Ask yourself the following question.
ERSWas Eliza R. Snow:

1.  The first LDS proto-feminist?

2.  A complete servant of the patriarchy?

3.  Proof that Joseph Smith consummated all of his marriages?

4.  Proof that Joseph Smith only consummated one marriage?

5.  Or was she someone or something else?

Your answers, and the answers of many historians to those questions reflect two things:

First, that the historical record, even the first hand historical record, is not as concrete and definitive as many people think.

Second, that many people’s conclusions tell us as much about them as it does about what they are looking at (Titus 1:15 seems to be embodied in how people look at Eliza R. Snow).

For the proto-feminist viewpoint we have her as “the prophetess” and as someone who believed strongly that anything a man could do, a woman could do, and probably better. Law, medicine, leadership, academics, voting, governance, trade, business – all of these were “woman’s work” in Eliza R. Snow’s writings.

For the “complete servant of the patriarchy” viewpoint we have her writings in support of polygamy and her relationships with church leaders — both her brother and her two husbands (though note that what she found positive about polygamy are the same things many find positive about feminism – it enabled voting, the first women who left Utah for medical school, art school and other endeavors).

For the proof that Joseph Smith consummated all of his marriages we have the “if you knew Joseph like I knew Joseph” statement. According to Eliza R. Snow, if virility was good, then Joseph Smith embodied it.

For the proof that he did not consummate, we have her writings.

Most of these are very personal, expressing her surprise at how enjoyable sex was and how if she had only known that plural marriage could include sex, she would have had sex with Joseph Smith and how sad she was to have missed out on that.

If I were Brigham Young I’d probably be embarrassed to know she was thinking “sex with you is nice, but it sure would have been better with Joseph.”

I know it wouldn’t make me happy to find out that my wife’s thoughts about sex were mostly, you are ok honey, but I keep thinking of how much better it would have been with some of the boyfriends I had in the past.

When you get into the record, it seems you can find whatever you want to find when you look at her. Supported by writing in her own hand or in her own words.

Rorschach blot 01.jpgThe same is true of much of early LDS Church history. Not only is much of it is second hand or third hand, written down long after the events, by people whose memories are often inaccurate about other things, and who sometimes disagree with themselves, it also tends to have different agendas for different accounts.  When we get to the first person accounts, they often have the same flexibility as to how certain they are, filtered by time, distance and audience.

Often with people writing, just for themselves, about memories of events we know they actually didn’t participate in, but that over time they think they did.

Which makes much of history in general (and Eliza R. Snow) more of a Rorschach Test and less about certainty, telling us more about what we want to believe than what the facts are.

So, with that in mind, tell me what do you think about Eliza R. Snow? Was she:

  1. The first LDS proto-feminist?
  2. A complete servant of the patriarchy?
  3. Proof that Joseph Smith consummated all of his marriages?
  4. Proof that Joseph Smith only consummated one marriage?
  5. Something else? If so, what?

Can we take her on her own terms, and if we do, what do we conclude?  Are we, and historians, too historians eager to be able to assign a label and categorize whenever it’s remotely possible to do so? I’m curious what you think of Eliza R. Snow and why.

I look forward to your comments.