President Spencer W. Kimball is well-known for encouraging members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to keep journals. He set an example of doing this, and produced a large journal that was recently made available through the Church History Library digital collections. Recently, Latter-day Saint archivists Jeffrey Anderson and Brandon Metcalf discuss the journals of President Spencer W. Kimball in an interview at the Church history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). Wilford Woodruff is probably the other president of the Church who is best known for his prolific journal keeping, and his records provide the major backbone for Church history in the mid-to-late 1800s. It’s possible that Spencer W. Kimball’s could come to serve a similar function for Church history in the mid-1900s. As the interviewees explained, President Kimball’s journals are notable because: First, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and as President of the Church, he witnessed and captured key information about the development of the Church as it was happening. Second, he kept a journal. Not everyone does. During his time as a member of the Twelve, he wrote nearly every day. Third, his entries are lengthy, rich, and insightful. His writing style is delightful, and at times, those of us familiar with his conference talks can hear that same unique personal style in his…
Category: Church History
“In the celestial glory there was three heavens”
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 131 has had a huge impact on how we understand the afterlife. There is, however, some debate about a few key aspects of the text mean that also have implications for our fate in the afterlife, especially when it comes to marital status. Given the debates, it is probably best to observe a degree of humility about our knowledge of how the afterlife works.
Zerah Pulsipher and the Angel
The other day, I came across an interesting talk from Glen L. Rudd about Moroni and his postmortal adventures. While interesting, however, it is unfortunately inaccurate on a few points. In particular, listing Zerah Pulsipher as someone who saw the Angel Moroni is inaccurate to the statements that Pulsipher recorded about his conversion.
Carol Madsen on Emmeline B. Wells
Emmeline B. Wells is a powerful figure in Latter-day Saint history. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Carol Cornwall Madsen discussed some of why that is so. What follows here is a copost to the interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). To set the stage, though, let’s look at an earlier interview about the Emmeline B. Wells diaries where Cherry Silver described who Emmeline B. Wells was: Emmeline B. Wells was the most renowned Latter-day Saint woman of her generation. She was celebrated as an editor, public speaker, community activist, and defender of her faith. Born in Massachusetts in 1828, she emigrated first to Nauvoo and then from Winter Quarters to Utah in 1848. She edited the Woman’s Exponent from 1877 to 1914, was involved in local politics, and served on the boards of national women’s organizations. She led the Relief Society as its fifth general president between 1910 and 1921 and died in Salt Lake City in April 1921. Emmeline was married three times and had six children. A son with James Harris died in infancy in Nauvoo. Two daughters with Newel K. Whitney were born in Salt Lake City and became civic leaders. Of her three daughters with Daniel H. Wells, two died of illness as young adults. The third, Annie Wells Cannon, had twelve children and became a state legislator, stake Relief Society president, and member of…
The Prison Journal of Belle Harris
I remember a somewhat funny story about the anti-polygamy raid in Utah that I was told once. In the story, a marshall responds to an anonymous tip that a man is a polygamist and goes to his home. When the marshall knocks on the door, no one answers, but he catches a child in the yard and demands that he take him to the polygamist that lives there. The boy says, “okay, he’s just hiding in the barn over there!” When the boy and the marshall arrive at the barn, the boy points at a rooster inside and said, “there’s your polygamist! Go get him!” before running off.
Sketches in the Wilford Woodruff Journals
One of the fun things about reading journals and other handwritten documents from the past is that there are sometimes nuances that are missed when reading a cleaned-up typescript of the same document. I’ve been reminded of this a couple times recently as part of my work on revamping a site about Zerah Pulsipher. Perhaps the one that brought the biggest smile to my face had to do with the journals of Wilford Woodruff. One unique aspect of Woodruff’s journals is the inclusion of sketches that he drew to help illustrate his experiences and observations. These sketches provide a visual component to his written accounts and offer a deeper understanding of the people, places, and events that he documented. I knew that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote about these sketches in A House Full of Females, noting that “as a substitute for words, he added new doodles and boarders to his pages”, but was only able to see what was available in her book. With the online sharing of images of his journal through the Wilford Woodruff Papers project, however, it is easier than ever before to see those sketches scattered throughout the journals. Here are a few of the images I came across while exploring the journals of Wilford Woodruff: This image was a figure Woodruff sketched while talking about doing baptisms for the dead on March 27, 1842. As Ulrich explained about this figure: “To mark a day…
JWHA 2023 Conference Call for Papers and Scholarship Announcement
JWHA 2023 Conference Call for Papers September 21-24 Fredericksburg, Texas “Restoration Tales from Texas Dust” Led by independent Apostle Lyman Wight, a number of early Latter Day Saints departed from their homes with the letters “GTT” (Gone to Texas). They were headed to the independent Republic of Texas on a colonizing mission and searching out a homeland for the Latter Day Restoration. These sturdy pioneers included many who became ancestors for thousands now found in Restoration movements. The Wight Colony dissolved with his passing in 1858. The remnants scattered throughout the country, from Bandea County, Texas, to San Bernardino, California, to villages on lands east and west of the Missouri River. But the sacrifices of these Texas pioneers live on in their descendants. The building of a new temple in Independence by the Community of Christ memorialized the Wightite temple built in Zodiac, Texas. Many of the descendants of the Wightite colony took their places in the leading quorums of Restoration movements in Missouri and built chapels throughout the Texas Hill Country. The pioneering spirit of these Texas settlers lives on in the diversity of the Restoration today. In the decades following, Priesthood ordination was extended to include men of African ancestry in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and women and LGBTQ+ members in the Community of Christ. Global expansion among all branches of the Restoration generated a growing awareness of cultural differences and…
Linguistic notes on the 1843 letter to the Green Mountain Boys
Joseph Smith’s 1843 appeal to the Green Mountain Boys, ghostwritten by W. W. Phelps and published in (the original) Times and Seasons contains a series of foreign language quotations that are interesting not only because they include using the GAEL as a source for Egyptian.
VIII. Catalyst theories of revelation
The previous posts have put us in the vicinity of catalyst theories of revelation, but none of the formulations that I’ve seen are adequate for describing the Book of Abraham translation, and I think “catalyst” is the wrong chemical metaphor.
The Ordeal of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel
I’ve talked before about how if we knew and experienced the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for ourselves, we might be surprised by who were the most influential members in shaping the developing Church. Dr. John Milton Bernhisel is another of those individuals who had a surprisingly large impact compared to how often we talk about him today. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Bruce W. Worthen–author of Mormon Envoy: The Diplomatic Legacy of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel (University of Illinois Press, 2023)–shared insights on this important character from early Latter-day Saint history. What follows here is a copost to the full interview. Bruce Worthen explained some of why John Bernhisel was so important. Dr. John Milton Bernhisel was a man whose fingerprints are all over early Latter-day Saint history. He was a rare upper-class convert to the faith who negotiated between America’s political leaders and the angry Latter-day Saints residing on the western frontier. From his unsuccessful attempts to save the life of Joseph Smith to his success in securing a presidential pardon for Brigham Young, Bernhisel was in the middle of the Latter-day Saint conflict. As a representative of the Latter-day Saints in Washington, Bernhisel negotiated the boundaries of Latter-day Saint theopolitical ambitions with some of nineteenth-century America’s most influential political figures, including Henry Clay, Thomas Benton, Stephen A. Douglas, Zachary Taylor, James Buchanan, and Abraham…
VII. The GAEL and Linguistic Typology
The GAEL provides for a mode of interpretation that finds expansive (but not unlimited) meaning in seemingly simple characters. Zakioan-hiash, as we have seen, is both a name, a word with a specific phonetic realization, and the equivalent of at least one sentence.
A Female Journal of Discourses
“Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess.” This description of Eliza R. Snow and her titles was shared by Jenny Reeder in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the Eliza R. Snow discourses that have been published by the Church Historian’s Press. What follows here is a copost to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). In describing who Eliza R. Snow (Smith Young) was and why she is so notable, Jenny Reeder wrote: Eliza R. Snow was one of the most influential Latter-day Saint women of the nineteenth century. She was born in Beckett, Massachusetts; then moved to Mantua, Ohio, when she was 2; then joined the church and moved from Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess for her work on hymns we continue to use today, following Emma Smith’s role as general Relief Society president, and her work in the Endowment House and the St. George temple. Brigham Young assigned her to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies in their wards beginning in 1868. She worked with Mary Isabella Horne to organize retrenchment organizations and young ladies’ associations, and she helped Aurelia Spencer Rogers plan out her ideas for Primary. Reeder also shared a welcome President Snow received when she visited Kanab with her counselor wherein the women there stated that: We…
VI. Non-Egyptian Linguistic Influences on the GAEL
Champollion – and Egyptian – aren’t the only influences on the GAEL.
V. The GAEL’s Degrees and the Structure of Abraham 1:2b-3
Two related features of the GAEL that have been the focus of the most controversy and puzzlement are how one character might represent much longer English texts, and the GAEL’s use of a five-fold system of degrees to expand a character’s potential meaning.
II. What Joseph Smith Would Have Known About Champollion
Before we get to the heart of my argument – which is coming up next in a long post with a detailed look at what’s in the GAEL – we need to look at what Joseph Smith and his associates would have known about Champollion and the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics by 1835.
Voices of the Wives of Joseph Smith
Plural marriage in Nauvoo continues to be one of the thorniest issues when discussing the life and legacy of Joseph Smith. One of the major works that helped shed greater light on the roots of plural marriage and the women who practice it with the Prophet is Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, published in 1997. Not too long ago, a sequel or companion volume called In Sacred Loneliness: the Documents was published by Signature Books. Todd Compton recently discussed this latest volume in an interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk. In describing the original book, In Sacred Loneliness, Compton wrote that: For those who haven’t read the book, I should mention that it deals with Joseph Smith’s polygamy in Nauvoo. However, it mainly provides chapter-length biographies of his plural wives. The book takes them from birth, through the Latter-day Saint migrations, and into Utah (or California or other states, in a few cases). Their lives were mixed: sometimes very tragic, sometimes generally happy. The women often lived in large polygamous families in Utah, and experienced what I call “practical polygamy.” It could be difficult. It’s very powerful to understand the lives of some of the first women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to agree to practice plural marriage and what they went through. The effort to write a follow-up volume 20 years later came in connections with another writing project. As Compton…
Zion and 19th Century Cross-cultural Missionary Work
How does a faith that claims global reach while being rooted in a specific Anglo-American context in the 19th century interact with cultures that are different from the Anglo-American culture of their time? Further, how did they approach that issue while also being a pariah among the general Anglo-American culture? These are some of the types of questions that are examined in Amanda Hendrix-Komoto’s Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and Family in the American West and the Pacific. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto discussed some of her study. The book Imperial Zions studies the intersection of missionary work and polygamy while interacting with Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. As Hendrix-Komoto explained: Imperial Zions is an attempt to understand how the meaning of Latter-day Saint missionary work shifted as they moved between imperial spaces. In Hawai‘i, Latter-day Saints positioned themselves against existing Protestant missionaries and U.S. imperialism. In the Intermountain West, they became the agents of U.S. colonialism. At the same time, I am interested in how Native Americans understood the Church and have analyzed oral histories, personal correspondence, and church records to understand how Native Latter-day Saints created a vision of the faith that centered their experiences rather than those of their white co-religionists. It’s a complicated matrix to explore, since it examines so many different perspectives. For example, on one front there is the attempts at vilification and discrediting of Latter-day Saints by…
Documents and a House Full of Females
Primary sources like journals and diaries are the backbone of a lot of historic research. In a recent interview with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Ulrich discussed some of the documents she used and how she used them while writing A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835–1870. What follows here is a copost to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). Close readings and use of primary source material is central to Ulrich’s work. As she noted in the interview, A House Full of Females is a bit like a quilt: Nineteenth-century quilts were often made by stitching together small fragments of fabric. My book is also built from fragments, day-by-day accounts found in diaries, letters, autograph albums, poems, and minutes of meetings. I privileged records created in the heat of events, not because I consider those records more truthful than later recollections but because I wanted to understand how people behaved when they had no idea how things were going to turn out. I treasured every scrap of women’s writing I could find, even using the dated squares on an actual quilt as one of my sources, but I also found important material in the diaries of several men, including Wilford Woodruff, whose consistent daily diaries provided a kind of sashing to hold my story squares together. In fact, it was one…
Susa Young Gates and Joseph F. Smith’s Vision
The vision that we have printed as Section 138 was received by Joseph F. Smith in the last few months of his life. Among the very first people he asked to have review the document was none other than his friend, Susa Young Gates. In one of the excellent essays presented in the Revelations in Context book, Lisa Olsen Tait talked about Susa’s experience with the revelation. More recently, Lisa Olsen Tait discussed more about Susa and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). Why was Susa one of the first people to read the vision? Part of it has to do with her personal friendship with Joseph F. Smith. As Tait described: Joseph F. Smith was over seventeen years older than Susa Young Gates. … They became friends in Hawai’i in 1885-87. Susa accompanied her husband, Jacob F. Gates, on a return mission to the Sandwich Islands, and their service overlapped with the time that Joseph F. Smith and his wife Julina were there, basically keeping a low profile during the anti-polygamy crusade. (Smith was a highly-wanted man due to his church leadership position and his knowledge of the records.) A few letters between them from that time survive, and, in my reading, evince a progression from friendly but formal acquaintances to deep…
Clare Middlemiss and David O. McKay
In a church hierarchy made up of humans, it is possible for people who we don’t usually think about to have power and influence in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. During the David O. McKay administration, his personal secretary (Clare Middlemiss) was one such person who has not commonly been discussed, but who had an impact on the Church. President McKay’s biographer, Gregory Prince, recently discussed Clare Middlemiss in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion. David O. McKay originally took on Middlemiss as his personal sectary in 1935, but his choice to retain her in that role when he became president of the church in 1951 was unusual. As Greg Prince explained: It was unprecedented [to have Middlemiss stay on as his secretary]. Joseph Anderson had been the personal secretary to George Albert Smith and, I think, Heber J. Grant, and he assumed he would have the same role when David O. McKay became president. But, immediately upon moving into the president’s office, McKay announced that Clare would continue to be his secretary, she having filled that role for 16 years by that time. (Joseph Anderson was the secretary to the First Presidency, and as such, he sat in on First Presidency meetings and took minutes of those meetings. Clare never attended those meetings.) It was the only…