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As you can tell, my presentation is on women’s stories in Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. The next question you may have is: what is Saints? And if you haven’t visited the Saints display yet in the back of the room, I will give you a brief overview of what it’s about. If you have even more interest after I talk today about it, on Friday you’ll be able to hear Stephen Harper speak about the project in more detail.
But Saints is a new four-volume narrative history of the Church being researched, written, and published under direction of the First Presidency. It’s the first official multi-volume history of the Church since B.H. Roberts’ A Comprehensive History in 1930. It’s been a while since then. So we feel a need to update Church members on what has happened since then. Volume One will appear in less than a month on September 4, 2018. And in fact, I recently had an opportunity to go to the printing press down in Salt Lake City where the first copies of Saints will be printed. This was really exciting for me. You can see them here coming off the press, and there is a nice pallet of them stacked up. You can see that it’s a very big book. It is about 600 pages of narrative, of story, and about 70 pages of footnotes for those of you who like those things, and then also an index and some other material as well.
So the entire book runs over 700 pages. We hope though that you will not use it as a paperweight, but that you will actually open it up and read it, because it is designed to be a representative global history of the Church for a general audience. This is a book that we want all Church members to read regardless of what their educational background is, regardless of what their nationality is, what their culture is. It’s designed to be accessible to a wide variety of readers. So it’s not designed for an academic audience, but it’s more for a general audience. And if you have had a chance to read some of Saints on the Gospel Library app, I think we have six chapters on the Gospel Library right now, you can tell that it is certainly not written for academics, but it is meant to be a story read by all Church members. And I like to say oftentimes that it’s for anybody in the Church from ages 12 to 112, but certainly younger and older than that demographic would like it as well.
One other important thing that we can say about Saints is that what we’ve tried to do with it is take solid history, well researched history, and marry that with a pleasing narrative style, what we might call a literary style, and also to meet the needs of a global audience. And so the idea is to hit a sweet spot between all three of these. And in fact, when I came on as story editor and as a writer, Rick Turley, who was then overseeing the project, told me and the other creative writers on the project that this history had to “sing.” And I don’t know if we’ve accomplished that, but I think that we have created a readable history that will appeal to a wide variety of members.
Today I want to answer two questions. So what about women’s stories in Saints? I’ve told you what Saints is, so what about the women’s stories? I mean this is a day that is devoted to that, and then some of you might even be asking why is this something we need to talk about? And my answer to that is, well, today is devoted to that very thing. This is a day where we’re talking about women’s history and women’s issues, and it’s very important for other reasons as well.
Recently Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve went to BYU Idaho and gave a devotional in which he talked about some of the things that we’re doing in the Church History Department. He spoke for about half the time on Saints, but he also addressed other projects as well, including the work that’s being done right now in women’s history. And we’ve already heard a few presentations about that today, specifically from Jenny and Matt. But this is something that he said that struck me. He said, “We need to listen to the voices of women from the past, to hear their counsel, to learn from their examples and be strengthened by their testimonies.” I think Jenny’s presentation really touched on that, the importance of what the teachings of these women and the words of these women have to offer us today. I’m going to also talk about a few ideas that I have about why women’s stories are important and why they need to be in an official history like Saints.
As been stated before, we oftentimes don’t hear a lot of women’s stories in the Church, stories about women in history, and a few reasons have been given for why that is. One of them is basically that they are oftentimes hard to find, that they are hidden, or they are just not readily available in an accessible format, like a collection of letters or anything like that. It’s buried away in the archive, but fortunately we know that these stories are out there. We are looking for them. They are waiting to be found. They are waiting to be read, absorbed, and shared. Saints is one effort to share some of these stories with a broader audience. Now I should clarify that Saints tells the story of all Church members, so we have stories about men and women, but my presentation today, like I said, is going to be mainly focused on what this new history brings to us as far as women’s stories go.
So I have three reasons for why we need these stories, and one of them is that a representative history must be representative. So one of the important things about Saints is that it’s not meant to be a comprehensive history, because there is so much material that we can’t fit it into four volumes, even four giant volumes. There’s just too much out there. So we’re trying to write a representative history, and in order for our history to be representative, it needs to have the stories of women. Here are a few numbers to help us understand why that is. According to the most recent statistics that we have, there are 16,118,169 members of the Church. As of 2011, a study was done, and it was discovered that the total Church membership in 2011 consisted of 90 males for every 100 females. That means, if I understand the statistics correctly, that there are more women in the Church than men. Shocking, right? And they need to be represented in the history, and we haven’t always done a great job of that, which is something I’ll talk about a little bit later. Just for your information, there are approximately 7.1 million members of the Relief Society. Unfortunately I don’t have any numbers to tell you about the number of Young Women and Primary girls, but I imagine it’s a sizeable number as well. So these stories need to be told in order for our history to be truly representative.
One thing that we’re hearing a lot, especially in the media today, is that representation matters. One person has said that representation and a narrative and a story signifies social existence. Absence means symbolic annihilation. Now I don’t know if that is overstatement. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t, because if you think about it, what would it be like to never see someone who looks like you or believes like you do in a book or in a film or on television? What if you never saw a representation of yourself, especially a positive representation of yourself in the media? Would you feel like you matter? That’s a question that a lot of people have been asking recently.
Mainly, and I feel really cool; I don’t know if I’m the first person to talk about Wonder Woman and Black Panther and Star Wars at FairMormon, but I hope I am. This is something that’s been in the media recently because of the emergence of certain narratives that are stories that belong in genres that have been typically male dominated. For the first time we’re beginning to see people of color take places where white men used to occupy, or women begin to take on roles that are empowering and inspiring for the first time. It feels like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Star Wars are bringing more diversity to the big screen populating previously male dominated genres with strong women and people of color. We’re learning that representation opens up the minds to possibilities. It is empowering. One thing that we sometimes hear is that if she can see it, she can be it. Right? And so if you can see a positive role model on screen, you can become that; you can aspire to that because you know it’s possible. I don’t know how that relates to Wonder Woman or to Black Panther. I don’t know if there are many people out there who go to Black Panther and say, “Wow, I think that I could become a teenage scientist in an Afro futuristic, hidden civilization.” But they could go to this movie and say, “Wow, that character is so smart. She’s a scientist. I want to be a scientist too. If she can do it, I can do it too.” And that’s something that we’re beginning to realize as far as media goes, the power of media.
This has also been something that relates as well to our history. For the longest time as far as representation is concerned, in the 19th century, Mormons were not represented well in the media. So, for example, here on the left you can see an anti-Mormon publication. And for the longest time the only real representations you saw of Mormons in the media were of these deviants or these ignorant people or these oppressed people. And what happened was around the turn of the last century, several writers like Nephi Anderson and Susa Young Gates began to write stories about Mormons to give young Mormons people to look up to. They wanted to provide representatives of the Church who could serve as models for the rising generation, who needed something other than what they were getting in the media.
And so I think that this brings us to our next point, which is that the rising generation needs role models as well. The notion of a role model takes the idea of representation one step further. That is, it is not enough for people to see others who look like them portrayed in movies or books. In many ways, representation can limit an individual just as well as it can empower her. Representatives must help them to aspire to something greater.
President Bonnie L. Oscarson, former General President of the Young Women’s organization said this:
All women need to see themselves as essential participants in the work of the priesthood. Women in this Church are presidents, counselors, teachers, members of councils, sisters and mothers, and the Kingdom of God cannot function unless we rise up and fulfill our duties with faith. Sometimes we just need to have a greater vision of what is possible.
President Oscarson’s vision can be accomplished in a variety of ways. I believe the true stories we tell about ourselves as a Church have the potential to give us a greater vision of what is possible. We need stories about Mormon women, role models past and present, who show our rising generation what is possible. Saints seeks to provide a variety of role models to the women of the Church and especially the rising generation of women.
My third point here is that, and this has been said time and time again today, women have always been key players in the Restoration. And we keep saying that because it’s true. Earlier, Jenny talked about two books that have been recently published by the Church Historian’s Press, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society and At the Pulpit. Matt also talked about certain things that have been published online about women to help us share women’s stories. So we’re beginning to do this better. But sometimes what I like to do just as an experiment is ask a classroom, maybe a Sunday School class or a class of youth, if they can name ten women from Church history.
Now, I could ask the same question here, but I think, I hope, that this crowd could probably come up with at least 10. Is that true? Okay. Let’s hope so. If not, don’t say anything, just go home and do your homework. No need to embarrass yourself. But actually the other day at dinner I asked my daughters if they could do this. And I feel really ashamed now as a parent. I have not been doing my job, but I asked my daughters if they could come up with ten women from Church history. Any guesses as to how many they came up with. They’re 13, 11, 9, and 4.
I wish it were five. It was four. And I felt really embarrassed for myself. But we afterwards had a great conversation about who some of these women are, and I’m hoping that as the volumes of Saints come out, when this question is asked, no one will have to hesitate. No one will not be able to come up with ten names, because we have tried very hard as a team to include women in this official history of the Church.
I don’t know how useful this table is. I went through recent Church history, and this is not very helpful because I should have counted all the men, but I didn’t have time for that. I’ll do it eventually, but I do have the numbers up for Saints. But in Our Heritage, which covers 191 years, 146 pages, there are 35 women mentioned in those pages, and most of the time they’re mentioned about once; they don’t come back to the same people usually. Same is true for the Church History in the Fulness of Times, which spans 365 years with 649 pages, with 70 women mentioned, and very few of those women incidentally were from the 20th century. Most of those mentioned were women from the 19th, which is true generally for all these. The best one was Daughters of my Kingdom. The women are very well represented in the history of the Relief Society, so that’s good. There were 82 there, and it’s 181 pages spanning 169 years. They do a fantastic job, I think, in that book covering women’s history. And in Saints we cover 31 years in Volume One. It’s 586 pages of narrative, and we have 120 women represented in the book. Now these are all approximate numbers. I tried to go through and get everybody. This is the list of all the women who are at least mentioned in Saints. Those that are bolded are the ones that have what I call meaningful engagement in the narrative, in other words, that are featured; we usually tell their stories, or we get their words, or we see their actions and the consequences of their actions. And so some of these names you might recognize. The first one on the list, for example, is Lucy Mack Smith. We tell her story. She is a major character, as is Emma Hale Smith. But other characters you may not be familiar with. I am very, very excited for these women to become household names among the Saints.
For example, I have fallen in love with the story of Louisa Pratt and Addison Pratt and their family. Louisa Pratt is an amazing woman, and her story is told in both this volume and the next, Volume Two. Another one that I have grown to admire greatly is Phoebe Carter, who you may know as Phoebe Carter Woodruff. She also has an amazing story where she has to make a choice between staying with her family in Maine or gathering with the Saints in Kirtland, and she ultimately chooses to go to Kirtland and gather with the Saints there. She eventually returns home after she marries Wilford Woodruff, and she again is forced or makes the choice to decide, do I stay here with my family, or do I go to Missouri, where I know things are bad for the Saints? She again chooses to gather with the Saints. Time and time again, her faith is tested. We see some wonderful stories from her. You’ll also notice on the list (and I think this might be the first time in a Church publication, an official Church history like this, where we talk about people of color) that we have the story of Jane Manning, for example, and her family. But also we have the stories of Repa and Telii. Those are two Saints from the island of Tubuai, who were some of the early converts during Addison Pratt’s mission there to the South Seas. We try to have a variety of stories by women in this history, and also we try to tell as diverse and as global a story as possible. So we’re very excited for you to learn the stories of these women.
I want to spend the rest of my presentation just talking about five of these women and sharing with you. I’m actually going to read to you from Saints and read their stories to you from Saints. That’s why I say this is kind of like story time. You may recognize some of them; some of them you may be meeting for the first time. The first one we’re going to be talking about is Emma Hale Smith, who we’ve already talked about a little bit today, but in all of these stories I selected them because they are specifically about women whose actions made a difference in the Church and who helped shape the direction of the Church because of the choices they made.
And so the first one, like I said, is Emma Hale Smith, arguably the best known woman in Church history. She’s known for D&C 25, the first hymnal, the organization of the Relief Society, but we see quite a few faces of Emma in this history. She is a very complex character, which is always a treat to work with. And I’m so excited to have Saints get to know her better and learn more about who she is and what her personality was like and her relationship with Joseph. So what I’m going to do is to read to you just a brief excerpt from Saints. This takes place in 1842. Joseph is in hiding, if you remember. In 1842, he was accused of helping to assassinate Governor Boggs in Missouri, and he went into hiding to escape arrest and imprisonment. While he was in hiding, he relied heavily on Emma and depended greatly on her, so bear with me. I’m going to read this to you. Please stay awake.
This is from a chapter entitled “The Seventh Trouble.”
Emma communicated regularly with Joseph over the following days and weeks. When they could not meet in person, they exchanged letters. When she could evade the lawmen who watched her every action, she joined him at a safe house and strategized about their next move. Often she relayed Joseph’s messages to and from the Saints, choosing which people he should trust and dodging those who meant him harm.
With sheriffs threatening to search every house in Illinois if necessary, Joseph knew the Saints worried that he would soon be captured and taken back to Missouri. Some of his friends urged him to escape to the pine forests north of Illinois, where Saints were harvesting timber for the temple.
Joseph hated the idea of running away, preferring to stay in Illinois and see the crisis to the end. But he was willing to go if that was what Emma wanted to do. “My safety is with you,” he wrote. “If you and the children go not with me, I don’t go.”
Part of him yearned to take his family somewhere else, if only for a short time. “I am tired of the mean, low, and unhallowed vulgarity of some portions of the society in which we live,” he told Emma, “and I think if I could have a respite of about six months with my family, it would be a savor of life unto life.”
Emma responded to his letter later that day. “I am ready to go with you if you are obliged to leave,” she wrote, “but still I feel good confidence that you can be protected without leaving this country. There are more ways than one to take care of you.”
The next evening, she wrote a letter to Illinois governor Thomas Carlin assuring him of Joseph’s innocence. Joseph was not in Missouri when the assassination attempt took place, she reasoned, and he was innocent of the charges against him. She believed that Joseph would never get a fair trial in Missouri and would likely be murdered instead.
“I beg you to spare my innocent children the heartrending sorrow of again seeing their father unjustly dragged to prison, or to death,” she pleaded.
The governor responded to Emma a short time later. His letter was polite and carefully worded, insisting that his actions against Joseph were motivated strictly by a sense of duty. He expressed hope that Joseph would submit to the law, and he gave no indication that he was willing to change his mind on the matter.
Undeterred, Emma wrote a second letter, this time explaining why arresting her husband was illegal.
“What good can accrue to this state or the United States, or any part of this state or the United States, or to yourself, or any other individual,” she asked the governor, “to continue this persecution upon this people, or upon Mr. Smith?”
She sent the letter and waited for a reply.
I like this passage for the way it shows Joseph’s trust in Emma and his dependence on her, but it especially shows Emma’s courage under pressure, as well as her sense of justice. And rhetorically she is articulate and persuasive when she addresses powerful men. So I really like Emma. I think she’s a great role model that we have in Saints.
Another one you might be familiar with is Vilate Mary Kimball. She is probably best known in the Church for two things. One is being the wife of Heber C. Kimball and the mother of Helen Mar Kimball, and also best known for her part in the “Hurrah for Israel” story, which I think probably most of us are familiar with, and if you’re not, you can read about it in Saints, or really any other Church history, because it’s everywhere.
What’s kind of neat about Vilate is that she was present in Kirtland during the apostasies of the late 1830s. Because of her connection to her husband, who was in the Quorum of the Twelve, she knew and she was friends with many of the men who rebelled against Joseph who apostatized at this time. She loved them. She was friends with them, and she was so sad to see the direction they were taking. So she had a front row seat to this apostasy, and fortunately she wrote a letter to her husband Heber about her feelings about what was happening in Kirtland at that time. Heber was at the time serving a mission in England as one of the first missionaries there. And so we have this wonderful letter where she reflects on these feelings, and fortunately she also included on the letter a short note from Marinda Hyde, who is wife of Orson Hyde, Heber’s companion in England.
I’m going to read our passage that sums up Vilate’s feelings. So as context, Joseph had been in Kirtland. He went out to visit the Saints in Missouri. Then he came back when he found out that his sister in law had died. So he and Hyrum came back to Kirtland to bury Hyrum’s wife. So that’s where our story picks up.
Many Saints were relieved to have Joseph back in Kirtland, but any hope that he could restore harmony to the church soon evaporated. Warren Parrish, Luke Johnson, and John Boynton were meeting weekly with Grandison Newell and other enemies of the church to denounce the First Presidency. Former stalwarts like Martin Harris soon joined them, and by the end of the year, the leading dissenters had organized a church of their own.
A short time later, Vilate Kimball wrote her husband in England about the state of the church in Ohio. Knowing Heber’s love for Luke Johnson and John Boynton, who had been his fellow quorum members, Vilate hesitated to tell him the terrible news.
“I have no doubt but it will pain your heart,” she wrote Heber. “They profess to believe the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants but in works deny them.”
At the end of the letter, Marinda Hyde added a note to her husband, Orson. Marinda’s older brother was Luke Johnson, and the apostasy was just as heartbreaking for her. “Such times in Kirtland you never witnessed as we now have,” she wrote, “for it seems that all confidence in each other is gone.” She had to watch and pray to know for herself the right course to take through the perilous times.
“If ever I wanted to see you in my life,” she told Orson, “it is now.”
I’m going to skip a little bit for time and pick up for Vilate’s point of view.
Vilate believed the dissenters were wrong to turn away from the Saints, yet she felt sorrow for them rather than anger. “After all that I have said about this dissenting party,” she wrote Heber, “there are some of them that I love, and I have great feeling and pity for them.” She knew the collapse of the Safety Society had tried them spiritually and temporally. She too thought that Joseph had made mistakes while managing the institution, but she had not lost faith in the prophet.
“I have every reason to believe that Joseph has humbled himself before the Lord and repented,” she told Heber. And she trusted that the church would weather the storm.
“The Lord says, he that cannot endure chastisement but denies me cannot be sanctified,” she wrote. That might mean facing hostility in Kirtland alone while she and the children waited for Heber to return from his mission. Or if things got worse, it could mean abandoning their home and moving to Missouri.
“If we shall have to flee,” she told Heber, “I shall.”
So here we have Vilate giving us a woman’s perspective on the Kirtland apostasy, something that is often framed as a crisis affecting male Church leaders. Vilate’s perspective along with that of Marinda Hyde, provides a sympathetic view of the dissenters, reminding us that they were once beloved friends and family members, but Vilate’s words also bear powerful testimony of Joseph Smith, despite his mistakes and shortcomings. Also, this passage, I believe, shows Vilate’s courage under pressure and her determination.
So for the sake of time, I’m not going to be able to talk about everyone, but I do want to talk about Lucy Morley. How many people out there have ever heard of Lucy Morley? Okay, good. I’m glad to see some people know who she is. This is one of the great discoveries. I mean this is a story that’s been published before, but for me it was fun to meet her for the first time. She is the daughter of Isaac Morley, who is mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants, I think about four times, but other than that, she’s a little known member. But she played an instrumental role in the conversions that occurred in Kirtland when the first missionaries arrived there. So I’m going to read her story, and then we’ll talk about another one.
In the fall of 1830, not far from Kirtland, fifteen-year-old Lucy Morley finished her usual housework and took a seat beside her employer, Abigail Daniels. As Abigail worked her loom, moving a weaving shuttle back and forth through crisscrossing threads, Lucy wound yarn onto thin spools. The cloth they wove would go to Lucy’s mother in exchange for Lucy’s services around the Daniels house. With many children under her roof, and no teenage daughters, Abigail relied on Lucy to help keep her family clean and fed.
While the two worked side by side, they heard a knock at the door. “Come in,” Abigail called out.
Glancing up from her spool, Lucy saw three men enter the room. They were strangers, but they were well dressed and looked friendly. All three of them appeared to be a few years younger than Abigail, who was in her early thirties.
Lucy stood up and brought more chairs into the room. As the men sat down, she took their hats and returned to her seat. The men introduced themselves as Oliver Cowdery, Parley Pratt, and Ziba Peterson, preachers from New York who were passing through town on their way to the West. They said the Lord had restored His true gospel to their friend, a prophet named Joseph Smith.
As they spoke, Lucy quietly attended to her work. The men talked about angels and a set of gold plates the prophet had translated by revelation. They testified that God had sent them on their mission to preach the gospel one last time before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
When they finished their message, the rhythmic clatter of Abigail’s loom stopped, and the woman turned around on her bench. “I do not want any of your damnable doctrine taught in my house,” she said, angrily waving the shuttle in their faces.
The men tried to persuade her, testifying that their message was true. But Abigail ordered them to leave, saying she did not want them polluting her children with false doctrine. The men asked if she would at least feed them. They were hungry and had not eaten all day.
“You cannot have anything to eat in my house,” Abigail snapped. “I do not feed impostors.”
Suddenly, Lucy spoke up, horrified that Abigail would speak to servants of God so rudely. “My father lives one mile from here,” she said. “He never turns anyone hungry from his door. Go there and you will be fed and cared for.”
Fetching their hats, Lucy followed the missionaries outside and showed them how to get to her parents’ house. The men thanked her and started down the road.
“God bless you,” they said.
After the men were out of sight, Lucy went back into the house. Abigail was at her loom again, running the shuttle back and forth. “I hope you feel better now,” she said to Lucy, clearly irritated.
“Yes, I do,” replied Lucy.
She’s a great role model. I think it’s great too that she’s 15 years old. She’s a Mia Maid’s age, and it’s significant that Lucy has offered to feed the missionaries, which resulted in the conversion of her parents and dozens of others on the Morley farm and in the Kirtland area. The Kirtland conversions became one of the great missionary stories of the Church, and Lucy, this young woman, this Mia Maid, so to speak, was a part of it and I think that’s just fantastic. If we’re looking for role models, if we want to give our young women an idea of what they are capable of doing, of what their potential is, take a look at Lucy Morley.
Unfortunately we’re going have to skip the story of Jennetta Richards. She’s probably one of the better known women in the Church. She was instrumental in the beginnings of the British Mission in England. She was one of the first British converts, and this is just a fantastic picture, by the way, of a couple, Willard Richards and Jenetta Richards.
I wanted to talk about Emily Partridge and how we use her story in the new history. So as a team, as we were going through potential stories and looking at potential characters, we came across Emily Partridge, and I saw Emily Partridge in many ways as the embodiment of the Latter-day Saint experience in Volume One. She joined the Church as a child near Kirtland. She experienced intense persecution in Missouri, including her father’s tarring and feathering. Her father was Edward Partridge, the first bishop of the Church. She experienced malaria in Nauvoo, where she lost both her sister and her father. She joined the Relief Society, and at age 19 she became one of the first women to practice plural marriage as one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.
So of all the challenging issues that we address in Saints, plural marriage is probably the number one challenging issue. I don’t know why, but it is. That was a joke. Probably too soon for that, right? But it is probably the most challenging issue that we address in Saints, Volume One. That’s for a number of reasons. One, it is one of the most controversial issues in the Church. People struggle with it. They struggle to understand it. Another reason is the source material for Nauvoo plural marriage is not great. In fact, it often creates more questions than it provides answers to. So that’s challenging. And I find Nauvoo plural marriage is so fascinating, so interesting, so, I think, shocking in many ways that it has potential to overwhelm the narrative and overshadow everything else happening in Nauvoo.
So we had to find the right balance of how to tell the story, because it could easily overwhelm our story and we didn’t want that to happen. We wanted Nauvoo to be about more than just plural marriage, although we knew that we needed to address this directly. So knowing we cannot cover everything, we tried to select stories that represented the broader story of Nauvoo’s plural marriages, as well as the various forms the practice took in the city. As far as Joseph Smith’s plural marriages are concerned, we featured the stories of Fanny Alger, Louisa Beaman, Mary Elizabeth Lightener, and Emily and Eliza Partridge, while also indicating that Joseph married other women as well. We were drawn to the Partridge sisters specifically because Emily’s recollections helped us address several difficult issues, including what Emma knew about plural marriage and how she felt about it. Their story is among the most painful in Saints, but Emily’s perspective helps us understand the pain better and, I hope, sympathize more with those called upon to practice plural marriage at this time.
So I’m going to read a little bit of Emily’s story. All right, so this opens, I believe, in 1843.
The Mississippi River froze solid that winter, blocking the usual traffic of rafts and riverboats up and down the water. Snow fell often, and icy winds cut across the flatlands and over the bluff. Few Saints stayed outside long since many of them had only low shoes, thin jackets, and threadbare shawls to protect them from the cold and slush.
As the end of winter approached, a bitter chill still hung in the air while Emily Partridge washed clothes and tended children at the Smith home. For more than two years, she and her older sister Eliza had been living and working with the Smiths, not far from where their mother lived with her new husband.
Emily belonged to the Relief Society and talked often with the women around her. Occasionally she would hear whispers about plural marriage. More than thirty Saints had quietly embraced the practice, including two of her stepsisters and one of her stepbrothers. Emily herself knew nothing about it firsthand.
A year earlier, however, Joseph had mentioned that he had something to tell her. He had offered to write it in a letter, but she asked him not to do so, worried that it might say something about plural marriage. Afterward, she had regretted her decision and told her sister about the conversation, sharing what little she knew about the practice. Eliza appeared upset, so Emily said nothing more.
With no one to confide in, Emily felt like she was struggling alone in deep water. She turned to the Lord and prayed to know what to do, and after some months, she received divine confirmation that she should listen to what Joseph had to say to her—even if it had to do with plural marriage.
On March 4, a few days after her nineteenth birthday, Joseph asked to speak with Emily at the home of Heber Kimball. She set out as soon as she finished work, her mind ready to receive the principle of plural marriage. As expected, Joseph taught it to her and asked if she would be sealed to him. She agreed, and Heber performed the ordinance.
Four days later, her sister Eliza was sealed to Joseph too. The sisters could now talk to each other and share what they understood and felt about the covenants they made.
So this is in terms of Emily’s story with plural marriage. We address it in three scenes. I’m going to read you two of them. The middle scene has to deal with one of the more uncomfortable moments in Church history when Emma gives Joseph permission to marry additional wives, provided that she’s allowed to choose them, and she happens to choose Eliza and Emily, likely not knowing that Joseph had already been sealed to them. And so it suggests the scene on Joseph’s part and so that’s something that we address in a scene. And so what we’re going to do is read the final scene, and this picks up after the second scene, and it depicts what life was like in the Nauvoo Mansion after Joseph has not only married the Partridge sisters, who are living in the house, but also the Lawrence sisters. And as you can imagine, Emma is not very happy about this. So I’ll go ahead and read this.
That fall, as her family settled into their new house, Emma became increasingly troubled over plural marriage. In His revelation to her thirteen years earlier, the Lord had promised to crown her with righteousness if she honored her covenants and kept the commandments continually. “Except thou do this,” He had said, “where I am you cannot come.”
Emma wanted to keep the covenants she had made with Joseph and the Lord. But plural marriage often seemed too much to bear. Although she had allowed some of Joseph’s plural wives into her household, she resented their presence and sometimes made life unpleasant for them.
Eventually, Emma demanded that Emily and Eliza Partridge leave the house for good. With Joseph at her side, Emma called the sisters into her room and told them that they had to end their relationships with him at once.
Feeling cast off, Emily left the room, angry at Emma and Joseph. “When the Lord commands,” she told herself, “His word is not to be trifled with.” She intended to do as Emma wished, but she refused to break her marriage covenant.
Joseph followed the sisters out of the room and found Emily downstairs. “How do you feel, Emily?” he asked.
“I expect I feel as anybody would under the circumstances,” she said, glancing at Joseph. He looked like he was ready to sink into the earth, and Emily felt sorry for him. She wanted to say something more, but he left the room before she could speak.
Decades later, when Emily was an old woman, she reflected on these painful days. By then, she better understood Emma’s complicated feelings about plural marriage and the pain it caused her.
“I know it was hard for Emma, and any woman, to enter plural marriage in those days,” she wrote, “and I do not know as anybody would have done any better than Emma did under the circumstances.”
“God must be the judge,” she concluded, “not I.”
I want to conclude and just say a little bit about this quote from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the eminent Mormon historian:
Mormon sisters wanted God to remember them. They wanted their family and friends to remember them and though they didn’t always admit it, many of them also wanted future generations to remember them.
I believe Saints can help us remember these women. They wrote down their stories in letters and journals and recollections because they wanted to be remembered, even if they didn’t admit that. I think deep down they wanted to be remembered. It is my hope that Saints will help us remember these women, share their stories, and pass them on to the rising generation. It is my hope that the women in these volumes will become household names, that they will become role models and even mentors and teachers from the other side of the veil. As modern Saints, we need to make sure the lives, words, and examples of these women become a part of who we are as a people and as a Church, so that their faith and influence can live on in strength and generations to come. Thank you.
Q 1: The first one is, will there be a movie?
A 1: I have no idea. We can only hope. I don’t know.
Q 2: Talk about how Saints is handling controversial subjects. If people have bought into the narrative that the Church has hidden its history, will this help?
A 2: This is something that I think Steven Harper will talk more about on Friday. So I don’t really want to steal his thunder, but my short answer is yes. I think this will help. We have tried very hard to be transparent in these stories. We can’t provide all the details for those of you, for example, who know the story of Emily Partridge. You’ll know that we haven’t provided all of the great details that Emily, who was a great writer, provided us, just for the sake of time. Like I said, it’s a 600-page narrative. We had a hard time negotiating what stays in and what stays out. We’ve tried very hard though to make it transparent history and to provide access to the sources that we use through hyperlinks and whatnot. So we linked to the Joseph Smith papers and other sources that are online. We provide all of our sources. We have additional topic essays that go along with the narrative, which you can find in the Gospel Library app as well that are associated with Saints, and we are trying very hard to get information out there. So I think it will help in that. But I’m sure Steve will have more to say about that on Friday.
Q 3: This is a very good question. Say something about how you have used the source material as a basis for the narrative. How much is “fictional?” How closely have you stayed with source material?
A 3: So even though Saints oftentimes reads novelistically, it is nonfiction. We stay extremely close. In fact, this is what makes my job difficult is that as a creative writer, I really want to make stuff up. I really want to get into Joseph’s head and talk about all of his motivations and get into Emma’s head or create dialogue that’s really juicy, that sort of thing, to make the narrative even more compelling, but we cannot do that. If the narrative says that it was raining, we’d like to say it was raining. The sources say that it was raining. We don’t make stuff up. We don’t fictionalize anything. We don’t make up any of the dialogue. All of that comes from sources. All of the details that are in the texts come from the sources. We provide the sources, or if you really want to find out if Lucy Morley actually said what she said or if Abigail Daniels was really sitting next to a loom, you can go to the source and see that. So even facial expressions, we don’t make up facial expressions. We don’t even say that a character looked at another one unless it’s in the source. We try to be very, very close to the sources.
Q 4: Okay. Two very good questions. The first one is, will Saints eventually include any accounts of faithful LGBTQ Church members?
A 4: The answer is, we are looking into that right now. We’re in the process of drafting Volume Four, which is the volume that covers everything from 1955 to the present, so we are in fact talking about this now, and we are hopeful that we will include accounts of faithful LGBTQ members, because that is part of our history, part of our story, especially today. So it’s something that we plan to address.
Q 5: The second question is, does Saints include a female perspective of the 1844 secession crisis?
A 5: The answer is yes, but I’m just going to leave that so you buy the book.
Q 6: I’ve enjoyed the serialized chapters of Saints in the Ensign. Are these abridged or full chapters from the books?
A 6: These are full chapters. They’re not abridged. What we’ve tried to do is to keep the chapters short. You’ll also notice that each chapter is broken up into scenes. We’ve tried to capture a very cinematic feel in the narrative, something that you might recognize, storytelling techniques that you might recognize from serialized television or film, something like that. And so we have short scenes. The narrative created is composed of short scenes as well as short chapters. I think the longest chapter is usually about 4,000 words, although we try to keep them around 2,500 words or maybe 3,500 words. So those are full chapters in the Ensign.
Q 7: Will all of the chapters eventually be available with audio online?
A 7: The answer is yes. On September 4, everything will go live including the audio book. And I believe also when the audio book appears, you can toggle between a male narrator and a female narrator. So just FYI. And also we’ll have an audio book in Spanish and Portuguese either on September 4, or sometime in the near future.
Q 8: What is the publication schedule for remaining volumes? Any idea how these will be used in curriculum?
A 8: I think the plan is to release one every year, so I think Volume Two is to come out next year, but if it doesn’t come out until the year after, don’t come after me. We’re trying. These are really big books. We’re trying to do it right. But the plan is to release one every year after the first volume.
And then second question, any idea how these will be used in curriculum? This is again, something Steve will probably address on Friday, but I do know that the institute classes about Church history will be using Saints as part of their textbooks.
Several people want to know if we addressed the issue of offspring from Joseph and his plural wives. The answer is that we don’t really address that in Saints. We leave that to the Gospel Topics Essays. There are some things, especially with plural marriage, that we’re just not able to address in the book, and so either the Topics Essay associated with Saints will address that or the Gospel Topics Essays, what’s said in those essays will cover that issue. That’s really all I know about that. You might want to ask Steve about that more on Friday.
Q 9: What percent of Volume One is already in the two existing Church histories?
A 9: I don’t know. I would say that you are likely to find familiar stories in Saints, but you are also likely to find some stories that are new to you. We tried very hard to keep the stories that people are familiar with, that people love and cherish, that still teach great lessons today, but also to include more stories. Many of them, by the way, are about women. Many of the new stories that you will find have to do with our women characters.
Q 10: Then they had a second question. “He looked like he was ready to sink into the earth.” Are such passages documented or presumed?
A 10: That one I believe is documented. Like I said, we don’t say it unless it’s in there. Emily Partridge in one of her memoirs says something to that effect.
So thank you.