Female healing article now available

The last six years have been a lot of fun, and I count myself very fortunate to have been able to work on this project and to work on it with Kristine. Honestly, there were moments in the Church History Library when I thought to myself, “If I never have the opportunity to see anything else or work on another project, I will still be full.” We owe many friends and institutions much for their support. Thank you.

It is also not too late to join MHA and consequently receive a year’s subscription to the Journal of Mormon History. I would recommend calling the MHA office (801.521.6565) and making sure that you get the winter issue mailed to you when you join (alternately, you can go the website). I am aware of at least a couple of articles that are due out later this year that are fairly important. The quality is consistently such that you’ll want to read it. I encourage you to support this and other work like it by joining up.

Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37 (Winter 2011): 1-85.



  1. Even more fabulous. Thanks so much for making it available; I’ve been hearing about this article for a long time.

  2. The sound of a thousand hands clapping. Great work both of you.

  3. Huzzah! A tremendous achievement for you and Kris. Many thanks for making it available like this, and sincere congrats on a momentous article.

  4. Well done, J and Kristine!

  5. Sounds cool, but what’s it about?

  6. Getting that article is one of the reasons I signed up for MHA. Looking forward to reading it!

  7. Fabulous article, guys. Great stuff.

  8. Mike McB. says:

    Awesome. Thanks for the link.

  9. The length of this article resembles a small book. It’s sure to be definitive on this subject. Have you considered at some point publishing it as a volume unto itself?

  10. Congrats!

  11. “The happy day at last has come!”
    It’s a brilliant bit of midwifery, Kris & J.–glad your ideas are out in the world now.

  12. Yay!! I’m still getting starting on reading through it, but just the opening anecdote gives me goosebumps. It is so foreign to see female participation described so thoroughly normally, like there is nothing weird or problematic or even great and special. Just normal, with just the right amount of dignity. Can’t wait to keep reading!

  13. Thanks all.

    Jacob B., that is precisely what one of the reviewers said. Perhaps it is a nod to the epic articles of yesteryear. This is the third of three articles that Kris and I have collaborated on together on healing (all available from SSRN), and it would be fun to publish them, but it just depends on several things.

    Kristine, perfect metaphor.

    Cynthia, that the sort of quotidian feel of many such accounts is wonderful.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Huzzah! And I appreciate not having to wait for my issue to arrive.

  15. Ah, my bad Kev. I was hoping that everyone had received their hard copies. My mom got hers today!

  16. Steve Evans says:

    Congrats to Kris and to J. for a stupendous effort. You two are really an example to me.

  17. Wow. I cannot wait to read this. Congratulations!

  18. Mark Brown says:

    Congratulations to Wright and Stapley, this is a landmark achievement.

  19. Just want to echo Jonathan and thank our many friends who read drafts, gave encouragement and shared meals and great conversations about Mormon history. Thanks especially to the permas at BCC who have endured more posts than they ever possibly could have imagined that we have written about women and healing. :)

    Hoping my copy crosses the 49th parallel soon!

  20. Great stuff! Thank you, thank you both for all of your hard work on this!

  21. Really great stuff. I couldn’t put it down. Forwarded it to my wife who said, “what, really?” I want to hope that this idea can grow and take root, but I’m doubtful right now. Simply too little interest from the members, especially the women.

  22. Researcher says:

    Thank you for the article. I have been so busy the last couple of days that I have only been able to read a few pages, but I am very much looking forward to sitting down and reading the entire paper.

  23. I read this last week in an advance copy of the JMH, and Cynthia nailed the sense for me of this all being played out as normal, dignified, and incredibly Mormon rituals from our history. I applaud J and Kristine, but I really have to say that on completing it, I was kind of stunned at the incredible work of scholarship it represents, and the compelling accessible language in which it unfolds. Probably the best Mormon history article I’ve read in the last 10 years.

  24. That is a very nice thing to say, Kevin. Thanks. It is an honor to share the issue with you.

  25. Julie Beck (current RS PResident) has shown an increase in interest in RS history, and has invited Relief Society sisters to study RS history this year, and appears to be of the mindset to try and get RS back to its roots, when it had power and meant something. I wonder what she thinks of this particular aspect of the history, and if she has ever (or would ever) bring up the subject to The Brethren. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that meeting.

  26. My parents, converts in the mission field, had to make up Mormonism for my family as we went along. So much so, that when I finally got to Zion&The Y, I was shocked–shocked!–to discover Mormon families of long pioneer standing whch did not deem the drinking of Coca-Cola to be mortal sin. In this quaint convert family, my mother used to direct my father when to perform blessings for the sick kid, the kid who going on a trip, or the kid leaving home for good. It was normal for my mom to direct the application of priesthood in our home. It was natural for my mother to send my father packing fifty miles for other families’ usage, too.
    Even though, Mom, now departed, was the primary force in our spiritual life, I wonder how much better off we’d been if, cutting out the “middle-man,” the more active partner spiritually (Mom) had been allowed, or had allowed herself, the fullest autonomy of spiritual expression.
    Indeed, when it comes to western culture at large it’s common knowledge that women are the primary movers of religions, as well. Then, why do the questions seem to beg so, still: Is the reason why Mormon women don’t preside & practice priesthood because the men require a monopoly to remain attentive, active, and interested? & what would happen if we booted the scouts, and removed all the b-ball courts from cultural halls?

  27. wow, what an interesting article. It was interesting to me how many different factors were relevant in the decline of this practice (the changing conception of the phood, rise in medicine, healing practice outside of Mormonism, etc)

    I wondered about another one. One thing I was really struck with was the external role of the RS. Today it seems we are more nuclear-family focused. Even if it were still an “option,” I wouldn’t be surprised if most women today felt more comfortable being blessed by their husbands before childbirth than by other RS sisters. I thought that looking at the RS banner “Bless the Sick, Soothe the Sad, Succor the Distressed, visit the Widow and Fatherless”–no “strengthen home and family.”

  28. john Harvey says:

    Amazing and impressive! Thank you for the many many hours of research and thought that must have gone into writing that article.

  29. Late to the party, J and Kris, but let me say how proud I am to be associated with the authors of such a seminal piece.

  30. The feeling goes both ways, RJH.

  31. Yay! Looking forward to reading this.

  32. I just finished reading this and can only say, thank you. I’m anxious to receive my copy of the journal for a more in-depth study of the article and the notes. According to writings by her daughter, my third great-grandmother was either “ordained” or “set apart” (depending on the version of the retelling) as a midwife and healer by Joseph Smith, so this is very personal for me. Again, thank you.

  33. I imagine that she was probably “ordained” as that was the common usage for the term back then. I have to admit that while there are skads of women claiming to have been ordained or set apart as midwives or healers by JS (see fn 42), there is no contemporary documentation of it. Consequently, while I don’t doubt that such things likely happened, I’m am personally bit skeptical that every account is accurate.

  34. I’m enjoying the article immensely. Many thanks to both of you. I am proud of and moved by women who ministered in this way in past years, and the ways in which the men and women supported each other and were not threatened by each other. These kinds of ministrations now seem so common to the 19th century that someone has to try really hard to tell the Mormon/RS story WITHOUT touching on female healing. But since I did not grow up thinking of women as healers, I simply can’t imagine doing what these women did if given the opportunity. What would be today’s church PR answer to why female ritual healing was a mainstream church practice in the 19th century?

  35. Swisster, I think you are right regarding the history of the the RS and Mormon women. It is for this reason, that Women of Covenant, the last semi-official history of the RS, published in the 90s treats female healing a bit.

  36. Yes, this was the book that turned me on to church history in general in the mid-to-late-nineties. I recommend it to everyone I can. I see that you quoted from it in a few places.

  37. “At the dawn of the Restoration, Mormons were the only American church with institutionalize ritual healing. Both Catholics and Protestants had abandoned the practice of ritual anointing for the healing of the sick.” (p. 42)

    Could you explain this statement? Growing up Catholic, I was taught that Anointing of the Sick, or “Extreme Unction” was one of the Seven Sacraments. I’m fairly certain that this sacrament was practiced before and during the 1830s.

  38. tgt, the extreme unction was used as a penitential sacrament for the dying and was not used to heal. It arose during the Carolingian Renaissance and replaced healing unctions. Vatican II shifted that focus back towards healing and since that time there has been a fairly active ministry to the sick, using anointing rituals. In fact, “extreme unction” is generally not the preferred terminology anymore.

    If you are interested in the extreme unction, here is a bit from a footnote to another paper:

    The most sophisticated and accessible study of extreme unction is Frederick S. Paxton, Christianizing Death: The Creation of a Ritual Process in Early Medieval Europe (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990). See also Achille M. Triacca, ed., Matthew J. O’Connel, trans., Temple of the Holy Spirit: Sickness and Death of the Christian in the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1983); Antoine Chavasse, Étude sur l’onction des infirmes dans l’Église latine du IIIe au XIe siècle, vol. 1, Du IIIe siècle à la réforme carolingienne (Lyons, France: Librairie du Sacré-Cœur, 1942). Volume 2 of Chavasse’s study was never published; however, his findings are summarized in his “Prières pour les malades et onction sacramentelle,” in L’église en prière: Introduction à la liturgie, edited by A. G. Martimort (Paris: Desclée & Cie, Éditeurs, 1961), 580–94, and in Placid Murray, “The Liturgical History of Extreme Unction,” Studies in Pastoral Liturgy, Vol. 2, edited by Vincent Ryan (Dublin: Gill & Son for The Furrow Trust, 1963): 18–38.

    Another helpful overview is The Oil of Gladness: Anointing in the Christian Tradition, edited by Martin Dudley and Geoffrey Rowell (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1990).

  39. Thanks for the clarification, J. Stapely. I didn’t know about that shift.

  40. Catherine Laing says:

    Yay Kris! I trust a hard copy has crossed the 49th parallel by now. :-) Looking forward to you crossing it coming this way.

  41. I waited until I received your article on a dead tree today to read it through. Magnificant.

    I don’t see mention of the following question in the article or on this thread–forgive me it has already been addressed. As far as I can tell with my limited computer search abilities, while Joseph Smith’s teaching on the permissibility of female healing made it into Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Gospel Doctrine, and Answers to Gospel Questions, I cannot find it anywhere in the Joseph Smith manual we studied a couple of years ago, nor anywhere else on lds.org (I cannot figure out how to search ldsces.org) Nor can I find the “no uncommon things” quote of JFS. The three Smith books above were once part of a quasi-canon in the past–at least they indicated what was not heretical. Given that the quotes on women and healing may have disappeared from all Church approved publications, I wonder if this means they are now treated as “folklore”, like the curse of Cain/Ham folklore that has also disappeared from official material. I.e., not the fact that the occurred or were considered doctrinally correct at one point, but that as far as the institutional correlated Church is concerned, they are, to paraphrase Pres. Hinckley, completely “behind us” and to be forgotten.

  42. Not sure if you ever talked with Mary Ellen Robertson about her thesis paper at CGU, but it might have some additional helpful info:


    I think she’s reachable at: mary.ellen@sunstonemagazine.com

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