A few days before I left Texas for the holiday break, I received a copy of a new edited volume: Mormon Women’s History: Beyond Biography, edited by Rachel Cope, Amy Easton-Flake, Keith Erekson, and Lisa Olsen Tait. The volume began with a conference held at BYU and Salt Lake City a couple years ago that tried to explore what happens when Mormon women’s history left the safe confines of biography—a methodological safeguard that had been common in the field. There are a lot of great gems in the collection. Here is the table of contents:
1 Charting the Past and Future of Mormon Women’s History
Keith A. Erekson
2 Sifting Truth from Legend: Evaluating Sources for American Indian Biography through the Life of Sally Exervier Ward
Jenny Hale Pulsipher
3 Silent Memories of Missouri: Mormon Women and Men and Sexual Assault in Group Memory and Religious Identity
Andrea G. Radke-Moss
4 Early Mormonism’s Expansive Family and the Browett Women
5 Poetry in the Woman’s Exponent: Constructing Self and Society
6 Aesthetic Evangelism, Artistic Sisterhood, and the Gospel of Beauty: Mormon Women Artists at Home and Abroad, circa 1890–1920
Heather Belnap Jensen
7 Leah Dunford Witdsoe, Alice Merrill Horne, and the Sacralization of Artistic Taste in Mormon Homes, circa 1900
Josh E. Probert
8 Double Jeopardy in Pleasant Grove: The Gendered and Cultural Challenges of Being a Danish Mormon Missionary Grass Widow in Territorial Utah
Julie K. Allen
9 Kings and Queens of the Kingdom: Gendering the Mormon Theological Narrative
Benjamin E. Park
10 Individual Lives, Broader Contexts: Mormon Women’s Studies and the Refashioning of American History and Historiography
R. Marie Griffith
While each of these are worth a read, I particularly loved Andrea Radke-Moss’s careful meditation on the use of historical sources in order to engage rape accounts from the Mormon-Missouri War. It’s an article that should make waves in the Mormon history field.
My chapter is part-extension of my Nauvoo project and part-exploration of gendered methodologies. I argue that the historiography on Mormon thought has been divided into two spheres: “Mormon theology,” which is primarily men, and “Mormon women’s theology,” which is sequestered into its own space. Here are two paragraphs from the introduction:
This compartmentalization is representative not only of the field of Mormon history but also the general approach to historical theology. That is, even while the subfield of women’s history is encouraged, it is often compartmentalized from broader Mormon narratives and frameworks. What Paul Harvey and Kevin Schultz said about religion within twentieth-century American history can similarly be said about women in Mormon history, and especially Mormon historical theology: it is “everywhere” in that specialized work in the field has proliferated at an astounding rate, but it is still “nowhere” in that it has been relegated as marginal and contained.5 Women’s history becomes a methodological ghetto, unable to make any real revision to synthetic narratives. Only through the integration into broader synthetic stories can our historical narratives become less exclusive and more representative. Otherwise, only those specifically interested in women’s history will encounter the lessons of the subfield.
This chapter is both historiographical and provocative in nature and seeks to point to future roads for historians to traverse and questions for scholars to answer. Following a general overview of how historians of Mormon thought have dealt with—or, in many cases, avoided dealing with—theology produced by women, it will posit reasons for this androcentric framing as well as point toward potential methodological avenues for more integrative synthetic approaches. Rather than merely carving space for the history of women in Mormon thought, we must conceive of ways in which female voices both constructed and transformed the history itself. And finally, this chapter will offer one example of such a study that seeks to blend both male and female voices into a Mormon theological narrative of the Nauvoo period. Throughout, this chapter also attempts to demonstrate how this Mormon example provides important lessons for theological, intellectual, and religious history more broadly, as it identifies how to integrate a broader array of voices and frameworks into broader synthetic narratives.
Sadly, Farleigh Dickinson University Press’s pricing model makes the volume cost prohibitive. I wish it were otherwise. But pester your local library to purchase a copy, because there are several great chapters in this volume.