Note: The description of the Salt Lake City lesbian community comes from Vern and Bonnie Bullough’s “Lesbian in the 1920s and 1930s: A Newfound Study,” which appeared in the Summer 1977 issue of Signs.
As part of a course I am taking on public history, we are writing an application to make the Henry Gerber house in Chicago a National Historic Landmark. Gerber was a German immigrant who founded the first gay rights organization in Chicago in the 1930s. He was a cantankerous man who was exasperated by the inability of his organization to attract people more respectable than a laundry queen, an impoverished preacher, and an employee of the railroad. When I took the class, I assumed that it would have very little to do with my dissertation research, which focuses on nineteenth-century Mormon missionary work. I was surprised when a historical consultant, who was visiting class to help us strategies ways to maximize the chances that the application would be accepted, mentioned that there had been a lesbian club in Salt Lake City in the 1920s.
I looked up surprised and asked, “Really?” (more…)
Occasionally, I do a keyword search for “Mormon” in JSTOR and Project Muse to see if anything comes up. A few days ago, I got a hit for a journal article that I didn’t know had been published or was even in the works. Quincy Newell, a religious studies professor at the University of Wyoming, has an article in the Journal of Africana Religions about Jane Manning James. Newell’s article is meant to showcase two significant documents: the autobiography that James dictated to Elizabeth Roundy around 1902 (more…)
Next week, I am going to be attending a course on how to teach writing in preparation for teaching English 125, Writing and Academy Inquiry next fall. The goal of the course is to teach students how to write in a variety of genres and to create complex, analytic arguments. Although most of the graduate students teaching the course are English PhDs, every year they ask a few PhD candidates from other departments to teach a section. Hence – me! One of our first assignments is to bring in an example of excellent writing from our field. I am torn about what to bring in. My first thought was Linda King Newell and Valeen Avery’s Mormon Enigma, which has a tenderness to it rarely seen in academy writing. But then, I saw Robert Darnton’s The Great Cat Massacre in stack of books a friend was assigning to her undergraduates next fall. After talking with the JI folks on the backlist, I decided that it might be fun to turn to the bloggernacle for ideas. What do you think are the best written books in both Mormon history and history in general? Also, what should I teach? Part of me wants to do a course on witchcraft and religion but I’ve also thought having the students research and write histories of Mormonism in Michigan. The topic could be almost anything. A friend of mine who works on Catholicism in Italy taught his on “Death and Dying.” Morbid, I know!
I’m looking forward to any and all suggestions.
The Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association will take place in Washington D.C., from January 2 – 5, 2014. It will be meeting jointly with the American Society of Church Historians. Several JIers will be presenting. The dates, times, and descriptions (when available) of their presentations are as follows: (more…)
Note: I haven’t been purposefully lewd in this post, but if you find discussions of women’s body parts and nursing uncomfortable, you should 1) probably never have a kid and 2) not read this post.
A few days ago, I decided to look at the program for the 2014 Meeting of the American Historical Association where I’ll be presenting in a few weeks. One of the things that surprised me was that they have a nursing room. As a mother of an almost entirely breastfed infant (no formula but she ate her first spoonful of pureed carrots the other day), my first thought was SCORE! Honestly, I have been to too many conferences that offered little to no support for young mothers in attendance. Typically, you are on your own to find a plug-in for your breast pump that is anywhere near the conference sessions, and the conference hotel may or not have a refrigerator to store pumped milk. The conference schedule is also usually too jam-packed to allow you to attend more than one session in a row without being so full that your breasts hurt.
As I look forward to AHA, I thought it might be helpful to me and other nursing mothers to create a document full of advice for new moms who may be attending their first conference. (more…)
A few years ago at a meeting of the Mormon History Association, Lisa Tait suggested that I read Susa Young Gates’ novel The Little Missionary. It was a barely fictionalized account of Susa’s experiences as a missionary wife in L?’ie, a small Mormon community in Hawai‘i focused on the production of sugar cane. Lisa felt that the novel would offer me insight into daily life on the plantation – the difficulty of eating Hawaiian food, the close relationships that developed between the men and women stationed there, and the gossip that sometimes circulated around the small community. It wasn’t until a few days ago, however, that I finally found the novel, which had been serialized in the Juvenile Instructor, and began to read.
Most of the novel is a light, cheerful exploration of the difficulties that white women as missionaries. Using a Mary Jane character, Susa describes the nausea that had greeted her on her way to the islands and the initial distrust of her children towards poi, mangos, and other Hawaiian foods. She also describes meeting the Hawaiian queen and watching Hawaiian Mormons pounding kapa cloth. Not all of the novel, however, has a jovial tone. While she was living in Hawai’i, two of her sons died of “diphtheritric croup.” (more…)
My world is crashing down around me. Things I never thought would happen are happening: A federal court has declared that Utah’s anti-polygamy law is unconstitutional and the LDS Church has produced a statement admitting that the priesthood ban was largely the result of nineteenth-century racism. The Salt Lake Tribune lauded the church for its decision to publish the essay as part of a series answering questions about its beliefs. In Religion and Politics, Max Mueller was similarly optimistic about the effects of the essay. He sees the document as the repudiating the church’s racist past and officially addressing the ban’s origins in statements by leaders like Brigham Young. For him, it is a monumental document that represents the beginnings of a sea change in the church’s positions on race. Other commenters have been less optimistic. Gina Colvin argued on her blog that the priesthood ban and ideas that African Americans had been less valiant in the preexistence had been taught as doctrine and as such, deserved to be addressed in General Conference rather than in a letter hidden on the church’s website. In a podcast with Dan Wotherspoon, Margaret Young, and Janan Graham, she further argued that the essay had been written from the perspective of the institutional church and failed to provide readers with the stories and voices of those who had been marginalized by the priesthood ban. Colvin has not been the statement’s only critic. At Young Mormon Feminists, Nick Lindsey suggests that the document creates a fiction that church leaders were always working towards racial equality rather than participating in and furthering racist discourses that relegated African Americans to the margins of Mormon society. KUTV released a fairly tempered article suggesting that the church’s statement was the result of a desire to answer questions that were arising because of information available on the Internet. Although the article did not address claims that the document represented a change in the church’s position on the priesthood ban, its analysis was less jubilant some of the others that have addressed the issue this week. (more…)
For the month of November, we at the Juvenile Instructor hosted indigenous history month. It was a bit of whirlwind with a lot of fantastic posts and content. A few of us thought we would have some thoughts about one or two posts that will change the way that we write about indigenous people in the future.
Amanda Hendrix-Komoto: One of my favorite posts was Farina’s on oral history and the politics of translation. In the post, Farina explores the conversation that was happening between translator, an elderly Navajo woman, and a Church history employee during an interview. Although the translator tries to capture what the woman is saying and to translate it accurately into English, Farina demonstrates that re-reading the Navajo section of the oral interviews provides an interesting glimpse into the mistranslations that occur as the translator is forced to slightly alter the meaning of questions to make them make sense in Navajo. Answers that appear incongruous suddenly make sense when the meaning of the question as it was asked in Navajo is considered. (more…)
Note: This post continues our series on Mormonism and indigenous histories. Barbara Jones Brown is a talented historian who serves on the board of the Mormon History Association with me. She is a wonderful historian who displays compassion towards her historical subjects and to those people she meets as part of everyday life. She has worked extensively on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and on twentieth-century Mormon Indian history. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism at Brigham Young University in Provo and a master’s degree in history from the University of Utah. We are delighted to have her post with us today.
For nearly half a century beginning in 1947, the LDS Church ran a foster program called the Indian Student Placement Program. At the Church’s encouragement and with parental permission, the program removed Latter-day Saint Native American children from their homes on reservations or reserves in the United States and Canada. These children were placed with white LDS families for ten months of each school year and returned to live with their own families for two months every summer. The program’s goals were to provide better educational opportunities for the children while immersing them in white and Mormon culture. 
A 1978 Church pamphlet about the placement program opens with a 1941 quotation from historian Kenneth Scott La Tourette: “[Native Americans are] a race in process of being engulfed in an irresistible flood of peoples of utterly different culture. Dislocated from their accustomed seats, transplanted again and again, . . . at times demoralized by an excess of well intentioned but ill directed paternalistic kindness, it is a wonder that the Indians [have] survived.”
Ironically, beginning with the next paragraph, in a tone of “well intentioned” and “paternalistic kindness,” the pamphlet goes on to explain how the Indian Student Placement Program benefits Latter-day Saint Indian children by dislocating them from their accustomed homes, transplanting them into white LDS families, and engulfing them in an “utterly different culture.” (more…)
A few weeks ago, I read Mark Rifkin’s When Did Indians Become Straight for a workshop hosted by the University of Michigan’s American Indian and Queer Studies Now Interdisciplinary Groups. I was surprised to see Mormonism mentioned within the text. Rifkin’s key argument is that heterosexuality is defined by more than the number of partners that an individual has. Ideas about racial purity, couplehood, and domesticity also mark what it means to be heterosexual. Because many American Indian groups rejected a focus on the nuclear family as the normative family model, Rifkin argues that they cannot be considered “straight.” Mormonism serves for Rifkin as an example of a religious faith in the nineteenth century that became “perverse” because of its rejection of traditional understandings of marriage and domesticity. (more…)
JI would like to welcome James Egan. He is a third-year law student at Brigham Young University who studied literature and political philosophy at the University of Utah. He reads JI regularly and loves jazz music.
I must confess at the outset of this post that I am most definitely an amateur when it comes to Mormon history. (If I had the guts, I’d confess that I am in fact a law student.) So with the all-too-convenient excuse for ignorance that my amateur status afforded me (I trust I haven’t lost it yet), I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the annual Maxwell Institute Seminar, which gave time to dive into the deep well of early Mormon primary documents. I spent a good portion of my time in the Utah sermons of the latter half of the 19th century, and my paper for the seminar’s symposium grew out of a fascinating remark in one of Brigham Young’s earlier sermons. During one of his many calls for gathering truth from every corner of the world, Young pointed the saints to “pagans of all countries” and made the remarkable claim that “in their religious rights [sic] and ceremonies may be found a great many truths which we will also gather home to Zion.” I ended up writing about the elements of Mormon intellectual history that made it possible for Brigham Young to entertain the possibility that pagan or heathen ritual would be a part of Mormon gathering, but along the way, I spent a little time considering how other invocations of heathen nations functioned rhetorically in Young’s sermons. (more…)
One of the difficulties with engaging in new fields of inquiry is finding out what books are essential for providing a background in the topic. As part of our month investigating the relationship between indigenous people and the LDS Church at the Juvenile Instructor, we have compiled a list dealing with the top 10 books on Native American, Polynesian, and other native peoples within Mormon history. Compiling the list of books was difficult because it raised issues of how much weight should be placed on different categories. How should we weight syntheses vs. monographs? How much should theory count over information? How do you compare books about different locales and different time periods? How should articles count?
Included with each books is a description of its contents from Amazon.
In no particular order, they are: (more…)
The Journal of Mormon History will be sponsoring a special issue devoted to innovative student scholarship. The issue, which will be edited by Christopher Jones and Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, will seek to highlight a wide variety of perspectives and methodologies. They particularly welcome submissions that take seriously Mormonism’s international history, its engagement with non-white people, and its emphasis upon materiality. Please see the call for papers below.
Call For Papers
Special Student Issue of the Journal of Mormon History
The Journal of Mormon History is seeking contributions for a special issue that will highlight the work of undergraduate and graduate students working on Mormon history. Papers may address any aspect of the Restoration Movement, including the Community of Christ and Mormon fundamentalists. The Journal is especially interested in contributions that address Mormonism’s racial and geographic diversity, twentieth-century Mormon history, and material culture. All topics and contributions, however, will be given serious consideration.
Interested students should submit a short 500-word abstract of their suggested article along with a CV or brief biography by January 1st, 2014. Accepted articles will be due September 1st, 2014 for planned publication in Fall 2015. The issue will be co-edited by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto (PhD Candidate, University of Michigan) and Christopher Jones (PhD Candidate, College of William and Mary).
Please submit all abstracts and CVs to either Amanda Hendrix-Komoto (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Christopher Jones (email@example.com)
Welcome to the Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup!
This week did not begin well for “Mormons in the News” when it was revealed that Orem-born and primary-raised Julianne Hough had apparently missed the memo that blackface is racist and decided to darken her skin for her Crazy Eyes costume. Hough, who is most famous for her appearances on Dancing with the Stars, is also a country singer whose first album debuted (more…)
This is a guest post by Cassandra Clark, a PhD student at the University of Utah whose work focuses on how religious communities thought about religious discourse and race. Cassandra is the mother two lovely daughters – both of whom bear the names of Presidents!. She also attended the University of Northern Colorado where she earned a MA in history and teaches courses at the community college in Salt Lake.
Filed away in the archives of the Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are two copies of a 1907 postcard with the by-line, “No Race Suicide in Utah!” The scene printed on the postcard depicts an old bearded gentleman, decked out in a black suit and top hat, carrying a baby on each arm with eight children following him. Each child is adorned in brightly colored dress, and several of them hold toys while two clutch balloon strings. The artist, identified as C.R. Miller, printed “No Race Suicide in Utah!” in all capital letters on one fourth of the top right hand corner of the card.
As I held this postcard in my hands, I realized that this one piece of material culture provided a physical representation of the conclusions I drew about Mormon involvement in the American eugenics movement. The eugenics movement, or the scientific program pioneered by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, encompassed two main objectives. First, the promotion of “positive eugenics,” or the proliferation of the “white” race by emulating Victorian gender roles and large family sizes, and second, “negative eugenics,” or the sterilization of all people deemed “unfit” because of their lifestyles and economic status. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in the midst of the American West, eugenics became a vehicle (more…)
Note: This may be the least academic post I’ve ever written. It’s mostly a collection of my random thoughts on clothing, modesty, and religious communities. Read it with that in mind.
On Sunday night, as I was flipping through TV channels, I came across Breaking Amish, a TLC reality show about young men and women who have decided to leave the Amish. There has been significant controversy surrounding the show. Although TLC claimed that all of the young men and women it was filming had been a part of the Amish when it began production, evidence emerged that they had frequented strip clubs, owned cell phones, and been involved in drunken parties. Websites like Jezebel accused the show of fabricating the lives of its participants, using makeup, clothes, and creative editing to make individuals who hadn’t been involved in the Amish community for years appear to be recent apostates. Perhaps the most interesting of their techniques was the clothes.
Like many reality TV shows, Breaking Amish has its participants reflect on recent events – whether it be a night carousing on the town, a clandestine kiss, or, in this season, an unplanned pregnancy (more…)
Has LL Cool J been keeping his faith in Mormonism secret?
In the Mormon Studies Weekly Round-Up, we try to present some of the most interesting and fun news items concerning Mormonism from the past week. We also link to any relevant conferences, book announcements, and calls for papers. This week, a New York rapper and former TV and movie star tweets a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley while a former NFL quarterback comes out publicly in support of gay rights. Matt Bowman also chronicles the strange world of the Mormon supernatural and Blair Hodges provides a helpful guide to debates about the viability of Mormon studies as discipline.
General Mormon History
LL Cool J, accidental Mormon? Chris Jones and the Deseret News investigate.
Steve Young: Hall of Fame Quarterback, BYU Graduate, and Supporter of LGTBQ rights (more…)
Recently, two biographies were published on Elijah Abel/Ables, a black Mormon man who held the priesthood in the nineteenth century with the blessing of Joseph Smith and many of his contemporaries. Rather than attempt a traditional review, I decided to write a conversations post with Russell Stevenson, the author of one of the two biographies. Stevenson is an independent scholar with a master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky. He recently self-published Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables.
In order to make the post easier to read, I have arranged the questions I asked and Stevenson’s responses into categories.
The Spelling of Abel’s Name
Amanda: In your book, you use a spelling of Elijah Abel’s name that many readers will be unfamiliar with. Where does it come from? Why did you decide to go with that spelling? (more…)
Note: This post is part of our international Mormonism month. Audrey Bastian is a freelance writer and interpreter speaking Mandarin, Arabic and American Sign Language. She lived in various countries in Asia eight years and received her masters degree in International Law and World Order from the University of Reading in England. Her bachelors degree is in History with a minor in Arabic. She won an honorable mention in 2006 in the Writer’s Digest 75th Annual Writing Competition for a memoir entitled, “Japanese Carp”. She currently owns her own business and resides in Washington, DC.
“…the King confined bro. [Trail] 71 days in a Siamese prison, 14 feet square, with 50 other prisoners, some were confined for debt others for stealing &c several ware put to the rack to draw out a fu [teekals (tikal money)]…” –Elam Luddington April 1854
A day after Elam Luddington baptized his first and only convert in Siam, Captain James Trail, the King of Siam thrust the convert into a debtor’s prison without food. The captain’s crime was misunderstanding a command and firing a salute from his ship in the rhodes of Singapore. (more…)
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Note: This post is part of our series on International Mormonism. Russell Stevenson is a freelance writer born and raised south in rural western Wyoming. He received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky. He has taught history and religion at Brigham Young University and Salt Lake Community College. He has a forthcoming biography on Elijah Ables, which will be available this afternoon.
In 1964, Abraham F. Mensah, a schoolmaster visiting Great Britain from Ghana, first came into contact with the Mormon church through literature given to him while he was visiting a Sufi friend living in St. Agnes, England. (more…)