Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: Amelia Carling’s Missionary Blessing
 


Southwestern States Mission: Amelia Carling’s Missionary Blessing

By: Edje Jeter - March 17, 2013

Last week Ardis (from Keepapitchinin) pointed out that in the early 1900s some church assignments held by females did not require “setting apart.” [1] 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. [2] The complete text of Carling’s blessing is in the footnote. [3]

The first thing to notice, I think, is that Carling was set apart for missionary service using the same formula as male missionaries: “we…set you apart to perform a mission….” [4] Further, apart from the specific gendering described below, her blessing “fits in” with blessings given to males.

“a great honor has been conferred upon you, for it has been rare in the experience of the Church of Jesus Christ that the daughters of God have been called to perform this labor.”

The “honor” and/or the “high calling” of sharing the gospel appear in many of the male blessings. [5] The honor could be read as gender-neutral but Carling’s non-gender-typical situation makes the honor “great.”

“…you have been called… to preach…”; “you shall know… that you have been called… by the voice of revelation.”

A few weeks ago I posted on Carling’s scriptural defense of her “right to preach.” She could have also made a strong case from her blessing, which explicitly supposes “address[ing] the people, either in public or in private….” [6]

“…be pure in the sight of the Lord, and inasmuch as you will do right in all things, the Spirit of the Lord shall be your constant companion…”

“…you shall be able, by your example, your kindness, your gentleness and your love and affection, to bring those who are in darkness to a knowledge of the truth. Be temperate, wise and prudent in all things, even a daughter of Zion and an example of purity before the Lord…”; “We do not send you forth to apply your affections to man…”

The “purity” of females was a big deal to Victorian Anglo-Americans in general and Mormons in particular, but I think Taylor’s connecting of purity and the Spirit is gender neutral; two of the male blessings use similar formulas. [7] On the other hand, the promise of success predicated on kindness, gentleness, love, and affection is probably gendered and consistent with a model of passive, female virtue, as are Taylor’s counsels about temperance, affections, etc. [8] To be sure, males also received such exhortations, though usually with other words. The difference seems to have been, at least in part, that for females purity was itself the active power while for males purity was merely a prerequisite for the work of preaching and converting. [9]

“your life will be precious in the sight of God, and you shall be preserved from the hand of the destroyer, and from sickness and disease….”

Protections against disease and injury were common in blessings; I don’t read this aspect of the blessing as gendered or as a comment on supposed female weakness.

“you shall have the privelage of seeing your britherin take those whom you have been instrumental in bringing to a knowledge of the truth into the waters of baptism…”

Only males could perform the ordinances associated with initial conversion. One consequence of gendered priesthood authority was that female missionaries tended to be invisible in official mission records, which recorded who officiated in ordinances and not who taught the convert.



The “Southwestern States Mission” series (homepage) examines mission life in (mostly) Texas around 1900.

[1] Setting apart is an ordinance whereby one officially enters a church position. To perform the ordinance, a male with appropriate credentials and permissions places his hands on the head of the individual, formally “sets them apart” for the assignment, and then pronounces a non-scripted “blessing.” I don’t know which callings in 1900 required setting apart and which did not, whether there were any callings for males that did not require setting apart, nor when it became standard to set apart everyone who received a calling, regardless of the position.

[2] I have non-scientifically selected and surveyed fifteen missionary blessings from 1897 to 1903, including two from the SWSM study. I will have a post on missionary blessings next month (probably). Below is a list of the missionaries, the word-count of their blessing, the date, their mission, the officiator, and a link to the source or note on the location.

  • Amelia B Carling 492, 1901 Jun 25, Southwestern States, Apostle John W Taylor (diary, CHL)
  • Joseph G Nelson 324, 1898 Apr 09, Oregon, Apostle John W Taylor
  • Franklin Clark 205, 1899 Dec 06, Southwestern States, Apostle John Henry Smith (BYU)
  • Edward Sessions 399, 1900 Jun 06, Eastern States, Pres. of the Seventy CD Fjeldstad
  • John Williamson Hill 455, 1902 May 20, Northern States, Pres. of the Seventy Rulon S Wells
  • Lewis Samual Cardon 570, 1898 Jun 08, Switzerland, Pres. of the Seventy CD Fjeldsted
  • Arthur Stanley Parsons 332, 1898 Mar 16,Southern States, Pres. of the Seventy Brigham H Roberts
  • J. Urban Allred 460, 1898 Jun 15, Southern States, Apostle FM Lyman
  • Joseph Facer 376, 1897 Mar 17, Southern States, Apostle George Teasdale
  • John Adam Rueckert 510, 1902 Mar 12, Germany, Pres. of the Seventy Seymour B Young
  • Ole Jensen 453, 1897 Aug 13, Scandinavia, Pres. of the Seventy Jonathan G Kimball
  • Marcus Farr 487, 1897 Oct 07, Eastern States, Pres. of the Seventy Brigham H Roberts
  • Carl Oskar Johnson 418, 1897 Apr 16, Scandinavia, Apostle John Henry Smith
  • Jonathan Nephi Hunt 474, 1903 May 11, Southwestern States, President of the Seventy Seymour B Young
  • Theodore Martineau 321, 1900 Apr 09, Southern States, Apostle Reed Smoot.

[3] Missionary blessings are individualized documents with personal and religio-spiritual significance to the officiator, the recipient, their respective descendants, and their co-religionists. Since this blog is an academic venue I will bracket claims of divine influence and write as if Taylor were the sole author of the blessing, but I want us to remember how foreign such a conception would probably have been to both Carling and Taylor. Furthermore, since every blessing is different, there is only so much truck to make about the differences between Sister Carling’s blessing and whichever others we use for comparison. I will use “male blessings” and “female blessings” as shorthand for “missionary blessings pronounced upon” males and females, respectively.

My source for the blessing is Carling’s diary, where she copied it long-hand. She is the only missionary in the SWSM study to do so. That she followed the standard format of the missionary blessings so closely (the heading, the line across the page, etc) and identified the recorder makes me think she was copying the official transcript. The text presented here is thus a thrice-transcribed (Lindsay, Carling, Jeter) version of (presumably) short-hand notes of the spoken blessing.

A Missionary Blessing.

Pronounced upon the head of sister Amelia B. Carling, in the Salt Lake Temple Annex, June 25, 1901,

By Apostle John W Taylor.

————————————–

Sister Amelia B. Carling, we, your bretherin, lay our hands upon your head and set you apart to perform a mission in the South Western States of the United States of America, and we pray that our Heavenly Father will let his Holy Spirit rest upon you from this moment, that it will qualify you to perform your duties; and inasmuch as you have been called to go forth in your youth to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, we say unto you that a great honor has been conferred upon you, for it has been rare in the experience of the Church of Jesus Christ that the daughters of God have been called to perform this labor. We bless you that you may receive the spirit of your calling, and we say unto you, receive a renewed portion of the Holy ghost, that it may rest upon you from the crown of your head to the souls of your feet; and you shall know by the whisperings of the Spirit of God that you have been called to this mission by the voice of revelation.

We say unto you, dear sister, be pure in the sight of the Lord, and inasmuch as you will do right in all things, the Spirit of the Lord shall be your constant companion and you shall have joy and pleasure by day and by night; the desire for the salvation of the souls of men shall rest upon you and you shall be able, by your example, your kindness, your gentleness and your love and affection, to bring those who are in darkness to a knowledge of the truth. Be temperate, wise and prudent in all things, even a daughter of Zion and an example of purity before the Lord, and you shall be greatly blessed.

We do not send you forth to apply your affections to man, but to serve the Lord with all your might, mind and strength, and inasmuch as you do this all will be well with you, and you shall have a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and shall talk under the sweet peaceful influance of the Holy Spirit when you are called upon to address the people, either in public or in private, and you shall have the privelage of seeing your britherin take those whom you have been instrumental in bringing to a knowledge of the truth into the waters of baptism, and your heart will be filled with joy and gladness in beholding the fruits of your labors. Therefore we say unto you, go forth in peace, and your life will be precious in the sight of God, and you shall be preserved from the hand of the destroyer, and from sickness and disease, according to your faithfulness in keeping the commandments of the Lord.

We seal these blessings upon your head in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Martin S. Lindsay, Reporter

[4] So far as I can tell, the procedure matched that of male missionaries. I have not verified for myself, but Kunz says females also carried the same ministerial certificate as the males. Calvin S. Kunz, “A History of Female Missionary Activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1830-1898” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1976).

[5] I might be stretching the evidence to say that many of the male blessings mention the “high calling” of sharing the gospel. Two of the blessings specifically mention the honor of missionary work (see below) and most of the male blessings that also involved ordination noted that a Seventy was a “high calling” or “high and holy calling.” But, in the blessings it was always ordination as a Seventy that was high and holy. However, since the Seventy’s primary duty was missionary work, I don’t think I’ve overleaped the evidence. “Brother John Williamson Hill… be of good cheer and let your heart rejoice, for you have been honored of the Lord”; “Brother Jonathan Nephi Hunt…  we pray… that your heart may truly rejoice because of the great honor that the Lord has conferred upon you by His servants, thus permitting you to go forth in the day of your youthful manhood to lift up your voice and proclaim the glad tidings of great joy to a benighted world.”

[6] The “renewed portion” of the spirit appears in the other blessing I have from Apostle JW Taylor: “Brother Joseph G. Nelson… receive ye a renewed portion of the Holy Ghost, that it may rest upon you from this moment from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet….”

[7] “Brother Joseph G. Nelson… …if you will devote yourself to the preaching of the gospel of repentance unto that people with all your might, mind, and strength, and will keep your garments and your body clean and pure and unspotted from the sins of the world, that you will bring many souls to a knowledge of the truth….”; “Brother John Williamson Hill… Let your mind be pure and holy and let your heart go out in sympathy to all men, and inasmuch as you will do these things, the Spirit of the Lord shall be your constant companion….”

[8] With the aforementioned caveats about comparing blessings firmly before our minds, note that when Apostle JW Taylor blessed Elder Nelson that he would “bring many souls to a knowledge of the truth,” the behavior upon which it was predicated was “if you will devote yourself to the preaching of the gospel of repentance unto that people with all your might, mind, and strength, and will keep your garments and your body clean and pure and unspotted from the sins of the world….” In my small survey, neither “temperate,” “prudent,” nor “sweet” appear in the male blessings.

[9] I think the concern about temperance, wisdom, prudence, purity, and affections stems, at least in part, from the public-relations price leaders perceived that the Church would pay if an official female representative of the Church violated moral norms while in the public eye outside the Mormon Culture Region. One of the successful anti-Mormon strategies was to portray Mormon women as oppressed and degraded and one of the purposes of early female missionaries was to provide a public empirical refutation. Thus, on the one hand it seems that Taylor infantilizes Carling by his repeated mentions of her affections and purity. One the other, I think he probably correctly estimated the public-relations catastrophe of a morally-compromised Sister missionary caught before a Victorian public (however slight or imagined the “compromise”). See Tania Rands Lyon and Mary Ann Shumway McFarland, “‘Not Invited, But Welcome’: The History and Impact of Church Policy on Sister Missionaries,” Dialogue 36 (3):72-101.

A little over a year into her mission (and while still a missionary), Carling married her Mission President. I don’t know of any sources that discuss in any detail her decision making process, but I would be curious to know if she remembered and/or made any issue of the line about not applying “your affections to man.”



8 Comments

  1. Good work Edje.

    Looking at some of the women’s GC addresses, it was interesting to me that the women who served missions taught very authoritatively. It would be fantastic to compare those missionary blessings with patriarchal blessing that might include more language specific to contemporary female roles (that is my assumption) to see how that links to their experience and their perceived authority.

    Not that I think that any of that is really measurable…but…wishing….

    Comment by JJohnson — March 18, 2013 @ 11:45 am

  2. I don’t always remember to chime in, Edge, but these posts have become a favorite staple of my sunday reading. Thanks!

    Comment by Ben P — March 18, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

  3. Agreed with Ben. This is totally solid.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 18, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

  4. Thanks, Ed. Good stuff, as always.

    Comment by Christopher — March 18, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

  5. Thanks, JJohnson, Ben, J, and Christopher.

    JJohnson: I think your intuition about patriarchal blessings and missionary blessings is probably accurate.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 18, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

  6. Goodness. That’s quite a closing paragraph, Edje. Have you mentioned that before? Did I somehow miss that fascinating tidbit?

    Comment by Amy T — March 18, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  7. I think I was busy thinking about the rest of it, that I missed that last paragraph too. Oh.my.gosh. Fantastic.

    Comment by JJohnson — March 19, 2013 @ 7:28 am

  8. Amy and JJ: Amen. It blows my mind almost every time I start writing about either Duffin or Carling.

    I’ve written about the marriage before (1, 2, and 3) from the perspective of Duffin’s diary. I now have Carling’s diary (for the first five months of her mission, ending eight months before the wedding) and will eventually get out a blog post about what her diary hints about the wedding.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 19, 2013 @ 5:10 pm