Utah Historical Quarterly 76:2 (Spring 2010)/Review of Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff

By April 27, 2010

I’ll be quoting the “In This Issue” section and then, with the kind permission of the UHQ editorial staff, I will be reproducing here my review of Lu Ann Taylor and Phillip A. Snyder, eds. Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff which appears in this issue. I reproduce it partially because it was printed with an error in one of my parenthetical references. The reference as published is, “(see Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage, 372).” What I wrote was, “(see Carmon Hardy, Doing The Works of Abraham: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise, 372).”

In This Issue

The cover for our Spring issue depicts in the foreground two unidentified military veterans making their way through downtown Salt Lake City on May 15, 1971. The two men, one a long-haired Vietnam War veteran, the other, an eighty-year-old veteran of World War I proudly wearing three medals on the front of his jacket, march under a banner that reads “Utah Veterans Against the War.” The veterans, and hundreds of Utahns accompanying them, ended their march on the warm spring day at Pioneer Park, where they listened to several anti-Vietnam Ward speeches, including one by the eighty-four year old great grandmother Jessie Greenhalgh Musser.

These challenging years of the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Vietnam War occupied the nation and Utah’s attention are the focus of the concluding article in this issue. Patriotic Americans stood on both sides–many supporting the nation’s involvement in the Southeast Asian conflict, others opposing the war that drew more than three million American military personnel to far off Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. The first protest in Utah against he war took place in April 1965, less than a month after the first combat troops arrived in Vietnam. The last protest occurred on the eve of the ceasefire agreement signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, that paved the way for the last American troops to leave Vietnam two months later. The University of Utah campus was the epicenter for the shock waves of controversy that rolled across Utah during those troubled years.

As University of Utah students and faculty struggled with the issue of war, they united to celebrate the completion of the new J. Willard Marriott Library in 1968. Wallace Stegner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and other awards gave the dedicatory address. Stegner, who was born in Iowa, came to Salt Lake City in 1921 graduating from East High School in 1925 and the University of Utah in 1930. Although ont a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, Stegner became acquainted with Mormons during his sojourn in Utah and many of his writings including Mormon Country (1942) and The Gathering of Zion (1964) cover Mormon subjects with sympathy and insight. Our first article in this issue examines Stegner’s experience with Mormons. He did not consider himself an outcast, but the recipient of warmth and goodwill noting: “I have never ceased to be grateful for what they gave us when what they gave mattered a great deal; I was never tempted to adopt their beliefs, [but] I could never write about them…except as a friend.”

The second article for this issue returns to the subject of irrigation in Utah as it examines the late nineteenth-century Abraham Irrigation Project in Millard County. Utilizing water fro the Sevier River, officials of the irrigation company sought to expand the population of West Millard country by several hundred. Difficulties compounded when two irrigation companies struggled to work together on the project in the face of the national economic downturn brought on by the Panic of 1893 and the limited water available for the ambitious project.

The photographic essay of the Utah State Hospital in Provo, offers seldom seen pictures of patients, staff and the accommodations of a facility that opened in Provo in 1885 as the Utah Territorial Insane Asylum. The institution became known as the Utah State Mental Hospital in 1903, and the Utah State Hospital in 1927. The photographs and accompanying text help us understand this important and sometimes overlooked element of our history while remembering the care rendered by dedicated doctors and staff in the service of others.

Once again, these four articles remind us of the great variety of human experiences–from expanding agricultural and economic activities through technology and the utilization of natural resources, to care for others, protest, and reconciliation.

Table of Contents

Review

Post-Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen & Avery Woodruff. Edited by Lu Ann Taylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2009. xiv + 196 pp. Cloth, $34.95.)

This, the eleventh volume of Utah State University Press’ Life Writings of Frontier Women series, had its origin in a seminar on personal writings which Lu Ann Taylor took from Maureen Ursenbach Beecher at Brigham Young University over a decade ago. When Lu Ann’s death from cancer in 2000 left the manuscript near completion, her husband Phillip, a professor of English at Brigham Young University, sought to bring finality to the project through the helpful persuasions and assistance of Beecher and other colleagues.

The Snyders here offer a rich collection of personal correspondence between LDS Church apostle Abraham Owen Woodruff (more commonly referred to in the text as Owen) and his two wives, Helen May Winters (married 1897) and Eliza Avery Clark (married 1901, and referred to more commonly as Avery in the text). This correspondence provides a window into the “immediate and relatively unmediated” dynamics of Mormon polygamy begun after the issuance of the 1890 Manifesto, which relationships, by that time, not only had to be kept secret from the public at large, but from the majority of fellow Latter-day Saints (3). The editors’ introduction highlights some of the letters’ dominant themes (discouragement, loneliness, self doubt, etc.—important themes if not necessarily unique to the post-Manifesto iteration of the practice) and provides a useful springboard for further analysis. Additionally, this volume represents the most substantive biographical treatment of this lesser-known apostle to date.

The Snyders have done an admirable job of contextualizing and faithfully reproducing the text of the letters and providing helpful identifications in the endnotes of the people and events therein. However, I found the supporting research uneven. In at least two places the book refers to the excommunication of Matthias Cowley, apparently leaning on Avery Woodruff’s 1950s autobiographical reminiscence. Avery wrote that Cowley and John W. Taylor were excommunicated around the time of the so-called “Second Manifesto” in 1904. Avery apparently confused the departure of Apostles Taylor and Cowley from the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1905 with disciplinary action which occurred in 1911 and saw Taylor excommunicated but not Cowley (123). Furthermore, Cowley’s entry in the biographical appendix states that Cowley “left the LDS Church” in 1905, which is incorrect (162, also 176, note 24).

Another instance illustrates the Snyders’ over reliance on Avery’s reminiscence.  Avery wrote that according to Owen’s journal, in a council meeting in 1904, Owen sustained the Second Manifesto “contrary to his personal feelings” (123). Taking her reminiscence at face value, the Snyders state in one place that Owen’s 1904 journal is “unavailable to scholars” (172, note 86), and in another place that, “this section of Owen’s journal is not included in BYU’s Special Collections” (185, note 27). Thus, “Avery’s comments on this issue cannot be verified.” There is a simpler explanation, however, than a missing journal. On January 11, 1900, in a closed council meeting, Owen reported that President Lorenzo Snow “gave a speach [sic] in absolute discouragement of the practice [of polygamy] anywhere.” Owen recorded that he “felt forced” to sustain the President’s words despite his personal feelings on the matter (see Carmon Hardy, Doing The Works of Abraham: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Norman, Oklahoma: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007), 372.). Avery likely misremembered the timing and some of the circumstances of the incident while retaining the essence of the entry.  However, by failing to at least provide for this possibility, the editors have potentially caused unnecessary confusion and questions about a purportedly lost or sequestered 1904 Woodruff journal.

In addition, though Snyder provides excerpts from the diary of Mexican missionary Alonzo L. Taylor,  which document Helen’s final days, he omits reference to other writings which would have rounded out this portion of the historical sketch (I have an article forthcoming that will treat these deaths in greater detail).

These and similar issues should give researchers pause before relying too heavily on this text as an interpretive or technical resource for Mormon polygamy.  Researchers would be better served in these general points by consulting Carmon Hardy’s excellent works, Solemn Covenant or Doing the Works of Abraham. These issues notwithstanding, Post-Manifesto Polygamy indeed provides intimate access to the lives and relationships of post-Manifesto polygamists Owen, Avery, and Helen Woodruff, and will prove a valuable documentary contribution to the ever expanding historiography of Mormon polygamy.

JARED T.

University of Utah

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Looks like a solid issue. Thanks for the highlights.

    Despite the problems you noted with the volume, I found the Woodruff correspondence to be a wonderful window into the interpersonal dynamics of the involved parties.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 27, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  2. Thanks J. Of course, I agree with your thoughts there in my last sentence. The text is great and make the volume worth the purchase.

    Comment by Jared T — April 27, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

  3. Thanks, Jared.

    Comment by David G. — April 27, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

  4. Thanks for the heads-up, Jared.

    Comment by Ben — April 27, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

  5. […] review was published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43:2 (Summer 2010). Also, please see Jared T’s review, for another take on this book. Comments (5) […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » A Review of Lu Ann Faylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder, eds., Post Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff. — June 27, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  6. I am a descendant of Abraham & Helen Woodruff, they are my great grandparents with Wilford Owen Woodruff being my Grandfather. I am trying to find journals for Abraham Owen Woodruff, Helen May Winters Woodruff or Emma Smith Woodruff, wife of the Prophet. Can you tell me how I can have access to these journals? I live in Florida so I was hoping to find them online.

    Comment by Elisabeth Wozniak — July 9, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

  7. Elisabeth, thanks for stopping by. I’ll email you with more information.

    Comment by Jared T — July 9, 2010 @ 11:41 pm


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