Thursday, March 18, 2010

Juanita Leavitt Brooks

Juanita Brooks came into her role as a highly influential Utah historian gradually, starting out as an English instructor and dean of women at Dixie College, and then after leaving the college, taking on a diary collecting project for the WPA in the 1930s. She had a gift for locating pioneer diaries and proved highly competent at editing them, with her most prominent editing projects being the diaries of Hosea Stout and John D. Lee.

My favorite quote from Brooks is a long one, and in large measure her father’s, but a good one:
One day Dad said to me, “My girl, if you follow this tendency to criticize, I’m afraid you will talk yourself out of the Church. I’d hate to see you do that. I’m a cowboy and I’ve learned that if I ride in the herd, I am lost. … One who rides counter to it is trampled and killed. One who only trails behind means little because he leaves all responsibility to others. It is the cowboy who rides the edge of the herd, who sings and calls and makes himself heard, who helps direct the course. So don’t lose yourself, and don’t ride away and desert the outfit. Ride the edge of the herd and be alert, and know your directions and call out loud and clear. Chances are you won’t make any difference, but on the other hand, you just might.”

Brooks embodied this in her scholarship. She chose to address an area of Mormon history that we’ve historically been touchy about: the mountain meadows massacre. She published a book on the topic, as well as a biography of John D. Lee. And she did pay a price for it, being blacklisted from LDS church publications and experiencing antagonism from some that she worshipped with and discouragement from some of the church hierarchy (despite coming to the conclusion that there was no evidence Young was involved in the attack). But she stayed in the church her whole life despite this.

I’m grateful for her courage. While I’m not advocating actively getting into territory beyond your capacity to come to terms with, I am extremely grateful that scholars like Brooks have provided me the opportunity to learn about the gray areas of our history from someone that doesn’t have an axe to grind with the church. I look at the openness we are experiencing in church history at this time - you can now walk into Deseret Book and purchase a book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre that the assistant church historian co-authored, for goodness sake - and know that it took women like her calling out loud and clear to get to where we are now

Bitton & Ursenbach. (1974). “Riding Herd: A Conversation with Juanita Brooks.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.
Peterson, Levi. Utah History Encyclopedia:
Scanlon & Cosner (1996). American Women Historians, 1700s-1990s: a biographical dictionary.


Bethany said...

Erin I love this blog and the stories you tell! Keep em coming! Have you thought about publishing a book or something?

JennySmith said...

I am featuring your blog on my website, for the next few weeks. Backlinks are always appreciated! ;)

Catherine Agnes said...

I just found your blog and I absolutely love it. What a great resource! Thank you for honoring the amazing women who have helped shape our church and our history!

J. said...

I grew up in Juanita's home town. She also published a book about my great-great grandmother. The book is called Not by Bread Alone (currently out of print). It's her journal from 1850-1856. I've posted some of her excerpts on my blog. I can always send you the links if you want. But if you can get a copy of the journal, you won't be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Why does Juanita's first husband, Leonard Ernest Pulsipher, Sr., continue to get overlooked and the name dropped? Yes, he died after a short temple marriage (shortly before her first son was born with the same name) but also heard he was the love of her life. Her name is Juanita Leone Leavitt Pulsipher Brooks!