#12- Summer Seminar scholars discuss “The History of the Mormon Family” [MIPodcast]
BLAIR HODGES: This is the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges. Thanks for listening to this episode. Every summer for the past sixteen years lucky groups of graduate students have been assembled to do research on Mormon culture under the direction of scholars Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens. In the past students have looked into Joseph Smith’s critics, the golden plates, early Mormon theology, Joseph Smith’s cultural context, things like that. This year, 2014, the annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture was hosted here at the Maxwell Institute. It was the seventeenth annual seminar. Claudia and Richard Bushman assembled eleven students under the theme “The History of Mormon Family.” The Summer Seminar is an intense immersion into Mormon thought. Students with a variety of academic and personal backgrounds come together to search doctrines and dig through archives and talk about what they find there, argue a little bit, help each other a little bit, and ultimately write papers on whatever interesting things they come up with in the process.
I was able to participate in the seminar back in 2010. So it’s been fun to think back on my experience as new seminar participants have come into the Maxwell Institute. So this is where the seminar has been held for the past several years, and I had close access to students who participated this year. I wanted to share some of their stories with you to give you a sense for what goes on at the seminar. The students presented papers at the end of July and we plan to make those available on the Maxwell Institute website, just like we’ve made some papers from past years available there. In the meantime, this episode will introduce you to six scholars, women and men who spent this summer investigating aspects of the history of Mormon families. As usual, the views expressed here are those of the participant’s, they don’t necessarily reflect those at the Institute, BYU, or the LDS church. Questions about this and other episodes of the Maxwell Institute Podcast can be sent to email@example.com
BLAIR HODGES: Sharon Harris is a PhD student of English literature at Fordham University. She said she hasn’t done much academic work on Mormon topics before, although she is a lifelong member of the LDS church. So the Summer Seminar provided a really nice opportunity for her to focus her scholarly mind on her own religious tradition. As a reminder, the seminar’s topic this year was “The Mormon Family.” So when I asked Sharon for an example of something she’d read during the seminar that stood out to her, I wasn’t really surprised to hear her bring up polygamy, plural marriage. It’s a touchy topic, even though the LDS church stopped formally practicing it about a century ago.
Sharon referred to a really interesting memoir written by Annie Clark Tanner, a Mormon woman who practiced plural marriage. Annie found herself on the wrong side of history when the church discontinued the practice. She wrote about it in her memoir. It’s called A Mormon Mother. She wrote it in the early twentieth century. As Sharon described Annie’s experience, I thought about that old cliche that says that by all accounts the past really is a strange, foreign country.
SHARON HARRIS: Reading about Annie Clark Tanner’s A Mormon Mother, I don’t know what I expected going into it, but reading about her trying to explain to her posterity why she did this thing and looking back, talking about how she was trying so hard to be obedient, and she was defending the principle, the principle of the plurality of wives as Orson Pratt puts it, and then finds herself in this marriage where she doesn’t even spend her wedding night with her husband, she doesn’t even have a dinner because she gets home to her family’s home and they’ve already eaten.
She got dropped off and I guess they couldn’t spend the night together because of the problems with persecution or the government finding out about it, so she gets dropped back off at her family’s home, they don’t even know she’s been married, everybody’s looking at her kind of questioningly and she admits that, “Okay, it happened. I don’t want to talk about it,” and then just has some bread and milk because they’ve already eaten. She just looks at this and says, “Nobody’s going to remember me. Nobody’s going to celebrate me,” remembering all the other women she’s heard about who have had lavish ceremonies or fancy dresses or whatever. Then her husband planning to see her in about two weeks time, and then missing that appointment. She felt disappointed, highly disappointed in her marriage.
HODGES: So she’s being really honest with her kids about this disappointment.
HODGES: How did she explain to them why she did it then?
HARRIS: She explained about how the Bible was understood differently. She explained that there was a big focus on the Old Testament practices as opposed to the New Testament Christ. It wasn’t in a bitter way. It was in a sort of trying to make sense of this thing that was so different in her children’s time than when she was growing up. So she just kind of gives a lot of the context and says that ultimately she thought this was what she was supposed to do. She thought this was what God had ordained at the time. She was trying to be obedient. She felt a sense of duty.
HODGES: So it dawned on me as Sharon Harris was talking about Annie Clark Tanner that even though Sharon felt disconnected from Mormonism’s polygamist past, there was something that she sort of had in common with Annie, yeah the past is a foreign country and everything, but sometimes it can seem a lot more familiar and relevant. Annie wrote her memoir in part because she saw the church’s ground shifting underneath her feet. So when she entered into plural marriage it was a really big part of Mormon practice. Then the manifesto changed all that, so Annie found herself actually further outside the mainstream of Mormonism so quickly that even her own kids had a hard time grasping what the principle was all about. So Annie was part of this new class of non-traditional Mormons, the polygamist ones. A plural wife when wives were no longer to be plural.
Sharon Harris also occupies a somewhat marginal position in the church, to use an unfortunate term. It’s not quite as big of a thing. She’s a single adult in her thirties. She’s never been married. It’s kind of a touchy subject, but I bring it up because it seemed to get at the intersection of her own personal experience and her academic scholarship.
Is it okay to talk about you being single?
HODGES: Okay. So for you, you’re looking at this woman who lived at the turn of the twentieth century, so over a hundred years ago basically. She was a plural wife, and you haven’t been married, but maybe there’s something where you kind of feel… do you feel any resonance with her because of her sort of being a social outlier? Because she became one, and young single adults are observed that way too.
HARRIS: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. It’s really interesting actually because in a certain sense I can imagine these women who find themselves in plural marriages after the manifesto comes out, this has been disavowed. Where they are is not where they’re supposed to be. It’s not the ideal the church is espousing anymore. I think there’s a parallel there with the singles. If you are defined as single in the church, if you’re single it’s very hard not to be defined as single in the church, it’s in the negative. You’re defined as somebody who is not married.
I don’t want to come across as angry about that. I don’t feel angry about that. But it is painful. Trying to find a place in a community where what you are is not the ideal, even what is taught in a lot of respects. You have to kind of be finding ways to love other people where they are and finding ways to serve and have your place be meaningful that is not clearly defined at all. Singles is what I am doing my research on, so that’s been something that I’ve really had in the back of my mind in all of these in different readings we’ve had.
HODGES: That’s Sharon Harris. She’s a PhD student in English literature at Fordham University. The paper that she presented at the Summer Seminar Symposium this year was called “Shifting Boundaries and Redefining Adulthood: LDS Singles and Their Wards.”
Let’s move on to the next participant that I was able to interview.
MICHAEL HAYCOCK: So I’m Michael Haycock. I’m from Lima, Ohio. I graduated in 2012 with my degree in Political Science from Yale University. I just finished my Master’s degree in religion at Claremont Graduate University, where I focused on the history of Christianity and religions of North America, Mormon studies, and gender studies.
HODGES: Michael Haycock said that making the jump from poli-sci to religious studies when he transferred from Yale to Claremont University was natural. it was a natural adjustment for him because after making the switch he became plugged into a network of other students who shared his enthusiasm for studying religion.
HAYCOCK: Honestly it was very good to be around Mormon scholars who were studying religion and American history and Mormonism, and also to have the experience of engaging with non-Mormon scholars on the topic. It felt like there was a very good community there. So yeah, I think Claremont was the first place that I felt that sort of academic camaraderie, and it only grew over time.
HODGES: What was it like working with students studying Mormonism who weren’t Mormons themselves? Did it seem like they were out to critique Mormonism, or what was your feeling?
HAYCOCK: There were some people who would participate in Mormon studies where it seemed like they were coming in to critique Mormonism, or because Mormonism was a strange object to be kind of examined under a microscope. But many of those people I saw as they went through Mormon studies that their views became more and more nuanced to the point where they could look at it without first seeing it through their ideological lens. All of us saw that same sort of evolution in everyone.
HODGES: So how about for yourself then? Because you came to the program as a member of the church. Did you think that your views of Mormonism would change as a result of it? Did you go in thinking that you needed to do this to bolster faith? Or that you needed to put things under a microscope? How did it impact you?
HAYCOCK: That’s a good question. I don’t think I went in with that sort of objective. There’s always anxiety when you’re studying something that’s kind of close to your heart, which my faith is. So I was interested in going and studying Mormonism, knowing that it was something that was very important to me. Of course sometimes that can cause emotional reactions or whatever. But I still had this dedication to academic study of it.
HODGES: It’s interesting that Michael focused on the idea of community when he talked about what he liked most about the program at Claremont, because that’s the same thing that he focused on when I asked him what he liked about the Summer Seminar. Forging relationships was almost as important as the actual work being produced.
HAYCOCK: I’ve really enjoyed studying with the Bushmans and my fellow classmates, two of whom are also from Claremont, and just kind of tossing ideas around. I think there’s something to be said about this collegiality of academics, where you can put a bunch of people in a room with all these ideas bouncing around in their head and they throw stuff around and come up with new notions and things can come out of there that didn’t go in.
So I think that’s what this sort of experience can contribute. You start to see other people as people. As people that can help you in your academic progress and whom you can help. I think that sets a closeness that you can basically only get by being in a room with someone. It really contributes to perceptions of friendship and mutual contribution.
So I’ve really enjoyed that. We’re talking about the history of the Mormon family, and I think that something this seminar sort of does is create its own little family. You read about the intergenerational relationships in the past and I can see those things being forged here. I know one of the first nights the Bushmans had a welcome dinner at their house. I saw Claudia Bushman holding the baby of one of the participants. Here I thought, we have three or four generations right here, so there are these connections being welded. I guess that’s something that I didn’t expect and this really hit me. So being close to people and not only reading their academic work, you can hear about their personal histories, and hearing about Richard and Claudia Bushman’s development as scholars from them, how they came to be where they are today, and how they came up with the projects that they’ve done. That’s information you don’t get by simply reading articles or books that people have written. I think it’s really valuable because you realize these people are human, just as I am. It gives a little bit of hope sometimes.
HODGES: That’s Michael Haycock. He was a participant in the 2014 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture, which focused on the history of the Mormon family. More on the way, including the seminar baby, if you listen closely to the next interview you’ll hear it in the background.
RACHEL HUNT STEENBLIK: My name is Rachel Hunt Steenblik. I got my bachelor’s in philosophy from Brigham Young University. I received a Master’s in library science from a small school in Boston called Simmons College. I’m now getting a doctorate in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University.
HODGES: Talk about the experience so far. What’s it like to be a part of the seminar? What do you do? What has your experience been like?
STEENBLIK: We meet every morning from 9:30-11:30 as a class. There are twelve students, seven women and five men of various ages and various disciplines. It has been one of the best parts because everyone brings their different perspectives and their different disciplines onto the topic at hand. We read text together and we discuss that text, and we bring up things that were interesting to us, and things that we have questions about and we look at it in the context of what it means to say Mormon family. We also for our class we all wrote a paper that we’ll be presenting shortly on a topic that we choose that’s specifically interesting to us.
HODGES: Before coming to the Summer Seminar, Rachel had done some research about Heavenly Mother in LDS thought. She was a research assistant to a professor of philosophy here at BYU named David Paulson, and in 2011 BYU Studies published an article called “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven.” That article drew on some of her research. So her seminar paper expanded a little on that earlier research. She took a collection of poems about Heavenly Mother that were written within the past few years, sort of like how Eliza R. Snow referred to Heavenly Mother in the hymn “O My Father.”
So Rachel took these poems and analyzed the ways that the authors crafted theologies of the divine feminine. That paper will be available to read on our website, maxwellinstitute.byu.edu, sometime in the coming months. In addition to Rachel’s own research, she also enjoyed hearing from other participants in the daily gatherings and talking to them about their research as well.
STEENBLIK: So one of the very first days of class we went around in a circle and just said suggestions of what our paper’s topics could be, and even helped each other brainstorm possible ideas to do with the Mormon family. I was sitting beside Christine Blythe and she said that she had many ideas, but that the thing that she’s obsessed with was birth narratives and birth stories and the way that women care for a woman in birth. From having just given birth to my one and only child at home a few months previously, I was really struck by that and the things that she ended up researching about home births and midwives and their surgeons and Mormonism of that particular way to give birth. So to learn a little bit more of the history of midwives as callings and seeing the spiritual and the physical tie so closely together in the way that they ministered to one another and the woman in that circumstance was really touching to me. So it felt academically thrilling as well as personally and spiritually.
HODGES: How old is your daughter now?
STEENBLIK: She is nine months. She’s in the room making little noises.
HODGES: Has it been a handful to participate in the seminar and take care of the baby at the same time?
STEENBLIK: Yes. It’s been challenging. It’s been possible, which I’m grateful for. The very first day of class we actually all came to class having already something in preparation. We got to choose between three books. One of the books talked about the history of the family in general, not just the history of the Mormon family. One of the ideas that it talks the most about is the idea of the big house and how before there were many people who lived in a house together, they might not necessarily be blood relatives some of them were the extended family and they all lived together
So Richard Bushman brought up this idea and he talked about how in New York today couples may have only one or two children, and they do everything for that child, but it’s a really different idea and attitude than they had before. With Joseph Smith and with polygamy there was to some degree that big house where they had sister wives and they had these people that were caring for each other and helping, so even when LDS women were becoming some of the first doctors in the U.S. and going to school back east. It was made possible because of their sister wives who helped them.
So while I don’t have sister wives, I happen to have two sisters living in Provo and they, with my parents, have made it possible for me to research here. Every day one of my sisters has been watching my daughter so I can go to class. She gave birth during this time when I was in class and the other sister stepped up and took a week off of her job to help me. So it’s been a remarkable thing to learn about Mormon families in the big house at the same time that my big house family has been making it possible for me to do so.
HODGES: That’s Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Her paper was called “Heavenly Mother in Poetry: It’s Possible They are Projecting.”
Next up is Heather Stone.
HEATHER STONE: My name is Heather Stone. I’m a PhD student in the department of communication at the University of Utah. I’m studying communication in the Mormon church, specifically as it relates to the Young Women population. It’s an area that I feel is fairly understudied, especially in the second half of the 1900s.
HODGES: Was your undergraduate degree also in communication?
STONE: No. I’m a bit of an odd man out in that I am probably the only person in the communication department at the University of Utah who has a Master’s in business administration. I’m an MBA. I have a bachelor degree in English, English writing versus English literature, from BYU. I have fifteen or twenty years of work experience in the corporate world. I went back to begin my PhD three years ago in a field that feels like a natural home to me because I’ve always cared about how people say what they’re saying and how people talk to each other, what it means. I didn’t realize that all these little models I made in my business experience to explain why managers and supervisors were interacting with employees a certain way, it didn’t those were all communication models and there was an entire discipline studying it. So really it’s a good fit for me, but there were a lot of mental leaps to make in order to succeed with the program. I didn’t understand most of the terminology, and it was a new space for me.
HODGES: So even though Heather Stone is already a PhD student right now, she said that the Summer Seminar has given her a lot of really good tips for how to conduct research.
STONE: What has been amazing for me are the things that I have learned about the scholarly process. I mentioned already a new type of artifact, oral histories that I hadn’t worked with, but also the rich advice the Bushmans are giving me on how to create a scholarly research paper. I’m a fourth year PhD student, you would think I would know these things, but things like “put a verb in your title,” “you’re using way too much jargon,” “what we’re trying to do here is focus on the argument,” and “you should begin with primary sources and see where they take you rather than begin with an argument because then it’s a needle in a haystack looking for primary sources.” These are gems that you just don’t always get in real scholarly environments. So this is a very real scholarly environment here, but these are gems the things they’re showing us about how to produce good research.
HODGES: So while other seminar participants were combing through old records and reading old newspapers and looking up documents or census records, Heather was busy creating her own primary sources by conducting oral interviews.
STONE: The oral histories I’ve been gathering have been amazing. I have spent one to two hours with each of nine women and the area I’m focusing on is women who were LDS teenagers and who moved from a non-Mormon community to a Mormon community in high school or early college. So it’s this socialization aspect of the Mormon experience and what’s it like to move from a place where the church is a religious institution that is one part of your life to a place where the church is a social institution that dominates almost all areas of your life. The things these women have had to say about that experience, so full of pain, so full of joy, and such a reconciliation in their own teenage minds of how to navigate their religious beliefs in this completely new social setting. It’s been fascinating.
HODGES: More just ahead on this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast, but I wanted to take a moment to remind you that you can help us out if you into iTunes and review this podcast. Leave your thoughts about the shows that you’ve enjoyed, some of the things that you’ve liked about the Maxwell Institute Podcast, share it with your friends, help us grow our audience. You can email questions or comments about this and other episodes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Cranney is third-year dual PhD candidate in demography and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. His academic interests include fertility, sociology, and psychology of religion. He’s a more quantitatively oriented social scientist, so his experience at the seminar has reminded him of the importance of looking for the human stories behind the numbers that he’s more used to dealing with. He said his seminar research actually has helped him get a better view of the rich emotionally charged history and personal stories underlying LDS fertility patterns. This is one of the really cool things about the Summer Seminar is that it brings together a lot of different scholars from a lot of different backgrounds and puts them in conversation with each other about Mormon topics.
How did you get involved with the Summer Seminar here?
STEPHEN CRANNEY: So I’ve always been interested in getting a little bit of formal training in historical methods. I mean, there is a historical demography kind of sub-field within demography, and those people are… it’s kind of tricky because you need the very sophisticated quantitative skills and you need the historical skills. So I’m not going into historical demography, but historical methods come up enough in sociology and demography research that I thought it’d be good to kind of dip my toes in the water. I’ve always thought of just auditing a class or something like that, but I thought it’d be better to just kind of learn by doing and try to write a history paper. So I saw this as a… So my paper topic is the history of fertility, so it’s still a very kind of demographic oriented subject, but it’s drawing on historical methods.
HODGES: The paper Stephen ended up writing for the seminar focused mainly on fertility in Mormon rhetoric about childbearing during the first two decades or so of the church’s existence, so it’s like the 1830s-1840s. When we spoke he was still kind of in the middle of putting the paper together before he presented it.
CRANNEY: Mormonism, in terms of its fertility patterns, is actually interesting from just a general sociological perspective because there’s been this big literature on the relationship between religion and fertility. Lately there’s been more of an emphasis on base-line religiosity and its effect on fertility. So there aren’t that many differences between different religious groups and fertility. There used to be one with like Catholics and Protestants, those differentials of flat-end; Catholics don’t have any more kids than Protestants now.
HODGES: Across the board?
CRANNEY: I’m thinking specifically in the United States. But in Europe it’s the same too. Catholics in Europe don’t have any more once you control for all these other factors. So the denominational affiliation doesn’t really appear to be related to how many kids you have, with a few exceptions, and Mormonism is one of those exceptions. So I think the Mormon case is interesting because we can really track from the beginning of the religion. We can sort of track the development of these fertility norms and how they operate on fertility outcomes. Presumably a lot of religions have fertility norms.
HODGES: What would a fertility norm be? Is that an idea that’s—
CRANNEY: Yeah. So, expectations about fertilities or about having children or ways or seeing the act of having children. With the Mormon case we have enough data in terms of what was said, and we have very good genealogy data for the quantitative aspect of it. So it’s really this prime case to be able to connect fertility teachings with fertility outcomes, whereas a lot of people that have kind of talked about that in mainstream sociology it’s been very superficial, they haven’t really dug deep into like the specific pronatalist kind of pro-having children imperatives that are given in these different religions. So this is an opportunity to sort of dig a little deeper.
HODGES: So what exactly are you finding as you dig a little deeper?
CRANNEY: So right now I’m kind of drawing on a set of theological developments that happened in the Nauvoo era and a little bit pre-Nauvoo. So the connection between for example this new idea of the continuation of family relationships beyond the grave, there’s some of that rhetoric is a little bit pro-child bearing because it’s like we can have children and we can have them in the hereafter, so there’s that strand. There’s the polygamy strand that comes in because the only kind of explanation that’s very directly given for polygamy in the two cases we have is the demographic issue that’s right to bear children and raise up seed.
HODGES: Raise up seed, multiply and replenish the earth.
CRANNEY: Multiply and replenish the earth. Exactly. So there’s the polygamy aspect, so I’m kind of looking at the polygamy—
HODGES: Did polygamy actually produce a higher—
CRANNEY: Polygyny is associated with higher fertility rates. Polygynous wives have lower fertility rates than non-polygynous wives—
CRANNEY: Individually, yes. So a lot of people looked at that and said well there isn’t really born out, but on the aggregate it does because it increases the marital rate. So everybody who gets divorced or becomes a widow can remarry and then people get married at younger ages, so yes, kind of the marital fertility rate might decrease but the marital rate increases. So more people are married, even if like the number of children that they have per year that they’re married might be on the lower… So yes, it does increase fertility over all.
HODGES: So that’s Stephen Cranney. He’s a PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania studying demography and sociology. His paper was called “Siring Gods: The History of Mormon Fertility Rhetoric in Patterns.” That paper will be available for you to read, along with other papers from this year’s seminar, at our website, maxwellinstitute.byu.edu in the coming weeks.
Natalie Rose is the last Summer Seminar participant that we’ll hear from in this episode. She hails from Michigan and she’s one of the non-Mormon scholars of religion who participated this year.
NATALIE ROSE: My name is Natalie Rose. I’m from East Lansing, Michigan. I go to school at Michigan State University. I’m in the department of history there. I’m a doctrinal candidate.
HODGES: So you study women’s history primarily.
HODGES: And also religion as well?
ROSE: No. Well, it’s interesting. The reason I ended up in Mormon history is that my husband’s family actually used to be, it goes back a few generations, he’s not LDS and his parents and grandparents aren’t, but it goes back. He has a Mormon family. So he’s actually related to Ebenezer Bryce, of Bryce Canyon, so he’s actually what kind of got me interested in this anyway. There was a moment in my family where some people I’m related to ended up becoming members of a Christian faith, not Mormonism, but a different faith around the time I got my MA, so in a way I needed to figure that out. I realized I didn’t know anything about the history of religion. I knew some things, but the way I go about things is if I don’t understand something that I feel I should know more about, looking at the history, this might seem really obvious to people like me and you who study history, but for others it’s maybe not as obvious, but for me it’s to go back and look at how we got to where we are.
So studying Mormonism became a way for me to channel my interest in religion. But when I started to learn more about it I was like how come I don’t know anything, first or all? I was shocked I didn’t know anything and I started to become very, very interested in the stories of the women I was reading about from the beginning.
HODGES: You’re not really religious yourself, raised a Catholic but not really practicing. But now you’ve found this interest. Are there a lot of scholars that you’ve interacted with that have that same kind of background or do you find that most people that are studying religion are also themselves more actively religious as well?
ROSE: That’s a really interesting question because I find that a lot of people, well specifically within the world of Mormon history/Mormon studies, almost everybody, I mean I know a few non-members who are doing great work studying it, but from my understanding they all happen to be religious in terms of that they do go to whatever church they go to. Of course there’s the Mormon scholars who are, everyone I know is very active church members, loves their church. I have met people who are not regularly active in a particular faith, however there’s something about studying religion that makes you wrestle with questions of that, and I certainly have myself over these past few years.
I grew up in New York City where I feel like the two religions I was exposed to most were Judaism and Catholicism. In New York City it’s not that people aren’t religious, but you don’t have many Protestants going to church on Sunday… no, there’s many Protestants there, but I just wasn’t exposed to that. But in Michigan where I was born and most of my family lives, there’s Episcopalian, there’s Methodist, there’s many Catholics, there’s Dutch Reform on the west side. So it’s interesting. I’ve talked with other New Yorkers who feel like they didn’t grow up really knowing that much about, or interacting with people they knew were Protestants on a day-to-day basis.
So in a way I don’t feel like I had much religious literacy growing up. I knew about being Catholic, I knew what that was, there’s been different points where I’ve gone to church a lot, it’s really important to who I am. I am a Catholic through and through in many ways. People might argue with that statement who are more observant, go to church every Sunday, however I’d really come down to the question of if you self-identify that’s really interesting and why do you self-identify that way? So that’s been the biggest question I’ve been dealing with. That’s a really interesting question because I’ve been thinking about my faith more and more through these last few years and what that means.
HODGES: How’s it been in terms of coming to Mormonism, have you felt any suspicion on the part of Mormons that you’ve interacted with or that see a non-Mormon involved in Mormon studies?
ROSE: I get a lot of questions about how I ended up in this field of work, which I think is interesting in and of itself because I know people who might study Lutheran history and they don’t get the same questions. They might not be a member of the Lutheran church. But I think it’s an interesting question given what Mormonism is thought of in the broader culture. I mean I get questions all the time back home from people who don’t know anything about Mormonism and it’s gotten exhausting to say, no, they’re not polygamists.
I have to say I’ve never felt like I’ve been met with suspicion. I feel that I’ve had a lot of questions from certain people, but for the most part I have felt heartily welcome in this community. The first time I came to BYU it was hilarious. I was so nervous because you hear all these things like the honor code, and you know, the different stereotypes and rumors. And I came here and it was lovely. I was totally overdressed to go to the archives the first day. I’ve had fellowships from the Redd Center, now being at the Summer Seminar, I really feel very welcome at BYU.
HODGES: Natalie, you already presented your paper at the symposium that results from the Summer Seminar. Can you describe your paper briefly?
ROSE: I presented a paper on how the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, which was then called the Young Ladies, and Relief Society started homes in Salt Lake City for women or girls who are coming to the city that didn’t have a place to stay, didn’t have a suitable place to stay.
HODGES: Why would they be coming to the city, first of all?
ROSE: Well there’s a lot of reasons they’d be coming to the city. The first one would be it seems that because of growing urbanization, more and more young people were coming from the rural areas to work because they had to make money either to maybe help support their families, or maybe they just wanted to get away and look at a new life. I also think we cannot forget the impact of the railroad coming through in 1869. I mean it changes the dynamic and we have more and more non-Mormons. We have the different surges of non-Mormons coming through, but that really changes the face of Salt Lake City and of course Ogden. I mean, Ogden is where it’s going on.
Young women were just coming to the city to work, so they needed a suitable place to stay and so Relief Society and Young Ladies both had different versions of trying to get boarding houses for young women, and then finally in 1920, if I’m getting my dates right, the Young Ladies got the Beehive House to be able to use for a boarding house. Even the Lion House was actually used as a place, I believe, for women to go during the day. So, okay, we have the Beehive House and Lion House, this is fascinating. This is endlessly fascinating.
So I mostly wrote my paper about the need to provide safe spaces for young women and how that fit within larger movements of the time, because we have this settlement home movement, rescue homes, the beginning of the Young Women’s Christian Association, there was a lot of different reform groups, religious groups, that were really intent upon offering safe spaces in the city. I talked about the ills of the city, how the cities were dangerous, but they couldn’t deny the fact that young people were coming to the city, and this was also immigrants migrating over from Europe coming to, let’s say, New York City. Jewish women developed their own places for young Jewish women to come and stay to help each other out. This is not a phenomenon that’s unique to Mormonism, but the way they did it of course is probably uniquely Mormon.
HODGES: What was uniquely Mormon about it, compared to say the YWCA?
ROSE: Well I came across this hilarious anecdote that…
HODGES: If you want to know about Natalie Rose’s hilarious anecdote, you’ll need to check out her paper that she presented at this year’s annual summer symposium on Mormon culture. The theme of this year’s Summer Seminar was “The History of the Mormon Family.” Many of the papers that were presented there will appear at maxwellinstitute.byu.edu.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Don’t forget to check us out in iTunes. You can rate us and review the show there, recommend it to your friends, and help us increase our audience. I’m Blair Hodges, and I hope you’ll join me again on the next episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
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