Confession: as a teenager, I hated Mormon history.
Growing up in the shadow of Winter Quarters, we heard a lot about pioneers. We had pioneer youth conference, pioneer firesides, and even had activities where we glued “Faith in Every Footstep” into our hymnals.
Inevitably, someone would get up and talk about their great-great grandfather who crossed the plains, and I’d feel a bit resentful. As a child of converts, it always felt rather elitist to me. My parents are pretty darn awesome, and I resented someone implying that our family was somehow less-than.
I realize I was being a brat and no one was implying this at all. I’m old enough now to understand that no one was “having pioneer ancestors” at me – they were celebrating something good in their lives, and beautiful things happen in this world when we can rejoice with each other, no matter how different our circumstances. But the simple fact is that I mentally checked out when the words “pioneer legacy” escaped someone’s lips because I didn’t have a traditional one.
So how have I wound up on my 9th year of a Mormon history blog, where I spend an awful lot of time talking about pioneers?
I stumbled into women’s history during a period when I was feeling angst about polygamy. It eventually dawned on me that my angst was not based in any actual knowledge. I knew pretty much nothing about polygamy in the early church except for the fact that it existed, and a few folk interpretations of why it existed. I didn’t know what the lived experience was like, how the men and women that lived it felt about it, or anything a polygamous woman said about her experience. And I decided if I was going to feel angsty, I might as well know exactly what I was feeling angsty about.
I headed to the library, because that what I do. I lucked upon Kenneth W. Godfrey’s Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-Day Saints 1830-1900. Here I found brief excerpts of the writings of early Mormon women, along with enough biographical and historical context to situate the passages.
I was hooked. I started reading whatever I could get my hands on (of varying degrees of quality, but that’s another story for another day).
These stories did not offer me tidy answers to my questions. Mormon women’s history is anything but tidy. But I was met with a diverse group of women who provided me countless models of what it can mean to be a woman of God, how to face complexity in religious experience, and how to create places for yourself to reach your own spiritual and intellectual potential.
I’m going to do something a little different this year. Rather than profile new women, I’m simply going to talk about how learning about the women profiled in previous years has mattered in my life. When I have gone through periods of uncertainty, I have found myself again and again coming to the stories of these women and finding models for my own experiences. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve also benefitted from the kings and soldiers of the scriptures. But having female models of religious experience have made all the difference to me these past 9 years. I’m excited to tell you about how.