This post was originally supposed to be about the women’s history panels at the Mormon History Association last week. It was supposed to be a celebration of the work that has been done and an outline of what remains to be done. The letter that was sent to Kate Kelly on June 8th – the anniversary of the extension of the priesthood to all worthy men regardless of their race – changed all of that. We felt that the Juvenile Instructor could not be the only blog not to post something. Ultimately, Amanda HK, Kris, and Andrea decided that an appropriate response would be to write a history of women’s excommunication in the LDS Church and then to offer their own thoughts. (more…)
Today’s post comes from Kate Holbrook. Kate is a Specialist in Women’s History at the LDS Church History Department. She completed her Ph.D in Religious Studies at Boston University this spring and most recently contributed a chapter entitled “Good to Eat: Culinary Priorities in the Nation of Islam and Latter-day Saint Church” in Religion, Food, and Eating in North America published by Columbia University Press this year.
Relief Society endeavors have changed during the organization’s 172-year history. Some narratives frame the shift in Relief Society activities as a loss, arguing that the organization possessed greater visibility and autonomy during its first 150 years than it does now. We celebrate the achievements of our LDS foremothers in medicine, in politics, in organizing the affairs of the kingdom. Their contributions were often visible and measurable, affecting not just their families or their local congregations but the entire church, and indeed, society at large. In contrast, the work of Relief Society in the twenty-first century can seem small—most efforts are confined to individual stakes, wards, or families. But the idea that modern Relief Society work is a diminished version of the original begs the question: how do we measure the success of a religious organization for women? (more…)
Mechal Sobel has argued that the writing of autobiographies in the American Revolutionary period reflected and even promoted the development of the personal self, the “I”—as opposed to the “we-self.” This change was most pronounced among white males, as women and all blacks remained “enmeshed in a communality and…[continued to] serve the needs of increasingly individuated white males.” Sobel found that over half of the more than two-hundred autobiographies that she examined in her research contained accounts of dreams and visions. “The narratives, the dream reports, and the dream interpretations by the narrators provide vivid evidence of the change in self-perception in ideal and functioning selves. They also provide powerful evidence that American culture was a dream-infused culture and that work with dreams provided an important bridge into the modern period.” (more…)
No, the title of this post is not the opening for one of those “…walk into a bar…” jokes, although it does provide good potential.
NOTE: This post doesn’t aim to make a particular argument, or perhaps to say much new, but merely to express some issues that have been circling my mind for a while, and conclude one of those historical nerd tangential interests that we all know so well.
A few months ago, in a conversation on the H-SHEAR list (an email group focused on the history of the early American republic), someone made a reference to Fawn Brodie’s biography of Thomas Jefferson. Then, as an aside, the writer added, “Incidentally, Fawn Brodie is in my view the Rosalind Franklin of American history. There are many Watsons and Cricks in the historical profession who owe her a posthumous apology.” Franklin, for those of you (like me) who aren’t encyclopedias of this type of knowledge, was a biophysicist who studied DNA in the early 1950s. Watson and Crick, who were dismissive and rude toward Franklin in public and private throughout her life, accessed her data without her knowledge, much less permission, and used that data to make the critical leap in insight that elucidated the structure of DNA. They published with no mention of Franklin’s contribution and went on to great fame and a Nobel Prize a decade later.
While Brodie is mostly known in Mormon circles for her controversial biography of Joseph Smith, she is more widely known in the American historical community for her innovative use of psychohistory, especially in her biographies of Thomas Jefferson and, less successfully, Richard Nixon. Indeed, No Man Knows My History was merely her entrance into the historical profession, where afterward she became one of the foremost practitioners of psychohistory American political biography, and was even one of the first tenured female professors at UCLA. Most especially, her Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Life (W. W. Norton, 1974) was a national bestseller and instigator of much debate in the academic community. In the book, Brodie focused on Jefferson’s private life, and was one of the first to strongly argue that there was a relationship between the president and his slave, Sally Hemings. The book was a commercial success, but was panned by many historians, especially Jeffersonian scholars, who rejected the thesis that Jefferson would procreate with a slave. Many historians rejected Browdie’s interpretation of Jefferson, just as Mormon historians rejected her interpretation of Joseph Smith.
Several decades later, however, Brodie’s argument was vindicated. (more…)
As announced at this evening’s Awards Banquet in San Antonio, Texas: (more…)
Today’s post comes from Matthew McBride who is Web Content Manager with the Church History Department and author of A House for the Most High.
Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints considered proselytizing missions to be the exclusive domain of male priesthood holders. Women participated in tract societies, shared their beliefs with family and friends, and occasionally accompanied their husbands on missions. But these activities were calculated to keep women in proximity to the domestic sphere and were typically viewed as supportive of and secondary to the full-time missionary thrust. This changed in 1898 when women began to be called to serve full-time proselytizing missions, including the first single sister missionaries in the Church’s history. (more…)
In discussions of female ritual healing, I often see people point to a 1946 letter written by Joseph Fielding Smith as the “death knell” of the practice. I don’t believe that is an accurate characterization. In this post I’m going to be highlight material that Kris and I briefly covered in our article on female healing.
The 1949 Relief Society handbook included the following text: (more…)
Our post today comes from Brooke Brassard, who recently became a PhD Candidate (congrats Brooke!) at the University of Waterloo. Her dissertation focuses on how Canadian Mormons constructed an identity that was linked to but separate from American Mormons.
When you become perplexed with your problems, ask Betty Blair. She’ll help you find the answer or point the way to a solution of your difficulties,” advertised the Salt Lake Telegram on April 9, 1925, (more…)
I have a very short MSWR for you today.
The Salt Lake Tribune has a piece on what, exactly, makes Mormonism (among other faiths) attractive to people in Ghana.
The final program for the annual conference of the Mormon History Association has been posted. It looks like there are going to be many great discussions about Mormon Women’s history in San Antonio. (more…)
Susanna Morrill is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland where she teaches courses in United States religious history. She received her doctorate in the history of religions from the University of Chicago. Her work in the recent past has focused on how early Mormon women used popular literature in order to argue for the theological importance of their roles in the home, community, and church.
I finally got around to reading carefully the latest handbook of the Relief Society, Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society. It got me thinking about the symbolic connection between women and the home in Mormon and American culture. A little further afield, it got me thinking about feminine divinity in Mormonism and U.S. religious traditions and public discourses. (more…)
The way my family described my great grandma was that she was very clean, very shy, and very superstitious. The superstitious characterization is the one I heard the most; my mom once used Great Grandma in an attempt to contextualize Joseph Smith’s “magical” practices–everyone was doing it. So I was surprised and interested to get a little more context for Great-Grandma’s beliefs when my grandma read a history of her mother (Great Grandma) to us last year (this was just a few months before my grandma passed away). (more…)
We’re back with another installment of your weekly roundup of links to articles, blog posts, and other notices in the world of Mormon Studies.
The Boston Globe ran an article on Harvard’s participation in the online course (MOOC) craze. Of interest to JI readers is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s participation. Dr. Ulrich’s class, “Tangible Things,” is a material history course that “will teach history through artifacts in Harvard’s museum collections to an expected 10,000 students.” Ulrich’s fellow Massachusetts Mormon Mitt Romney also made headlines recently when he weighed in on Wolfeboro, New Hampshire Police Commissioner Robert Copeland’s use of a racial slur to describe President Obama. Nothing particularly Mormon about Romney’s comments, but scholars of Mormon and race may want to take note.
Meanwhile, Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at CGU Patrick Mason was named a Fulbright Scholar. CGU’s website has all of the details about his upcoming “travel to the West University of Timisoara in Romania, where he will teach courses in American history, politics, and culture.” Congrats, Patrick!
Over at Rational Faiths, Laurel Sandberg-Armstrong summarizes the recent changes to Young Women lessons.
Those of you in Salt Lake will want to take note of Chad Orton’s June 12 lecture on George Q. Cannon’s mission to Hawaii at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Orton helped edit GQC’s Hawaii mission journals (which are now complete and set to be published in early July!). Greg Kofford Books posted an interview with Joe Spencer, whose For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope, is imminently forthcoming as well.
The Center for Religion & American Culture at IUPUI is hosting a conference on The Bible in American Life. The entire program looks fantastic, and JI readers will be particularly interested in Amy Easton-Flake’s presentation on “Biblical Women in the Woman’s Exponent: The Bible in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism.” Over at the Religion in American History blog, Paul Putz posted Part II of his preview of forthcoming books in American Religious History this year, a list that includes Terryl Givens’s Wrestling the Angel and Thomas Carter’s “biography of the cultural landscape of western LDS settlements,” Building Zion.
Part I of Putz’s list, posted in January, included David Howlett’s long-anticipated Kirtland Temple: Biography of a Sacred Space. That volume is scheduled to be released on Friday this week (!!), so hurry up and order your copy now.
As Ben noted here, Mormon history is often told through a male lens. And as my advisor likes to say, women bear the brunt of being different. As a consequence, when their stories are told, they’re often relegated to a specially-labeled conference session or class unit or journal article, somehow set apart from instead of being an integral part of whatever history is being told. Obviously, I don’t know the solution to this problem, except to tell women’s stories wherever I can. Which is why I spent a good while perusing the site of The Mormon Women Project. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the project, but for those that are not, the project aims to showcase “the diversity and strength” found in the roughly seven million LDS women around the world. The site features profiles and pictures of women that “overcome personal trials, magnify motherhood, contribute to communities outside their homes, or be converted to the Gospel.” To insiders, it hopes to show that there is no one right path a faithful Mormon woman must follow, and to outsiders, it shows “the immense strength and wisdom of our people.”  Quite the charge. (more…)
The story of Zion’s Camp has usually been told absent its female participants. In fact, it might surprise most readers that women (and children) even participated in Zion’s Camp. (more…)
For a historiographical tradition birthed from the New Social History movement, New Mormon History has certainly lacked attention toward the potent topic of class. Sure, it pops up every once and a while—most expectedly from the economic work of Leonard Arrinton, and perhaps least expectedly in Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow’s biography of Parley Pratt—but historians of Mormonism in general have neglected class tensions as the dominant lens through which to view the LDS tradition. There are probably a number of reasons for this, including the lack of theoretical sophistication in most works on Mormon history, the assumption that Mormonism’s emphasis on communalism has shaped our understanding of distinct social classes, the LDS tradition’s emphasis on the equality of the gospel, most participants’ adherence to economic free markets, and perhaps the expectation that few Mormon historians would employ the tools of Marxist criticism. This lack of focus should give us pause, because of at least three general points. First, Mormonism’s message had significant consequences for the temporal realities of its converts. Second, the LDS Church’s constant migration forced particants to create anew social networks and circumstances in several new contexts. And third, as confirmed through political debates year in and year out, notions of class and societal power have a real impact on how individuals live, work, and socialize, a phenomenon that is especially acute for communities that place religious significance on their cultural surroundings. Religious historiography of recent decades has digested these facts, and it is left for historians of Mormonism to catch up. (more…)
Food is really important to Mormon life, and specifically to the life of Mormon women. Women, by long-seated and seemingly immovable cultural tradition in many (most? all?) world cultures, are the preparers and servers of food. This is especially true across many religious communities, not just Mormonism – church suppers grace all Protestant faiths; Catholic feast days and Jewish holidays and Muslim observances (just to name a few) are built around food and have both women and specialized food preparation at their center. Food made and presented by women marks Mormon occasions: births, funerals, baptisms, weddings, potlucks, “linger-longers,” and of course the ubiquitous and generic “refreshments” concluding nearly every Mormon event I have ever attended. (more…)
During the spring semester, I took a course entitled “American Religious Innovation.” The course examined Mormonism, the Nation of Islam, and Scientology. Each unit covered the history of each religious movement and focused on different aspects of the religion’s beliefs, which encouraged discussion and comparison. The readings for Mormonism addressed American religious culture in the early 19th century, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, Mormon Christianity, the Mormon community, and modern Mormonism.
At the end of the class’s section on Mormonism, a group of “real live Mormons” were invited to answer the class’s questions.[i] The panel was comprised of a PhD student in History, a worker at UVA’s hospital, a local bishop and his wife, and a set of Mormon elders (one from Southern Utah and one from Taiwan). As might be expected, there were many questions about the role of women in Mormonism and Mormon history.[ii] I’ve included the answers given (if any were addressed on the panel) in italics.[iii] (more…)
When we decided to devote a month to women’s history beginning with mother’s day, I thought about how my research about Mormon girls and young women is also very much about hopes for the future mothers of the next generation of Mormon children. It is clear that the changing (both Mormon and non-Mormon) representations and experiences of Mormon women as mothers is an integral aspect of the church’s metamorphosis from being perceived as an outsider religion to becoming patriotic, religious Americans. A question along the lines of “how did Mormon women transition from a group of polygamist wives who fought for women’s suffrage to embodying the model of wholesome stay at home wives and mothers?” has dominated scholarly research about Mormon women’s history.
Kari M. Main works as Curator at the Pioneer Memorial Museum. She has a master’s degree in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program in Delaware and a master’s in American Studies from Yale. Her primary academic interests are material culture, women, religion, and the American West.
On Pioneer Day in 1933, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers (DUP) held a ceremony to erect a roofed columnar structure over a juniper tree near the intersection of 600 East and 300 South. The women of DUP placed a bronze interpretive plaque which read: (more…)