This past weekend was my first time attending MHA – it was amazing and I want to give a standing ovation to the organizers. I suppose I’m one of a few dozen of the crowd that happily attend both MHA and Sunstone, there was a group that I recognized from both – which was fun. The day before I’d signed up for a Women’s History Tour by Andrea Radke-Moss & Janelle Higbee. There were also tours for African American Utah History with Darius Gray, Church History Library Power Searching Session, and a Material Culture session with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich; in case you were wondering how easy it would be choosing what to do from there on out.
Anyways, MHA covered two days, three sessions each day usually 90 minutes long, each of the sessions have three papers under one topic and a respondent with Q&A if there’s time. It was typical to sit and listen to Kathleen Flake & J. Stapley spend 15 minutes explaining the context of their paper, get to the big reveal, (“We understand how both genders wield cosmological priesthood power through the Book of Abraham” for the former and “The policy change of adding conferral to ordination to the priesthood effectively ended up limiting our understanding and practice of priesthood to one gender” for the latter) before they said, “and I’m out of time.” That was my first session. The Q&A ended with Kathleen Flake saying “A rhetorical mistake we make is that we talk about power ‘of’ instead of ‘in’ the priesthood. We’ve narrowed the priesthood down to an office.” Ninety minutes had passed and we’d only been given a glimpse of each paper that could have taken up a few hours on their own.
Each session had 8 panels to choose from. It was crazy hard to choose. For example the next morning had 8 sessions, the first three listed had (1) Terryl Givens on New Views of the Book of Mormon, (2) DNA evidence results on Josephine Lyon & Joseph Smith Jr., and (3) Andrea Radke-Moss presenting the second half of her paper on Sexual Violence in the Mormon-Missouri War, which I attended. She had presented the first half of the paper at the Church History Symposium where she disclosed finding the account of Eliza R. Snow’s rape. The whole panel was on Contested Memories of the 1838 Missouri-Mormon War.
David Grua, Church Hist Dept. “Joseph Smith’s 1838-1839 Missouri Jail Letters & Mormon Persecution Memory” Apparently there was occasionally lax oversight at the jail Joseph was being held at had and subversive letter writing was regular practice. Grua explored how Joseph’s letters served to transmit information, forge alliances, and keep the community together. Some members copied and shared the letters (30+ pages). Joseph spent a lot of time pondering persecution and liberty and it was reflected in his letters.
Brent Rogers, Church History Dept. “Gendered Memories of the 1838 War” Rogers was surprised when he started his research, he assumed that men would have written all the public accounts and women would have recorded theirs in private histories. Turned out he was wrong, both men and women wrote public accounts in an attempt to obtain redress for the wrongs against them and both had written private accounts. He did find that most of the petitions were written by men to other men because rape was seen as a crime of one man against another man’s property (women), and the property had lost value and men were due restitution. In all of these men and children were the nameless victims of violence and rape, names were never recorded because of the shame attached and also because their potential future could be ruined (men wouldn’t marry a wife who had lost her virtue, for example). These attacks put a dent in the masculine identity of Mormon men, as they hadn’t been able to protect their women and children. When redress never came, Mormon men began to see themselves as victims of a tyrannical government unwilling to grant them full rights as American citizens.
Andrea Radke-Moss, BYU-Idaho, “Sexual Violence and the Practices of Memory” Humans require stories to make meaning of their existence: how have the narratives and memories of the rapes committed against us in Missouri become a part of our group identity and even constructed our gender identities? Even in popular Mormon fiction the stories of the Missouri rapes have been widely told; she quoted a passage from Gerald Lund’s The Work and the Glory as an example. How we tell the story of Joseph rising in chains to rebuke the guards recounting stories of raping mormon women at the Richmond Jail has meaning. Parley Pratt recounts “majesty in chains” and Joseph is lionized, the defender of LDS female virtue – yet these stories have overshadowed the actual lived experiences and stories of the very mormon women they are about. They focus on the men in the story, deify the prophet, reaffirm his virtue and honor. Even the artistic representations of the event left out women, who were present. She then moved on to tell how the Missouri rapes could have played into the Mormon Meadows Massacre; there is no source that shows that saints in Southern Utah were motivated by rumors/stories of Missouri rapes or that some Missouri mob members were among the group of Arkansans; but there is proof that it had become post-facto justification for it, and transmission of memory lies in how group members share their stories. The Missouri rape story shows how one second-hand memory gains a life of its own in creating new narratives and meanings. Perhaps one of the reasons Mormon community fails in dealing with rape culture is found in these Missouri accounts. Bushman says that Missouri “poisoned” the Mormon memory and shaped the hows and whats of our document creation and narrative. She concludes that sexual violence has been a part of our past, is obviously a part of our present, and demands our attention today.
There were a lot of quality questions as follow ups on this panel. The panelists spoke about how none of the narratives in any cultures at this time recorded their rapes as primary sources, so historical work in the area is working with likelihoods and probabilities. While rape has always been used as a weapon of war, Andrea found that Bleeding Kansas had most in common with our own circumstance. Bleeding Kansas also has sources of gang rapes being used in mob violence, although not all of them have been found accurate. While we need to make sure we’re not viewing past events with modern lenses, it’s true that rape accounts told by women have stayed remarkably the same over the years: not usually publicly recorded, rarely explicitly written in personal accounts, most often confided among women in female spaces, stories passed down person to person. It makes the historical work incredibly difficult but nonetheless valuable.