The Kitchen and the Study: Mormon Women

Just musing a bit on sermons, so here’s some stream-of-consciousness for you. I stole the title from Marion Taylor’s article on Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Mingling of Two Worlds: The Kitchen and the Study.[1] Stowe wrote to a brother, “I was made for a preacher–indeed I can scarcely keep my letters from turning into sermons”. She wrote of women as capable “priests” whose “ordination and anointing are from the Holy Spirit’s unction.” In a way, Harriet preached in the same way her seven minister brothers did: we know what they said because of what they wrote.

The ego-document is the key to our knowledge of nineteenth-century preaching, except for Joseph Smith, who produced few of those, even if you account for non-revelatory dictation. Nineteenth-Century Mormon women speak to us mostly by their writings. We have the usual diaries and journals, but also some riches in the way of periodicals that leave a fascinating picture of how women (some women) integrated their lives and their religious devotion.

Harriet had the chance to engage seminary study, but refused on the grounds that it seemed too often to lead to sacrificing devotion for scholarship. She said as much to her husband, Andover Seminary’s Calvin Stowe. She writes (I’m quoting from Taylor)

If you studied Christ with half the energy that you have studied Luther . . . then would he be formed in you, the hope of glory . . . But you fancy that you have other things to do . . . you must write courses of lectures . . . you must keep up with current literature . . . —all these things you must do and then if there is any time, any odds and ends of strength and mental capability left, why they are to be given occasionally to brushing up matters within . . . a Christian character.

Harriet may have been rather negative about the consequences of Bible scholarship for many, but she felt the value of learning in biblical studies. However, her fiction portrayed skepticism regarding its practical Christian use. Her women moved easily between discussions of the Millennium and dress-making. You see this sort of interleaving of two worlds in Mormon elites like Eliza R. Snow or Emmiline Wells. The kitchen and the pulpit (such as it was) were not foreign. Browse the Woman’s Exponent, The Relief Society Magazine, or the Young Woman’s Journal sometime. You’ll be glad you did.

[1] Marion Ann Taylor, “Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Mingling of Two Worlds: The Kitchen and the Study,” in Recovering Nineteenth-Century Women Interpreters of the Bible eds, Christiana de Groot and Marion Ann Taylor (Atlanta: SBL, 2007)


  1. J. Stapley says:

    “You’ be glad you did.”


  2. thanks for those links…

  3. I feel convicted by your quote of what Harriet B. Stowe wrote to her husband.

  4. MDearest, I found it a little uncomfortable myself

  5. This is great. I think health is important so I take supplements every morning