Since the time I began working on my current book project on early Book of Mormon reception history, there have been individuals who have called what I am doing women’s history. I am certainly not offended by someone saying I do women’s history, I am not opposed to women’s history. I think women’s history does significant and important compensatory work to fill a historical chasm empty for too long. My Master’s thesis was clearly women’s history, I have done consistent work in that field, as well as the discipline directly informing other work that I do.
However, I’m always interested in the formal and informal categories that we construct to order the historical field and I’m wondering what makes something women’s history? As editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Joseph Spencer, introduced my recent article here for the Maxwell Institute, he complimented my work (thanks) and summarized the article: “how early converts—and especially women—approached the text of the Book of Mormon.” I suspect Joe wanted to highlight one of the things present in my article that is often absent in Mormon History, women. However, the “especially women” gave me pause. That pause has only expanded as I have heard others describe my current work as women’s history.
This post comes from Cristina Rosetti, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside and is a Mormon Studies Fellow at the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah. Her dissertation examines spiritualism and fundamentalist Mormonism.
As new charges and depositions against Warren Jeffs surface, the FLDS is once again in the journalistic spotlight. This even includes a Buzzfeed article by Anne Helen Petersen who captured the way former members of the FLDS are returning to Short Creek (referred to as the ?Crick? by residents and frequent visitors alike), to rebuild a community that was left in ruin following the capture of Jeffs. [i] By any measure, they are succeeding. These are stories matter because they are often missing from work on Mormon fundamentalism. But, there are still other narratives and methods of story-telling that remain absent.
Most people, Mormon or otherwise, who read popular writings on fundamentalism are not aware of how we got here. To be fair, capturing the complex history of fundamentalism requires more space than many journalists are afforded (try writing the entirety of LDS history in one essay, even long-form). Writing on Mormonism is so centrally focused on an unbroken Priesthood lineage that began with Joseph Smith and ends with the current President of the LDS Church that other histories are left behind. The powerful testimonies from members of the Council of Friends, the compelling writings of Joseph Musser, and the lives of current fundamentalist leaders and Prophets are absent. These absences create a void in Mormon history that leave room for spectacle and causes outsiders to wonder how people like Warren Jeffs happened. It also leaves people assuming that all fundamentalists adhere to the same beliefs and practices.
Over the past week, scholars and news outlets have linked the Mormon past to the present Muslim-targeted immigration ban. They point to the 1879 Evarts Circular, in which Secretary of State William Evarts urged foreign governments to help restrict Mormon emigration from their countries. The above writers ask Mormons to remember their immigrant-persecuted-past and show compassion to those in the present.
These calls are noble. Yet, there is more to the Mormon-Muslim immigrant past than these articles articulate. The Evarts Circular was not the only federal action against Mormon immigration. Two legislative currents, federal legislative battles over the existence of polygamy in the 1880s and the federalization of immigration legislation, followed Evarts’ Circular. These forces coincided in the 1891 federal immigration law when legislators banned “polygamists” from crossing into America’s borders while increased funding established federal border regulation. At the same time, the 1891 law gave refugee status to immigrants fleeing from religious persecution. You’ll have to wait for a forthcoming post about the legal developments between the Evarts Circular and the 1891 law. You’ll also have to trust me when I say that the 1891 polygamy-immigration ban targeted Mormons (although this Los Angeles Times article might serve as some consolation in the meantime).
I had a different post planned for this week, but I’ll save it for a time that feels less urgent.
I’m going to speak candidly and personally, as a historian, a unionized public-sector educator, a woman, a Mormon, a white Eastern liberal elite, and a born-American citizen. (Just so you know where my intersectionalities lie). It’s abundantly clear that the election results and Trump’s inauguration have abruptly ushered us all into a new political and cultural landscape.
History enrollments are on the decline nationwide. There are a number of possible explanations for this. At my institution, the popular explanations number two, one a broader assumption that’s difficult to document and the other the result of internal campus politics. The first is that the economic slump has made students increasingly hard-nosed and career-focused when they think about what they’re going to do with their education. The second is that another department began a program that has sucked away a number of students who once majored in history with an eye toward law school.
Ronald W. Walker left an indelible impression on many Juvenile Instructor bloggers (and friends of the JI). For some, it was primarily through reading his work or hearing his conference presentations. Others of us got to know him on a more personal level, and we have contributed brief tributes below, reflecting on Ron as a historian, mentor, and friend.
Brett D. Dowdle, Joseph Smith Papers
I was saddened to learn of Ron?s death. The first time I read one of Ron?s articles was in 2006, when I read ?Crisis in Zion: Heber J. Grant and the Panic of 1893.? I was instantly captivated. Ron had a way with words and a command of research that few historians ever approach. In June 2008, I was privileged to meet him for the first time, beginning a long friendship as he kindly took me on as a research assistant for his biography of Brigham Young. At the time he hired me, I was an inexperienced graduate student and historian, but he kindly worked with me to teach me how to become a proficient researcher. While working with Ron, my understanding of and appreciation for the early Utah period grew exponentially as we discussed the topic in his office. Up to the very end, Ron was dedicated to research and writing, and was pushing forward with his work on Brigham Young.
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.
This is the third and final post in a series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Part one and part two can be read here and here.
Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.
Another purpose of the Friends meetings is to provide instruction. Most black members in the Durham Stake tend to be converts to the Church, many of them having converted fairly recently. Every month a theme is chosen and one person appointed to direct the conversation or to provide a lesson. Themes include “outreach,” “fellowship,” “true v. false doctrine,” or “being a black Mormon today.” In September 2011 Brother Isaiah Cummings taught a lesson titled “Blacks in the Bible.” Brother Cummings has apparently written a book on this subject but has been unable to find a publisher. I was not present at this meeting but Christina shared with me a copy of his lesson outline and it is also posted at the group’s Facebook page. In that lesson he taught that “When you begin to look at ‘Biblical History,” it is important to realize that the world had two (2) beginnings: The World ‘before’ the Flood and the World “after” the Flood. Hence, the Black Race had two sets of Parents: 1) Cain and his wife and 2) Ham and his wife Egyptus.” The lineage Brother Cummings constructs to illustrate the history of Blacks in the Bible is supported by scriptural references to the Bible and the Book of Abraham in the Mormon book of scripture, the Pearl of Great Price.
This is part two of a three-part series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. For part one, see here. Part three will be posted tomorrow morning.
Isaiah Cummings presents a lesson on “Blacks in the Bible,” Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, September 2011.
The Friends Group arose out of the African American cultural celebration as the brainchild of Brother Lee Cook, a white member of the Durham 1st Ward. Lee grew up in Richmond, Virginia, as a Southern Baptist. He described his younger self as a hippie and college dropout who joined the Air Force, which is where he met missionaries and joined the LDS Church. After moving around with the Air Force and then living for a while in New York, he returned to the South. It was exciting to see all of the changes that had occurred since the Civil Rights movement occurred, he explained. Yet, he noticed that, in many places, there was still that separatio: a “wall of partition,” he called it. So he started visiting black churches as part of his own quest to overcome that partition and he became very spiritually impressed (a common Mormon term for inspiration from the Holy Spirit) “that the Lord has a great work for us to do together.” Then he met Christina and after one of the African American cultural celebrations she confided in Lee that, as he remembered her statement (which he shared with her permission), “this is the only day I feel good as a black Latter-day Saint.” So, to remedy that sense of loneliness that she and presumably other black Latter-day Saints in the stake feel throughout the rest of the year, he proposed the organization of a support group, “so instead of once a year, once a month.”