What I did over summer vacation

February 19, 2004 | 23 comments
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Last summer, I belatedly spent my first term at BYU, as a Summer Fellow at the Smith Institute for Church History. There were eight of us, working under the direction of Claudia Bushman. Our topic was the history of Mormon women in the 20th century.

We didn’t make any attempt at being exhaustive; instead, we spent some time talking about major forces shaping women’s lives across the century and then Claudia turned us loose to pursue our own research interests. The final papers ended up being about

1) Courtship stories among the first post-Manifesto generation of Mormon women
2) Participation of RS and YW Presidencies in the National Women’s Council
3) The history of the idea of modesty in dress for young women in the church
4) Primary songs as the locus of women’s contributions to doctrine formation (this was my contribution **shameless self-promotion**: I’ll be discussing it this Sunday at the Cambridge 2nd Ward bldg. 7:00 pm–an abbreviated version of the paper is online here )
5) The effects of Correlation on Relief Society, weighing the benefits of Correlation for international members against the losses many North American women felt (the RS Magazine, annual RS conference, etc.)
6) Bodies, Babies and Birth Control
7) a re-examination of Mormon women’s participation in the debate over the ERA
8) Patriarchy and Contentment–an informal survey trying to document the truth of President Hinckley’s repeated claim that “our women are content” in the face of media skepticism, and an examination of how and why Mormon women are content within a patriarchal structure

I have lots to say about several of these topics, and about the experience of doing women’s history at BYU, but I’ll wait to see which, if any, of these themes is interesting enough for you to comment/ask questions about.

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23 Responses to What I did over summer vacation

  1. ben on February 20, 2004 at 12:04 am

    I’m particularly interested in #8, as I passed the word along to the women I know to respond to Janice’s (sp?) survey. Also, because my wife and I frequently talk about “BWP syndrome”- attributing all evil to the Bad White Patriarchy . It’s like the old Nat X skit on SNL. Everything was “The Man’s” fault. “I think we all know who The Man is.”
    I grew up with several women who struggled with their role in the church as such. It’s been interesting to watch them.

  2. brayden on February 20, 2004 at 12:15 am

    Kristine –

    I’d like to hear about #7. I’m currently writing a paper looking at state-level ratification of the ERA, so I have a strong interest in hearing more about it from a mormon perspective.

  3. Alaska on February 20, 2004 at 3:53 am

    I want to hear about 1, 3, 4, 6 & 8 :)

  4. Clark Goble on February 20, 2004 at 3:59 am

    Actually I’ve long thought (1) was very interesting. I thought those just prior to the manifesto were interesting as well. Unfortunately the diaries of my relatives who were polygamists at those times didn’t really say much about it.

  5. Kristine on February 20, 2004 at 8:59 am

    #8 was really interesting–it was based on a really vaguely-worded e-mail survey, designed to elicit general responses about women’s experiences with and thoughts about priesthood structure and church experience. Janiece Johnson, who conducted it, was hoping to get at least 100 responses; didn’t plan to do any real analysis, just mining for themes and quotes. She ended up getting about 1000 responses in one week–people were just dying to talk about these issues. Maybe the most interesting parts of the responses were the forwarding messages–the survey had been sent by e-mail with a request to forward it to interested people. Conservative women sent forwarding messages that said “liberals are going to flood her with messages of discontent; please answer so that she gets a balanced response,” while more liberal women said “she’s working at BYU, the results will be skewed towards conservative responses…”

    One of the questions asked the women to rate how “content” they were in the Church on a scale of 1-10; something like 98% of respondents rated themselves 7 or above. This result did not seem correlated to having or not having negative experiences with Priesthood leaders (which about half of women reported, if I’m remembering correctly).

  6. Kristine on February 20, 2004 at 9:10 am

    Clark, the paper on post-manifesto romance looked at stories from the “Young Women’s Journal” as well as from people’s diaries. The “Journal” stories continued to thematize marriage as a sacrificial endeavor for a long time after the Manifesto; it took until well into the 20s before conventional notions about romance really started to dominate. It also took longer than one might’ve expected for stories about polygamy to disappear. Interestingly (if not terribly surprisingly, I guess), romance dominates the personal accounts much earlier.

  7. Matt Evans on February 20, 2004 at 9:30 am

    I’m most interested in 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Have any of them been posted on the Internet?

  8. Kristine on February 20, 2004 at 9:42 am

    Matt, I doubt it, as most of them are to be published in other places–”Bodies, Babies, and Birth Control” was published in the most recent issue of Dialogue. I think #1 is going to JMH, and I don’t know about the rest.

    BYU Studies press is doing a small printing of all of them, and I assume that will be available to the general public sometime in March.

  9. Melissa on February 20, 2004 at 10:00 am

    Matt,

    All of our papers from last Summer will be published this month by the Smith Institute and will be available for purchase mid-March.

  10. Gordon Smith on February 20, 2004 at 10:37 am

    Kristine, Can you say more about the participants and how they were chosen? Also, whose idea was this? And what was the goal of the program? Will there be another program like it? Or is it one and out?

  11. cooper on February 20, 2004 at 11:17 am

    I am primarily interested in number 2. Women of power in the church have participated globally in politics and womens organiztions. We rarely hear about the setting, the issue and how well it was received. I think the one I most recently heard about was Sherri Dew speaking at the United Nations on a subject related to families.

    Why, when we spend the money to support and be a part of such groups, do we not hear about what went on. I really think we would feel less isolated if the information were more forthcoming instead of a three line blurb in the church news. The encouragement to become more involved in community affairs would increase knowing others were successful (or at least well received) in attempts to effect change.

    Am I just out of the information loop?

  12. Karen on February 20, 2004 at 11:34 am

    Just a quick response to cooper. I read the DesNews on line frequently to keep track of the goings on in Utah. I remember reading the article about Sheri Dew getting appointed to the UN council on women and families (sorry don’t remember the correct title). Anyways, the DesNews “failed” to mention that it was a UN body. They just listed the title of the committee. That cracked me up. Somehow I’m a little skeptical that it was an oversight and wondered who it was that didn’t want the average Utah reader to know that Sheri Dew was working with the UN. I kept meaning to write a letter to the editor about it, but put it off too long.

  13. Kristine on February 20, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    Gordon, some of those questions are addressed in this article from the Trib: http://www.sltrib.com/2003/Oct/10042003/saturday/saturday.asp.

    The Smith Institute has had summer fellows for several years, usually directed by Richard Bushman–the only difference this year was the focus on women’s history.

    The Trib. article (though it seems completely tame to me!) may actually have assured that there will not be future summer sessions focused on women–apparently just having BYU and “feminism” mentioned in the same paragraph is enough to set off serious alarm in Provo, and there has been a significant backlash. I think this is also part of the answer to Cooper’s question–there is deep ambivalence about paying attention to Mormon women’s non-domestic achievements. We’ve recognized for a long time that the church needs a Beverly Campbell or two to present a public image of the capable Mormon woman, able to move about in “the world” and address the concerns of the mainstream, despite her commitment to a patriarchal church. But having dug in our heels on traditional gender roles with things like the Proclamation on the Family, and really committed even more deeply to the notion that women’s sphere is the private and domestic, we’re even less comfortable than we used to be with spokeswomen like Sheri Dew.

  14. Matt Grow on February 20, 2004 at 1:28 pm

    Kristine: Could you be more specific about the “significant backlash” the seminar on women’s history stirred up? I attended about half the conference, including your fine paper, and it seems difficult to believe that it created an uproar. Everyone involved seemed to be pretty careful not to do or say anything too controversial.

  15. Kristine on February 20, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Matt–I don’t think it was our seminar itself (how controversial can it be, if the group’s lone radical is talking about Primary songs :) ?), but the Trib article seems to have called out a negative response and more scrutiny of Smith Institute events focused on women. You probably know more about it than I do, at this point–I’ve just got Jill’s impeccably diplomatic take on things.

  16. Melissa on February 20, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    I know the title of my paper “Bodies, Babies and Birth Control” made several higher-ups rather upset. I was asked if I would change the title for the proceedings volume, but refused since it is already in print under that name.

  17. Kristine on February 20, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    Melissa, was it just the title, or were there other objections to your piece?

  18. Adam Greenwood on February 20, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Cooper,
    Be careful what you wish for. The more public something is, the less room it has.

  19. William Morris on February 20, 2004 at 5:52 pm

    Kristine:

    I’ve been interested in courtship stories from that time period every since reading Ellen Gruber Garvey’s _The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s_ .

    Forgive me if this is common knowledge, but just so it’s clear where I’m coming from…

    Brief Synopsis: Garvey’s work details how women were *taught* to be consumers during the American Gilded Age. As American industry developed and production increased, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t enough to make soap, for instance. You had to convince people to buy your brand of soap. Women’s magazines showed their readers how to become savvy consumers — women who knew how to choose the *best* product. Part of that involved courtship stories — short fictional pieces that featured young women trying to decide which of their suitors to marry. Despite flirting with unsuitable ones, they invariably chose the *best* young man and lived happily ever after. As I understand it, the reason for running these stories was the hope that the “choose the right one” lesson would be applied to the consumer aspects of life. Some magazines went so far as to twin the concepts — inviting readers to send in courtship stories that also included product names. Not only did Dora make the right choice in marrying Harry, but she also looked fabulous because she used Ivory soap, or whatever. It’s a fascinating piece of scholarship, and one that I found eminently readable.

    So my question/request:

    You mention to Clark that the post-Manifesto LDS courtship stories emphasized sacrifice rather than romance. Could you say more about how that was dramatized? How does this relate to the work of Garvey (and others)? Did the sacrifice involve some sort of choice? Say, to marry the 5-year-old man with 3 wives instead of the handsome young Gentile? Or was it more a matter of marrying and making the sacrifice or not? [or both?] And what reasons did the young women have for making the sacrifice and what ‘reward’ was tendered at the end? Was it just to help build the kingdom and do the right thing or were other factors involved (like a happier marriage, or not ending up with an uncouth man, or a reward in the eternities)?

  20. cooper on February 20, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    Adam, I somewhat concur with your comment. However, how long are we going to try to hide the fact that we have the truth of the Gospel and can contribute in ways other than domesticity?

    Even if it is domesticity, why wouldn’t we want the greater good to know that Ms. Dew has been appointed to a UN counsil re:families. Isn’t that a good thing and a good role model for children? Needless to say for young women?

    Unfortunately, (thanks to feminism and other factors, i know…) we women are thrust into the economic world. We have been told to get an education and be prepared to provide for ourselves. There are just so many elementary education spots open, she says tongue in cheek. Young women today need to know the options available to them when entering the job force. Half of the reason I spend my time with men is because most of the women my age are not college educated and are sincerely itimidated by all things intellectual. It is a sad state of affairs. And then, don’t get me started on what they teach their daughters about education.

    Does Sherri Dew have to carry all that weight alone? Now I do realise there are other women who are contributing. My point is, is that we need to have other positive role models for each other. In saying that I am not referring only to women. Somehow this always turns into a gender thing. It isn’t. It an education thing.

  21. Kristine on February 21, 2004 at 8:30 am

    William,

    I’m going to forward your query to the author of the paper, who will do it more justice than I can.

    In the meantime, I’ll say that all the kinds of sacrifices you mention were dramatized–choosing the righteous polygamist over the attractive younger man, choosing marriage over a career on the stage in “the city,” choosing marriage to a Mormon instead of a Gentile. From the stories I remember, the promised rewards seemed to be distinctly this-worldly–the polygamist turns out to provide plenty of romantic satisfaction, domestic bliss is more exciting than the theater ever was, etc.

    Anyway, I’ll let you know what the real expert says!

  22. Melissa on February 21, 2004 at 12:22 pm

    Kris,

    There have indeed been other objections to my piece. In fact, I’ve been working on this all week. “They” have suggested that I’m “misrepresenting the Church” by including certain interpretations of the GHI. The thing I find odd about this is that I’m not trying to represent the church at all. My paper is about how members of the church have understood and interpreted official statements. I privilege women’s first-hand accounts, which have always been overlooked in favor of formal statistical data on this issue.

  23. lyle on February 23, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    I for one plan to buy the collected volume (even if the Smith Institute did dis me for a summer fellowship about 5-6 years ago)

    also…as adam says, i guess i just have to accept that i’m weird and not the reasonable rational average mormon male; but…

    conspiracy re: Sheri Dew and the UN? Just as likely they left the UN out to make it more palatable to the audience that the work she was/is doing is beneficial and avoid the UN haters in the readership pool.

    lastly…cooper: this is probably more of a personal bias, but…if you would like a capable “role” model for women…why not be her yourself, within your sphere of influence? i.e. maybe it is more fun to hang with the ‘smart’ guys…but…that only deprives those sisters of your companionship/example. Of course, my bias is against moving to the suburbs and staying in the city…where i’m not among a bunch of other upper middle class lawyers, doctors, professionals, etc…and am instead sort of an odd duck who enjoys the people who are struggling/working for a non-impoverished lifestyle.

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