Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith?s 1893-94 Diary: What it Reveals about Lucy, her Husband, and Ourselves, Part II

By March 7, 2012

My first interest in the 1893-94 diary of Lucy Smith stemmed from her brief visit to the Chicago World?s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  ?Fair diaries,? as I like to call them, are difficult to find, especially those written by women, with those by Mormon women even more rare.  For my own scholarship, visitors to the fair potentially have much to reveal about contemporary American views on women?s rights, race, American patriotism, imperialism, technological progress and culture in the 1890s.[1]  Lucy?s diary didn?t give me as much of the cultural comment that I was hoping for, but a few promising nuggets.

In my previous post here, we learned about Lucy?s racial attitudes as a Mormon visitor in the post-bellum South.  And yet I still like her.  I find her observations interesting, sometimes humorous, and definitely inquisitive.  So curious, that in the spring of 1893, prior to their departure for the Fair, George and Lucy spent numerous Sundays visiting other churches.  On January 8, ?Geo, Mrs. Mason and myself went to the 2 Presbyterian Church to hear the Rev. Mr ______________ speak.?[2]  Then on January 29, they ?attended communion service at the Episcopal church.  It was very long and I got very tired.?[3]  On February 19, they ?went to Church at the Baptists and heard the Rev Mr Jones enjoyed the sermon very much.?[4]  February 26 included two visits:  one to an aforementioned ?negro Methodist revival,? and a morning visit to the ?Methodist Church? where they ?heard a very good discourse by Dr Payne from New York.?[5]  And in March, they attended the 1st Presbyterian Church for an evening service.[6]  Easter Sunday, April 2, was spent ?with Mr & Mrs Lertz to the Catholic church.  The church was a handsome one.  As pretty a Catholic church as I have ever seen.?[7]  And on the 16th, ?Attended the Centenary Church. . . . At home the reminder [sic] of the day.?[8]  On May 14, just prior to leaving for the Chicago World?s Fair, the Smiths attended a ?Dr Bachmans [sic] church & listened to quite a nice sermon.?[9]

Considering that Lucy & George were visitors in the region of the country probably most hostile to Mormonism, I was fascinated by their willingness to engage with other religions on seemingly equal terms.  We can allow that Lucy was a bit bored by the Episcopalians and predictably horrified by the Black Methodist Church. More intriguing, though, are her positive reactions to other denominations, exposing an openness toward ecumenical sharing that is a bit surprising. Lucy doesn?t reveal any motives for these visits, but it?s almost as though, without an equivalent Mormon service to attend, these other meetings did just fine for providing her spiritual sustenance for the week.

This ecumenical climate seems most unexpected, especially because the Southern Mission was no picnic for Mormon missionaries.  On November 8, Lucy reported with great concern that ?Geo & Bro K [J. Golden Kimball] came last night and I was so glad to see them but how frightened I was when I heard that they were nearly killed last Sunday night by a mob.?[10]  George provides more details of his and J. Golden?s frightening encounter here, indicating how close they had come to certain death, or at least a sound thrashing.  In regards to this violent anti-Mormon persecution in the Southern Mission, historian Patrick Mason attributes it not so much to a theological divide between southern evangelical protestants and Mormonism as to white southerners? sense of honor and their fears that Mormons would undermine their political, racial and social power structure.[11]  That distinction can be important for our purposes here, because mere theological differences would not have warranted the kind of violence that Mormon elders experienced in the South.  Still, I wonder whether it was more about doctrine or politics, especially in the post-Manifesto era.

Later other missionaries received threats: ?Received word that Elder Margetts & Dana were missing.?  Fortunately, two days later, ?Word has been received that the elders are alright.?[12]  And later Lucy described how ?Geo was busy all day with the elders.  Got a telegram that Elder Carter was seriously burned with carbolic acid & he Geo had to go to him. . . .?[13]  I am once again fascinated by Lucy?s complexities, juxtaposed as she was between forces of hatred and compassion.  This time, though, we find the Smiths and their contemporaries on the receiving end of violent persecution, while simultaneously appearing to reach out beyond themselves toward positive inter-denominational relations (well, except for the black churches).

When we find Lucy and George in Chicago, eager to take in the sights of the Chicago World?s Fair, it?s important to see their visit in the context of a growing American identity that was based upon technological advancement, racial superiority, religious conformity, and a grand imperialistic and patriotic confidence.  Their first impressions mirrored those of most American visitors.  Lucy marveled, ?Arrived in Chicago at 8:20  . . .  We then boarded the elevated R.R. and started for the fair. As the buildings appeared in sight I couldn?t call it anything but a miracle that I should be there.  I scarcely dreamed of such a thing when the fair was being built.?[14]  First, they admired the technological innovation, especially by spending ?most of our time in the manufactures & liberal arts building.?  They also took time to connect with other Mormons by visiting the Utah Building.  There they met ?Mrs. [Emily S.] Richards??Mormon suffragist and hostess for the Utah Building, as well as ?May Preston, Priscilla, Rachel & Mr. [Franklin S.] Richards. And how happy we were at meeting them.?

The first day of the Fair took its toll:  ?I went home to our room at night weary and tired.  I could scarcely stand.? [15]   The next day was no different in its exertions, for ?we went in early at the fair and remained until nearly 11 P.M.  The electrical display was magnificent and thoroughly enjoyed by me.  Never will I forget so long as I live the beautiful sight I gazed on that night.?[16]  The fourth day brought the most revealing tidbit.  ?George and I went to the auditorium to see America and enjoyed it very much.  It was grand.?[17]  The musical production they attended was an important one for fairgoers to celebrate Columbus?s discovery, as well as symbols of American freedom and patriotism that the Fair reinforced.   See program here for America at Chicago World’s Fair

Here we see George and Lucy, like other Mormons, inserting themselves within a larger meta-narrative of American exceptionalism and patriotism.  Coming on the heels of intense anti-polygamy legislation of the 1880s, and only three years after the Manifesto, this was perhaps the first real ?Mormon Moment.?  Indeed, considering Mormons? previous conflicted relationship with the federal government, and in anticipation of their upcoming successful bid for statehood in 1896, the Fair presented an opportunity for members of the Church to remake themselves as assimilated Americans, a reinvention process that has continued almost unabated to this day.  Mormon leaders were quite successful at appropriating the language and symbolism of super-patriotism to fit within their Mormonism (although in a queer reversal of this today, I wonder if far too many Mormons try to adjust their Mormonism to fit within their patriotism.)  Much has been written here— about how Mormons could at once both love American ideals while also hating the representatives and figures of over-stretched federal authority.  And certainly the same is true today, as Mormons try so hard to prove their Americanness once and for all, by downplaying their otherness?often unsuccessfully?and also by embracing anti-government rhetoric which unites them with other populist ideologies.   As a historian, I question how much Mormons departed from patriotic rhetoric during the territorial period, or to what extent they maintained a consistent narrative of patriotism, whether it was sincere or not.

And finally, it is appropriate to return this discussion to the Smiths? embracing of religious pluralism, even if it was a bit superficial and touristy.  The ironic twist on their seeming openness to exploring other religions is that the same favor was not granted in return to their own.  Indeed, the greatest paradox of the Fair for Mormons was that, in spite of their mostly successful attempts at displaying their progress and assimilation through the various exhibits, congresses, and the Tabernacle Choir performance, they still could not gain acceptance to the World?s Parliament of Religions, meant to bring together religions from all over America and the World.  These accommodations masked an underlying painful reality for the Church?that of total non-acceptance by mainstream Protestant Christianity, mostly because of the continued taint of plural marriage, and the comparisons to other non-Christian and polygamist religions (especially Islam).  In fact, as Reid Neilson has carefully argued about B.H. Roberts? failed attempt to gain representation at the World?s Parliament of Religions, ?Protestant delegates were loath to admit the ?heretical? Mormons to their gathering.  Viewed by most American Protestants as neither a wholly Christian (insider) nor totally heathen (outsider) spiritual tradition, Mormons were relegated to an invisible (bystander) role at the history religious congress.?[18]

And yet, Mormons came away from the Parliament with more than the hurt of being publicly snubbed.  In fact, argues Neilson, disregarded as they were along with other non-western religions?and even moreso, Mormon leaders gained a greater appreciation of recognizing truths outside of Mormonism.[19] Perhaps Lucy and George had learned this lesson during their brief stint in Chattanooga.  With this historical context in mind, present-day Mormons should be cautious of political calls for a one-size-fits-all religious conformity, since it was exactly that mentality that sought to marginalize Mormon belief and practice in the 19th century.

[1] For more on how Mormon women used the Fair to craft a positive public image, see Andrea G. Radke-Moss, ?Mormon Women, Suffrage, and Citizenship at the 1893 Chicago World?s Fair,? in Gendering the Fair: Histories of Women and Gender at World?s Fairs, eds. TJ Boisseau and Abigail M. Markwyn (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2010), pp. 97-112.  See also Reid L. Neilson, Exhibiting Mormonism: The Latter-day Saints and the 1893 Chicago World?s Fair (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 75-105 (?Mormon Matriarchs?).

[2] Smith Diary, 8 January 1893, p. 3.

[3] Smith Diary, 29 January 1893, p. 8.

[4] Smith Diary, 19 February 1893, p. 13.

[5] Smith Diary, 26 February 1893, p. 15.

[6] Smith Diary, 19 March 1893, p. 20.

[7] Smith Diary, 2 April 1893, p. 25.

[8] Smith Diary, 16 April 1893, p. 28.

[9] Smith Diary, 14 May 1893, p. 34.

[10] Smith Diary, 8 November 1893, p. 97.

[11] Patrick Mason, The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Post-Bellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 121 and pp. 190-91.

[12] Smith Diary, 4 December and 6 December 1893, pp. 103-04.

[13] Smith Diary, 29 January 1894, p. 119.

[14] Smith Diary, 19 May 1893, p. 37.

[15] Smith Diary, 19 May 1893, pp. 37-38.

[16] Smith Diary, 20 May 1893, p. 38.

[17] Smith Diary, 22 May 1893, p. 40.

[18] Neilson, Exhibiting Mormonism, p. 143.

[19] Neilson, Exhibiting Mormonism, pp. 162-63.  Neilson argues that ?the Parliament prompted a Latter-day Saint rhetorical shift from the light and spirit of Christ theory to a diffusionary hypothesis . . . which proposes that all religions can trace their beginnings to the Christian gospel as originally taught to Adam and Eve by God.?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. …a queer reversal of this today, I wonder if far too many Mormons try to adjust their Mormonism to fit within their patriotism.

    Scary observation, that.

    I read this after reading Stuart’s guest post over at BCC, about the politics of “passing.” It appears that Lucy and George were getting some of our first lessons in how trying to pass as mainstream American was a lot harder than it looked. Nice positioning of Lucy’s diaries in both time and place here.

    Comment by kevinf — March 7, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

  2. Sorry, messed up that link. Stuart Parker’s guest post is here.

    Comment by kevinf — March 7, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

  3. I enjoyed the write-up, Andrea. I don’t really have anything to add, but you have highlighted some interesting tensions that I’ll have to consider moving forward in my research. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 8, 2012 @ 12:06 am

  4. […] what prompted my own interest in looking at Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith?s 1893-94 diary here and here.  I?m also looking forward to today?s post by Jonathan Stapley here, which gives us some more […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » March Madness: Recovering our Past through Women’s History Month and Relief Society Birthday Parties — March 13, 2012 @ 10:59 am


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