While reading Ruth Rosen’s The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York in 2003, I was shocked to discover that my own college played an integral in the development of National Women’s History Week, which became a full month in 1987,. What was even more startling to me was that I (and a majority of my fellow students) did not know about this significant piece of women’s history. As a graduate student in the women’s history program at Sarah Lawrence, I decided to write my master’s thesis on the college’s role in the development of National Women’s History Week. During the process of writing my thesis, I fortunately, became acquainted with Molly Murphy MacGregor, a driving force behind the development of National Women’s History Week and the executive director of the National Women’s History Project. Over the years I have known MacGregor, I have been struck with how her early religious experiences as a Catholic child and young woman affected her activism and passion for women’s history. Her story is very similar to many women who have grapple with the conflicting aspects of a religious tradition that at times both venerates women but limits their leadership and agency as a church member.
1972 was a banner year for women’s history: Shirley Chisholm ran for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination and Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment and Title IX of the Higher Education Act. That year MacGregor was serving as a California high school teacher when a student asked about the woman’s movement. Having no answer, MacGregor strove to educate herself about women’s history and was shocked to find no suitable sources. In the following years, MacGregor began to work for the the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women when she and four other women came up with an idea for National Women’s History Week. In 1978, the commission in Sonoma County started a week in March dedicated to women’s history. The week containing March 8th was chosen for that event as the date was and still is International Women’s Day. During the summer of the following year, MacGregor participated, along with other women leaders of organizations for women and girls, in a women’s history institute led by the historian Gerda Lerner at Sarah Lawrence College. As part of her application to the institute, MacGregor sent along information about the women’s history week in Sonoma county. The women involved in the institute decided to begin similar celebrations in their own communities and initiate an effort to have the week nationally recognized. The first signs of success arrived in 1980 when President Carter issued a the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week (full link to the first President Proclamation here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page). That same year Representative Barbara Mikulski and Senator Orrin Hatch co-sponsored a Congressional Resolution for National Women’s History Week to be recognized in 1981. In 1987, galvanized by the fact that fourteen states had already declared March as National Women’s History Month, MacGregor and other women led a lobbying effort to have the full month dedicated to women’s history. Finally in that year Congress declared that March would be national recognized as National Women’s History Month.
After getting to know Molly Murphy MacGregor as a graduate student and member of the National Women’s History Project board of directors, I was struck by how she was shaped by her Catholic childhood. Over the years as I have developed my own research interests in women’s and gender history, religion, feminism, and American history, I have often wanted to revisit this topic with her. I decided to give her a call and ask her a few questions. Growing up in 1950s and 1960s Los Angeles, MacGregor attended Catholic school all the way to the eighth grade and then she attended a public high school. Though she has since stopped practicing Catholicism, MacGregor credits the Catholic Church as well as her parents with inspiring her later activism and passion for women’s history. Of her Catholic education, MacGregor states “In terms of my catholic education, it had everything to do with believing to know, love, and serve God and each other. ..I grew up believing we were all connected though the mystical body of Christ.” Catholics believe that their church is united through the Mystical body of Christ and are guided by Christ, the head. MacGregor also explains that she would not have the “social consciousness” she has now if it were not partly for being taught about the tradition and significance of standing up for what one believes in throughout her childhood and education.
While MacGregor was not particularly bothered by the lack of leadership position for roles for women within Catholicism (she recalled that the role of alter boy never appealed to her as a young girl), what was troublesome was a continual emphasis on death and the dichotomous view of heaven and hell. Because her father never became a Catholic and her parents married outside the church, MacGregor feared that when they died they would both burn in hell. After her father’s untimely death, when accompanying her mother to confession MacGregor was excited anticipating that her mother would finally be able to take communion (she did not partake in this part of the church servive as she had married outside of the church). Yet, when MacGregor was taken aback when her mother claimed that taking communion would not make any difference. To MacGregor’s mother, the church was not necessarily about the leadership in Rome but she would often say “the church is the people—the people who show up there.” Her religious experience was deeply informed by her parents’ counsel and example. She recounts how her brothers told her how a trip to the grocery store with her father often turned into an expedition that included dropping off food on porch of a family, who needed the help.
MacGregor’s leadership with the development of National Women’s History Month and the National Women’s History Project has led her to work with women from a variety of socioeconomic, cultural, and religious background. She attributes her work with these different individuals, including Mormon women, over the last forty years with continuously breaking her own stereotypes about those who are both dedicated to women’s rights and women’s history. Though MacGregor eventually left the Catholic Church in the 1970s partly due to her participation with different political and activist movements, she is an example of why it is nearly impossible to ignore the salient connections between religious influence, activism, and history.
Okay, now that Harvard Divinity School made official the news that has been circulating for weeks, we at JI (and JI’s satellite branch in Cambridge) can pop the Martinelli’s. David Holland, currently an associate professor at UNLV, will be joining the HDS faculty starting this July as an associate professor of American religious history. (You can read the official HDS announcement here).
Until he came to Harvard for his job-talk and visit earlier this year, I only knew Prof. Holland through his groundbreaking work, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America (OUP, 2011). JI’s own Christopher provided an in-depth review when the book was first published, which I encourage all to read again. For those American religious historians (this aspiring one included) who are returning to sacred scriptures as a starting place for our analysis of both church history as well as history of the volk (both institutional, intellectual, and “lived”), Sacred Borders is model scholarship.
During his visit to HDS, Holland proved that he’s not only a writer. His dynamic and innovative presentation on his current on “editing” sacred texts was simply dazzling.
His students at UNLV have attested that he is also a great mentor, and many students at HDS have already benefited from his generous, critical (in both senses of the word), but always amiable suggestions on their work.
Congrats to HDS on a great hire!
As a non-Mormon studying Mormons, I’ve been visited by my fair share of sister missionaries. I enjoy their visits and love hearing about their experiences, even if I have remained firmly unconvertable up till now. For that reason, when the new age restrictions for missionaries were announced last General Conference, and I read about the dress and grooming standards for missionaries, I was curious, and spent an hour or so browsing the site. For my contribution to Women’s History Month, I’d like to tie together some of my thoughts on that front. (more…)
My ghetto isn’t a slum; I’m quite comfortable here. My ghetto has lovely wallpaper, good hot (chocolate) drinks, and great stories. Really amazing stories. But it is separate. (more…)
By Alex D. Smith
“To be burned unread if I die, unless Tom cares to read it. No one else. Mind! I will haunt any one who does!
E. D. K.”
I have waited with eager anticipation for Elizabeth Dennistoun Kane to fulfill this threat inscribed on the first page her 1860 diary. Elizabeth, if you are listening, at your convenience. (more…)
Great news today from the Maxwell Institute. For their announcement, hosted on their new blog, see here.
The emerging (sub)field of Mormon studies has proven to be as multivocal as it is diverse. Though history has long been the dominant discipline of Mormon academic research, other fields are finally staking their claim. Interdisciplinary journals like Dialogue and BYU Studies Quarterly are featuring provocative works in theology, literature, musicology, and political science. There have been an explosion of journals covering the field, to the point that one could say there is more quantity than quality. We have seen an increase in quality books, with many more to come. There are conferences throughout the nation (and lately, to a very limited extent, world), and academic chairs and programs cropping up at prestigious universities. Even the New York Times is catching on to the game. Sometimes it can be easy to get lost in such a worldwind. (more…)
I am about six months pregnant right now, which means that my backaches and I am inundated with a list of things that I am supposed to eat or not eat and do or not do. According to Mayo Clinic, I should avoid certain types of fish including swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish but not shrimp, crab, canned tuna, salmon, Pollock, catfish, cod, or tilapia. The fish in the latter group, however, should only be eaten in moderation. I shouldn’t take a very hot bath or get into the hot tub. It’s okay to eat hard cheeses like cheddar, feta, and provolone but not soft cheeses like brie, goat’s cheese, and gorgonzola. Lunchmeat is out, as is sushi. Tylenol, Metamucil, and Neosporin are okay if you get sick but Benadryl isn’t okay until after the first trimester and most other drugs are out until the baby is weaned.
Being pregnant has made me even more cognizant of the materials and histories that are produced about pregnancy. Recently, there have been several documentaries made advocating for certain visions of women and reproductive health. One of the earliest and perhaps most controversial is Ricki Lake’s The Business of Being Born (more…)
Sorry I’m late posting… critically analyzing someone’s marriage is sticky business and this post is three times longer than my average.
Four years ago I wrote (1, 2, 3) about the bigamous marriage of Mission President James G Duffin, age 42, and missionary Amelia B Carling, age 24, in August 1902, while she was a missionary under his supervision. At the time, I had only Duffin’s diary, which said little of the marriage and almost nothing of its origins. I now have a transcript of Carling’s diary for the first six months of her mission; it ends eight months before the wedding. Carling’s diary gives little new information about the wedding itself but below I will attempt to suss out something of the emotional character of the proto-relationship. (more…)
Review of: Richard E. Turley, Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman, eds., Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume Two, 1821 – 1845 (Deseret Book, 2012).
I really cannot improve upon the opening lines of the introduction to this projected seven-volume series:
Although approximately half the people in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been women, their lives of faith and dedication are just beginning to receive the attention they merit. This series, Women of Faith in the Latter Days, aims to enhance awareness of these women through inspirational accounts written for a general readership.
The newest edition, the second in the series, considers thirty women* born between 1821 and 1845, and it’s a blockbuster volume both in the women who are included and in the list of authors who set their hand to crafting readable yet accurate and historically contextualized narratives of their lives. The essays purposely introduce both “well-known and previously obscure” women, presenting them in alphabetical order, a notably democratic editorial decision. They epitomize the pioneer women whose piety and self-sacrifice could have easily become fossilized in sentimental hagiography. But that’s not what this series is about, thank heaven. (more…)
A few years ago on a very rainy day in June in Salt Lake City, my husband and I took refuge in the Beehive House and enjoyed a tour led by one of sister missionaries. While waiting to meet up with his family arriving from California, we spent the morning touring Temple Square and visiting the genealogy center inside the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The tour was very informative, but I never assumed the tour would ever directly pertain to my research. Of course, I was wrong. Ever since I discovered the Beehive House was used as a home for young female workers and students from the 1920s to the late 1950s, I have been intrigued with understanding how the Beehive House served as a space for young women throughout its history.
Constructed between 1853 and 1855, the Beehive House functioned as a home for Brigham Young. In 1856, the Lion House was built to provide more room for his growing family. A close reading of the history of Beehive House illuminates how the space served as a form of sanctuary for some of Young’s wives and children as well as young Mormon women in the twentieth century. Clarissa Young Spencer, Brigham Young’s daughter born in 1860, wrote in her book Brigham Young at Home that even after her marriage the Beehive House still felt like her “real” home and it was a “place where love and perfect harmony existed.” (more…)
Good news for scholars and students of contemporary Mormonism! The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI continues its emphasis on the study of modern Mormon culture with the latest issue of its journal. Back in September of last year, the Center convened a forum in Indianapolis with scholars Jan Shipps, Phil Barlow, Jana Reiss and former US Senator Bob Bennett to address “Mormonism in the 21st Century.” Now, the latest “Forum” discussion in the Winter 2013 issue of Religion and American Culture features a heavyweight panel comprised of Terryl Givens, Kathryn Lofton, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, and Patrick Mason, who speak to different aspects of the theme “Contemporary Mormonism: America’s Most Successful ‘New Religion’.” The Forum piece offers sophisticated reflections on many of crucial pressure points of Mormonism today: gender, homosexuality, family, politics, perceptions, popular culture.
I spend a lot of my work-life time pondering what it actually means to think historically, and how to get undergraduates to do it. I have been much influenced by the work of Sam Wineburg, who has studied this quite a lot, and I find it interesting that there are multiple models or frameworks for what “historical thinking” means and why it’s important. Let’s look at a few of these lists, and think about how the concepts might apply to increasing the level of historical thinking literacy among “non-professionals” outside of history classrooms. (more…)
If (when) we see women praying in spring General Conference 2013 (hallelujah!), it may or may not be the result of grassroots efforts. Some will argue that the change was in place long before the efforts of “Let Women Pray in General Conference,” yet those involved will not likely feel that their efforts were of no consequence. Nor should they, they are part of a significant LDS historical tradition. (more…)
First I must say this: Hooray! The publication of the Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes has been a long time coming—one hundred and seventy one years, to be exact. The Beginning of Better Days: Divine Instruction to Women from the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Sheri Dew and Virginia H. Pearce, presents powerful words and meaningful experiences, both with the Nauvoo Relief Society and with its interpretation. (more…)
Last week Ardis (from Keepapitchinin) pointed out that in the early 1900s some church assignments held by females did not require “setting apart.”  Female missionary did, however, and Amelia Carling received her “missionary blessing” on 1901 Jun 25 from Apostle John W Taylor. Below I comment on some gendered aspects of her blessing in comparison to a selection of contemporary male blessings.  The complete text of Carling’s blessing is in the footnote.  (more…)
Lately I’ve had a number of people ask me to clarify what the “hermetic tradition” was and I realized that although I’ve written some blog posts dealing with the topic, I ought to make a few more clarifications. The notion of a Hermetic tradition is the work of Francis Yates and her very influential book Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. It was this book that John Brooke used to frame Mormonism in his Refiner’s Fire. Yates’s work did much to shed light on early-modern modes of thought that had previously been under-explored but like most works, they get a little dated over time, and I will list a few of the critiques here.
One of the biggest problems was that Yates called a number of ideas “Hermetic” that were not in the Corpus Hermeticum : like astrology, alchemy, and kabbalah. Such modes of thought, Yates argued, shared a common essence with Hermetism. Though Yates always used the term “Hermetism” (the preferred term of those who study antiquity) later scholars began using the term “Hermeticism” as a broader umbrella for the practices not in the Corpus Hermeticum, but similar in essence . Thus “Hermetism” meant the ideas in the Corpus, “Hermeticism” meant the broader term. This move unfortunately created a bigger mess because the term “Hermeticism” became too vague. What was deemed Hermetic was now an intuitive judgment call, rather than a process of tying ideas back to particular sources. (more…)
- Emmeline B. Wells, Exponent, Vol. 3 (Sept. 1874), No. 9
In his book Enlightenment Contested, Jonathan Israel argues that the first “revolutions” were not, in fact, political rebellions; “revolution” referred to new epistemic frameworks caused by the likes of Galilean, Copernican, Newtonian, and Cartesian paradigm shifts. These new conceptual models laid the groundwork for later political reforms; in Condorcet’s concise maxim: “only philosophy can cause a true revolution.” One of the reasons I have focused my research on 18th century European intersections of gender and religion is because of this very notion: that beliefs matter. And when people challenge or reinterpret the status quo, interesting things happen. (more…)
On the second day of October conference 1929, LDS Church President Heber J. Grant introduced three other Presidents without warning—Sisters Louise Robison, Ruth May Fox, and May Anderson. President Grant commented,
“We have listened to a great many testimonies from our brethren during this conference.
We shall now call on some of our sisters…” (more…)
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On April 28, 1842 Joseph Smith attended a meeting of the nascent Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. He delivered a sermon. Eliza R. Snow recorded a long-hand report of the sermon in the Society’s minute book, and Willard Richards recorded a brief summary in the “Book of the Law of the Lord” [n1]. Smith opened up his discourse by referencing 1 Corinthians, chapter 12. “He said the reason of these remarks being made, was, that some little thing was circulating in the Society, that some persons were not going right in laying hands on the sick &c.” Smith proceeded to deliver an emphatic endorsement of women performing healing rituals. The sermon included other material, but the participation of women in the healing liturgy was a primary concern.
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