Women pioneer stories explored in new book



    An excellently balanced book, “Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah,” is back in print after 10 years. Its content will stimulate readers interested in more than just touchy-feely pioneer stories.

    The book’s interesting history goes beyond the research and stories of its collected essays, but is a byproduct of a womens group seeking to better understand its members’ roots.

    As feminism was gaining momentum in the ’70s, several Boston-area LDS women picked divisions of women’s history in the Church. They presented their learning to each other, eventually presenting in other settings as well.

    This origin may be part of the reason “Mormon Sisters,” edited by Claudia L. Bushman, is as refreshing and as stimulating as it is. A book written to be sold within the church’s readership might emphasize emotion and humorous stories.

    “Mormon Sisters,” on the other hand, was written for intellectual growth and so is scholarly and analytical, while using the anecdotal stories. It is heartfelt while academic.

    The 12 essays, supported by photographs, cover early Mormon women’s experiences with great breadth. The new Utah State University Press edition is substantially revised and expanded.

    Sometimes it is heavily religious, as is the case with the essay “Mystics and Healers.” Other times it is rough and tumble frontier adventure, as is “Pioneer Midwives.”

    The church of today focuses on how it practices doctrines in modern times. Many members know little of how current practices differ from those of other times. “Mormon Sisters” revealingly traces the transitions of certain practices as they changed with time.

    The writers were not trying to pitch their history or religion to be palatable to others. Because they sought to expand their understanding, they wrote of the highs and lows of womanhood in the early church.

    The wandering essay on polygamy, for example, tells in a matter-of-fact way the varied intricacies of such marriages. It spans both the greatest trials and the counterbalancing advantages of that style of living.

    In addition to the thematic essays are two biographical sketches, one of Eliza R. Snow and the other of Susa Young Gates.

    For information on purchasing “Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah” ($17.95, 336 pages), call USU Press at (801) 797-0313.

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