Research Query: Mormon Bachelorhood

By November 28, 2012

From William and Mary graduate student and friend of JI Spencer Wells:

Skimming through the Journal of Discourses I’ve come across quite a few references to the dangers of Mormon bachelorhood. As we all know, such tropes have carried into modern Mormondom. However, I am interested in problematizing concerns over bachelorhood in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as placing the conversations which church leaders are having concerning masculinity and its discontents in a wider national context. While I do not have a working thesis at the moment (this project is still very much in the formative stage) I am curious if anyone

  • a) Knows of any good primary or secondary sources I can consult on Mormon bachelorhood, and
  • b) whether there has been a good amount of work done on this already. I haven’t found much, though I will be the first to admit that I am only beginning to become familiar with Mormon historiography.

Any input would be great. Thanks for your time!

Article filed under Announcements and Events Categories of Periodization: Accommodation Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Comparative Mormon Studies Cultural History Gender Historiography Intellectual History


  1. Spencer, this isn’t specific to Mormonism, but Rutgers did a series on “singleness” a few years ago. The papers they published afterwards is focused on women, but many of the fears that people in the 19th C had about spinsters would have been connected to fears about bachelorhood.

    One thing that I argue in my dissertation is that the family is seen as a way of managing male sexual desire in the 19th C and is meant to provide men with a safe, socially approved outlet for their desires. Men who did not have this outlet would have been seen as unruly and dangerous. Various people comment on the role of the family in controlling desire — see Felicity Nussbaum, “Torrid Zones” and Catherine Hall and Leonore Davidoff, “Family Fortunes” for two excellent examples of work that talk about the importance of the family to maintaining white, middle class identity.

    Comment by Amanda — November 28, 2012 @ 11:48 am

  2. It’s been a few years since I read it, but Bruce Lott’s MA thesis on early Mormon masculinity might be worth checking out.

    I think you’ll also want to look at other religious groups’ attitudes toward bachelorhood. Is there any anti-Catholic sentiment underlying Mormon leaders’ opposition to bachelorhood among its own lay priesthood?

    Also, my sense is that by the late 19th century, it had largely disappeared, but 18th and early 19th century Methodists privileged unmarried men as ideal itinerant preachers and missionaries precisely because they didn’t have family obligations tying them down. This changes, beginning in the U.S. South, in the antebellum era. See Charity Carney’s excellent Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South for more on that.

    Comment by Christopher — November 28, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  3. There is a MA Thesis done by Bruce Lott at BYU on 19th c. Mormon Masculinity and I believe he has a bit on bachelorhood…

    Comment by JJohnson — November 28, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  4. Jeffery Ogden Johnson has had a longstanding interest in the single men of Mormondom, including their personal experiences and the the expectations and rhetoric concerning them. He’s done some writing on single men, and on Mormonism and men in general (he coauthored one such essay with Paul Reeve for Paul’s and my 2010 Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia), and plans more. Anyone working on Mormon bachelors and bachelorhood should consult Jeff.

    [JI, you can pass my contact information to Spencer if he needs help contacting Jeff.]

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 28, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

  5. There are a few Bachelors with papers around. My first thought was of Ardis Parshall’s work on a swiss convert who joined a united order. I haven’t read it (I know, shame) but I understand that Quinn’s Same Sex deals with several bachelors.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 28, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  6. …and I should have just waited for Ardis to post (grin)!

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 28, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

  7. There is a section on “Singleness” in James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, with Armand Mauss and Dynette Ivie Reynolds. Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography (University of Illinois Press, 2000).

    Comment by aquinas — November 28, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

  8. As a Mormon bachelor, I highly approve of the research topic, and thanks everyone who has posted on this thread since this is actually a topic I’ve been thinking about lately, since it hits close to home. My reason for loving history is because it offers at least some context and ideas as to why things are the way they are today. I get to see things grow and evolve and helps me see how we fit into the larger story. Anyway, I’m babbling now, thanks for the links and to the JI in general for having such an awesome blog! You guys rock!

    Comment by jasonb — November 28, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  9. I read a great article on Mormon bachelors in the late 19th century (there were pictures as well), but I can’t remember exactly where I read it. I’m assuming it was in JMH or BYU Studies. Does that ring a bell for anyone else?

    Comment by Kevin Barney — November 28, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  10. I think I found the one I was looking for:

    Kathryn M. Daynes, “Single Men in a Polygamous Society: Male Marriage Patterns in Manti, Utah.” In Journal of Mormon History, 24/1 (1998).

    Comment by Kevin Barney — November 28, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  11. I appreciate Ardis? comment about my research on Mormon bachelors. I have published several articles, but have a lot more research that has not been published. I have been collecting material for thirty years, but would be glad to help anybody that is doing serious research. I have research on about 60 Mormon bachelors from the Nineteenth and the early Twentieth Century.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — November 28, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

  12. A searchable version of Allen, Walker, and Whittaker?s bibliography mentioned by Aquinas in 7 is available at That database is very helpful because it is constantly updated and includes works written after 1997.

    Comment by Brady W. — November 28, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

  13. Many thanks to everyone for your wonderful feedback. I will be checking out these sources shortly!

    Comment by Spencer Wells — December 3, 2012 @ 2:28 pm


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