We’re continuing our conversation with Dr’s Richard & Claudia Bushman. I asked Claudia more about her writings on women in church history.

Women in History

Claudia:  When I went to graduate school, I decided that I was going to do a study of women.  I was the first person that ever had thought of that to myself.  Now, of that, I don’t really say I was THE pioneer, but here I was, a woman, women didn’t get that much attention in the past. Alright, I’m meant to think about women and ordinary women, women that were like me, and I could use my own experience as a housewife and the kinds of things I’d done, that would give me a measure against those. So, in this American Studies program, it was quite possible to do that. The first thing I studied with any kind of seriousness was mill girls in early New England. I studied them because they were the first sort of regularly paid working women in the country. They were really interesting. One of the people that wrote the best book about mill girls, from her own experience, turned out to have a whole slew of papers in the library that was nearby me, near enough so that I could take my little boy to nursery school in the morning, go to this library and work for a few hours. Then I’d go pick him up and become a housewife for the rest of the day. So, I wrote my dissertation about her, Harriet Hanson Robinson, who’s a person that you never would have heard of her, though she was sort of a second / third-rate level feminist and well-known in Boston at the time. So that’s the kind of thing I’d do. But, it’s because of all these other circumstances that it worked to put it together. When I was in graduate school, I also wanted to learn how to do women’s work. So, I did things like, grow and process flax.  I learned to spin and weave. I made cheese and soap, all that kind of thing, and all that sort of thing of the past, that I was really glad to know how to do. I’m very glad I didn’t have to do it.

GT:  Soap making is dangerous, isn’t it?

Claudia:  Oh, yeah, you can do all kinds of harm with those things. But, anyway, that’s the sort of thing.  So, I did that book on Harriett Hanson Robinson. It was called A Good Poor Man’s Wife. At the same time, I was just editing this book for Mormon sisters, for my Exponent II book. So, suddenly, I had two books out. From then I could do anything I wanted. So, I just did the things that came into my hands. As I say, I wrote a book about Columbus.  The title is America Discovers Columbus: How an Italian Explorer Became an American Hero.  It’s Richard’s title. I think it’s pretty good title.

GT:  Yes.

Christopher Columbus

Claudia:  But, the story of how Columbus becomes famous in this nation is unknown. It isn’t from the very beginning. This was always a country that was from England. But, at the time of the revolution, Columbus was rediscovered by America to be the grandfather of the country. George Washington is the father, but Columbus is the grandfather of this country. Of course, then, all kinds of wonderful things are said about Plymouth. A lot of them were discovered to be somewhat false. So, they made a lot of Columbus that he didn’t deserve. So, what I say is that he didn’t volunteer for this, he can’t be too mad at him for being treated well in the past, because he was drafted for that job.

Have you read Claudia’s books?  Do you agree with her about Columbus?

Some LDS scholars get in trouble with Church authorities: Michael Quinn, Maxine Hanks, Lester Bush, to name a few.  Yet others like Dr. Richard & Claudia Bushman can write about controversial topics and not get into trouble.  Why is that?  I asked Richard & Claudia their answers to these questions.

Scholars Get in Trouble

GT:  So, I have a question for both of you, especially because you know Leonard Arrington and you know, Eugene England. I look at people like Lowry Nelson. I don’t know if you knew him, from Utah State. Even, Lester Bush, it seems like certain people get in trouble. Michael Quinn is another one. [They] get in trouble for writing certain things. But there’s other people like you two, Greg Prince, Terryl Givens, people like that, that can write very similar things, but you don’t get in trouble. Can you talk about why some people get in trouble? Some people don’t.  Do you toe the line better than Michael Quinn? How does that work? Or is it just luck of the draw? Or how does that work when you talk about sensitive issues with the Church?

Richard:  Well, it’s a good question. My slogan is keep your heart pure, and let your mind run free.

Richard:  That is, if you can purge out any desire to tweak the Church, to sort of correct the Church, and just desire to really say what you believe is true. That’s hard to do. A lot of people think they’re doing that. But, you can always sense in their writings, a desire to trouble people. I wouldn’t say that’s true for everyone who gets in trouble, but I’m just saying, you have to have a good attitude. Then, in my case, of course, I was taking all the Church jobs that came along. So, the fact that I was a bishop and stake president and now I’m a patriarch, sort of reassures people that my heart is in the right place. Because I think that’s what the Church leaders are most interested in. Are you really loyal to the Church? And that’s a hard thing to judge. Probably, people are misjudged on that count. But, that’s what I have to say on that subject.

GT:  Does it help that you didn’t live in Utah? Did you have a little bit of a buffer, because you were in Boston and New York?

Richard:  Yes, it helps a lot. The trouble is, if you live in Utah, you write, aware of General Authorities looking over your shoulder. You can’t do that.  You can’t write to please the General Authorities. You’ve got to write what you think is true. It’s just very hard to do in Utah, because there’s such a presence. You say you’re writing a book, or doing this or doing that, and they always want to know, “What do the brethren think?” And if you just get that in your head all the time, it’s very hard to think clearly. So, I’ve done most of my writing in Boston and New York, and it’s been much easier. Also, when I write, I don’t I write just for the Church. I always write for people outside the Church. I always want to talk in a way that–I often imagine myself giving a talk to the faculty at Colombia, and what could I say about the Church, say it in a way that would make sense to them. So, it helps that way, too, to be in another society where you’re aware of other demands.

Claudia’s Thoughts

GT:  Claudia, do you have any thoughts there?

Claudia:  Well, I think–I’ll do anything if they tell me straight out that I’m not supposed to do something. I won’t do it, and that’s happened a few times. But, I don’t think that–I have never been in the business of criticizing the Church. I don’t want to try and reform it. I don’t threaten to leave if they don’t do something or other. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything that goes on, but, I just think there is no point in fighting authority in that way. So, I just don’t do that. I know there are a lot of people that are dubious of the things I say and do. But, on the other hand, I’ve done an awful lot of things for the Church, too.  Lots of my projects are very devoted and so on. I have no desire to leave the Church, even if I’m not ever going to change it or reform it. It’s very important to me.

GT:  I think Lavina Anderson felt the same way. They kicked her out anyway.

Claudia:  I feel very sad to see people feel that they must resign in the Church. It’s unfortunate in every way. I think we can live with it. I mean, also, I feel like I have a great deal of power in that Church. I don’t have the priesthood. But, I’ve got a lot of [influence.] Things I say make a difference to the local people as well as to myself. I don’t feel bad about my position in the Church.  I’m a good member, aren’t I?  I pay my tithing.

Richard:  Claudia’s view is if you’re discontent with your position in the Church, ask yourself, “What would you like to do in the Church?” And when you’ve figured that out, then just do it.

Claudia:  Yeah, do it anyway. I do a lot of that.

What do you think of their responses about how scholars get in trouble?

Dr’s Richard and Claudia Bushman’s latest project involves promoting LDS artists.  I asked about how they got involved, and whether LDS art is getting more historically accurate.

Is LDS Art Getting Better?

GT:  Do you think LDS art is getting better? I know some critics have complained that, especially, like with Joseph Smith translating the plates he’s putting his finger like he’s going across line by line. Other people have tried to put him in a hat, to be more historically accurate. Do you think LDS art is getting better than it has been? Can you address those issues of whether those artists intentionally led people astray on the translation process and things like that?

Richard:  There was no leading astray.  There wasn’t leading astray by Church historians or Church leaders or anyone. Everyone believed that he translated using the urim and thummim. Then, gradually these other accounts came up of him looking at a stone in a hat. But the artist who has done more Church history paintings than anyone, George Smith, painted him doing it one way. Then, when he learned that the historians were giving us another point of view, he started doing it the other way. So, I think we’ve come along pretty well, in keeping up with historical knowledge, as it’s been accepted by the Church.

Claudia:  We have more and more better painters, really, we do.

Richard:  I mean, you’re talking about the art as being historically accurate. But the question is, is the art artistically significant? I think we’re getting to the position where it is that we’ve got some pretty good artists doing some pretty lovely work. We just had a show on the sacred feminine in Mormon, theology and art that had beautiful work, depicting Mother in Heaven, and trying to express feelings. So, I think we’re certainly getting a lot more art, a huge amount of art is being produced these days, by Latter-day saint artists around the world, and it’s getting better, I think.

GT:  I was in the Church History Museum just a week or two ago. One of the things that kind of struck me, we always think of Adam and Eve as very white. But these Adam and Eve had kind of a little color to them. So, I was happy to see that.

Richard:  Yeah, no, that’s right. We’re beginning to give a little ethnicity to people. One of our papers at the Mormon History Association meetings is going to be on the white Jesus, and how we’re beginning to depict Jesus with different ethnic views. So, I think those changes will occur.

Do you agree?