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Women’s History

JI Summer Book Club: A Houseful of Females, Chap. 8, or Pioneer Day Remembered

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.

 


Gem from the Local Archive: My Turn on Earth

By April 17, 2017


For years, our hi-fi stereo languished in the attic. But it?s been dusted off and now resides in a place of honor in our teenager?s room, because vinyl is hip again, and suddenly we?re glad we saved our record collection all these years. Recently an LDS friend passed along some records she thought our teen might enjoy spinning, and tucked into the stack was a genuine piece of 1970s Mormon culture, a double album cast recording of the 1977 musical My Turn on Earth. With lyrics by poet Carol Lynn Pearson and music by Lex de Azevedo, My Turn on Earth turned the Plan of Salvation into a modern-day child?s parable tracing one girl?s journey from her preexistence in heaven, through allegorical earth life and back.

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The Third Annual JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females

By April 4, 2017


At a recent gathering in Cambridge, MA, Richard Bushman introduced Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to her hometown crowd as Mormonism’s most “distinguished and decorated scholar.” Her Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and many other awards speak to her mastery of the historian’s craft in the broader academy. She is not only Mormonism’s most distinguished and decorated scholars, she is one of the most distinguished and decorated scholars alive today. Ulrich’s research and writing abilities made A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 a natural choice for JI’s Third Annual Summer Book Club. Hundreds of readers have followed along with our book club in the past few years. We hope to read with even more of you this summer!

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A Gem from the Local Archive: A Beginner’s Boston

By January 12, 2017


When you live in a place over twenty years, and you come to know people who?ve lived there even longer than you, now and then you stumble over something in what we might call the local archives. Much of both the material and intellectual culture of Mormonism ? indeed, of any group through which a thread of commonality can be drawn ? never makes it into a formal archival collection. This is true even for old things, which have had more time to make their way out of private trunks, attics, and boxes into museums and historical societies and libraries. Just this week I saw someone on Twitter threatening to make a list of things offered for sale on eBay that, by rights, should belong in a public records office. But I daresay it?s even more true for things from recent history. For starters, no one fully knows which items of the endless detritus of the 20th century deserves preserving, and for seconds, a lot of it is still counted among living people?s prized possessions.

2-img_2528 One of those possessions was recently lent to me by a friend. The provenance of this object is probably convoluted, but suffice it to say, it?s from the local archives, and there?s more where this came from. It?s uncatalogued. But it?s a gem, nonetheless.

The object in question is a revised 1973 edition of a book that was first published in 1966. Its author, whose name no doubt is familiar to all our readers, has just released a new book, which arrived crisp and thick in my mailbox this very week. But this is her very first book.

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Pioneer Day Talks– Some Helpful Dos and Don’ts for a July Tradition

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.

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GUEST POST: Hannah Jung on Holbrook and Bowman, Women and Mormonism

By June 22, 2016


[We are pleased to post this book review from Hannah Jung. Hannah lives and works in Boston and will be starting her PhD in History in the fall.]

WomenEds. Kate Holbrook and Matthew Bowman, Women and Mormonism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016.

During my undergrad there was a mature student who seemed to be in all of my classes about women and religion. This woman had a particular word for whenever we studied examples of women who seemed to be furthering patriarchy. She called them brainwashed. At the time, it was hard for me to articulate why I did not like the label ?brainwashed? for women who did not appear to be living life worthy of feminist praise. This task would be taken on by historians much more clever and experienced than I. Indeed, in 2011 Catherine Brekus rocked the Mormon Studies world with her Tanner Lecture ?Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency?, which she delivered at the Mormon History Association. Brekus observed that,

Although historians of male leaders had never felt compelled to argue that men?s agency was politically subversive or liberating ? historians of overlooked groups – including women, Native Americans, African Americans, and Latina/os ? were searching for a ?usable past? and so they looked for evidence of individual or collective resistance to a white male hegemony. (p.23)

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Mormon Women’s Public Life and Activism pre-conference tour for MHA 2016

By June 7, 2016


Salt Lake City Cemetery

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.

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Gender and Recording the Names of the 1838 Mormon War Dead

By May 31, 2016


HaunsMassacreMillstoneOn November 29, 1838, Major General John B. Clark wrote his final report to Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs reviewing the state militia?s recent operations against the Latter-day Saints. ?The whole number of Mormons killed through the whole difficulty as far as I can ascertain are about forty and several wounded,? while one non-Mormon had been killed.[1] Verifying Clark?s figure presents a challenge. Although Clark, as the commanding officer overseeing the campaign, was interested in total casualties, neither he nor anyone else in the state government had an incentive to record the names of Mormons who died. It was therefore left to the Saints themselves to document their losses of human life.

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MWHIT Relief Society Bazaar and Silent Auction at MHA 2016

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.

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An Unlikely Partnership? Orrin Hatch and the Founding of National Women?s History Month, Part 3

By March 31, 2016


This is the third and final post in a series about Orrin Hatch’s role in the National Women’s History Week/Month in the context of the backdrop of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Last time when I left off, I intended to explore the process under which both Senator Orrin Hatch

Barbara Mikulski on Meet the Press, 1983

Barbara Mikulski on Meet the Press, 1983

and then Representative Barbara Mikulski came to co-sponsor National Women?s History Week. This partnership is very curious given many of their seemingly diametrically opposed views. Mikulski was an advocate for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 2012, as a senator, she cosponsored a bill with others to reintroduce the amendment for ratification. Most of the news coverage I found that included both Orrin Hatch and Barbara Mikulski focused on the heated debate over the Equal Rights Amendment.

My working argument throughout this series has been that the co-sponsorship of National Women?s History Week was an effort to demonstrate bipartisanship during the otherwise contentious time concerning women?s rights during this period. I do not diminish Women?s History Week as a ?token? effort to show cooperation during this time, as it was a much-needed recognition during a time when other weeks and months were being set aside to celebrate the historical achievements of non-white men in power.

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Recent Comments

Rachel Helps on Digitized Publications Available from: “BYU also scanned the Exponent II and it's available on archive.org.”


Kent S Larsen II on Digitized Publications Available from: “It’s not just the Scandinavian, German and Dutch publications that are available. Almost all the foreign language publications in the Church History Library are available…”


Matt Harris on Digitized Publications Available from: “C. Terry & J. Stapley: Thanks for these outstanding posts!”


Gary Bergera on Digitized Publications Available from: “This is great and deserves wide circulation. (And J. Stapley's amazing.)”


C Terry on Digitized Publications Available from: “Thanks for all those helpful additions, J Stapley!”


J. Stapley on Digitized Publications Available from: “...and one last one. All of the relevant University digital collections are worth checking out (though as you note BYU's is the most impressive…”

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