We’re pleased to feature this guest post from Kristine A., who blogs regularly at Wheat and Tares.
I attended the Church History Symposium in Utah co-hosted by BYU and the Church History Department last week. I live-tweeted quite a bit of the whole weekend using #LDSwomen and #CHsymposium. The most memorable session was Andrea Radke-Moss’ presentation on her paper “Beyond Petticoats and Poultices: Finding a Women’s History of the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838.” I overheard some Mormon historians mentioning that her presentation was likely the biggest reveal/discovery in Mormon history in at least the past 50 years.
The story of Amanda Smith’s miraculous poultice for her son and Emma hiding manuscripts in her petticoats ARE heroic and worth knowing. But they aren’t the full story – we need to expand the narrative of LDS women in Church History.
As she began she mentioned she would be talking about sexual violence, specifically rape (trigger warning). She then recounted some of the stories we’ve heard about people fearing Missouri mobs, but taken in context of the threat of sexual violence had new meaning. When Mary Isabella Horne experienced the terror of war in Far West “she said she would not humble herself to let them [the mob] see she was afraid.” For women the mobs always came with the threat of sexual violence; the mobs often bragged of their rapes and gangs of rapes against Mormon women. Such was the brutality of the sexual crimes, that one anonymous victim wasn’t able to recover to normal health over three months.
The first documented claim of rape was when LDS leaders went to authorities in an attempt to get redress from the crimes committed against them. Interestingly they never sought for redress for individuals, but for the group as a whole. In fact, the attacks of sexual violence were the main claims of injury the LDS leaders made about the treatment from their enemies. The witnesses on record were all male (e.g., Hyrum Smith and Parley P. Pratt), as rape was seen as a crime between men (one man had damaged the property of another man), and the burden of proof was on the victim to prove that it happened. Since the culture of the time saw rape victims as damaged in virtue and reputation, and every effort was made to conceal their identities to minimize this effect. Rape seems to have always been a crime that resulted in more shame than justice. Dr. Radke-Moss noted that Joseph Smith was actually very progressive in his views towards rape victims at this time and never treated them as less.
Back when Dr. Radke-Moss started researching sexual violence for her paper, she came into contact with Joseph Johnstun, a fellow researcher on early church history (particularly Missouri and Nauvoo). He’d come across rape accounts that matched with a story from family lore. He ended up finding several sources that that show Hannah Kinney Johnstun, the sister of his ancestor, an unwed woman who moved to Quincy from Missouri, gave birth and died shortly thereafter. Both she and her baby are buried underneath what is now a children’s playground there. Johnstun wrote and presented a paper on it at Mormon History Association in 2010.  He was more than generous in sharing this account and work with Dr. Radke-Moss and has been very supportive of her research.
Dr. Radke-Moss also revealed that she’d found evidence that Eliza R. Snow had been gang raped in Missouri. Since Thursday much has been said about the efficacy of the source, which is up for further discussion, I believe, after the paper is published. It is interesting to note that in the past few days we have seen readers and commenters sharing corroborative sources about Mormon women as rape victims in Missouri and Nauvoo – mostly from family histories, which is where Andrea suspects many of the stories are lurking. Dr. Radke-Moss mentioned there had been rumors of a possible rape and other historians had guessed that based on her poetry about her time in Missouri (it being rather dark and angry compared to her other works) she had suffered something like this but it had never been documented. The highlighting of Eliza’s poetry was especially poigniant given Amy Easton-Flake’s presentation on Friday about the importance of poetry (especially from the Exponent) in the historical record. She said LDS women often regarded poetry as the best way to express their emotions about events in their life. Below is a slide with a selection of Eliza’s poetry as an example:
’Twas Autumn: Summer’s melting breath was gone,
And winter’s gelid blast was stealing on.
To meet its dread approach, with anxious care
The houseless Saints were struggling to prepare.
When round about a desp’rate mob arose,
Like tigers waking from a night’s repose —
They come like hordes from nether shades let loose —
Men without hearts — just made for Satan’s use!
With wild demoniac rage they sally forth,
Resolv’d to drive the Saints of God from Earth.
The spirit in the room was very somber, you could hear a pin drop. It felt like we were treading the sacred space of our foremothers. When telling the story of Eliza R. Snow’s rape, I believe it needs the context of all of the sexual violence against Mormon women during Mormon-Missouri war. This wasn’t an isolated incident, this is part of our heritage story. As we face the stories of our history of sexual violence, we can honor the nameless (and named) survivors as the heroines they truly were.
I also hope that our community can mature to the point that we can discuss the reality and consequences of sexual violence in our past and present; and that we can work to remove the scales of shame and secrecy that have so long silenced the survivors. For example, the Department of Education has on record that BYU-Idaho and Rexburg have 0 reported rapes and 2 cases of fondling from 2012-2014.  Um, maybe on one Wednesday night? There’s a reason young Mormon women aren’t reporting their assaults. Talking about our past could be the first step to fixing the problem for our future.
P.S. Andrea Radke-Moss’ presentation only covered the first half of her paper and she’ll be presenting the second half at the Mormon History Association’s annual conference this June – to which I’m sure will be a standing-room-only crowd. Meanwhile, over at Juvenile Instructor, she addresses some of the questions that have arisen since her presentation.
 Dept of Education statistics reported from BYU-Idaho and Rexburg (search for “Brigham Young University-Idaho here)