A house full of females Plural marriage and women's rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 1938-

Book - 2017

Presents a revelatory and deeply intimate exploration of the world of early Mormon women that draws on nineteenth-century diaries, letters, albums, minute-books, and quilts created by first-generation Latter-Day Saints.

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2nd Floor 289.309/Ulrich Checked In
New York : Alfred A. Knopf [2017]
Main Author
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 1938- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xxv 484 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 399-463) and index.
  • Introduction: An Indignation Meeting: Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, 1870
  • 1. "Wonder on wonder strikes my sense": Ohio, Connecticut, and Maine, 1836-1838
  • 2. "There was many Sick among the Saints": From the Half Breed Tract to the British Mission, 1859-1841
  • 3. "I now turn the key to you": Nauvoo, Illinois, 1842
  • 4. "a favor which I have long desired": Nauvoo, Illinois, and a Journey East, 1843
  • 5. "Menny feemales was recieved in to the Holy Order": Nauvoo and Beyond, 1844-1845
  • 6. "Mud aplenty": Crossing Iowa, 1846
  • 7. "Wrote some in my earley Biography": Camp of Israel, Winter Quarters, Omaha Nation, 1847-1848
  • 8. "All are busy preparing to go either East or west": Mormon Trails, 1847-1850
  • 9. "My pen is my only weapon": The Log Row, Salt Lake City, 1850-1851
  • 10. "the revelation on plurality of wives was read": Salt Lake City, Hong Kong, Hindoostan, Liverpool, 1852
  • 11. "Synopsis of my labors": Wilford Woodruff Household, 1853
  • 12. "we now must look after the poor": Utah Territory, 1852-1855
  • 13. "What a life of wandering": San Bernardino, California, 1856-1858
  • 14. "The house was full of females": The Fourteenth Ward, 1857-1858
  • 15. "The records of this House": Utah Territory, 1858-1872
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations Used in Notes
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Books such as Kathryn Daynes's More Wives than One (CH, Jul'02, 39-6629) have provided detailed interpretations of the lives of polygamous families. Now Ulrich (history, Harvard; former president of the American Historical Association) provides an excellent book on the lives of Mormon women in the mid-19th century. She includes details on women's relationships with each other and with their husbands. Joseph Smith, Mormonism's founding prophet, sought to improve the status of women in US society. He encouraged women to organize the LDS Relief Society (his wife served as president). He inducted women as well as men into the secret and sacred Holy Order with special blessings. And he introduced and practiced polygamy, which he perceived as a higher order of celestial marriage. After Smith's murder in 1844, Brigham Young and church members continued to practice polygamy as they moved West and settled in Utah. Ulrich provides instructive examples of the diverse ways in which women lived in polygamy. Augusta Adams Young, one of Brigham Young's wives, for instance, experienced difficulty in accommodating to the system. Nevertheless, she remained with Young and her sister wives. By contrast, another of Young's many wives, Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, accommodated herself easily into the system. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. --Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

DEVILS BARGAIN: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising, by Joshua Green. (Penguin, $17.) Green's deeply reported account explores Bannon's origin story and how he helped pull off a major political upset: the election of Donald J. Trump. Their partnership - and shared talents for whipping up spectacle and outrage - ushered in what Bannon saw as the culmination of a global populist uprising. RUNNING, by Cara Hoffman. (Simon & Schuster, $16.) It's 1988 in Athens, and a group of hustlers roam the city's underbelly. Bridley, who has left the United States behind, joins a British couple, Jasper and Milo, and is soon folded into their relationship. Our reviewer, Justin Torres, praised these "memorable antiheroes," calling them "tough and resourceful, scarred, feral and sexy." STALIN AND THE SCIENTISTS: A History of Triumph and Tragedy 1905-1953, by Simon Ings. (Grove, $19.) For the founders of the Soviet Union, science was always a pillar of the state. But for scientists, the stakes were higher: If they published research the government did not endorse, they faced jail, exile or death. Ings offers a fascinating look at this establishment, which he calls "the glory and the laughingstock of the intellectual world." NEW BOY, by Tracy Chevalier. (Hogarth, $15.) In Chevalier's retelling of "Othello," part of Hogarth's series of novels revising Shakespeare plays, the events unfold over a single day on a Washington playground. When O, a sixth grader from Ghana, arrives at his new school in the 1970s, Dee, the most popular girl, is immediately drawn to him. As children and teachers alike weigh their unease with a black student in the school, a malicious classmate tries to torpedo the friendship - with a shocking conclusion. A HOUSE FULL OF FEMALES: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. (Vintage, $18.) The author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, draws on diaries, letters and even quilts to understand how women reacted to their church's controversial embrace of polygamy. But even as Mormon women strained under domestic responsibility, they were able to become political actors. 4 3 2 l, by Paul Auster. (Picador, $18.) After Archie Ferguson, the novel's central character, is born, Auster offers up four distinct versions of his life, with characters and themes that recur across his different lives. Our reviewer, Tom Perrotta, called the story "a work of outsize ambition and remarkable craft, a monumental assemblage of competing and complementary fictions, a novel that contains multitudes."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 30, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

Brigham Young will not soon join John Stuart Mill and Susan B. Anthony in the pantheon of nineteenth-century feminist icons. But in this surprising historical inquiry, Ulrich uncovers evidence that the system of polygamy over which Young presided opened up unusual opportunities for women to forge a civic identity. Through diaries kept by prominent Latter-day Saint women, such as Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young, and Bathsheba Smith, readers see how polygamous wives adapted to even defended marital relationships that fostered an unusual sense of sisterhood in shared religious devotion and cooperative service. Though much of what such women did in the church's Female Relief Society involved traditionally female labors, the society did school women in grassroots organizing and public speaking. Ulrich consequently sees no mystery in the fact that Utah strongly supported Anthony's national crusade for women's suffrage and became only the second state to enfranchise women, and the first to elect a woman to the state senate. Probing scholarship sheds light on a little-understood chapter in American history.--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Pulitzer-winner Ulrich (A Midwife's Tale) gives readers a day-to-day look at the hardships early Mormons endured as pioneers and religious outlaws but also takes a broader view of longer-term changes in the religion. The book opens dramatically with Mormon women being granted the right to vote, joining Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony's crusade for women's suffrage, and protesting an 1870 law ending polygamy. They acted out of patriotism, religious zealousness, and the belief that their church offered more equality than in the Gentile world-even though Brigham Young's leadership was less inclusive than Joseph Smith's and plural marriage had become a de facto requirement for the powerful. Still, women maintained the right to choose their spouses, and could also choose whether to be sealed to them for eternity. Impeccable scholarship and a fascinating topic suffer somewhat from the book's organization. Each chapter moves ahead chronologically, but Ulrich also frequently jumps out of sequence, and because she writes about a fair number of people, many of whom have similar names, the problem multiplies. The author takes no view herself on the practice of plural marriage and simply presents history as it occurred, although in her acknowledgments she writes, "I did not find it odd that my father had both a grandmother... and a 'Grandma on the hill.'" (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Award winning author Ulrich (A Midwife's Tale), employs a plethora of primary sources, including diaries, letters and albums, to tell the story of women in plural marriages and their impact on society in Mormon settlements. Tracing the spread and acceptance of the marriage doctrine, Ulrich's research reveals that women were active in organizing relief societies, supporting one another in times of illness and loneliness, and generally maintaining their voices in the evolution of the state of Utah and its constitution that gave women the right to vote and hold public office. The abundance of original quotes is an outstanding feature, although the audio version doesn't permit readers to reference notes or sources, nor to peruse the photos and illustrations from the print version. The narration by Susan Ericksen is steady, although there are a few mispronunciations of proper names. VERDICT This volume tells the stories of a sisterhood that many readers might not be aware of, one that arguably initiated the cracks in that glass ceiling. ["Promises more insight into the relationship between plural marriage and women's rights than it ultimately delivers.[albeit] thoroughly researched and well crafted": LJ 12/16 review of the Knopf hc.]-Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian investigates women's power and agency within the early Mormon community.Ulrich (History/Harvard Univ.; Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, 2007, etc.), a MacArthur Fellow whose previous subjects have included colonial wives and early American midwives, has a personal investment in this deeply researched, well-informed history of marriage and family life among 19th-century Mormons: her eight great-grandparents and four great-great-grandparents migrated to Utah before 1860, and she grew up knowing that their stories included polygamy. Drawing on a rich trove of diaries and letters, the author follows many Mormon families as they confronted poverty, illness, privations, and persecution in their quest to establish a community where they could practice their faith and enact their social vision. She traces their journeys, beginning in 1835, from Ohio to Illinois, across the muddy flats of Iowa, to Nebraska, and finally, in 1850, to Salt Lake City. Plural marriage set the Latter-day Saints apart from many other sects eager to create an earthly utopia, and it stands as a puzzle that Ulrich can only partially explain. Some biographers accuse Mormon founder Joseph Smith of promoting the practice "to justify illicit relations with vulnerable young women," and Ulrich concedes, "there is some evidence to support that assumption." Smith and his successor, Brigham Young, both having multiple wives, defended polygamy as sanctioned by the Bible. Although some found it repugnant, many men took several wives, and women entered freely into those alliances. Some women saw marriage to a church leader as a path "to an elite inner circle." Not surprisingly, though, polygamy "generated conflict and gossip," anger and yearning. Besides considering the emotional toll of plural marriage, Ulrich questions the spiritual needsand desire for authoritarian leadership that drew adherents to Mormonism and sustained their faith even under extreme duress. The trek west was marked by graves. While Ulrich creates an absorbing history of intimate lives, individuals' religious passions and acceptance of polygamy remain mysterious. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

"Wonder on wonder strikes my sense" Ohio, Connecticut, and Maine, 1836-1838 Walking toward Kirtland, Ohio, in late November 1836, Wilford Woodruff caught sight of the temple standing on a bluff above the flats. When he left Kirtland two years before, the temple had been only a dream. Now it rose before him, more magnificent, he thought, "than Kings ever saw or Princes ever Knew." His excitement grew as he entered the village. In 1834, the little band of Latter-day Saints in Ohio had been poor and despised by their neighbors. Now there were signs of progress everywhere. He and his companion, a Kentuckian named Abraham Smoot, lost no time in touring the temple, from the light-filled assembly rooms on the lower levels to the offices in the attic, where Joseph Smith kept the Egyptian mummies and fragments of papyri that he said contained the writings of the Biblical Abraham. "Wonder on wonder strikes my sense to look into the Casket of the great work of Israels God in these last Days," Wilford wrote. For a newly settled town in Ohio's Western Reserve, the building was indeed impressive. Sited on the highest point of land in the region, it had a soaring sanctuary on each of its main floors and a polychrome tower reaching to the sky. Some said that on a clear day visitors to the tower could see across Lake Erie to Canada. Color added to the building's glory. The roof was a deep brick red, the exterior walls a glistening gray-blue created by grinding broken glass and cobalt-glazed ceramics into the stucco, then painting lines to simulate stonework. Two olive-green doors opened into the interior. A model of Yankee ingenuity and rural pretension, the temple had Greek pilasters and Gothic windows, ascending pulpits on both ends of the major rooms, movable seats in the pews, and adjustable curtains operated by pulleys to subdivide the spaces. Red velvet drapery ornamented the pulpits. Latter-day Saints believed God, speaking through Joseph Smith, had commanded them to build the temple. Smith's revelation called it a "house"--"a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God." At its dedication in March 1836, some heard the sound of a mighty wind as a pillar of light descended. Others saw angels soaring through the windows to settle on the high pulpits. It was a house of glory built by common folk. Bolstered by contributions gathered by missionaries like Wilford, its construction provided work for common laborers as well as for skilled carpenters like Brigham Young. God may have prescribed the dimensions of the building, but human beings quarried the stone, planed the planks, stitched the draperies, and constructed the window mullions and sashes, using carpenters' manuals and Smith's visions for their guide. On his first Sunday back in the town, Wilford stood in one of the pulpits and reported on his mission. He took as his text a passage in Isaiah about God's power to graft into the House of Israel even "the son of the stranger." Wilford was talking about the men and women he had baptized in Kentucky and Tennessee. He was also talking about himself. The scripture promised, "Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." Like many New Englanders of his generation, Wilford had migrated west in search of new opportunities. Now, nearly thirty, he had neither a wife nor a home of his own, but in Kirtland he had a place of honor in God's house. Soon, though he did not yet know it, he would find a wife--a resolute New Englander named Phebe Carter. Together they would begin a journey that would take them to their old homes in Connecticut and Maine and then to the Fox Islands, off the Atlantic coast, to gather others--relatives and strangers--into a faith that promised wonders on wonders. "The First Book of Willford" Born in Connecticut in 1807, Wilford was the youngest of Aphek and Beulah Woodruff's three children, all boys. When he was just a year old, his mother died in the midst of a spotted-fever epidemic that also claimed his grandfather. When Wilford was not yet three, his father married Azubah Hart, who gave birth to six more children, five boys and a girl. Azubah's boys were haunted by death. Julius died shortly after birth, Franklin at three months; Newton drowned at two. Sixteen-year-old Philo fell ill after dreaming that there would soon be a funeral in the family. His death provoked Wilford, who was then twenty, to consider his own spiritual state. He asked a local Baptist preacher to baptize him by immersion, but he did not join any church. After a short stint at the Farmington Academy (his family could not afford more), he moved with his older brother Azmon to a farm in upstate New York. When Mormon missionaries came through in 1833, both accepted baptism. In 1834, Wilford, the more zealous convert, headed to Ohio to meet Joseph Smith. There he joined "Zion's Camp," a quasi-military expedition sent to relieve Mormon settlers in Jackson County, Missouri, who had been driven from their homes. From there, he accepted a call to serve as a missionary in Tennesee and Kentucky. During his two years in the backcountry, he supported himself by selling subscriptions to the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, performing day labor, and accepting food, lodging, and cash donations from church members and strangers. One of Joseph Smith's revelations assured newly called missionaries that "whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture." Wilford took those words seriously. He learned to preach, and he learned to keep a diary, labeling his four-by-six leather-bound journal "The First Book of Willford." At first, he wrote in a loose, almost unformed scrawl, taking rough notes that he later transcribed, first in cursive, then in a kind of Roman print that appeared to imitate type. To make it easier to find things, he began setting off certain entries with special symbols or borders, using the calligraphy skills he had acquired during his short time at school. Thanks to his end-of-year summaries, we know that during his two-year mission he traveled 6,557 miles, held 153 meetings, participated in four debates, baptized twenty-seven persons, blessed nineteen children, healed four persons, and escaped from three mobs. The mobs were an affirmation of his calling. Hadn't the ancient apostles also suffered opposition? At a place he called "Bloody [Creek?], Kentucky," he gave a full page to a dream or vision of the sun going dark and the moon turned to blood and "the horizon covered with burning cities," as prophesied in scripture. He then saw the resurrection of Jesus and witnessed the joy of members of the Church of the First Born clothed in white. Words were not enough to describe such an experience. He ornamented his page with tiny sketches of the things he had seen. When he returned to Kirtland late in 1836, he expected even more powerful manifestations of God's presence. He enrolled in something called the "School of the Prophets," an adult-education program for Mormon preachers, where he learned a smattering of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Between January and May 1837, he attended evening meetings of the Quorum of Seventies, a group of men with special callings to preach. He participated in private "feasts," during which food was distributed to the poor, and in "blessing meetings," where Joseph Smith's father, who had been called as church patriarch, laid his hands on the heads of members to offer consolation, affirmation of lineage in the House of Israel, and the promise of future redemption. When Father Smith blessed Abraham Smoot, Wilford served as scribe, taking down the blessing in his neat Roman hand. For Wilford, the most important gatherings occurred within the temple. Here he could listen to Joseph Smith and the Apostles speak and participate in holy rituals. The Prophet had already adopted the Christian practice of washing feet, but in 1836 he reached backward to the book of Exodus, building on a passage that described Moses bringing Aaron and his sons "to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" for a special washing and anointing that allowed them to minister as priests. On April 4, 1837, Wilford and twenty-two other men gathered at a private home and washed themselves "with clean watter & perfumes" before repairing to the temple for an anointing. Although the Old Testament recipe called for myrrh, sweet cinnamon, calamus, and cassia, the Saints made do with cinnamon. After the anointing, Wilford joined two other men in a veiled space in the temple. They knelt in prayer and, in Wilford's words, vowed "that we would not give sleep to our eyes neither take food until we receieved a blessing from God by the outpourings of his spirit upon us if it was until the end of three days." Alternately praying and contending with a fatigue they associated with Satan, they continued through the night. Then, having "gained a good degree of victory over the Devil," they left the temple, to return that evening for another round. In contrast to the elaborate vision he had recorded in Kentucky, Wilford measured the success of this experience not by a visual manifestation, but by the peace he felt: "The spirit of God sat upon us & we were satisfied with our blessing." Years later, a church leader who had been in Kirtland said that, when Joseph Smith introduced the ritual of washing and anointing to male leaders, some women got "right huffy about it," feeling that they had been left out. If so, they neglected to record their complaints. Their memoirs recall spiritual manifestations, such as an outpouring of glossolalia or "speaking in tongues." Some heard an invisible choir during services in the temple. One young mother claimed that her six-month-old baby slept quietly through the seven-hour dedication ceremony, then joined the crowd in shouting "Hosanna!" The completion of the temple nevertheless marked a subtle transition in Latter-day Saint worship, which had previously focused on small gatherings in homes. In Kirtland, Elizabeth Ann and Newel Whitney often hosted "Feasts for the Poor," like the ones Wilford attended, occasions when guests fasted for two meals, then brought butter, bread, or other foods to share with the needy. When held in the temple, fast days like these took on a more formal quality. On March 23, 1837, Wilford arrived early and retired to a veiled area with several other elders for prayer. As the crowd gathered, he emerged into the main space, where, at the invitation of the Prophet's father, he read a passage from the Book of Mormon while the congregation stood. Then the curtains dropped, dividing the room into four parts--"the females occupied two parts & the males the others." Male leaders presided in each of the divisions as people engaged "in singing, exhortation, & prayer. Some had a tongue, others an interpretation, & all was in order." The reference to "order" is significant. Joseph Smith had been shocked when he first arrived in Kirtland by the extremes of "enthusiasm" that greeted him. The temple became a setting for encouraging and at the same time containing ecstatic expression. With the room divided, four times as many people had an opportunity to participate, but the presence of a member of the presidency in each group prevented things from getting out of hand. Wilford explained that, after the separate meetings, "the Veils were all rolled up together which brought the whole Congregation in full view of each other and while the presence of the Lord filled the house the congregation of the Saints fell upon their knees & all as one man vocally poured forth rejoicing, supplication & Prayer, before the God of Israel." Presumably, the phrase "one man" included women, though we cannot be sure. Movable seats in the pews allowed people to face pulpits on either the east or the west side, as required. The pulpits themselves ascended in four levels, with three stations in each. Those on the west held the presidencies of the Melchizedek or the "higher" priesthood; those on the east, the Aaronic, or "lesser." With eight presidencies and twenty-four men involved, authority was both widely distributed and heirarchically ordered. Joseph Smith and his two counselors commanded the top tier in the Melchizedek pulpit. While Wilford filled his diary with details about temple worship, something else was happening unnoticed. In early April, he set off a blank space with a distinct border and reported dryly, "My first acquaintance with miss Phebe W. Carter was on the evening of the 28th of Jan. 1837 at which time I was introduc'd to her at Elder Milliken's by the politeness of Elder M. Holmes. After two & half months acquaintance we were joined in matrimony." In the midst of religious ecstasy, he had found a wife. "to leave my paternal roof" Phebe Carter was born in Scarborough, Maine, a coastal town just south of Portland, on March 8, 1807. She was just seven days younger than Wilford and, at the age of thirty, a true peer, having embraced the Latter-day Saint gospel wholeheartedly and on her own. Unlike him, she had grown up in a house full of females. When Mormon missionaries came through Scarborough in 1834, Phebe's younger sisters Rhoda, Shuah, and Mary, all in their twenties, were still at home, and the one married sister, Sarah Foss, lived nearby. In the minority were the three brothers, Ezra, Fabyan, and Ilus. Like many young women of her generation, Phebe worked off and on as a teacher and a dressmaker. In a period when an increasing number of women remained single, she must have wondered whether it would be her lot to live and die in the big house where she had been born. Almost as soon as she was baptized, she contemplated moving to Kirtland. In Mormonism, the concept of "gathering" was central. Believing that the second coming of Jesus was imminent, missionaries taught that newly baptized members had a duty to migrate to the Mormon Zion to become "the first laborers in this last kingdom." Although hundreds of New England women left home to work in nearby textile mills or teach in a rural school, very few set off alone to join a religious community seven hundred miles away. Phebe's family opposed her plan, and when it came time to leave, she was too overcome with emotion to say goodbye in person. Instead, she composed a letter for them to read once she was out of sight. That the letter survived suggests that her family cherished it. Written in a neat and legible hand on two long sheets of cream-colored paper, it displayed a better-than-average education, a mastery of religious rhetoric, and significantly less sentimentality than Wilford's writing. "Beloved Parents," she began, "I am now about to leave my parent paternal roof for a while but I know not how long--but not without grateful feelings for the kindness which I have receivd from my infancy until the present time." There are no protestations of love in this opening, just a straightforward statement of the situation. She appreciated all her parents had done for her, but wanted them to know that it was time for them to part. Providence had willed it thus. That she changed "parental" to "paternal roof" surely reflects an inbred sense that houses belonged to fathers. It may also hint at her meticulousness and her bookishness. Although the phrase "paternal roof" was common in both fiction and poetry between 1800 and 1840, the term "parental roof" was seldom used before the twentieth century. To Phebe it probably didn't have quite the right ring. Excerpted from A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.