I’m excited to introduce a pair of amazing historians: Dr Richard Bushman, and his wife, Dr. Claudia Bushman. We’ll learn more about their backgrounds in Mormon history. Claudia is the incoming president of the Mormon History Association meetings coming up next month in Logan, Utah. She’ll give us a preview of the conference.
Mormon History Association
Claudia: About the Mormon History Association, I can say a number of things. I think, this it the 57th or the 67th year. I think it’s the 57th year of this operation. I mean, it’s been going on for a long time. Leonard Arrington started it with a number of people, Richard was one of them. But, of course, in those days, it was not considered suitable that people like me, females, would go to such a thing. So, I stayed home, but heard all about it. It was gathering people who were doing Mormon history, and also people who were interested in Mormon history. We’ve had this annual conference ever since. This year, seeing as the President has something to say about it, we’re including quite a bit of our cultural history, as well as our religious and political and other kinds of history. So, we’re opening with a concert, which will be very nice, choral, String Quartet, the music of Leroy Robertson. Then, we will also have art exhibitions, several, and we will also have quite a few panels that talk about arts, and that’s read very broadly, written things, painted things, created things in many other ways. So, anyway, that’s my great contribution is that I said, “Well, if I’m going to be president, we have to do some cultural history, as well. It’s going to be great.
GT: Nice. Now, remind us, for those people who don’t know, when is it and where is it?
Claudia: This is going to be at Logan, Utah, which has been wanting the Mormon History Association to come back for some time. They have a lot of fans there, and it will be in June, from the evening of June 2, to June 6. That will include an after-conference tour, as well as all the events that are taking place at Utah State University, which is a very ideal location for us with all those classrooms. We have more panel discussions this year, more speeches than have ever been on the program before. So, we’re growing in lots of ways.
GT: Do you have to be a member of the Mormon History Association to attend?
Claudia: Yes, you have to join up to attend, and you have to pay a membership fee and a conference fee. But, it’s well worth it, of course.
GT: I think you can actually attend and not be a member, but it makes sense to become a member, because it’s just the same price, basically.
Claudia: This is a group that thinking people and just people, in general, really enjoy being part of and come back year after year.
GT: It’s my favorite conference. I always rank Mormon History Association, I put that as number one. I put John Whitmer as a close second, and then Sunstone kind of a distant third. But, I love them all. So, this is fantastic. Can you give us a preview of the conference and what people should have to look forward to?
Richard: One of the speakers at lunch is Laurel Ulrich, who you may know, is a very eminent Latter-day Saint historian, and she’s begun working on her upbringing in a small Idaho town. She is going to talk at lunch about her life growing up as a girl in Idaho. Jared Farmer is also going to speak. He’s the one who wrote the book about Mount Timpanogos on Zions Mount. He’s a marvelous ecological historian. Then, we have a distinguished lecturer from Yale who’s coming in to give a talk on a short history of the Mormon smile.
GT: The Mormon smile? That’ll be interesting.
Are you going to attend? If you’ve attended, what are your thoughts?
Dr. Claudia Bushman helped re-start a Mormon women’s publication called Exponent II. She will talk about how she did that as a busy graduate student, mother, and how Church leaders felt about the Equal Rights Amendment.
Claudia: He said, “Well, why don’t you start a newspaper?” This was not a completely new idea, because we were all aware of the Women’s Exponent, which we had copied some ideas from. So, the next big meeting, I said, “Don’t you think we ought to have a newspaper?” Some of the people who loved to do projects by this time said, “That’s great. Let’s do it.” We even had a person that was primed to be the editor, because she had worked on a newspaper for a few summers. That was big experience, as far as we we’re concerned. She was president of our Relief Society and had a baby. She said, “Well, I’ll just have to talk to Bishop to see if he’ll release me from the Relief Society.” But he wouldn’t do it. So, he wouldn’t let her out of it. So, when she came back to the meeting, she said, “I can’t do it. The bishop won’t let me out, so I just can’t be the editor.” Somebody turned to me and said, Well, you’ll just have to do it.” So, I said, “Well, can’t it wait until I’ve done this and this and this? I was in graduate school and various things. They said, “No, we’ve got to start right now,” and so we did. We started a newspaper, just our little housewives’ group. We had a very small amount of money. Actually, Leonard Arrington had been encouraging us doing all kinds of things. He had even given us a little bit of money to pay some of our library fees, for doing one thing or another. So, we decided we would start this newspaper, and using this grant from the Church, we sent the first issue out free to everybody we knew. We knew it had to be cheap, because we were all poor. So, we did it on newsprint. It was a pretty good little paper. It was not bad.
GT: What year was this, approximately?
Claudia: It was 1971. We sent out stacks to everybody that we knew. It had to be cheap, as I said, because we were poor. So, we printed on newsprint. We decided we’d sell subscriptions for $5 a year, and we’d send it out to your buddies, give this out to your friends for free, and then tell them to subscribe. By the end of the year, we had 500 subscriptions.
Claudia: We were in business, and it was great. People loved it. We never thought we could do a thing like that. But, of course, you start to do it, you can do it. It was before the good days of what you can do on a computer these days. We pasted up. It was typed by somebody who used her husband’s office typewriter after hours. Every time she made a mistake, she’d started a new line over. So, we had the whole thing in ribbons, pasted up.
GT: Oh my goodness.
Claudia: It was wonderful. We had a great time. People started taking us seriously. It was really nifty. It’s still in business, more than 40 years later. How about that?
She shares more on the history and what they did. What are your thoughts on Exponent II?
Saints Volume 3 is coming out soon, part of the first update of Church history in almost 100 years. But did you know that back in the 1970s, Dr. Richard Bushman was part of a project to update Church history? The project was scuttled, and Richard gives more details on that project.
Richard: Yes, I was involved. We dreamed up the idea of having a new comprehensive History of the Church, which had been published in its finished form in 1930. [The year] 1980 was approaching. So, that would be the 150th anniversary. So, it seemed likely that a new comprehensive history would be suitable, especially because there are so many young historians coming along a lot of new information. So, Leonard asked me to do the first volume, which was history of Joseph Smith’s life up to 1830. So, I produced that and got it in in time for the deadline. Milt Backman had submitted his volume, which was on the Kirtland period. His went through and was going to be published. Mine got approval from the Church Historian and in his staff.
Richard: But, somewhere along the line, someone decided this was not suitable. I mean, the whole project. So, I went with Leonard once when I was in Salt Lake to Deseret Book, where he got the news for the first time that the project was being cancelled. This was difficult because we had all received a substantial advance and everyone was laboring away, and to have this project scuttled really broke Leonard’s heart. I never felt as bad about it as he did, because a series like that leads to a lot of complications. You’re in the situation, where if the Church reads, a manuscript and doesn’t like it, and wants to have it changed, they then come off as censors, you know, they’re dictating to the authors what they should write. That’s uncomfortable for the authors, and it’s uncomfortable for the Church, and it’s unseemly. On the other hand, if they just let the authors do whatever they want, then who knows what you will get? So, it’s almost a very difficult situation, and I don’t like to be in that situation. I want to write what I want to write. So, I felt okay about canceling the series.
Richard: We all went off and got our books published by other presses. I went to University of Illinois Press. They, at first, were hesitant to publish it, because it struck them as very much an apologetic work. So, they were unsure. Johns Hopkins had turned it down for that reason. But, the University of Illinois finally sent the manuscript off to, I think it was George Marsden, some eminent scholar. He wrote back, he says, “Well, if we publish books from Marxist point of view, from a gay point of view, why not from a Mormon point of view?” I came under the weirdos category of authors. Anyway, the book got published.
GT: What was the name of the book?
Richard: That was 1984.
GT: So, 1984, at the time, it was seen as a too apologetic. I know you have another book, Rough Stone Rolling, that I think gets labeled as both too apologetic and too critical. How much of the first book that was too apologetic is in Rough Stone Rolling, would you say?
Richard: The interesting thing about it is that there were parts of that book that were a little disturbing to people. One was that I talked about how the Smith family were money diggers, which the Church had always denied.
GT: The church probably didn’t like that back in the 70s, right?
Richard: They were uneasy about it. That may have been why they didn’t publish it, under Leonard Arrington’s Church History Office.
Were you aware of this scuttled history? What do you think of Saints? Is it better than the last 1930 official history the Church released?