal skeleton of (re)constituted Relief Societies (yet). These started out as organized gatherings and parties. Indeed, even in mixed-gender settings in Salt Lake City, women exerted their feminine authority in unique ways that both supported male leadership as well as challenged it. Women often ‘presided’ at their own meetings, even when men were present, and a woman might ‘delegate’ her authority to other women in the presiding woman’s absence. Of course women also healed other women, in that they “anointed and layed hands.” (p. 196) But they also gave speeches in tongues and interpreted them, taking very literally Patty Sessions’s belief that “it was the sisters’ right to “claim for all that we bestow either spiritually & temporally.” (p. 195)
Ulrich finds completion where she began this story of pioneering, on July 24th itself, in the formal “Pioneer Day” celebrations, now iconic and ubiquitous throughout modern Mormonism. First inaugurated in 1849, Pioneer Day celebrations very quickly eclipsed July 4th in fanfare and attention for early Mormons. In fact, modern super-patriotic LDS might be surprised to note that July 4th in Utah usually passed without any notice at all. But, as Ulrich acclaims, “After their experiences in Missouri and Illinois, they had little reason to celebrate the Fourth of July.” The 24th was different, because, as Patty Sessions explained, “This is the beginning of a new era with us.” (p. 204)
Ulrich finds great gendered meaning in these new refined celebrations marking Mormons’ celebrations of their religious freedom in the West. In the very first parade, the “young men carried swords and copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Young women held a Bible in one hand and a Book of Mormon in the other. Apparently, men were defenders of liberty, women custodians of faith.” (p. 206) In this display, Mormons quite possibly held the “first public event that used both male and female participants in a symbolic performance.” (p. 206). But even more noteworthy was that these young people boasted the symbols of both their theology and their nation– their hopes of what might be possible in America. Ulrich sees no contradictions in the favoring of the 24th over the 4th, while still embracing American political symbolism. As she states, “the exiled Mormons declared their own independence, embracing the ideals of the American Revolution without acknowledging allegiance to the nation they believed had abandoned them.” (p. 204) In fact, they even carried banners “affirming the union of secular and religious authority in the person of their Prophet.” (p. 206) July 24th invited no pretense of false honor to American political authority; rather, Mormons unabashedly celebrated theocracy, and Brigham Young as “The Lion of the Lord” and “Hail to our Chief.” (p. 206)
Without any spoilers, I am excited for you to read how Laurel ends this chapter by linking her sub-narratives into one symbolic moment in July of 1851, with a newborn baby girl, a Pioneer Day parade, and a poem celebrating women’s eternal liberty. Indeed, she finds meaning in the intersection of seemingly unrelated historical moments, as only Laurel can. She also shows how Mormonism’s two July holidays emerged with very complicated and contradictory beginnings, thus allowing us today to continue to think about their very complex historical importance for a people who, even now, want to simultaneously celebrate their religious separateness and their nationalistic assimilation.
By July 25, 2016
This is the eighth installment of the Summer Book Club, this year focusing on Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery?s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. You can read installments one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven here.. This part focuses on chapters 21 through 23 (Epilogue), which follow Emma at the end of her life through her passing in April of 1879 and continuing her legacy.
Chapter 21, “Josephites and Brighamites: 1870-1877” continues with Joseph III’s leadership of the new Reorganized Church, and his attempts to proselytize for membership in Utah and California, first through assigned missionaries and later by sending his own brothers to Utah. These meetings in the 1860s and 1870s were awkward and politely cautious at best, and volcanic at worst. Mormons in Utah seemed fascinated by these visits from the offspring of their beloved dead prophet, even holding out hope that they might reconvert to the “true church.” Cousins met cousins on politely civil ground, but the visiting “Josephites” from Illinois and the established “Brighamites” in Utah could only dance in cold, tense circles around each other, until some visits escalated into blow-ups, sometimes over succession, but always over polygamy. Of course, Brigham Young consistently placed blame for all of this squarely on Emma. This chapter highlights how the visits of the sons only heightened Brigham’s pent-up anger toward Emma. At one meeting with Church leaders, someone tried to remind Brigham that “We love these boys for their father’s sake,” but still he blew up, insisting that Emma was “the damnedest liar that lives,” (285) and that she had tried to kill Joseph twice through poisoning. Honestly, I was struck by the very sexist way these grown men on both sides used this aging woman as a pawn in their tit-for-tat over plural marriage. Just as Brigham was absolutely obsessed with proving the divinity of plural marriage and it connections to Joseph, so did Joseph III have a “recurring preoccupation with separating his church and family from the taint of plural marriage.” (291) The two could never be reconciled.
By July 22, 2016
It is that time of year again, when members all over the world are asked to give talks honoring July 24, 1847– the official date when a company of Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley via Emigration Canyon. For Mormons, this is a significant date of historical and spiritual meaning: it marks the moment of relief after years of persecutions in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; it represents finding formal safety in their exile, freedom from religious persecution, distance from the oppressors, and arrival and rebirth in a land of spiritual and physical possibility. In Utah, Idaho, and other western states where members might be more likely to trace some ancestry back to the original pioneers, the third Sunday in July is usually set aside to honor the pioneer experience in a religious setting.
By June 7, 2016
Speak ‘friend’ and enter.
Please join Juvenile Instructor’s Andrea R-M and tour co-director Janelle Higbee for the second round of fantastic Mormon women’s history on a bus, Thursday, June 9, leaving from Snowbird at 8:30 a.m. and returning after 5:00 p.m.. Tour spots are still available, and even those not registered for the conference may register for the tour.
By May 27, 2016
The Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team (MWHIT) is pleased to announce its first annual Relief Society Bazaar and Silent Auction, to be held at the Mormon History Association Conference, June 9-12, 2016 at the Snowbird Resort. (For overall conference program and registration information, please see Mormon History Association 2016 conference registration.) MWHIT encourages MHA attendees to visit our booth in the book exhibit space at the conference, where we welcome browsing, bidding, and purchase of our team members’ contributions. Many of you know our members, from whom you can expect personal and detailed work: Lisa T., Jenny R., Kate H., Sheree B., Taunalyn R., Andrea R.-M., Susanna M., Janelle H., Anna R., Barbara J. B., and Brittany N.
By March 7, 2016
Perhaps you have heard or read that I gave a talk called ?Beyond Petticoats and Poultices: Finding a Women?s History of the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838? at the Beyond Biography: Sources in Context for Mormon Women’s History conference at Brigham Young University. My paper sought to address the history of how women experienced the violence in Missouri, particularly as victims of sexual violence. As part of that research, I examined the case study of Eliza R. Snow as a possible victim of a gang rape that might have left her unable to have children. I looked at a few of the rapes and attempted rapes in Missouri, recalled by various witnesses, legal testimonials, and personal accounts, with a discussion of why women are not specifically named in most sources. The scarcity and limitation of sources has presented historians with the difficulty of uncovering a history of sexual violence in Missouri, and of identifying actual victims. So I concluded with an examination of a primary source that amazingly came to me only three weeks prior to the conference, via a colleague who received it from a member of the family where the source is held. That source gives a description of Eliza’s rape, and its larger meaning in Snow’s life and possible motivations for her polygamous marriage to Joseph Smith.
By April 7, 2015
President Barack Obama met with LDS Church leaders on April 2, 2015, for a little under half an hour during a brief scheduled visit to Utah. In attendance were President Henry B. Eyring, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder L. Tom Perry here. President Thomas S. Monson was unable to attend the gathering due to health reasons, but online feedback also quickly picked up on the noticeable absence of any high-profile female leaders of the Church. Mormon women have not always been left out of presidential visits; in fact, various meetings between Relief Society leaders and American chief executives in the last 150 years are worth the retelling, and serve as a reminder of the stature and influence that elite Mormon women held in representing the Church to the nation.
By March 17, 2015
On this, the anniversary of the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, I come out of a long and silent hibernation from blogging to write this, a love letter, to my Relief Society sisters, for each one of you, whether in the church or out of the church, whether fully active or barely hanging on.