Review: Journal of Mormon History 37:1 (Winter 2011)

By February 2, 2011

The Journal of Mormon History 37:1 (Winter 2011)

The Journal of Mormon History’s first issue of the year comes out swinging. Can I reiterate that I love the new cover designs? This issue features a 1905 Relief Society banner with the motto: “Bless the Sick, Soothe the Sad, Succor the Distressed, Visit the Widow and Fatherless.” The back cover features a 1918 Temple Recommend of Ethel Naylor.

I dare say that Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright’s article on Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism is worth the price of a year’s membership to the Mormon History Association. In it, they outline the origins and development of the practice and, through some incredible source material, show how female ritual healing fell out of practice as “the rhetorical evolution of the term ‘priesthood'” signaled a refocusing and recentering of Church notions of authority.  They end the article on a poignant note with a journal excerpt from Ed Kimball who describes a scene wherein Elders McConkie and Hanks arrived to bless his father, President Kimball. After anointing him with oil, Ed Kimball joined in laying on of hands for the blessing. To Ed’s surprise, Elder McConkie asked Camilla Kimball to join them in laying hands on her husband’s head. “After the administration Mother wept almost uncontrollably for some minutes, gradually calming down.”

Their concluding paragraph states, “Beginning as simply a sign that follows those who believe, female ritual healing was an integral part of the development of Mormon healing generally. Affirming years of practice, Joesph Smith revealed that women in the Church had both the authority to heal and access to divine power. Equipped with the same rituals as male members, even sometimes ministering with them, women helped to establish Mormonism’s unique culture, blending medicine and divine cures. Women learned how to ritually administer as did men; they relied on the ready examples of trusted leaders, communal experience, and oral communication. The twentieth century brought dramatic changes, first with liturgical and then priesthood reformation. While female healing persisted for decades, relying on older and outmoded methods of pedagogy, it eventually faded as modern systems and  new perspectives dominated the liturgy and leadership of the Church. Though the Church currently does not authorize women to administer healing rituals, the heritage of female healing in the LDS Church is an essential facet of Mormon history and testament to the faith, power, and community of Mormon women” (85).

This is truly a gem of an article (and part of what makes it so is the source material they use–wow) and this brief overview does absolutely no justice to it.

Scott Esplin’s article on the closing of the Church college in New Zealand is interesting and a welcome addition to the growing literature on Church Education, particularly on units outside the United States. He does a good job of presenting the facts of the school’s establishment and some of the struggles over its closing including some local opposition. Esplin notes, though, that once Church leaders called on members in the area to accept the closing as the decision of 15 prophets, local opposition calmed. He hints at the role of the school and its buildings for the larger New Zealand community.

I would love to see someone take up this subject with a new set of questions that take a closer look at some phrases that stuck out to me as begging for analysis. One of these phrases being the rational for closing a Church school, cited in the very first paragraph of the article and given by Elder Paul V. Johnson in announcing the closure: “It is the policy and practice of the Church to discontinue operation of such schools when local school systems are able to provide quality education” (86).  What might policies like these and their articulation tell us about underlying views about the perceived core vs the perceived periphery of Mormondom, etc?

Kevin Folkman’s article on the “Failed” 1873 Mission to the Little Colorado explores this early and unsuccessful effort to plant permanent settlements in Arizona in the context of Brigham Young’s declaration that the returning colonists were “a passel of squaws,” “pets whom we have raised in Salt Lake City…on a feather pillow with silver spoons in their mouths,” and “Men who don’t know anything about a hard day’s work.”  Ouch!  Folkman argues that “leaders in Salt Lake City and southern Utah did not fully understand the magnitude of the obstacles involved” and that “unrealistic expectations and a lack of first hand information hampered the 1873 group in particular” (the implication being that the “failure” label and subsequent criticism were unfair). Folkman notes that the 1873 colonization effort blazed trails, built roads and watering holes that would give an advantage to the later 1976 effort that succeeded in planting permanent settlements. All in all, it’s a very interesting and solid article. Folkman also seeks to discover whether BY actually said what he said about the colonists (since the citation comes from a later source) and argues that it is likely. One somewhat significant omission, IMO,  is lack of discussion of the 1875 Mission to Mexico (which scouted out areas of Arizona for colonization on the way to Mexico). Folkman has guest posted at Keepapitchinin.

Of special interest to JI readers is the publication of the Roundtable on Parley P. Pratt’s autobiography, which our own Ben Park organized here at the JI in 2009.  Excellent work, all!

Finally, Ron Bartholomew’s article on the missiology of the Bedfordshire Conference is very good as well. He outlines the following points of focus of the article:

1. What position in the taxonomy of religions in Victorian England did Mormonism occupy?

2. What mission theology characterized the missionaries in this conference?

3. What was the message of the missionaries? Was the theology of the message they preached similar to their mission theology?

4. What mission philosophies were the driving force behind the missionary labors in this conference?

5. Who were the missionaries that served in this conference? Were they primarily from America, or were they predominantly British converts? What was the ratio? Was the call to serve a mission extended diferently to American missionaries than to native British converts?

6.  What proselytizing methods did these missionaries employ? To what extend were the members involved in their efforts? What role did emigration play in their missionary labors?

7. What were the final circumstances?

Blair provides a well written and positive review of Magnum Opus. Ending with this stellar line, “Magnum Opus is a true insider’s view of organ origins.”

Hogge gives an overall favorable review of Minert (reading the review actually made me quite interested in reading the volume). His main reservation is that a general reader might get lost in its extensiveness.

Morris calls Navigating the Missouri “a solid resource for students and scholars of nineteenth-century Western and Mormon history.”

Van Dyke also gives a mainly favorable review of Grover’s book. He notes that he would have traded more information about some of the topics Grover discusses including  “Mormon-Catholic relations, compelling gender issues, and preselecting potential investigators based upon conceptions of Israelite descent,” in the place of other anecdotes such as Jessie Evans Smith’s (spouse of Joseph Fielding Smith) spending spree during one visit to the mission.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Historiography


  1. Oh goodness! The famed Stapley/Wright article has arrived! 😉

    Comment by Tod Robbins — February 2, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

  2. Excellent. Thanks, Jared. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive.

    And congrats to J and Kris–it is truly a remarkable article.

    Comment by Ben — February 2, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  3. Thanks for the kind comments. We’ll put it up on SSRN once members have received their hard copies.

    I haven’t had a chance to read the whole issue yet, but I really enjoyed Kevin’s piece. It is sort of a jolt of realism to the mythologized colonization effort.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 2, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

  4. Great work, everybody.

    Comment by smb — February 2, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  5. I emailed J. Stapley earlier today and said the article that he and Kristine wrote was “Stunning” in the most positive sense. A real landmark work, backed up with what has to be some of the most comprehensive research I’ve seen.

    Thanks for the favorable note on my piece, Jared. Stapley and Ardis Parshall were both a great help in the process, and Lavina’s deft hand in the editing process was invaluable.

    Comment by kevinf — February 2, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

  6. Congrats to you, Kevin; a great accomplishment.

    Comment by Ben — February 2, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

  7. Glad to see that article is out! Thanks for keeping some of us uninformed, informed! My GGGrandma wrote of such things in her diary and we have the transcript of a blessing that gave her the authority to bless. I wasn’t sure how to interpret it in our context. You might have me talked into a membership… Thanks!

    Comment by Emily — February 2, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  8. Emily, look for an email.

    Ben, I really enjoyed the roundtable when you guys first went through that here. I just now was able to read through and noticed the line up being a little different in the print version. Would you mind commenting on the genesis of the project, its development and then the transition to publication?

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 2, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

  9. Emily, membership is well worth it and there are three issues left to go with some great stuff lined up.

    Congrats, Kevin. It’s a great article and a comprehensive treatment of that episode was long overdue.

    Comment by Jared T — February 2, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

  10. J: Sure. The actual genesis of the project came a year before the roundtable when discussing Pratt’s Autobiography with Robin Jensen and Jeff Johnson, who pointed out the dearth of work on the actual text. Then, discussions in the Parley & Orson Pratt Seminar in the summer ’09 only solidified the need for such a project. I figured that an online symposium of sorts would be helpful in ironing out some of the key issues of the influential book–not only of its creation, but also of what was going through Pratt’s mind, how it related to his earlier writings, and how it had been interpreted and influential over the years.

    Once the seminar was over, I reached out to about a dozen scholars whose interests I knew touched on various aspects of the Autobiography, inviting them to participate in a roundtable series here in JI. Some chose their own topics, others I tried to prod them in a specific direction when I knew they had a specific background to offer. We put up two posts a week for about six weeks.

    At the end of the internet format, we had such a good reception from readers that we thought we should try and put it in print format. I floated the idea to Martha at JMH, and she jumped right on it saying it would be a great idea. So, we went through our own revisions and preparations from blog format to journal quality, as some had been written in a less formal language that is commonly used on the bloggernacle.

    Further, as revisions went along, I realized that this roundtable would be a great occasion to demonstrate to the Mormon History audience that many new insights could gleaned from traditional texts by merely asking new questions about them and using new interdisciplinary tools–I not only emphasized this in my introduction to the roundtable, but I slightly urged participants to tailor their papers accordingly. With this new framework in mind, and with some critiques from the journal’s reviewer, some articles were revised substantially while others were left more or less the same. Unfortunately, a few that were either originally a part of the JI roundtable or were conceived to be added later fell through, for various reasons. But I think what remained was still very strong.

    All in all, it was a great process, and I was proud to be a part of it. I really hope that the roundtable is useful not just for shedding more light on Pratt’s Autobiography, but also in demonstrating the benefits of using different approaches to historic texts or issues that are now taken for granted.

    Comment by Ben — February 2, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

  11. Looks like a terrific issue. I’m excited to read the famed Stapley/Wright piece! Lots of juicy stuff here. Unfortunately, it will be awhile before I get it out here in the hinterlands.

    And thanks for the excellent review of the issue; I really appreciate it.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — February 2, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  12. Thanks for the overview. Looks like another great issue.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — February 2, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  13. Thanks, as always, for the review, Jared. I’m excited to read J. and Kris’s article, and look forward to going back through the PPP roundtable.

    Comment by Christopher — February 2, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

  14. Cool, thanks for the overview!

    Congrats to all the great contributors!

    Comment by Cynthia L. — February 2, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

  15. I keep looking for the “like” button for these comments. 🙂

    Comment by Jared T — February 2, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  16. Well, you went and did it. Just ordered a subscription.

    Comment by David T — February 3, 2011 @ 11:36 am

  17. Thanks very much for the exciting and favorable review of this latest issue.

    We really appreciate it!

    –Martha Taysom
    Editor, Journal of Mormon History

    Comment by Martha Taysom — February 3, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  18. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive. What is SSRN?

    Comment by Andrew Hamilton — February 3, 2011 @ 9:54 pm

  19. Perfect timing J and Kristine. I’m looking forward to reading it. I will assign it to my Mormonism class at the U, to replace Newell’s “A Gift Given.”

    Comment by Paul Reeve — February 4, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

  20. An honor, Paul!

    Andrew, behold: SSRN.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 4, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

  21. Jared T: nice catch, bro!

    Also, what a great issue this was. I’m proud to be ever-so-peripherally associated with such a fine issue of the JMH.

    Comment by BHodges — February 4, 2011 @ 6:32 pm


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