Southwestern States Mission: Mother’s Work

By May 13, 2012

I am not aware of any primary sources by women in the Southwestern States Mission near the turn of the century. The five traveling missionaries I have been studying did not write much about mothers. There are a handful of entries explicitly noting letters to or from ?Mother?; in 1900 President Duffin released two Elders on account of their mothers? failing health [1]; and Elder Clark transcribed a mission song wherein ?teardrops Stained a mother face? [2]; but that?s about it. [3] The Elders did, however, note work done by women they encountered and my not-yet-systematically-argued impression is that the Elders were struck by how hard the work was and touched when it was done for them. 

Missionary service (probably) made ?women?s work? less invisible to the Elders for (probably) two main reasons. First, missionaries had to do more domestic chores themselves than they had pre-mission, which sensitized them to the difficulty. Second, missionaries were more likely to find women at home during the day (working, of course) than men and thus spent more time observing ?women?s work? than they might have pre-mission.

Five consecutive days from Elder Brooks illustrate some of the dynamics:

We started on our journey pretty early. Feet still sore, big blisters on them. ? Came on? and found sister Threet. She was very pleased to see us. Hadn?t seen any of the Elders for several months. She was the only one of the family that belonged to the church. She had a husband and five boys. We were glad to get there ourselves. ? Our feet were pretty badly blistered.

?We spent the day at Threet?s talking on the Gospel. Our feet were much better. Sister Threet had a pretty rowdy set of boys. She was a nice lady. ?

? Elder Jensen and the boys went squirrel hunting. I stayed at the house and studied and talked with Sister Threet. ?

Elder Jensen got up not feeling very well. He had a chill. Was sick all day. Had quite a high fever. I wrote a couple of letters during the day. ?

? Elder Jensen had another chill today. I washed his and my clothes as Sister Threet had so much to do. It took her about all the time to cook. ?? [4]

Of another woman Elder Brooks wrote, ?Sister Findley?would work herself to death for the Elders.? [5] Women provided homeless, hungry Elders food, clean clothes, nursing when sick, and beds. Men sometimes directed and perhaps funded the hospitality, but the immediate preparations and ministrations almost always came from women.

Beyond the hotel-and-hospital services, the kind attention and sociality of the late-Victorian ?angel of the house? probably played an important role in the Elders? morale. [6] At any rate, the Elders seem to have formed strong attachments and they framed the relationship with the idea of maternity:

?The next morning we went to the place Elder Dana called his Texas Ma?s?;

??she had indeed been a mother to me and all of the elders that had been at her home any length of time.? [7]



The ?Southwestern States Mission? series uses the diaries of six missionaries who served in eastern Texas around 1900 to illustrate aspects of Mormon material culture, lived religion, and social History. The missionaries are Mission President Duffin and Elders Brooks, Clark, Folkman, Forsha, and Jones. The series is inspired by Ardis Parshall?s serial posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here.

[1] Duffin, 1901 Nov 9 Sat; In both cases, however, the father was also dead, so the issue might not have been ?go spend time with your dying mother? but ?go home and support your surviving siblings.? The diary I have for Elder Forsha ends in 1900 Aug; I don?t have any details on the illness or Elder Forsha?s reaction to it. If I?ve identified the records correctly, Sarah Abigail Woolsey Forsha died 1902 Jul 05, a year and a half after Elder Forsha?s return; Elder Forsha?s father died in1892.

[2] ?now I close this Book with the Song where is my boy to night: Missionary Song, Composed By J. N. Heywood while in Texas: Somebody’s boy are gone to Night. Somebody’s joy I know. / Trusting him in the care of God Humbly they Saw him go. / The teardrops Stained a mother face A father Bid adieu / His lips were Trembling as he said we’ll always Pray for you /  Chorus / Take Take him in to night don’t turn Our Boy away / he is our Boy we Love him So. Don’t turn our Boy away / Somebody’s Boy Out in the world. just Seeks a place to Stay / The day has closed and night is hear. O do not answer nay. / He Sees them now with Ernest gaze And now he hears them Pray / while Crystals glistening in their eyes Don’t turn our Boy a way / Chorus? (Clark, 1901 Nov 05 Tue).

[3] We get a slightly more revealing glimpse of Mission President Duffin?s relationship with his mother and wives since his mission and diary covered six years (not to mention any differences in personality and situation) but I excluded his diary from this post. I have touched on his spousal relations before (Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3); I may return to how he felt and provided for his mother and then dealt with her death while still on his mission.

Two of the five traveling Elders were married but I haven?t noticed any comment from either about their wives as mothers. As of the start of their respective missions, Elder Clark had been married for almost seventeen years and Elder Forsha for ten months. They mention a few letters written and received but not much else. Elder Clark noted his wife?s birthday in the diary one year and sent each volume of the diary to her, with a note in the last entry, as he filled up the books.

[4] Brooks, 1901 Feb 05 Tue – 09 Sat.

[5] ?We had decided to stay at Bro. Findley?s until Monday. We sat around and talked most all day. In the evening I took a bath, changed clothes. Afterwards I heat some water and washed my clothes. Sister Findley wanted me to let them be and she would wash them, but I wouldn?t. She would work herself to death for the Elders.? (Brooks, 1900 May 12 Sat)

[6] I write ?probably? because I?m not sure I can make the case using only these diaries. The ?angel of the house? is a motif from the broader culture of the time; it does not appear in the diaries. Later post(s) will deal with some of the, um, less-than-angelic behaviors the Elders encountered.

[7] The Texas Ma was Sister Kirkendal (Brooks, 1900 Feb 15 Thu); ?Were very surprised to learn of the sad death of Sister Scroggins who passed from this life on the 25th. I was very sorry to hear of it as she had indeed been a mother to me and all of the elders that had been at her home any length of time.? (Jones, 1901 Aug 27 Tue).

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. I look forward to these every week, and this one was especially fascinating. Thanks, Edje.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — May 14, 2012 @ 10:15 pm

  2. Thanks, Cynthia.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 15, 2012 @ 6:30 am

  3. Awesome stuff, as always, Edje. The Elders’ relationship with women hearkens back to the dynamic between Methodist itinerants and the “mothers in Israel” with whom they stayed during their own travels earlier in the 19th century.

    Comment by Christopher — May 15, 2012 @ 7:56 am

  4. Thanks, Christopher.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 15, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

  5. […] The ?Southwestern States Mission? series uses the diaries of six missionaries who served in eastern Texas around 1900 to illustrate aspects of Mormon material culture, lived religion, and social History. The missionaries are Mission President Duffin and Elders Brooks, Clark, Folkman, Forsha, and Jones. The series is inspired by Ardis Parshall?s serial posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: The Mountain Meadows Massacre — May 20, 2012 @ 12:58 am


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