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Representative Women of Deseret (1884)

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Representative Women of Deseret (1884)

by Augusta Joyce Crocheron


Quick Overview

In 1883 Augusta Joyce Crocheron created the poster entitled “Representative Women of Deseret” and in 1884 wrote a book by the same name as a tribute to female leaders of various women’s civic and religious organizations in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The engraving contains photographs of twenty women as well as illustrations of LDS cultural and religious motifs. The book contains biographies of each of the women pictured.
  • Details

    In 1883 Augusta Joyce Crocheron created the poster entitled “Representative Women of Deseret” and in 1884 wrote a book by the same name as a tribute to female leaders of various women’s civic and religious organizations in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The engraving contains photographs of twenty women as well as illustrations of LDS cultural and religious motifs. The book contains biographies of each of the women pictured. Crocheron published the book and the poster at a time of intense persecution against Mormons in Utah, or Deseret, because of their practice of plural marriage. While the LDS Church viewed polygamy as a restoration of an ancient patriarchal order as found in the Old Testament, crucial to their concept of salvation, most nineteenth-century Protestant Americans believed polygamy to be a heinous system that encouraged lusty and unfaithful husbands and jealous and oppressed wives. Anti-Mormon literature portrayed Mormon women as weak and crude, oppressed and ignorant. Crocheron depicts the women as saints with great intelligence, talent, and social contribution. 131 pages Reviewed by Greg Seppi for the Association for Mormon Letters Though still available in its original 1884 printing on Abebooks.com, "Representative Women of Deseret" is a rather scarce text today. A collection of biographies and autobiographies, the text was originally compiled by Augusta Joyce Crocheron and published partially through subscription in 1884; the book’s stated objectives included proving that Mormon women were not dupes, being held in unwilling bondage, or somehow fallen, degraded characters from one of the many anti-Mormon books and plays that were so popular in post-Civil War America (p.vi-ix). Crocheron also intended the text to prove to “the young of our people… [to] cause them to appreciate their honored parents more” (p. ix). It was also meant to be a missionary text, to share some of the miraculous experiences, sacrifices, and testimonies of the Latter-day Saints (p. ix). The reprint of the text under review is distributed by Archive Publishers, a small Utah-based company that specializes in out-of-print books. Unfortunately, the photographic process used to reproduce the original text is of questionable quality. On some pages, the text is barely visible. This is unfortunate for the publisher, as the book is freely available online, most notably from the BYU Library. For this reprint to compete, the process used to reproduce the original text ought to render a reader experience at least comparable to the original, but the quality of this reprint is simply very low. Be that as it may, the book itself is significant in the history of the Latter-day Saints. It is one of the first texts dealing exclusively with Mormon women from their own perspective. Some of the biographies included are drawn from the Woman’s Exponent (an unofficial Church publication owned and operated by the women of the Relief Society from 1872-1914, when it was replaced the Relief Society Magazine). Others are autobiographical. While it is in no way a critical examination of the lives of the women involved, and suffers from the same flaws that mar other LDS-produced histories from turn-of-the-century Utah, Crocheron never claimed that this book told the whole story of Mormon women; quite the opposite, as she confesses in her introduction, since to fully capture the lives of the incredible women of Utah would require a much longer book. At the same time, the text does suffer from a lack of source references, its extensive use of hindsight, and a slightly bombastic tone throughout. That being said, no book written in the 19th or 20th century better celebrates the contributions of women to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Biography subjects include the president of the Relief Society in 1884, Eliza R. Snow (Smith); its 1st Counselor, Zina D. Huntington Young; the Relief Society Treasurer, Mary Isabella Horne; its secretary, Sarah M. Kimball; Zina D. H. Young’s “elder sister,” Prescendia L. Kimball; Phoebe W. Carter Woodruff, wife of Wilford Woodruff; Bathsheba W. Smith, wife of Apostle George A. Smith and a well-respected and beloved pioneer (as all of the women included here were) in her own right; Elizabeth Hunter, secretary of the Salt Lake Stake Relief Society; Elmina S. Taylor, president of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations (M.I.A.); Mary A. Freeze, president of the Salt Lake Stake Y. L. M. I. A.; Louie Felt, president of the Primary Associations of the Church; Ellen C. S. Clawson, president of the Salt Lake Stake Primary Association; Emmeline B. Wells, editor of the Woman’s Exponent. I hesitate to go too deep, but so many of these women were simply fascinating. The biography of Romania B. Pratt, M. D., a Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia graduate with hospital experience, who trained women in midwifery upon her return to Utah, is excellent. This is followed by a sketch of the life of Dr. Elvira S. Barney, another medical school graduate whose adventures included crossing the plains with the first company to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1848, caring for her sister and brother-in-law, who had fallen ill on the way, and serving as a missionary to the Sandwich Isles with her husband in 1849-1851. Also included is the less well-known but no less talented poet Emily Hill Woodmansee, a British convert who was abandoned by her first husband in Utah, but wrote beautiful verse. Another British Mormon poet, Hannah T. King, is also described. Helen Mar Whitney contributed an autobiographical sketch of her heartwrenching experiences. She married in Nauvoo in 1846; she suffered greatly when she crossed the plains to Salt Lake, recovering from serious illness only when “Sister Perris Young, on whom the spirit had rested all night, [came] and [administered] to me; came and under her administration, with my mother, I was made whole” (111). She despaired of life after the death of her next child, and agonized over polygamy, but overcame her doubts and fears, as well as the death of a third baby. She later became the mother of Orson F. Whitney, one of the great thinkers and writers of late 19th/early 20th century Mormonism (114). Also included is a sketch of the life of Zina Y. Williams, daughter of Brigham Young, who includes an account of her youth and growing up in Brigham Young’s household. The last biography is of Louise M. Wells, only 22 at the time of the text’s writing (in contrast, most the above women were at least forty), as a representative of a talented next-generation Mormon. The daughter of Emmeline B. Wells, at the time of the text’s compilation, she was serving as the secretary of the Central Organization of the Young Ladies’ M. I. A., which coordinated general Y. L. M. I. A. activities. The text reminds me of several recent publications about Mormon women, including "Mormon Women Have Their Say" (Claudia Bushman and Caroline Kline, eds. Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2013) and "The Polygamous Wives’ Writing Club" (Paula Harline. Oxford University Press, 2014). Both attempt to document current and past experiences of LDS women through their own voices. Crocheron’s text is known by Mormon historians, but as scholars continue to poke and prod at the Mormon experience, such texts remain a significant reminder of the intense devotion and incredible sacrifices experienced by 19th century Latter-day Saints. While I enjoyed reading this book, I was somewhat disappointed by the quality of the printing. The text was nearly illegible at some points, due to the photo-reproduction technique used to reproduce the book from its original text. That being said, this book is significant enough to justify purchasing or downloading a copy in some form. Those interested in the history of Mormon women and the social culture of late 19th Century Mormonism will be intrigued by this text, if they are not already familiar with it. It’s not a difficult or lengthy read, and almost all of the significant women in 19th Century Utah are represented. Most of the text’s content and additional information, including the poster that the text accompanied, can be found at: http://www.mormonwomenhistory.org/final/biographies/biographies.html https://wordpress.com/post/74891635/9

    Additional Information

    ISBN 9780988916081
    Author Augusta Joyce Crocheron
    Age Group 12+
    Book Type paperback

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