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.
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.