Liveblogging the Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture featuring Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Historians and those interested in women’s studies are converging in this Salt Lake City Downtown Library auditorium to listen to the Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture featuring Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on “Remember Me: The Inscription of Self in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism”

Follow the live blog here:

Kate Holbrook is introducing Dr. Ulrich.  A few highlights:

She is the Phillips Professor of Early American History and 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University. Her second book, The Midwife’s Tale  won the 10 awards, including the Bancroft and a Pulitzer.

She conceives and models groundbreaking ways of understanding history.

She discovers lives that are previously unrecorded.

Dr. Ulrich takes the podium. Her title comes from a school girl’s sampler. She’s describing the animals and tiny stitches as well as the name and place before giving us the sampler verse/title of her paper:

” When I am dead, and in my grave and all my bones are rotten, when this you see, remember me and never let me be forgotten.”

The words “remember me” have a long and interesting history. In the Bible they were often used in prayer. Those uttering them use them to garner divine favor.

Stolen from Jared Tamez’s FB feed.

Using these ideas to discuss women’s history as well as her assigned topic of “agency.” Focusing on both 19th century and “us” and how the claims of history influence us.

We need to be more attentive to how documents are created. And the biases that make it difficult to capture the nuance history.
She takes us on a romp through the archives, first the church history archives. She claims that there are really very few Mormon women’s diaries from the 19th century.

“Why is this?

Because for men, diary keeping was a church responsibility. How many have a missionary diary?”

Imagine if the women in the church were asked, right as they were converted, to keep a journal of their lives.  Women sometimes were asked to keep journals for their husband’s missions like Mary Richards. “But this is a rare example of what might have been.”
“I don’t believe that it was accidental that early women’s diaries were kept after the founding of the female Relief Society of Nauvoo.” One was by Eliza Snow and one was Zina Huntington, both didn’t last very long.

She explains how miraculous ways some of the records made their way to our time. One was saved from a bonfire. It makes Ulrich ask “what are in your houses?”

Ulrich reads a quote from a man talking flowerly about women staying inconspicuous and being so good for it. She quips that this is called “being idealized into anonymity.”

She then asks “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a collection of all the letters from women to Brigham Young?”

Ulrich then turns to talking about minute books and how exciting they are “they make motions, they solve problems, they do business.” (She is talking quite excitedly about this). She gives an example from a local 19th century Relief Society minutes where they discussed some questions. For instance “When is the right age for a woman to marry?”

“When she is a good housekeeper, can mend her husband’s clothes and the right gentleman presents himself”

Another question from the minutes “To whom does a married woman’s first loyalty lie?”

“Question discussed but not decided.” (much laughter)

She goes on to talk to about the pros and cons of reminiscences. Why they are fantastic, but why they much be approached, from a historical standpoint, with caution. The reminiscences of early church history came from women after the RS was re-organized and the Exponent was founded.

Ulrich mentions the Jubliee boxes from 1880. Women wrote and then boxed up their writings to be opened in 1930. Some still survive today.

She makes a few points on women’s history:

Uncovering the history of women can help us cease the invisibility of women in the church.

We must insist that our curriculum includes women.

Ok, she just read a poem from Joseph Smith in a girl’s autograph album and I’m going to have to get it from the recording because it is awesome. Just a taste, he rhymes “forthwith” with “Joseph Smith.”

Did you know that people, like John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, sent kisses through the mail? They kissed their letters, believing that the trace of their lips would be given to those receiving the letter. She also talks about the hair cut and given in letters “those things that must seem so creepy to archivist” can be imbued with so much meaning. She gives the example of Mary Winch from Manti, who collected hair from all the sisters in the RS and made a wreath with a vase art project.
She tells the story of a woman who made a quilt in the Boston area and refuses to put any names on the quilt. “It seems to pushy. Too proud, to trying to be out there. She really believes that in silence service we serve God. Now I respect her, and we shouldn’t live our lives to please historians, but when I get home, I’m going to tell her about Mary Winch. Thank you.”

You can listen to the full interview here.

You can listen to all four sessions of the “Women and the LDS Church: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives Conference” here.


  1. Besides giving a phenomenal overview of her topic, her presentation is great at two other things: a manifesto to be more conscious of female’s documents, and a distillation of at least four dissertation topics for young scholars. I have a feeling this talk will have long and broad ramifications.

  2. Listening to this on KCPW. I feel like I am witnessing a historical moment in Mormon women’s studies. Looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions.

  3. She is answering questions. The question wondered about the stereotype about women writing more on the personal. I missed the first part of her answer butshe says that women are far more likely to write about men versus men writing about women. But men’s diaries can be surprisingly personal.

  4. Laurel puts out this question: Does anyone know where Ellis Shipp’s diary is located? Or Caroline Barnes Crosby? They are missing from the archives that they are supposed to be at.

  5. She says that she tells her students that oral histories and stories are usually “wrong but true.”

  6. Can we admit Joseph Smith’s atrocious poetry as further evidence that he could not have composed the Book of Mormon?

  7. Don’t forget the best question of all: The woman who asked, “Why don’t we study the history of women in Relief Society instead of just learning about the men?” Dr. Ulrich’s answer: “Amen!”

  8. I updated the post to link to the full lecture for those who would like to listen.

  9. David M. Morris says:
  10. David M. Morris says:

    What a really interesting presentation, I know the feeling of trying to recover the narrative of female experiences in Britain. One woman in 1839 brought Mormonism to Staffordshire which had repercussions for the whole expansion — yet she is only mentioned briefly in other peoples writings.

  11. Sheldon Kent says:

    It would certainly be refreshing if we were able to read through some women’s accounts of the early days of the church. It’s such a shame that these accounts are often forgotten and the focus is, more often than not, on the priesthood. Surely, the female members of the church would be much more interested in these accounts than that of the male membership? Hopefully we will see many more accounts from women in the early days of the church as this area of study continues to grow.

  12. Sheldon, she spoke to that a bit. She noted that in her long experience with reading both men’s and women’s diaries, that women are more likely to have written about men and mentioned them in their diaries than men were to have mentioned or talked about women in their diaries. “Any subordinate is going to give a better portrait of an organization than the one at the top.”

    Also, one of my favorite of her quips was tossed off during the Q&A – describing the work of a historian – “Some of us just prefer to read other people’s mail!”

    One of the things I love about Laurel is that she makes the grunt work of archival research (which she is a master of) seem both exciting and heroic. She’s such a great advocate for our profession, and for giving careful attention to the “least of these” and not just to the famous folks. That’s a message that Church members can heed, both in our history and in our practice.

  13. This was a wonderful talk, and I only wish parenting didn’t keep me from the full sessions today.
    PS, the man who wanted to idealize into anonymity was good old Horace Bushnell, one of the more famous antecedents to liberal mainline Protestantism.
    And one is struck, when hearing Smith’s holographs read aloud, that, however one elects to account for the genesis of the Book of Mormon, it was not Smith’s typical solo writing.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    On wanting to see all the letters of women to BY, for the letters of one such wife see this presentation from the recent Sunstone (I’ve pasted here my report of the relevant session):

    Next was Connell O’Donovan on the letters of Augusta Adams Cobb to her husband Brigham Young. She was a woman from Boston who, although already married to a guy named Cobb, was one of Brigham’s first plural wives. There are extant some 140 letters she wrote to BY, which means we get a pretty good window into her relationship with him. She really disliked polygamy and kept asking to be sealed to almost anyone but Brigham. Her main request was to be sealed to Jesus Christ (!) Failing that, her sealing to BY was undone and she was sealed to JS. (She would pen entire lists of men she would like to be sealed to.) When this gets fleshed into an article at some point, be sure to look for it.

  15. Did she mention any more details about the quilt in Boston? Because if it is the one of the First Vision made by the Boston Stake, that woman she talked about may be my mom. And I would be happy to help convince her that all the women who worked on it should have their names recorded on it.

  16. Bekah, sounds like your mom is accidentally famous.

  17. bekah, it was a First Vision quilt, made for a 9/11 commemoration.

  18. Thank you for posting this! Keep it up!

  19. Yep, my mom was the stake RS president at the time & in charge of the Faith quilt project. My boys both had football today, so I haven’t had a chance to listen to the lecture yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

  20. is there a source for reading all of the day’s talks? will they be web-archived?

  21. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    They’ll be on The Tanner Center’s website soon.

  22. Also, we’ll have a two-part writeup of the Saturday sessions on Juvenile Instructor tomorrow.

  23. J. Stapley says:

    I’m just catching up…but (RE: #4) the holograph journals of Shipp and Crosby were donated to the UHS Archive (MSS B 89 & MSS B 4). Are they no longer there!?!?

  24. Laurel didn’t say which archives, but she did say they were missing from the repository where they were supposed to be.

  25. J. Stapley says:

    That is messed up, Ardis.

  26. The poem by Joseph Smith in the autograph album of Barbara Neff Moses:

    “The truth and virtue both are good
    when rightly understood,
    but charity is better, miss,
    that takes us home to bliss.
    And so, forthwith,
    remember Joseph Smith”

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