Maurine Whipple and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: A complicated relationship (Chapters 7 and 8)

by Andrew Hall

Maurine Whipple and Hyrum Lee, 1927. The two dated while Maurine worked as a teacher in Monroe, Utah. 

I’ll start today’s post with brief review of the themes in Chapters Seven and Eight, and then spend the majority of the post on a discussion of Maurine Whipple’s lifetime relationship with the Church.

Themes of Chapters Seven and Eight

These chapters are long and full of interesting stories, incidents, and conversations. There is little of the descriptions of the natural environment or introspective passages found in the previous chapters.

The chapters feature Willie and Clory’s pregnancies and births. Willie’s baby is stillborn. Clory is shocked that not only does Abijah refuse to call a doctor (to show faith) but Bathsheba, a trained midwife, refuses to help because she thinks it is too early. She is wrong, and only Clory is there to help her with the birth. Clory, in her anger, foolishly gives Bathsheba the right to raise her unborn child. After she successfully gives birth to her daughter, Kissy, she scares the superstitious Bathsheba off by claiming she had placed a hex on the baby. Clory is enraptured with her baby, and feels the increased power it gives her in the family.

The prophet Brigham Young visits St. George, a major event for the community. His friendliness with Clory, who he knew in Salt Lake City, also gives Clory added stature. Brigham Young visits and speaks with each household, observing them at their crafts.

Whipple continues portray the local Native Americans as spiritually attuned but savage, giving to the community, but also begging. A group of natives (presumably not the local Paiutes) kidnap Eliza Hichinoper’s child, which drives her nearly mad with grief. The Paiute chief, Tutsegabbett, is unflinchingly loyal to the Mormons, but also demands that the Mormons respect their customs and beliefs.

There is a lot of humor in these chapters, often presented in conjunction with difficulties or tragedy, and often using the dialects of the community members. For example: Sheba’s absurdly long prayer. Free and Gottlieb making wooden feet to make footprints and scare the community. Sister Hansen scaring a group of Native Americans with her removable tooth plate. Lon Tuckett, after a flood, saying, “I vum, Brother Snow, when you was askin’ the Lord for rain, why didn’t you tell him how much!” Ole Oleson’s wife getting stuck in the doorway. Eardley calling Abijah a SOB during his ward teaching. There is an eventful testimony meeting, always a rich source of Mormon humor. Gottlieb’s father admits his son drinks and swears, “but t’ank God He’s a goot Latter-Ta Saint!” Sister Hansen, speaking on the Word of Wisdom, says, “But I somedimes vonder, vhy it iss the Lord keeps all the good t’ings for the gentiles.” 

Maurine Whipple and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I will next examine the development of Maurine Whipple’s relationship with the Church over her lifetime. It ranges from feelings of familial shame in her youth, a “boarderlands” relationship around age 30 that led to a painful experience with a bishop, the construction of a theory of Church history that allowed her to celebrate the founders while disparaging the contemporary leadership, and ending with an experience in the St. George Temple near the end of her life. I fear it leans into a gossipy look at her private life, but I hope it is informative about some experiences that I think influenced Maurine’s literary approaches.

Maurine’s youth and college years

Maurine grew up in the thoroughly Mormon community of St. George, Utah. Being Mormon was the default position, but she felt somewhat alienated from her town. She linked her alienation to the outsider status of her father, Charlie Whipple, who was a serial philanderer, engaging in a series of publicly known affairs, as well as her family’s financial instability.

In 1937 Maurine wrote an 18-page typescript autobiography, “Confessions of a She-Devil”, which was never published. Although autobiographical, it also contains some fictional material, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction. In it, she stated, “My father was born doubting. Orthodox enough when he courted [my mother], he removed his ‘garments’ after marriage, forsook church, and thereby in my mother’s eyes doomed himself to eternal perdition . . .  I make these explanations to show why I was ostracized in my child’s world. I have had contemporaries tell me since we’ve grown up that they used to hate passing our lot—there was a sort of dread about the place . . . I didn’t know that his continual affairs with women and the consequent hushed gossip in the village were one reason for the wholesale shunning of me and the ensuing aeons of misery.”[1]

Still, she attended Church meetings, and did not appear to have any specific issues with the Church in her youth. When she was 16 her high school newspaper, the Dixie Owl, published her prize-winning essay, “The Need To-day of a Strong Faith in God” (1920). In it she both showed her precocious writing ability and expounded a vision of world progress tied to Latter-day Saint Christianity. “A really practical religion, one that satisfied right-living people, was not found until God sent to earth the religion of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the only right belief . . . we see that faith in God is absolutely necessary to a well-ordered, well-balanced life.” She linked future world progress to the spread of American democracy and the Latter-day Saint faith.

In September 1922 Maurine left St. George to study English at the University of Utah. Although she continued to attend Church meetings, she still felt awkward around her peers, which she blamed on her poverty and her lack of high-class connections. In her later years, she said to Veda Hale, her biographer, “I guess I thought the Church was true. It was all I knew of religion. But when I finished college, I knew I was different. I knew too, that I never was the kind of Mormon that people like Juanita [Brooks] were. Sometimes I resented that fact, resented my father for not helping me be that kind of Mormon.”[2]

1927-1937: Disappointment, estrangement, and sexism

After graduating, Maurine took on a series of school teaching positions in the Intermountain West. Each year she clashed with the principal, failed to get a recommendation to continue, and had to find a position in a less desirable town. By 1930 she gave up on school teaching and spent the next seven years moving around the West, teaching community dance and recreation classes. She also had a series of failed romantic relationships (including a very brief marriage to a non-Mormon in 1932-1933), and medical problems, all of which took a toll on her self-esteem. Her main pillar of support during these years was her friend Lorraine McQuarrie. Lorraine was also raised LDS and had ambitions of writing a novel about the Mormon pioneers. Besides inspiring Maurine to submit her writings for publication, she also chided Maurine for her continued ties to the institutional Church and encouraged her to experiment with sexual affairs. 

In 1934, less than a year after her divorce, Maurine had an experience that may have permanently soured her on the institutional Church. Going by the name Rene DeNeuff (her lifelong nickname and her married name), she found a job teaching dance in Boulder, Nevada, the town that suddenly grew up around the construction of the Boulder (later Hoover) Dam. She attended LDS church services there, and began a relationship with Kenneth A. Nielson, a returned missionary several years her junior. In her 1937 essay she wrote, “It was in Boulder City that I met Ken. After a period of starvation (literally) I had found success in starting a private school. And with success came this real boyfriend who was proud of me. Such balm to my ego!  . . . I wanted to marry Ken, but eventually I succumbed to the exigencies of the time and place and consented to a trial marriage. Characteristically I believed he would marry me eventually, but anyway I was so proud of him I did not care who knew about our relationship. I was quite unashamed. And that attitude was to prove my undoing . . . Ken wanted the jam as long as no one saw him stealing it . . .  In my abysmal stupidity I went to Ken’s bishop for advice. The bishop, being the kind of sadist he was, used my confidences to wring a public confession and apology from Ken in lieu of excommunication from the church . . . After that, Ken hated and abhorred me so openly as his temptress, that in that town of men I became a sort of female pariah.”[3]

It appears that the Church leadership acted in a sexist manner, valuing the wayward male returned missionary more than the female divorcee. In conversations with Veda Hale, Maurine explained she was infatuated with Kenneth but doubted his commitment. She hoped that they could go to the Bishop and repent of their physical relationship, which would lead to a temple marriage. Instead, the Bishop commanded Kenneth to publicly break up with Maurine, and outlined steps for him to repent, but judged Maurine only as “the problem”, and did nothing to encourage her to go through a repentance process. Hale summarized, “She felt like she . . . had been railroaded by the callous and the malicious, then ignored by the priesthood leaders.”[4]

In a letter to Kenneth soon after the meeting with the Bishop, Maurine pleaded for him to reconsider their break-up. “[R]emember the night after Christmas . . . The blessing you offered over the food: ‘We thank thee for the love and friendship existing between us’? That was something precious and apart from the rest of life. Oh Ken, wouldn’t it be a worthwhile thing for both of us to try hard to get that feeling back, spiritually? . . . I’ve never told Dr. Widtsoe. I never meant you harm by taking it to the church. It is just that I was sick of doing wrong and so mixed up.”[5] 

Here Apostle John A. Widtsoe enters the picture. Documents from the Church History Library show that Elder Widtsoe was in Boulder at this time of Maurine and Kenneth’s confessions. Widtsoe’s involvement may have colored his reactions to Whipple’s publications in the 1940s. On December 31, 1941, a year after the publication of The Giant Joshua and soon before the publication of her Look article “Meet the Mormons”, about which the Church leaders were concerned, Widtsoe sent a letter to an associate who had been in Boulder in 1934, asking him to visit and refresh his memory about the incident with Maurine and Kenneth Nielson. He wrote “it seems that Brother Neilsen [sic] has drifted away from us rather far, and I am anxious to try to get him back. He was a very fine missionary, and I should like to give him a little help now.” This indicates that Nielson served in the European Mission, which Widtsoe presided over from 1926 to 1932.

A few days later Widtsoe and the associate met, and Widtsoe wrote out the following memo summarizing their common memories.

“Brother Eccles, now of the Deseret Industries, called to discuss the case of Kenneth A. Nielson. It appears that Kenneth A. Nielson was employed by the Six Companies while Boulder Dam was being constructed. While there, he met a Miss DeNeuff, an instructor in dancing, whose real name was Maurine Whipple. She maintained an apartment in Boulder City, inviting Nielson and other young men to visit her.

When President [Heber J.] Grant and I visited Boulder City on the occasion of the dedication of the meeting house [March 25, 1934], Kenneth A. Nielson brought Miss Whipple along and confessed that they had been in transgression and asked what should be done. The matter was referred to the Bishopric of Boulder City. The Bishopric held a trial, and Brother Nielson confessed his sin. The decision rendered was that Brother Nielson’s recommend would be held in Boulder Ward until the Bishopric were certain that his conduct in life was worthy of a Latter-day Saint. Nothing was done in the case of Miss Whipple. Brother Nielson was also instructed that he should not participate in the sacrament; take in part in the activities of the Church; should not play his violin at church gatherings as he had done on many occasions in the past.

At the time, in connection with the M.I.A. activities, he had been asked to take part in the dancing festival. When that was held, he and his partner were judged the best dancers, but because of his ‘fault,’ he and his partner were not given the award. This spread the knowledge of the situation among the stake people.”[6]

Widtsoe confirms that Maurine was not placed under any Church discipline. While this can be read as charitable, it can also be read (as Maurine did) as a kind of soft sexism, under which women were deemed as less responsible, or perhaps less valuable, than a male returned missionary.

This incident appears to have soured Maurine on the institutional Church, although she continued to attend meetings at least occasionally, especially weekday Relief Society meetings. She concluded her 1937 autobiographical essay this way: “I no longer have any fear of life or death, that God still dwells in a sunset but not in a church, and that the only thing that really counts is being able to face the mornings.”[7]

Whipple’s portrayal of Mormonism and the “Grand Idea” in The Giant Joshua saga

In 1938 Maurine won a fellowship to write The Giant Joshua. This began several years of intense study of Church history, including a study of the 1860s-1880s period which allowed her to complete The Giant Joshua in late 1940, followed by a study of the post-1890 period that she intended to use in the sequels. A theme of the series was that Mormonism represented a “Grand Idea” of true brotherhood and community, regardless of the failings of individuals. Her intention was to focus the second book on Clory and Abijah’s son Jim MacIntyre, a cowboy who breaks from the Church in part because of a fanatic bishop’s bad advice which led to his wife’s suicide, and Frank Wight, the son of Pal and David Wight, who trusts science over religion, and sees the current Church leadership as overly concerned with maintaining their power. The third book was to focus on Jim’s daughter Lenzi, who leaves her happy home in St. George to study music in Europe. She also has a bad encounter with a dogmatic bishop, but she eventually decides to return to St. George and her childhood sweetheart (Frank’s son), convinced that the community is the best place to fulfill the “Grand Idea” of brotherhood and cooperation.

In her prospectus for the final volume, Maurine wrote a scene in which Lenzi imagined a conversation with Jim, her father, as she was returning to Utah. “It isn’t particularly Mormonism, father, nor any other religion. I’m not particularly religious any more than you are, but that’s just the thing! You don’t have to be religious to be one with your neighbors at home any longer. Out of all the places I know, there is more tolerance, sympathy, brotherly love, friendliness for all creeds, races and peoples there, more of the milk-of-human kindness. That’s my heritage, and I’m going back to claim it, to help it grow; for that spirit is a rare and beautiful thing. I want to raise my children there. And sing, of course!”[8]

While researching these books, Maurine developed a theory that while the principles of the gospel were an excellent way of helping people becoming closer to the divine, the Church leadership in the 20th century had become separated from the common membership, and valued their own power over what she saw as the “Grand Idea”. For example, she thought the prophet, Heber J. Grant was overly concerned with financial success, and that his councilor, J. Reuben Clark, was obsessed with power. She expressed her ideas in a 1951 letter she wrote to the Huntington Hartford Foundation outlining her plans for the sequels.

“Although I was born into the Mormon Church, peculiar force of circumstance has led me to see the Mormons as not black-and-blue or black-and-white, but grey, like all other peoples on earth. What has always interested me about Mormonism is not whether it is the ‘true, revealed’ religion, but whether the deliberate, superhuman effort of a group of Americans to create the ideal life (as one wrote in 1847, ‘no rich and no poor . . . all is peace.’) can ever come anywhere near the goal. What has interested me is the evolution of the idea through 3 generations. A hundred years ago Brigham Young introduced such revolutionary concepts as communal living (‘communism’ in the original shape), make-work projects, youth movements, even social security. If he was a despot, he was a benevolent despot and a genius, and under his guidance the concepts darned near worked, and as a way of living early Mormonism darned near brushed the stars. Since his death in 1877 the struggle of the Mormons to go back to America, to become each his own Brigham Young, and yet to retain that early dream of perfection has constantly collided with the Church’s all-consuming money-dream. I hold no brief for either side—in the chaos brought on by federal persecution at the century’s end, Church officials had either to amass wealth and power, immediately and ruthlessly, or see the whole movement disintegrate. Wealth and power are heady acuqisitions, and perhaps some encroaching fascism was inevitable. As one most orthodox Mormon official said to me recently, ‘Utah has its Curtain as much as Russia. The ideal of the Church is no longer “no rich, no poor”, but the open-faced sandwich and the dollar bill.’ I, myself, can attest to the Iron Curtain—I’ve suffered behind it! Yet I’m told by the Salt Lake Public Library that The Giant Joshua, a book banned by the Church, is the most demanded book ever handled by that institution . . . All of which is proof of one fact: that there is an ever-widening gulf between the common man and his leaders . . .

“What I’d like to do is to show in the evolution of the Mormon, the evolution of any American, in microcosm: The second-generation Mormon, after Brigham’s death, abrubtly faced with standing on his own feet. With the machinery of democracy and making his own decision, with liberty in his hands like a hot potato which for a time he frantically tried to toss away. And, in the third book the completely-conformed third-generation Mormon, does any of the dream still cling like a musty fragrance? Or is his sole remaining heritage the ‘open-faced sandwich and the dollar bill’? Has God, who used to stand at the other end of the ironing board or the plow, become merely the ability to get away with it? The question I’d like to ask in the remaining two books of the trilogy is this—Has this Mormon, this all-too-human American, stumbling and marching, selfish and unselfish, brute and idealist—has he in the ultimate measuring of time a chance to walk like God?”[9]

The reception of The Giant Joshua

In later years, Maurine would frequently complain that although The Giant Joshua received strong reviews nationally, the Church organized an attempt to censor her books in Utah, and that her community of St. George largely rejected her. For example, she claimed, “one of the teachers at Dixie College saw me on the street and he threw a quarter at me and he said, ‘You might as well pick it up; this is all you’ll ever be worth.’”[10]

A review of the archives and the Utah newspapers of the time, however, show that Maurine was showered with praise for her work in Utah, including by Mormons, and including in St. George. She was frequently invited to give lectures and make appearances throughout the state, including many at her high school alma mater, Dixie High School/Junior College. Certainly, there were those who were offended by the book, in particular those who thought that some of the humorous portrayals of foibles of St. George pioneers represented their own ancestors. Maurine’s real trouble with her community came a few years later, and were largely because of her own poor choices, rather than because of her writings.

Although Maurine has made a variety of claims about how the Church tried to censor her books, there is no evidence behind any of them. The only clear act was Elder Widtsoe’s review of The Giant Joshua in the February 1941 issue of the Church magazine Improvement Era. Widtsoe was the editor of the magazine, and often assigned himself the job of reviewing books from national publishers. Michael Austin and Ardis Parshall have written about Widtsoe’s role. “In 1939, Widtsoe was [the LDS] market’s most important gatekeeper. His capsule reviews in the Improvement Era were read by faithful Mormons across the country. As the editor of the Era, he also decided what got printed in the Church’s official magazine—including stories, poems, and reviews. And as an apostle, he exercised considerable influence on the formation of the Church’s curriculum, which, at that time, included an annual reading list of both fiction and nonfiction books to be incorporated in the lessons of the various auxiliaries. And not insignificantly, thousands of LDS readers drew no distinction between his literary opinions and the mind of God.”[11]

Although Widtsoe’s review of The Giant Joshua did include some praise (“The story of the battle with the desert . . . is made alive with much detail.”), he mostly took the novel to task for what he saw as an unfairly negative portrayal of polygamy, which he claimed was a “straining for the lurid”. He also stated that Maurine was “perhaps . . . beyond her own depth” in her portrayal of human emotions. While his criticisms are not invalid and have been made by others, I wonder if his previous encounter with Maurine in Boulder may have colored his reception of the book.

“Meet the Mormons” and an angry confrontation

Soon after the publication of The Giant Joshua, Maurine received a commission from the popular photo-magazine Look to write an article about the Latter-day Saints. She wrote to a friend, “[I am] thrilled about this Look assignment . . . The magazine wants to please the Mormon people (without propaganda, of course, and without pulling facts) and I’m slanting the writing that way.”[12] Look sent a letter to J. Reuben Clark informing of their commission of Maurineand asked for the Church’s cooperation. Clark responded by assigning Harold B. Lee, then a junior apostle, to accompany Maurine and a Look photographer in their visits to the Church’s welfare facilities in Salt Lake City, Dixie Junior College, and other sites in-between.

Maurine’s article, “Meet the Mormons” (the first time this phrase was used?), was published on March 10, 1942, was indeed extremely positive about the Church. Elbert R. Curtis, president of the Western States Mission, instructed his missionaries to use it as a door opener: “This article gives some of the finest publicity to us as a religious people that has ever been presented to a reading audience the size of the one that this magazine has.”[13] The Washington County News reported that 50 copies at Dixie Drug quickly sold out, and that the article was widely admired.[14] Maurine might have expected that the experience might help mend any frayed relations she had with the Church leadership and general membership.

The article, however, precipitated a confrontation that became seared in Maurine’s memory, and frequently related in subsequent years. Maurine frequently fictionalized her past, and the particulars of this story changed in different tellings. The first known written version appears in a letter just days after the event. She wrote that she, Elder Lee, and the photographer were on the street in Salt Lake City when Elder Widtsoe approached them. “He informed us he prided himself on his ‘frankness’, wasn’t in sympathy with me nor my motives nor my book. In fact, he considered all three ‘vulgar’”.[15] In later retellings of the story, Maurine has the Church authority say, “I’ll have you know, young lady, we want nothing to do with you or those of your ilk.” Veda Hale writes that while her telling of the story (including the identity of the authority) changed over the years, “what didn’t change was the hurt—still there in every retelling, as raw as when it had first happened . . . This even, real, imagined, or exaggerated, went into Maurine’s already well-seasoned feelings of rejection, exacerbating her heartbreak and loneliness.”[16]

This is the Place: Utah (1945)

In 1943-1945 Whipple worked on her second book, the non-fiction travel book This is the Place: Utah. Whipple felt the success of “Meet the Mormons” indicated a market for non-fiction works about Utah, and she received a book contract from Knopf. It was published in November 1945 and featured many beautiful photographs and vivid descriptions of Utah scenery and society, along with Maurine’s comments on Mormonism. It received mixed reviews; some were taken with the images and Maurine’s humorous style. Maurine’s relationship with the historians Dale Morgan and Juanita Brooks was seriously strained by her selfishness and a serious case of plagiarism of Morgan’s work. Also, although she wrote positively about Mormon beliefs and society for many pages, Orthodox Mormons were insulted by a few passages where she elucidated her ideas about a growing split between the Church leadership and the general membership. She focused on what she saw as a support for conservative politics among the leadership (particularly J. Rueben Clark), which went against growing support for progressive ideas among the membership, which she saw in the general popularity of FDR’s New Deal in Utah and the victories of Mormon Democrats Elbert D. Thomas (a friend of Maurine’s, who defeated Reed Smoot) for a Utah Senate seat and Herbert B. Maw for the Utah governorship. She wrote:

“J. Reuben Clark . . . has been the practical head of the church since President Grant’s illness. Although Counselor Clark has friends as stanch as his enemies are bitter, there are Utahns who heartily criticize him and assert that his regime is totalitarian. Probably today’s greatest dissatisfaction with the church hinges upon its financial policy. Many Mormons feel that the church is losing her spiritual strength and becoming just another high-powered financial institution. . . The church, which once had a communistic set-up of its own, today fights organized labor, collective bargaining, and all social reforms . . . The Mormon Church started out as a people’s church. Today the Inner Circle is as exclusive as any royal circle.”[17]

Later Life: “Candles of the Lord” and the St. George Temple

Maurine had some success writing for magazines after World War II, but that work dried up by 1954. She never finished her sequel or any other substantial work after that point and fell into poverty. Eugene England wrote, “Maurine Whipple developed, as a result of something that happened to her, a crippling paranoia, a persistent bitterness about her experience.” That paranoia mixed with an increasingly erratic personality (and perhaps mental illness), which made it hard for many to remain friends with her for long. Throughout it all, she never cut her ties with the Church, and continued to attend at least occasional Relief Society meetings.

Among her projects during the 1960s and 1970s was “Candles of the Lord”, a St. George Easter pageant that would celebrate the resurrection. Veda Hale wrote, “With renewed energy, she filled her little home with stacks of books and articles on the final days of Jesus’ life. She reread Latter-day Saint scriptures, the Bible, and current biblical research. She renewed her interest in the Indian myths of rejuvenation, and the land started to speak to her in new ways . . .  In her first completed version of the pageant script [1963], she used the account in the Book of Mormon of Christ’s appearance to the people of the Americas and planned to use Native Americans representing various tribes. She also prominently featured Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus at the tomb. Her ‘Lament of Mary Magdalene’ is a moving lyric of a woman’s need for love, transferred to love for Christ.” Although the pageant was approved by the St. George city government, it was cancelled just a few weeks later. Maurine was devastated by the cancellation, and said she considered flinging herself from the top of St. George’s Sugarloaf. When she went to try, however, she was stunned by the grandeur of the scene below her. She watched as the brilliant sun turned the red hills gold and spotlighted the temple. With chagrin, she wondered how she could even think of suicide after spending weeks absorbed in Christ’s defeat of death. How could she fling his gift back at him? Chastened, she climbed down the hill.[18]   

Maurine made another try at putting on the pageant in 1973-1975. Again, her application was approved, and preparations began, but concern about the acoustics in Snow Canyon led to a second cancellation.

She frequently expressed her belief in a higher power. In 1969 she wrote to comfort a niece with a sick child. “I’ve seen too much not to believe in a divine force. I know that creation is no accident . . . I know that there is some sort of immortality. I’m not convinced that any one church has the answers. But I know that faith can literally move mountains.”[19]

By the late 1970s, Maurine enjoyed seeing a renewed respect for The Giant Joshua among Mormon literary scholars. The Giant Joshua was republished in 1976, and a team of filmmakers bought the film rights, which helped to give her some more financial stability. She also saw two of her stories published in Dialogue and Sunstone in the years before her death.

In her last years, Maurine’s bishop in St. George and other friends encouraged her to get a temple recommend and go through the temple, which she did in July 1990. Tabeetha Moesinger, who accompanied her, described the experience.

“When she [came through the veil] she was weeping; she flung her arms open so wide and smiled at me with tears streaming down both sides of her face. She wanted to be hugged and held, and I bent over (almost knelt) and she continued to cling to me and weep for what seemed like a couple of minutes . . . I will tell you that she seemed to make light of the process taking so long, but I know she was there for the right reasons. I truly believe she had accepted many things in her life for which her family ever gave her credit. She had come to terms with her mortality, she felt that life is fragile, and I believe in her heart she wanted to please her parents/grandparents and show them that she had not “strayed too far” from their flock.”[20]

Maurine Whipple passed away on April 12, 1992.

[1] Maurine Whipple, “Confessions of a She-Devil”, p. 2. (Of her mother, she wrote, she “loved music—and religion. In fact she so loved religion that it blinded and biased her, and when the husband denied the religion of her choice, she ‘punished’ him by having a nervous breakdown.” Maurine Whipple to Ted Strauss, January 8, no year. Whipple Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.) 

[2] Veda Tebbs Hale. “Swell Suffering”: A biography of Maurine Whipple. Greg Kofford Books, 2012, p. 53.

[3] Whipple, “Confessions”, p. 16-17.

[4] Hale, p. 85.

[5]“Rene” to “Kenneth”. Undated. Whipple Collection, Box 10.

[6]John A. Widtsoe, “Memorandum, Kenneth A. Nielsen, 1942” Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[7] Whipple, “Confessions”, p. 18.

[8] Whipple Collection, Brigham Young University, Box 4.

[9] Whipple Collection, Brigham Young University, Box 2.

[10] Maryruth Bracy and Linda Lambert, “Maurine Whipple’s Story of The Giant Joshua,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn-Winter 1971, p. 61.

[11] Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall. “The Novelist and the Apostle: Paul Bailey, John A. Widtsoe, and the Quest for Faithful Fiction in the 1940s.” Journal of Mormon History (42:3) July 2016, p. 186-187.

[12] Maurine Whipple to Dean Brimhall, Nov. 13, 1941. Whipple Collection, Brigham Young University.

[13] Hale, p. 214.

[16] Hale, p. 213. (A scholar well-versed in John A. Widtsoe’s life and personality has told me that any such statement would be wildly out of character for Widtsoe.)

[14] Washington County News, Feb. 26, 1942.

[15] Maurine Whipple to Dean Brimhall, Nov. 13, 1941. Whipple Collection, Brigham Young University.

[17] Maurine Whipple, This is the Place: Utah. Knopf, 1945, p. 171-173.

[18] Hale, p. 365-366, and unpublished material by Hale.

[19] Maurine Whipple to Carol Ann Whipple Anderson, December 6, 1969. Whipple Collection, Brigham Young University.

[20] Hale, p. 418. For more on this subject, see Jessie L. Embry, “Maurine Whipple: The Quiet Dissenter”. In Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher, editors, Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History. University of Illinois Press, 1994.


  1. Thank you for your commentary on the book and Maurine Whipple. I borrowed it from a small Wisconsin library in the early 1980’s and enjoyed reading it. It is no longer in that library so I bought a 1941 copy. I’m getting a lot more out of it with your supplemental information.

    The name Hyrum Lee caught my eye. After a little searching I realized he married a distant cousin of mine. It would be fun to have a digital copy of the photo in your post.

  2. waynefrank says:

    This comment, by the Dixie College Teacher (“he saw me on the street and he threw a quarter at me and he said, ‘You might as well pick it up: this is all you’ll ever be worth.'” was more than an evaluation of Maurine Whipple’s talent or worth in the eyes of that Dixie College teacher. It was a slur of the worst kind. In the 40’s and 50’s if you called a woman a “two-bit” you were calling her a whore of the lowest sort. Tossing her a quarter (a two-bit piece) was exactly the same thing, just without the complete description. In fact if he had just tossed the quarter without saying anything she would have known exactly what he meant.

  3. ML, I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the posts. Maurine documented her brief period of flirtation with Hyrum Lee at MIA activities in a diary she kept in 1927, labelled “My First Romance”, which is in the BYU Special Collections, Maurine Whipple Collection, Box 7. The original snapshot is attached to that diary. Hyrum married Flaral Christensen in June 1928.

    I’m interested if any of the older readers met Maurine, and have any memories of her. I received an email from the poet/author R. A. (Bob) Christmas (who recently was presented with the Association for Mormon Letters Lifetime Achievement Award about his experiences with Maurine Whipple when he was a professor at Southern Utah State College in Cedar City. He agreed to let me repost it here.

    “I recently re-read The Giant Joshua, and was dazzled again by Maureen’s achievement. She was a born novelist in the Jamesian tradition, a writer upon whom ‘nothing was lost’ that the old pioneer folks of her generation told her, as she sat for hours listening to them and their stories, memories, and language. Maureen would come to parties that my friends the Gordons threw for us hipsters in Cedar City in the late 60’s and early 70’s. She was a rather shy and forlorn figure, as I recall. I was very well aware at the time that she was a novelist, and that she had written a book that caused her to be shunned in St. George. I hadn’t yet read the book at the time, I think. But I read it some years later, and I was ashamed of myself (I still am) that although I drank with her and others I did not engage her in any kind of meaningful personal or literary conversation. But I can still visualize her sweet, sad face. R. A. Christmas.

  4. wreddyornot says:

    Finally got book and started the read. Enjoying the novel and the postings here. Thanks.

  5. Joseph N. Anderson says:

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  6. .

    I hope we are treating today’s Maurine’s better.

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