MHA Reminder and Selected Abstracts

By May 14, 2013

In a mere 23 days, the Mormon History Association’s meetings will convene in Layton, Utah. As you might imagine, we at JI are very excited to hear from the best and brightest in Mormon History. There are a few events/items worth mentioning:

1) From the MHA Program: MHA cordially invites all students and younger scholars to join us for refreshments and networking. This is a great opportunity to meet other students from around the country/world, learn about the benefits and challenges of working on Mormon history, discuss online networking, and learn more about what MHA has for you and how you can contribute to the study of Mormon history. Food and prizes will be provided. Prizes refers to a book raffle. You’ll want to register for the reception if you’re eligible!

2)Although I am among the most novice to Mormon History, I can’t remember ever seeing so many papers that I wanted to hear on one program. Many thanks to those who have put the conference together!

3) There are several JI members who are presenting their work this year. Their abstracts are presented in chronological order (when they will appear on the program) and we encourage anyone who would like to share their abstract to add it in the comments, or to share which sessions they are most excited to attend.


Amanda HK: Undressing Mahana: The Polynesian Cultural Center and the Growth of Modesty Culture in Utah and the Mormon Pacific since the 1950s

In 1951, Spencer W. Kimball delivered a speech at Brigham Young University admonishing young women not to wear immodest clothing.  He argued that backless dresses, tight sweaters, shorts, and evening gowns were evidence of unchastity the “great demon of the day.”  Instead of adopting these immodest styles, he encouraged Mormon girls to develop a “style of their own,” which would allow them to cultivate “clean hands and a pure heart.” Kimball worried about the influence that immodest clothing styles would have on the purity of Mormon girls and encouraged them to set themselves apart from larger American culture. Decades later, clothing remains an important part of the BYU honor code. Adhering to these standards visually marks BYU students as different from their counterparts at other universities, and suggests to current and prospective BYU students and the wider Mormon community that clothing is reflective of virtue and godliness.

The rise of modesty culture within Mormonism, however, has not been uncomplicated.  In 1963, the church opened the Polynesian Cultural Center as a way to fund scholarships at what is now BYU-Hawaii.  Although students adhere to modesty codes while on campus, they are required to wear revealing costumes that showcase their bodies while working at the church-owned cultural center. This paper asks what effects of the concealing of white bodies and revealing of Polynesian ones has had on conceptions of Polynesian and white Mormons in popular culture. In order to explore this question, this paper uses archival research and an analysis of popular films and novels to trace the rise of modesty culture and its differing effects in Utah and the Mormon Pacific.  Placing these two things together not only brings into focus the complicated history of modesty culture in Hawaii and the South Pacific, it also tells about the elisions and politics of the same culture within Utah and the American West.


Jordan W.: “Polygamy and the Past: The Historical Bases of Nineteenth-Century American Social Reform”

The debate over slavery in antebellum America raised questions about history and time. Was a pre-modern practice holding back a modern nation? Or was a time-tested institution ensuring its progress? Southerners were hardly of one mind on slavery, but most agreed that the institution, legitimated through historical and biblical precedent, was divinely ordained. Most northerners failed to mount a viable response. However, abolitionists cast the South as a backward region whose anachronistic institution derailed America from progressing toward its promised potential as a modern Republic. A similar, though somewhat submerged, debate over polygamy emerged just as the discussion over slavery reached a tipping point in the 1850s and 1860s. Mormon apologists, including apostle and theologian Orson Pratt, appealed to historical and biblical precedent in defending polygamy as divinely sanctioned. Anti-polygamists, like writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow, pointed to the new religion’s antedated practice as evidence that Mormonism was “a retrogression toward the ante-Christian ages.”[1]

Southerners and Mormons used historical arguments to protect their practices; they pointed to the pastness of these practices to legitimize their place in the present. Abolitionists and anti-polygamists used historical consciousness to condemn these practices; they emphasized the pastness of these practices to highlight their incongruence in modern America. While one side drew on the authority of the past, another emphasized the pastness of the past. This paper will focus on how apologists and critics of Mormonism distinctly used history to defend and critique polygamy. I will position this discussion in relation to other reform debates in an attempt to highlight the historical bases of social reform in nineteenth-century America and to explain some of the implications of those bases.


Ben P: “Liberal Religious and Social Reform in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: Edward Tullidge, James Gordon Bennett, and Octavius Frothingham”

Most nineteenth century Mormons sought to keep distance between themselves and the “world,” an exceptionalism founded in their millennialist zeal and nurtured by a persecuted past. But not all members of the LDS faith were as hesitant interacting with other thinkers and co-participating with broader trends. Edward Tullidge, an English convert who quickly became a prominent figure in Mormonism’s print culture, was eager to learn from and interact with larger reform movements. As a result, his writings demonstrate the elasticity and dynamic potential of the LDS message when put into dialogue with social reform movements.

This paper will focus on Tullidge’s two-year sojourn in New York City while acting as the Church’s public voice during the late 1850s. While living in the city, he came into contact with many of the leading figures in America’s social reform movement, including newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett. Bennett, along with minister Octavius Frothingham from Boston, was an early proponent of liberal religion’s potential to reform America’s culture, and Tullidge largely embraced their ideas. By examining how the enigmatic Mormon figure meshed his Mormonism with their liberal reform, I seek to shed light not only on Tullidge’s religious and political ideas, but also the broader currents of political theologies then capturing the nation’s attention.


JJohnson: “In Search of Reform: The Mountain Meadows Prosecution and Solving the Mormon Problem”

On 23 July 1875, U.S. Attorney William Carey opened the much-anticipated murder case against John D. Lee, the “butcher” of the Mountain Meadows, to a packed courtroom in Beaver, Utah, and to the larger United States via the newspapermen in attendance. A federal court tried Lee for murder in concert of action with nine others as a participant in the 1857 massacre of 120 California-bound men, women, and children from Arkansas. Finally, after eighteen years, someone would be tried for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Yet, individual accountability was not the only goal of legal action for the massacre.

From the beginning of the investigation different individuals desired multiple and at times conflicting goals. Concurrently with legal action for polygamy, federal officials saw significant opportunities to solve the Mormon problem with the Mountain Meadows prosecution. Close examination of the investigation for the massacre, the multiple grand juries that federal judges charged with addressing the massacre, and the eventual trials of John D. Lee demonstrate a variety of goals and avenues to address the Mormon problem. Individual convictions were not always considered the most advantageous option. This almost forty years of legal history demonstrates a variety of ways in which federal officials and religious crusaders attempted to reform different segments of the Mormon people and the Mormon religion in general through legal action for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This paper will specifically address efforts of the Mountain Meadows prosecution to highlight the failings of Mormon men and reform Mormon manhood.


Natalie R: “The Merry Times of My Happy Girlhood”:  Diaries and Female Mormon Adolescence, 1870s-1920s

On Saturday September 29, 1877, seventeen-year-old Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (LDS) member Annie Wells wrote in her journal: “I know I have neglected this book awfully and I am so sorry for I do love you so. My own life written here will be such a comfort to me when I am old to sit and read of the merry times of my happy girlhood.” From the late-nineteenth century to the early-twentieth, adolescent Mormon girls used their diaries as a strategy for self-expression and self-discipline in what scholar Jane H. Hunter refers to as the “formalization of one kind of self.”  The act of keeping a diary was imbued with religious meaning for Mormon adolescent females during this period, as they affirmed and reacted to doctrine and church prescription in their writings. Furthermore, these diaries fit within a spectrum of autobiographical writings produced by Mormons as a method to connect living descendants and their ancestors in both the temporal and celestial worlds. Wells’ personal admonishing about her irregular writing elucidates a profound concern for her future religious self-development.

Diaries provide a window to view how girls and female adolescents expressed their religious and cultural identities as Mormons. Utilizing a variety of diaries from the 1870s to the 1920s, I analyze how wide transformations within the church and region affected young women’s personal and public religious lives.  Examining adolescent women’s experiences illuminates how they accepted and grappled with the church and region’s metamorphosis. Additionally, I explore how young women envisioned their Mormon girlhoods in comparison to the expectations set forth by the church hierarchy, the Young Woman’s Journal, and mainstream American discussions about girlhood and adolescence.


Cristine: “Monumentalizing Mormonism: Crafting a Heroic American Pioneer Past for the Latter-day Saints, 1920-1960”

The mid-twentieth century was a high point for the Mormon image in America’s first “Mormon moment.” While it often seems that the Saints and the rest of America have been engaged in competing projects to craft and control Mormonism’s public image, during this period the Saints’ accommodations to wider American norms (Mauss, 1994) intersected with broader American efforts to present a unified front against the nation’s Communist enemies. This effort included a sanitized reimagining of America’s nineteenth-century westward  expansion, transforming American pioneers of all stripes into heroic figures cooperating to bring civilization to the wild frontier. Mormon pioneer heroes often appeared in popular historical writing, like that of Bernard DeVoto, Wallace Stegner, and films like Brigham Young: Frontiersman (1940) and the John Ford Western Wagon Master (1950). But another key aspect of this sweeping re-visioning of western and Mormon history was accomplished through travel and tourism encouraged by the Latter-day Saints, various national industries, and the federal government alike. The Mormons had been a tourist attraction long before their status as a national “menace” waned, as evidenced by publications like Sir Richard Burton’s travelogue The City of the Saints (1862) and Mark Twain’s reminiscences in Roughing It (1872) of his days in Salt Lake City. But their status shifted after 1920 from cultural curiosity to exemplar of American values. Increasingly, after 1920, Americans were encouraged to explore the Mormon past in the form of new national parks across the intermountain West; new (or newly refurbished) historic sites like Palmyra and Nauvoo; and dozens of monuments tracing the Mormon Trail from upstate New York to the Salt Lake Valley. This paper will explore how, between 1920 and 1960, Mormon and non-Mormon Americans cooperated to recast the nineteenth-century Mormon community as mythic Americans whose striving and suffering helped win the west.

Nate R : “Shameful Inconsistencies”: Joseph F. Smith Encounters the British Fieldings

In April 1862, while serving an LDS mission in the British Isles, Joseph F. Smith sought out his mother’s surviving siblings in the vicinity of Preston, Lancashire, partially with the intent of reforging the bonds of kinship and partially to assess their attitude toward Mormonism. He found Mary Fielding Smith’s siblings superstitious, headstrong, and suspicious of the LDS Church and its doctrines. For his part, Joseph F. could not understand their bullishness, responding with characteristic defensiveness and leaving disappointed in his mother’s family after several days of socialization-and Bible-bashing. This paper examines and contextualizes the sentimental, frustrating, and eye-opening encounters between the young missionary and his Fielding relatives, including his uncle, James Fielding; his aunt, Martha Fielding Watson; and a cousin by marriage, Ellen Myrescough. The author argues that the combined meetings of April 23-25, 1862 proved to be a pivotal moment in Joseph F. Smith’s life, reshaping his vision of family, heritage, missionary labor, and redemption. These encounters provide essential insight into the development of Joseph F. Smith’s worldview during his formative time away from the Salt Lake Valley, especially when juxtaposed with similar meetings with the extended Smith family in 1860 in Nauvoo.

Robin: Joseph Smith Papers Project Roundtable

Robin will discuss the important insight gained after years of analysis of the Church’s earliest revelation record book titled the “Book of Commandments and Revelations.” The way the earliest members gathered and assembled the revelations reveal, in part, the treatment and reception of these sacred texts. The book’s principal scribe, John Whitmer, combined his role as scribe and historian as he created the book, already forcing the revelations into a historical narrative of the church, which paved the way for the revelations’ first publication in book form.


Brett D: “Reconstructing Mormon Youth: The Battle Over Utah’s Territorial School System and the Origins of Weekday Religious Education, 1869-1890”

Between the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 and the establishment of the Religion Class program in October of 1890, Utah’s territorial schools became a place of intense conflict.  Whereas Mormon officials had wielded significant influence over the schools and their curriculum prior to the railroad, by the early 1870s it was obvious that the government would seize control of the schools in its attempt to reconstruct and Americanize Mormonism from the youth up.  As a part of a larger national idea to construct Protestant Americanism, the government made ample use of the schools to instill American values into children and to undercut the cultural and religious ideas of non-Protestant Americans.  In their response to these challenges, Mormon officials studied and attempted a number of different political and educational answers, including theological schools, academies, and ultimately weekday religious education programs that supplemented the public schools.  As a result, these years were critical to forming the Church’s seminary and institute programs in later years.

Steve Fleming: “Christian Platonism, Early Mormonism, and the Debates over the Great Apostasy 1650-1844”

The idea that early Christianity had been corrupted by Greek philosophy was a very popular claim in Joseph Smith’s day.  Smith owned a book by one of the biggest proponents of this assertion. Johann Lorenz von Mosheim and other early Mormons cited Mosheim when discussing Christian history.  Yet neither Smith nor other early Mormons promoted this narrative of the apostasy.  It is very likely that Smith and other early Mormon writers heard the Hellenization claim but they never asserted it themselves.

The idea that Plato corrupted early Christianity became popular among Protestants in the late seventeenth century and has continued to the present.  As a way to attack both Catholics and radicals who believed in revelation, Protestant scholars argued that the early Fathers who liked Plato had corrupted the church.  The central tenets of corrupt Platonic Christianity, Protestant scholars argued, were the eternity of matter and belief in personal revelation (and its implications for human divine potential).  Smith not only embraced both of these tenets but even used the some of the same phrases that the Protestant anti-Platonists condemned.

Despite the ubiquity of these anti-Platonic claims and Smith’s and other Mormons’ interest in the issue of the apostasy, no early Mormons said that the apostasy was caused by Greek philosophy.  Instead the Book of Mormon said that the great and abominable church removed plain and precious truths from the Bible: it was the removal not the addition of ideas that was the problem.  Unfortunately, some later Mormon scholars have embraced the Protestant anti-Platonic narrative, a move that we ought to seriously reconsider.

J Stuart: “A Tear for Zion and Two Tears for the American Nation”: Rationale for and Reaction to the 1890 Manifesto

In 1890, Wilford Woodruff stunned the Latter-day Saints by announcing to a General Conference that the LDS Church would no longer sanction polygamous marriages. Woodruff’s shift in theology and practice had far-reaching effects for the Latter-day Saints as a people. It led to the end of sustained federal prosecution for their religious practices, retention of their temples, and reason to hope for a deliverance from the dire financial state of their church. In spite of their reasons for optimism, Latter-day Saints were forced to abandon the crowning ordinance and defining behavior of their faith: plural marriage.

The lived religion of 19th century Mormonism is best viewed through the reactions to polygamy’s formal end in 1890, when reflection on the Woodruff Manifesto elicited raw and honest reaction to their religious and familial commitments. Through careful analysis of the diaries, journals, sermons and autobiographies of Saints who lived through this period, I demonstrate how Mormons reacted to the Manifesto and how they came to grips with polygamy’s formal end. Latter-day Saint reactions to the Manifesto, as well as the reasoning they used to explain the Manifesto, will be analyzed and addressed.


Which sessions are you most excited for?


            [1] Fitz Hugh Ludlow, The Heart of the Continent: A Record Of Travel Across The Plains And In Oregon, With An Examination Of The Mormon Principle (New York: AMS Press, 1971), 523-524.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Conference/Presentation Reports Current Events


  1. Thanks for putting this together, Joey. I’m thrilled to see so many JIers participating and presenting on such fascinating and important topics.

    And the student reception should be fun. I hope everyone can attend.

    Comment by Christopher — May 14, 2013 @ 7:33 am

  2. These all look superb, and I am pretty excited for this MHA. Thanks for compiling this, Joey.

    Comment by Natalie R — May 14, 2013 @ 8:56 am

  3. Operating under one of my old high school debate slogans, “If you don’t blow your own horn, no one else will,” here is the abstract for my presentation. I am in the same session with Nate Ricks, sou you can get a two for one.

    Kevin Folkman: ?Just Like the Mountains of Tennessee and Virginia?: LDS Servicemen in Siberia, 1918-1919
    As most US servicemen drafted into the military during World War I headed east across the Atlantic bound for Europe, the men of the 31st Infantry boarded ships in San Francisco and sailed west across the Pacific, landing in Vladivostok in August and September of 1918 as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Siberia. Unlike the war in Europe, military operations in Siberia and Northern Russia involving allied forces continued beyond the November 11 armistice, ending with the last US troops leaving Vladivostok in the spring of 1920.
    A small but significant number of those servicemen were LDS, drafted from Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and other western states. Many were returned missionaries, some with wives and children at home. They quickly found each other in basic training, socializing on weekends, and organizing a formal branch of the church upon arrival in Siberia. The LDS soldiers dealt with declining public support, poorly understood goals, and difficulties with allies and enemies alike. Barely acknowledged and not well remembered, the Siberian campaign has many interesting parallels with more recent military conflicts.
    My proposal is to examine the details of the service of these LDS soldiers, how they perceived their mission in light of their LDS religion, and how it was perceived at home by family, friends, and the LDS church in general. Some of these men?s sacrifices have not been well understood by their families and descendents today. This paper intends to shed additional light on this forgotten campaign and bring this story to a wider audience.

    Comment by kevinf — May 14, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  4. kevin, that sounds like a great paper.

    Comment by smb — May 14, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

  5. Looks like a great conference.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 14, 2013 @ 10:12 pm

  6. Kevin, I look forward to rubbing elbows with you in the session and learning more about the AEF in Siberia!

    Comment by Nate R. — May 15, 2013 @ 7:43 am

  7. Info Molto utile. Spero di vedere presto altri post!

    Comment by trasloco — May 15, 2013 @ 5:48 pm


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