At the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association in June, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt delivered a fascinating Tanner Lecture on “Mormons, Freethinkers, and the Limits of Toleration” (a helpful summary of his remarks can be found here). Among other things, I was struck by Schmidt’s discussion of the occasional moments of agreement between Mormons and Freethinkers in the late 19th century. It was, most often, their mutual distrust and dislike of mainline Christians that afforded them these brief instances of mutual respect and accord.
I recently browsed through several issues of The Truth Seeker, a prominent 19th century newspaper devoted to “freethought and reform,” in search of something entirely unrelated to Mormonism. But as I did, I came across a couple of articles on Mormonism. In the May 15, 1886 edition of the paper, Samuel B. Putnam, the secretary of the American Secular Union, reported on his recent visit to Utah. Among other things, Putnam noted with pleasure that “there are many Liberals at Ogden,” including some former Mormons. “Mr. James B. Stoddard was born in Mormonism,” he reported. “He, however, has a keen and fearless mind, and has broken away from the trammels. He will do much for Freethought by his influence and ability.” (more…)
From the Media History Digital Library comes this amazing collection of “over 800,000 pages of digitized texts from the the histories of film, broadcasting, and recorded sound.” The site has a fresh interface and the search filters are helpful. Also, a little trick to limit the default full-text search (since the OCR [optical character recognition] of the texts can be pretty bad) enter ‘0001‘ to disable full-text search and exclusively search metadata.
Here is a typical page of search results:
Since we’re looking at childhood, children, and youth this month, I thought I’d look at the ordinance of “naming and blessing” children as practiced in Texas in the very early 1900s. (more…)
Welcome to the Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup! Let’s get down to business.
The ever-insightful Jana Reiss recently published an article with Publishers Weekly, where she attempts to quantify the extent of Mormon Studies publishing. In a teaser posted on her blog, she reports that, while many presses struggle just to break even on most academic books, Mormon tomes tend to outpace expectations. An average (non-Mormon) book has to sell more than 1,500 copies just to stay out of the red. John Turner’s award-winning biography of Brigham Young, put out by Harvard University Press, sold an eye-popping 10,000 copies during its first year in print. Oxford University Press told Jana that the Mormon Studies category in its catalog is easily in the top three in terms of sales, with Massacre at Mountain Meadows ranking in the press’s top ten best sellers in the overall Religion category over the last two decades. Jana doesn’t provide a number for copies sold, but knowledgeable observers associated with the JI suggest that it exceeds 65,000. Although Jana doesn’t address it in her blog post, the number of mid-tier presses trying to get into the Mormon Studies market is also increasing (I’ll defer to Ben, the JI’s resident Mormon Studies watcher, to provide a list in the comments section). This week’s announcement of Fairleigh Dickenson University’s new Mormon Studies series demonstrates this. (more…)
As I have been writing (or trying to write!) my dissertation of conceptions of and conversations about Mormon girlhood from the 1860s to the 1930s, I have been doing some thinking about how the development of adolescence as a new age categorization overlapped with Mormon concerns about youth. As part of the monthly series Childhood, Children, and Youth , I have offered some, perhaps, scattered historiographical thinking below about the development of the YLMIA and YMMIA in relationship to the emergence of age categorizations in gendered terms.
As many of us know the story: on November 28, 1869, Brigham Young stated the following:
There is a need for the young daughters of Israel to get a living testimony of the truth. Young men obtain this while on missions, but this way is not opened to the girls. More testimonies are obtained on the feet than on the knees. I wish our girls to obtain knowledge of the Gospel for themselves. For this purpose I desire to establish this organization and want my family to lead in the great work.
The fact that young women did not have the same opportunities to learn about the religion that young men gained through serving missions was not lost on Brigham Young. However, instead of instituting a missionary for young women, to Brigham Young the most suitable solution for him seemed to put his most trusted female church members, his wives, daughters, and their close friends, to the challenging task of forming a new organization, the Retrenchment Association, which would later become the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association. (more…)
(Cross-posted at By Common Consent.)
Did you hear? Mormon studies is so hot right now. This semester witnessed the start of the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair in Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia (held by Kathleen Flake), next month will see the innaugural issue of the newly re-launched Mormon Studies Review (be very, very excited), and several new and exciting books are about to hit the shelves. And all this on top of the other Mormon studies programs that have been launched and the flood of excellent books that have been published in the last few years.
And now, there is a new book series at an unexpected university press. (more…)
With Andrea R-M
Earlier this month, the Western History Association met in Tucson, Arizona. As always, there was great scholarship, great conversation, and even great Mormon history, with papers by JIers.
We are delighted to have guest post written by Amy Moore in our monthly series Childhood, Children, and Youth. Amy writes “I graduated in 2011 from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in History Teaching. Church history has always interested me, partly because I grew up near Kirtland, OH and was inspired by the lives and legacy of the early Saints.”
In the May 1929 issue of the Young Woman’s Journal (YWJ), Ruth May Fox wrote of an experiment. After hearing that the life of a rose could be extended by applying heat, Fox took a “half-blown” rose she had received as a gift and held it to her heated stove. The rose bloomed quickly and its color remained, but to her dismay, the rose lost its freshness and its life. By forcing the rose to bloom prematurely, Fox destroyed a fundamental element of the flower’s beauty. As president of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA), the young women’s auxiliary of the LDS Church, Ruth May Fox extended the lesson of her rose to adolescent girls: “Oh, I thought, how like the girl who has failed to appreciate and preserve her innocent beauty, but, longing to be grown up, has blossomed before her time.” Fox called her experiment “The Flapper Rose.”[i] (more…)
As part of our monthly series Childhood, Children, and Youth, we are very pleased to have a post from Lisa Tait. She has recently joined the staff at the LDS Church History Library as a Historian and Writer, working on projects to expand the Church history web site. She has a PhD in American Literature from the University of Houston and researches late nineteenth/early twentieth century Mormon history, focusing on periodicals, women writers, and generational dynamics. She also serves on the executive committee of the Mormon Women’s History Initiative. In her spare time (which amounts to about ten minutes every other Saturday), she thinks about how much she would enjoy doing some hiking with her dog.
I am going to start with a few opening observations, by way of theory, and then present a case study.
My interest is not so much on childhood or youth specifically as it is on generational dynamics. The classic study on this subject is sociologist Karl Mannheim’s “The Problem of Generations.” Mannheim observes: “Different generations live at the same time. But since experienced time is the only real time, they must all in fact be living in qualitatively quite different subjective eras…. Every moment of time is therefore in reality more than a point-like event—it is a temporal volume having more than one dimension, because it is always experienced by several generations at various stages of development.” Another study builds on Mannheim’s ideas to assert that history must be viewed in terms of “generational constellations”—that is, the “lineup of living generations ordered by phase of life.” Any given historical moment will be characterized by a particular lineup of generations, and members of those generations will therefore experience, participate in, and react to those events according to their position on that generational spectrum. (more…)
In August, I reviewed J.B. Haws’ recent article “When Mormonism Mattered Less in Presidential Politics: George Romney’s 1968 Window of Possibilities”, published in the summer issue of the Journal of Mormon History. Haws, an Assistant Professor of Church History at BYU, graciously agreed to participate in a Q & A to answer some of my lingering questions and those submitted by members of the JI community. In the course of our conversation, we also discussed how the research he presented in his article is extended in his forthcoming (and highly-anticipated!) book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), which promises to be an important and much-needed addition to our understanding of Mormonism in the contemporary period, as well as of public representations (and misrepresentations) of Mormonism across the last half of the 20th century.
JBH: I should say, by way of preface, that as I read through your questions, my reaction after every one was to think, “Wow—great question.” But I’m going to resist typing that every time (but just know I’m still thinking that!). Thanks for these thoughtful and thought-provoking questions.
CHJ: Thank you, J. B.! We’re excited that you were willing to offer us some answers. So—let’s get to it!
Second only to polygamy, Mormons in the second half of the nineteenth century were known for violence. Paramilitary groups of “Danites” or “Avenging Angels” allegedly surveilled, threatened, and/or killed as directed by Church leaders. In three instances that I know of, non-Mormons portrayed members of these groups as using robes, hoods, and masks like those of the Ku Klux Klan. The purpose of this post is to put all three instances on the same page at the same time. (more…)
From our good friends at the John Whitmer Historical Association:
42nd Annual Meeting: Lamoni, Iowa—September 25–28, 2014
CALL FOR PAPERS—Sacred Places and Zionic Communities: The Ideals and Realities of the Restoration
ZION, GATHERING, SIGNAL COMMUNITIES, REFUGE, NEW JERUSALEM, CONSECRATION, UNITED ORDER … all have been used to describe the communalist thought that underpins the ideals of many of the Latter Day Saint denominations. Joseph Smith’s history with communalism is mixed. After his death, several leaders attempted to reinstitute communalism in various forms. In the Midwest, Strang gathered his followers at Voree and then Beaver Island. In Iowa, Charles B. Thompson gathered his followers to Preparation. Although not yet practicing consecration, Alpheus Cutler’s followers gathered at Manti, Iowa, then moved to Minnesota, finally to Independence, Missouri—where many of the members lived the law of consecration. (more…)
Naomi Watkins is an assistant professor in the Department of Education and Teacher Development at the University of La Verne, which is located in the Los Angeles area. She conducts research in adolescent literacy and children’s literature and teaches literacy pedagogy courses to teacher credential students. In June of 2013, she co-founded Aspiring Mormon Women, a non-profit organization and web site with the purpose to encourage, support, and celebrate the educational and professional aspirations of LDS women. (more…)
As my contribution to this month’s theme of childhood, children, and youth, I want to throw around a couple of loosely-formed thoughts on how Mormonism fits into the history of childhood spirituality.
First, Mormons sometimes claim that the reason God appeared and spoke to the boy Joseph Smith that spring day in 1820 was specifically because JS was just a boy. As in the days of Samuel, God needed a pure vessel, one simultaneously untainted by worldly knowledge and skepticism and eager to learn and obey.
Of course, Joseph Smith isn’t the only boy/young man to experience a vision and receive a prophetic calling, and Mormons aren’t the only ones to connect the dots between the receipt of those visions and childhood innocence/willingness. American Christians have long used both the Old and New Testaments to bolster the claims of boy (and less commonly, girl) prophets and preachers. One researcher has found nearly 500 examples of child preachers from the 18th century until the present, and the phenomenon is particularly common in charismatic Christian churches, as the fascinating and somewhat tragic story of Marjoe Gortner illustrates. While historians have done a wonderful job of contextualizing Joseph Smith within the larger American prophetic tradition, they/we have mostly ignored where and how he fits into the history of childhood preachers/prophets. It seems like a potentially fruitful framework for understanding JS and his prophetic calling in new light. (more…)
Forgive this post for being more of a smattering of ideas than a cohesive analysis. I’ve recently been considering the size and importance of books, both in the academic field of history in general and Mormon studies in particular. This reconsideration was inspired by an essay in Perspectives on History, the magazine for the American Historical Association. (I strongly recommend reading it before reading this post.) (more…)
As part of our monthly series on childhood and youth, I asked a colleague from Michigan State University Rebecca A. Koerselman to co-author a post with me. Rebecca received her Ph.D. in history from MSU where she wrote her dissertation on the construction of evangelical identity through youth and summer camps in the post world war II era. Now she lives in Shawnee, OK where she teaches in the history department at Oklahoma Baptist University and in her words “lives the dream.” Over the years, we have had many conversations about how Evangelical and Mormon adults, despite religious differences, had similar concerns and reactions to fears about how each group’s youngest members would subsume and maintain their religious identities, and, in turn, guarantee the future of these religious traditions.
One specific way that both Mormons and Evangelicals contended with their fears about the maintenance of their religion through the next generations was to offer wholesome leisure and recreation opportunities for young children. These programs were usually tailored toward the assumed specific needs of each gender. For the purposes of this blog post, we will examine the development of scouting oriented programs for young women. A comparative examination of the ways that Mormons and Evangelicals encouraged appropriation of proper gender roles through these scouting programs reveals how each religious tradition attempted to achieve the same goal of engaging their youngest adherents. Adult religious leaders did not just promote and develop their own youth programs as a means of offering wholesome entertainment, but they believed that these programs were vital toward the perpetuation of new generations of believers. (more…)
Note: this post discusses sexual activity in general and erectile dysfunction in particular, though mostly with nineteenth-century language.
Over the past few weeks I’ve looked briefly at the advertising and relative persistence of Mormon-themed aphrodisiacs. Today, in this concluding installment, I want to look at how such chemicals and advertisements fit within broader contexts. I did not succeed in turning it into an essay/blog-post, so it’s just a list. (more…)
Another week, another list of links from the world of Mormon Studies. Let’s get started:
Those of you who enjoyed last month’s series of posts on material culture will want to read Rachel McBride Lindsey’s post at Religion in American History on a recently-rediscovered quilt auctioned off at her grandmother’s childhood church (Tabernacle Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri). Lindsey concludes:
My grandmother was a small child in 1938 and her memories of the quilt are probably more collective than personal. The quilt is not a proxy of material culture—that capacious category assigned to the stuff we designate as somehow meriting sustained inquiry—and neither is it a proxy of the tiny hands that have grown soft and arthritic, or the many other hands that stitched hundreds of names and sewed its patches into a single tapestry. It is not an unmediated connection to the past, but it is a connection whose twines are composed of threads and stories. Itself a patchwork, it asks us to piece together not only the history of the church and the ownership of the quilt, but also the many other histories of which it is a part.
Another non-Mormon post of potential interest to JI readers is Ken Owen’s thoughts on historical heroes over at The Junto. His concluding thoughts are certainly relevant to readers of Mormon history: “I’ll keep my heroes, for without them, I’d begin to wonder why history mattered at all. But I’ll remember that heroism is also a mug’s game, and I’ll do my best to keep my eyes open to the broader questions—good and bad—raised by the lives of those I admire.” (more…)
John C. Begay recalled the day when his branch president, Don C. Hunsaker, pulled him out of his class at the Intermountain Indian Boarding School to invite him to attend the Latter-day Saint Indian Seminary program. His mother had enrolled him in seminary, but Begay followed his peers to the Catholic and Nazarene activities until Hunsaker found him. He then started to attend the seminary class of a respected LDS leader and local of Brigham City, Elder Boyd K. Packer. Begay claims, “‘That’s where I was converted to the LDS Church. My mother had secretly signed me up for Seminary which became my favorite class….’” .
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The Fall 2013 issue of BYU Studies Quarterly recently hit the web and print subscribers’ mailboxes, which means that it’s time for another quick journal content overview for JI’s readers. All the usual caveats apply—that is, these summaries are meant to whet your appetite, but for the full effect you’ll want to visit the pieces and their arguments in their totality. In this issue of BYUSQ, four original articles and other tidbits are on offer.
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