In the Ghetto: I Like It Here, but When Can I Get Out?

By March 27, 2013

My ghetto isn?t a slum; I?m quite comfortable here. My ghetto has lovely wallpaper, good hot (chocolate) drinks, and great stories. Really amazing stories. But it is separate.

Tona has given us a great review of Volume 2 of Women of Faith here. I think that Women of Faith is a fantastic contribution in which I have thankfully had the opportunity to participate. I do not want to take away from that. At the same time I wonder how long LDS women?s narratives will remain just here separate and apart?in the ghetto of women?s history.

Women of Faith continues the biographical standard for Mormon women?s history started by Edward Tullidge in his classic 1877 The Women of Mormondom and spread to the four corners (of at least Utah) by the voluminous publications of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. We may malign Kate Carter and her possible document burning ways, but during her 35-year tenure as president of the DUP she compiled, sometimes authored, but always published women?s history prolifically. (If her Wikipedia publications list is right, her list of publications is unrivaled within Mormon history.) We certainly wish her methodology was a bit more rigorous (o that she had cited or even included primary sources), but hers is a very important part of this tradition.

Tona?s Mormon Women?s History reading list demonstrates the continuation of this tradition of biography?particularly those publications written for a general audience. There is much to be said for the need for compensatory history and there is still much compensatory history to be done for Mormon women. Women of Faith certainly fits and flourishes there. And though biography is often the much-maligned stepchild of history (at least among academics), its potential profitability is indisputable.

Women of Faith is a momentous stride, but I wonder how Mormon women will be completely incorporated into the larger narrative of LDS Church History if their main source for Mormon women?s history is biographical narrative histories? When will Mormon women play a greater role in the complete narrative of the Restoration?

The straight biographical form is great to learn about the women of the Restoration, but not easily incorporated into the larger narrative of church history. I would love it if Gospel Doctrine teachers, early morning seminary teachers, Relief Society teachers, Priesthood quorum teachers, and CES personnel across the globe were reading Women of Faith. Not to mention Young Men and Young Women’s advisors. Yet even were that the (very unlikely) case, readers would have to scour each volume for a tidbit here and a morsel there that might work into their Sunday School, Seminary, Relief Society, Priesthood quorum lesson, or Institute class. The same could be said for other sources that focus on biography. Though I wish people would take that time to look for sources that better round out the narrative, hoping that that they will consistently do it for themselves is merely a pipe dream. And really, that is the job of a historian.

When I cracked open my copy of Rough Stone Rolling for the first time and read Richard Bushman?s prologue, I began to understand the almost hackneyed Josiah Quincy quote about Joseph Smith as I better understood the context. As the prologue continued, Bushman argues that Quincy was so wrapped up in the personality of Smith that he could not see Joseph as did Joseph’s followers, as a prophet. I then read the words written by an early convert, Phebe Crosby Peck, to her sister, ?Did you know of the things of God and could you receive the blessings that I have from the hand of the Lord you would not think it a hardship to come here for the Lord is revealing the misteries of the heavenly Kingdom unto his Children.?[1] It was a poignant moment for me because I knew someone had not only read something that I published, but they thought it significant enough to quote it.

As I think upon it now, I recognize the calculated choice that was the inclusion of Phebe?s words. Bushman doesn?t even call her by name, it is only the inclusion of the pronoun ?her? that tips us off to the gender of the source. Bushman could have more easily found a quote from male LDS Church leadership that would have reflected essentially the same sentiment. But not only male LDS Church leadership believed Joseph a prophet, ?approximately half the people in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been women.?[2] This seemingly tiny thing becomes weighty in context. Including Phebe reminds the reader of experience of this other half, juxtaposes nicely with “The Great” Josiah Quincy, and in the process produces a more balanced representation of the past.

It takes time and effort to conceive of a more complete and whole narrative of LDS history. Academics have begun the process of a more inclusive understanding, but when will that narrative be more accessible to not only academics, but LDS Church membership as a whole?

I hope that CES instructors reading Women of Faith will take the time and effort to find sources and rework how they teach the narrative of church history, yet I know how much time it takes to rework lesson plans. If someone whose career is devoted to Restoration doesn’t have the time (even when The Religious Educator pleads with them here), how much less likely is it that your local ward Gospel Doctrine teacher, struggling to learn the basics of the narrative, will incorporate women?s voices–no matter how enthusiastic they may be? Until there begin to be popular LDS sources and church curriculum that incorporate women’s voices into the larger story of the Restoration, LDS women’s history will remain in the ghetto rather than taking the equal place it deserves in the narrative of the Restoration. I suppose I?m impatient waiting in my ghetto?as much as I like the stories.

[1] Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 6. The original publication is here.

[2] Richard E. Turley and Brittany Chapman, eds. Women of Faith in the Latter-days, Vol. 1-2, ?Introduction.?

Article filed under Miscellaneous Women's History


  1. Really nice illustration of the integration issue via Bushman, and a good outline of the pedagogical challenges.

    Comment by Ryan T. — March 27, 2013 @ 7:51 am

  2. One might argue that gender historians use the term ghetto too glibly, but I want to focus on the significant element of separation. I would argue that while death and violence can be elements of ghettos, segregation is always an element. Gains in the field are always important, but the question of integration remains.

    Comment by JJohnson — March 27, 2013 @ 8:06 am

  3. This is absolutely fantastic, JJ, and very much needed. As one who is guilty of sometimes forgetting to do the very incorporation you are calling for, this is a welcome call to repentance.

    It is fascinating what happens when we try to shift our narratives by incorporating women. For instance, Rachel Cope’s work on women in the “Burned Over District” reveals that that very title is gendered and overlooks how women understood religiosity in that area and period.

    Perhaps biography is the go-to source for women’s history because, for many people who (at times, reluctantly) support the field are mostly in it to find usable narratives for the present? As our own Christopher has shown, biography is the most effective way of collapsing historical distance, and that seems to be a general trait in devotional women’s history.

    Comment by Ben P — March 27, 2013 @ 8:25 am

  4. Perhaps someone needs to write the Mormon studies of Anne Braude’s “Women’s History Is American Religious History”? Or, everyone in the field should at least ready Braude’s essay, anyways.

    Comment by Ben P — March 27, 2013 @ 8:28 am

  5. Amen. Preach it!

    Comment by Kristine — March 27, 2013 @ 8:29 am

  6. I agree whole heartedly–we MUST include women in our larger historical arguments and interpretations.

    I also think that until we have GOOD, critical biographies of Mormon women, it is hard to include them.

    That said, in all honesty, I don’t love reading biographies. I’m so self-contradictory. 🙂

    Comment by Jenny R — March 27, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  7. Great Post

    Comment by Jessica F — March 27, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  8. I think I understand your point, and as far as I do understand I agree with it … but I have three questions or arguments.

    First, with such a longstanding habit of listening only to men’s voices, historians need a pool of women’s voices to draw from if women are ever to be incorporated in the main narrative. I often read you academic historians, especially emerging historians, saying something like “using Life-of-X as a lens to examine Issue-Y.” The important thing is always Issue Y — but you need that tool, that Life-of-X, to be clear and true in order to see your Issue Y through it. The well researched, well written lives of women provides you with those lenses. Somebody has to grind and polish those lenses before you can use them, or before women’s voices and stories are available for any other historical use.

    Second, while collective biography can surely reinforce a separation, I think a series like Women of Faith is far less a separation than popular gender studies. For one thing, Women of Faith shows no sign of trying to make any broad points about women, beyond the fact that the set of “faithful church members” includes the subset “faithful women.” The thing that strikes me over and over about these two volumes is that the women’s lives are unique, their voices distinct. They are persons in their own right, with their femaleness being only one aspect of their personality. These collections don’t try to tell us that “Mormon women are X, Y, and Z,” only that Mormon women are. So although I know it was a deliberate choice to provide the life writings of women, and that this series enters your ghetto, that seems a different sort of sorting than gender studies that focus on women as a melded class.

    And third, who exactly is writing a larger narrative of church history in which to incorporate women’s voices? I see lots of specialized studies (gender, and race), and studies of events (Mountain Meadows, Civil War) and periods (Kirtland, Nauvoo), and periods masquerading as biography (David O. McKay, Spencer W. Kimball). In all of those, I see, or think I see, women appropriately incorporated into the main narrative, as far as they were involved. Certainly Mark Staker and Greg Prince and Ed Kimball have included women, and (fortunately, IMO) where women are absent from soldier and massacre narratives it is chiefly because they were (barely) involved. But until we see some real narrative history again, showing the contributions to church history by every kind of member, I think it’s a little hard to lament that women aren’t being incorporated into a largely non-existent kind of publication.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 27, 2013 @ 9:05 am

  9. Ardis: while I don’t have much time, I just want to say that I agree 100% with your first two points. Absolute agreement, and you explain it in a very persuasive way even if I wasn’t.

    I am not as satisfied, though, as you are with the progress outlined in point three, even with the books you highlight. (Though since Prince’s and Kimball’s are biographies, it is admittably harder to incorporate women.) I don’t think it has to be narrative to properly incorporate women. Indeed, the way that we (I!) frame our topical and specialized studies reveals a gendered choice, whether conscious or not, and I would say a vast majority of specialized studies in Mormon history are framed in a way that limits the incorporation of women. For instance, my current project, the succession crisis, has based the terms and conditions upon which we understand the Church’s evolution after Joseph Smith’s death in ways that privileges institutional developments and power structures–things that were dominated by men.

    Anyways, there is much more that could be said, but you bring up excellent and important questions, so I thought I’d try to offer at least a partial response.

    Comment by Ben P — March 27, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  10. Aside from the link to Rachel’s article in the Religious Educator in the OP, her contribution to the JI’s “Women in the Academy” series (the comments are excellent, too) has some great insights into ways that reconceptualizing “women’s history” as “gender history” breaks down the private/public framework that creates the gendered “ghetto” that JJ describes.

    Comment by David G. — March 27, 2013 @ 9:42 am

  11. I am reading Janiece’s post right as I am completing my biographies for the next Women of Faith volume. So, I, too, feel conflict over the necessity of bringing these women to light in some form, while also recognizing a long overdue need for better integration of women into our larger historical narrative.

    Maybe these biographies are inaccessible and difficult to sort through, but I keep thinking that there will now be a handful of LDS readers who will know that Emma and Lucy (and maybe Minerva Teichert and Marie Osmond) were not the only Mormon women of significance in our 200+ year history. Or that when asked about Mormon women’s political activism, that Barbara Smith appearing on Phil Donahue isn’t the only image that comes to their mind.

    I’m reminded of a friend of mine here in Idaho who taught high priests. He used Daughters in my Kingdom as his lesson text for one discussion, and had a useful exercise/test to see how much these high priests knew about the history of the RS, significant Mormon women, etc. Turns out, not much at all. And the fact that he was released from his calling shortly after that has left him with the nervousness that he got “excised” because he had crossed an inappropriate gender boundary. I’d like to think that projects like DIMK and Women of Faith at least move us beyond the place where women don’t exist at all, except as a handful of bonneted RS leaders and later generic polygamists.

    I’m wondering if part of the problem with how we tell our collective history is not just that we’ve ghettoized women, but that we’ve ghettoized the decades between 1848 and 1978? It’s really hard to incorporate Mormon women into an institutional narrative that is mostly non-existent beyond when the Saints arrived in the valley, with a smattering of polygamy persecution/Manifesto and doctrinal developments like Word of Wisdom and Welfare thrown in, until we get to the big bang of priesthood ordination for black males.

    Maybe what we’ve needed (and my Mo-Fem friends might hate me for this) is a Women AND MEN of Faith in the Latter-Days?

    I love how you’ve offered some very specific applications for de-ghettoizing Mormon women, especially in the day-to-day teaching by CES and gospel doctrine instructors. I’m wondering if this vision just needs more time, or if it needs more concerted institutional efforts to make this a reality and not just a whim of the “enthusiastic gospel doctrine teacher.” My inner cynic says probably the latter.

    So, to suggest even more real-world applications for what you’ve offered here: That DIMK (even with its incompleteness) might be assigned reading for both men and women in the Church, or that someday, once we’ve cycled through all of the presidents of the church, that the RS General Presidents will be assigned reading for both RS and Priesthood (or, even better, alternate years?)? Or that primary children will sing songs about silk worms and wheat? Or that when we talk about early Restoration events, that we can refer to Mother Whitmer wanting to (and getting to) see the plates, too, because her sons did? Or when we talk about Zion’s Camp, that people will know– without surprise– that not only were there women who marched in that group, but that a wealthy woman actually helped pay for it? For historians, we need to look harder for ways to tell the usual stories by placing women firmly at the center of those events. And for the church, we need to more firmly incorporate women into the institutional and cultural telling of our history.

    Excellent food for thought, Janiece.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — March 27, 2013 @ 10:33 am

  12. Ardis-

    1) Completely agreed. I hope I was clear that although Women of Faith fits in a traditional biographical vein, it is still really significant. Offering primary sources to allow women speak with their own voices is invaluable. Much of the women’s history work that I’ve published fits in this category and I certainly don’t want to devalue it here. And as I said I think we still need more compensatory history like this.

    2) I think David’s suggestion of Rachel’s piece is a good suggestion here. I think that a good gender history will likewise allow for those individual voices. If we’re trying to understand discourse it is essential to be able to point out continuities as well as dissonance in thought.

    3) I think there is still significant progress to be made and it isn’t just with narrative histories.

    One of my concerns is for a larger LDS Church audience. I’m hoping that current projects that you and others are working on will more readily incorporate women’s voices, but how long will it take for the general narrative of Church History to change? Deseret Book’s women’s history is almost exclusively in this biographical devotional vein. I’m sure part of the reason for this is that people want it and therefore it sells. Will the academic work done within the CHL and other academics trickle down to the general church audience via curriculum? If it will, how long will it take? I agree with ARM, I think that it will take a more concerted institutional effort.

    Comment by JJohnson — March 27, 2013 @ 10:45 am

  13. Yes, so much yes.

    Comment by Saskia — March 27, 2013 @ 10:47 am

  14. You ask whether Kate Carter’s publications list in Wikipedia is correct. I compiled it from WorldCat and it included everything found there in July last year.

    The list is not complete. It needs to be checked against the records of the DUP, assuming they have anything like a publications list, which is a pretty big assumption.

    Most of the items on the list are compiled works which means that Carter requested the information from DUP members and then compiled it under her own name, sometimes with attribution, often without.

    I see two common problems with the DUP collections. First, sometimes people assume the information is correct. See the recent book Slavery in Utah Territory for an unfortunate example. But the second problem is much more unfortunate, and it involves professional historians disregarding the collections of the DUP due to a half-remembered anecdote about the iron-willed Kate Carter doing some nefarious thing. That’s very, very unfortunate, because frequently in Utah and Mormon history, the DUP is where the women’s voices are stored, waiting to be heard.

    It does take work to use the collections, though. A well-known Carter work is the 84-page book The Negro Pioneer. From the work I’ve done on some of the slave histories, I’d guess that it’s about 40-50 percent accurate. That means that every item needs to be fact-checked, but it also means that it provides good information that otherwise would have been lost to history.

    Another of Kate Carter’s works was written with Bryant Hinckley and Nicholas Morgan, which was fitting company for her, since the two of them also collected some wonderful information, but likewise had problems with sourcing and reliability. None of them were trained historians, and it shows, but they did do work that the historians of the time were not doing, and they have preserved many important stories, pictures, maps, and artifacts. Often there is no real justification for the lack of use of these materials except that the DUP didn’t preserve everything, and that Kate Carter didn’t do her work to the standards of the modern professional historian.

    So, here’s another voice agreeing that women’s history needs to be let out of the ghetto. But it will take some creativity and lobbying and detailed work on the part of many historians, male and female, to incorporate those important and sometimes elusive voices.

    Comment by Amy T — March 27, 2013 @ 10:50 am

  15. Part of the reason I love things like USU’s Life Writings of Frontier Women series is because they allow for this sort of application. And just as everyone should read JS’s journals, I think there are must-reads in women’s primary sources. In fact I think that is why I gravitate to recommending them when discussions of reading lists come up. I think that I have tended to view the secondary literature as inadequate and hoped that recommending the primary sources would help rectify that.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 27, 2013 @ 10:54 am

  16. You’ve given me a lot to think about, JJ. Fantastic post!

    Comment by J Stuart — March 27, 2013 @ 11:32 am

  17. Amy T and anyone who has worked with the DUP histories or archives-

    JennyR and I had an amazing interaction with the DUP photo archivist (I’m sorry her name is escaping me at the moment) and her husband last summer. They have gone to great lengths to work to digitize the entire collection and re-catalogue everything. I have great hopes for the future of the DUP collection.

    Comment by JJohnson — March 28, 2013 @ 7:41 am

  18. Great post. SO important! Compensatory history is kinda like affirmative action – incredibly necessary for a while, but then increasingly problematic, controversial, and worrisome over time, because at some point there should just. be. history. And that’s too simplistic, of course, because there’s never “just history.” But somehow, it should be a like a giant highway on which ALL the cars can travel, instead of a highway with a very lovely well-paved parallel 2-lane road running alongside it just for the pink cars.

    Comment by Tona H — March 28, 2013 @ 8:12 am

  19. That’s wonderful, JJohnson. The DUP has been very helpful, both in Salt Lake and in Washington County, and the next time I’m in Utah, I would really like to meet Sister —, who has bent over backwards to help provide histories for one of my projects. The woman I’ve interacted with in the photo department is Carol Nielson, very professional and helpful.

    One thing I’ve noticed about DUP members (including some I know very well) is that few of them are bothered by our history. Joseph Smith and polygamy? No problem. Polygamy in general? No problem. They might not like it, but history isn’t a surprise or a cause for a faith crisis.

    Comment by Amy T — March 28, 2013 @ 11:28 am

  20. […] Please join us for a thoughtful discussion of Mormon women’s biography, featuring editors Brittany Chapman and Rick Turley, a few featured authors of the biographies (to be announced), a brief program, refreshments, and opportunities to meet, mingle, and purchase books.   Also, for a good discussion of the place and usefulness of biography in Mormon women’s history, you may reread Janiece’s excellent post here. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » An Evening with the Editors and Authors of Women of Faith, Volume 2 — April 4, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  21. Janiece and Ben P., we’re on the same page. It requires re-theorizing women in history, which I was working on long ago, but returned to in 2006. Stay tuned.

    Comment by M.Hanks — April 8, 2013 @ 9:12 pm


Recent Comments

J Stuart on Reassessing the Classics: Armand: “Armand, your response made me unexpectedly emotional. Your work has shaped me as a scholar in many important ways, but your legendary willingness to engage…”

Ardis E. Parshall on Reassessing the Classics: Armand: “I've enjoyed these three discussions -- crowned by this response by Armand Mauss himself. It is so representative of his ability and willingness to interact…”

Armand Mauss on Reassessing the Classics: Armand: “I am pleasantly surprised and deeply grateful for the three assessments offered in this space this week by Gary Shepherd, Jana Riess, and Matt Bowman.…”

Roger T on Reassessing the Classics: Armand: “Since I work in Mormon studies, I tend to read a lot. It's impossible to keep up with everything being published, but over the past…”

Jeff T on Q&A with Taylor Petrey,: “Thanks, Taylor!”

Jeff T on The Mechanics of Applying: “Thanks, J!”