Episode 23 – Daughters in My Kingdom Chapter 2 – The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Part One

Join Alyssa, Lindsay, Kaimi and George Miller for another installment in the Daughters in My Kingdom series. This is a monthly series devoted to exploring a scholarly, uncorrelated history of women in the church. In this two-part episode, they discuss the history of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo (1842-1844). In the first episode, they discuss how the Relief Society was first formed, how the practice of polygamy had a strong impact on the proceedings of the early Relief Society meetings, and propose different theories about why the Relief Society was disbanded for the next 23 years of church history. Be sure to check out part two!

Image credit: Portrait of Emma Hale Smith, 1st President of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo and wife of Joseph Smith. This portrait was painted by Lee Green Richards.

Related links:

Previous podcasts in this series:

The Official Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

Lindsay’s blog series: Remembering the Forgotten Women of Joseph Smith

Anne Frior Scott’s Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History

Daughters in My Kingdom Chapter Two: “Something Better”: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo

7 thoughts on “Episode 23 – Daughters in My Kingdom Chapter 2 – The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Part One

  1. Interesting podcast! I enjoyed listening to it. I have a pretty random question, but I’m wondering whether there will ever be the possibility of posting the transcripts of the podcasts online? Listening to your voices is preferable, of course, but I know I’d enjoy having it available in written form as well. Just a thought for your consideration.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. This is an interesting podcast and I don’t mean to nitpick, but there was one thing that stood out to me. It is presumptuous and offensive to assume (around 44:30) that the people compiling DIMK wouldn’t have access to the same information and “context” surrounding polygamy and the Nauvoo RS as you do. Honestly, I would assume they have more. If you listen to Sister Tanner describe the process of writing this book, it is pretty clear that she read everything she could get her hands on.

    One thing I like about DIMK is the same thing I appreciate about the scriptures, and the temple ceremony for that matter: Prayerful readers, or temple attendees, receive the insight that they need and are ready for. DIMK is valuable whether you have that polygamy context in mind or not. There are insights that jump out at a woman with a scholarly background that would escape, say, the woman from a rural village in Ghana with a fifth grade education, and conversely there are just as many insights that the villager would naturally understand that the western scholar would completely miss. My sense is that this is EXACTLY how the authors intended it.

  3. Wait a second, I just finished listening and realized that no one on this podcast knew the author of DIMK? And you weren’t embarrassed enough to edit out that faux pas? Inexcusable. One of the things that makes DIMK unique among official Church publications is that it was written by a single person (Susan Tanner, who is credited in the book), rather than an unnamed committee. As a feminist, nothing ticks me off more than when people refuse to acknowledge the contributions of women. (Ever go to an art museum and notice how all the old pottery is credited to an “unknown artist”? Yeah, that was a woman.) Seriously, come ON.

  4. A valid criticism, Anna. Thanks for the clarification about who wrote Daughters in My Kingdom. We just didn’t have it available at the time we recorded the podcast—especially since Tanner isn’t credited anywhere in the actual DIMK book. Where is she credited with it, by the way? On LDS.org? In a Relief Society General Broadcast?

    One thing to bear in mind is that we’re only loosely following the chapter structure of the DIMK. Our purpose is not really to respond to DIMK itself per se. Our purpose is just to tell an uncorrelated story of women’s history within the church and to kind of shed some light on aspects of women’s history that sometimes get lost in the institutional narrative. I’m glad you enjoy the DIMK manual. It is successful for what it’s trying to do, which is be accessible to a very diverse audience (such as the ones you mentioned). It’s just that we’re trying to do something different here.

  5. Thanks for the response, Alyssa.

    Susan Tanner is credited in the preface to DIMK (p. xiv), as are two women, Sister Tate and Sister Harris, whose research served as the foundation for Tanner’s writing. There was also an official press release at the time the book came out that explained its authorship. Lastly, there are a couple of Mormon Channel podcasts that feature Tanner talking about her process writing the book, as well as one with Pres. Beck and her counselors. Those interviews are worth listening to for people interested in LDS women’s history, and also in how the Church disseminates and messages its history.

    I can appreciate that you have different goals than DIMK, and I think that is completely valid. (I’m here after all, and am enjoying these podcasts.) I just didn’t appreciate the assumption that the woman who wrote DIMK was uninformed.

    Thanks for the interesting series.

  6. Thanks for the response Anna K. and thanks for being patient with us! I’m sorry you found our initials speculations offensive. I’m curious about something in your original comment. I believe I was trying to throw a bone to the authors based on what I heard Laurel Thatcher Ulrich express when she talked about this, that explaining very hard things required a lot of context many of the compilers wouldn’t have knowledge, time or access to. (She was specifically talking about Sister Beck who oversaw the project, which is what I referred to as well.) My question is this: if you believe the compilers had all the context of polygamy, the context to the quotes regarding polygamy, why do you think they left out this history? You said you believe DMK is just as they intentioned. Do you believe they are intentionally misleading readers about the history and intentionally giving a more palatable and sanitized version?

  7. So, after Anna’s initial comments, I decided I needed to fill in the gaps in my personal knowledge and do some mild research into how the Daughters in My Kingdom book was actually compiled by Susan Tanner. I found this to be the most informative article (from the LDS Church News): http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/61370/A-worldwide-sisterhood.html

    Reading between the lines of the article, the most interesting part was when she talked about how she studied the history intently she often asked herself one question over and over again: “Is this important to lift women, to inspire women, to help women know who they are and what their purposes are?” In light of that quotation, it sounds to me that her goal was to write “inspirational history,” and that her criteria for deciding what to include or exclude had to do with whether it was faith-promoting or not.

    I strongly suspect that Boyd K. Packer’s talk “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect” served as her guide in deciding what to leave in and out. When he originally delivered that talk, Packer was responding to folks like D. Michael Quinn and Leonard Arrington who wanted to produce objective, scholarly histories of the church using well-established academic methodologies. Packer gives several cautions about the academic representation of church history in that talk. The first one is: “There is no such thing as an accurate, objective history of the Church without consideration of the spiritual powers that attend this work.” His second caution is: “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.” His third caution is: “In an effort to be objective, impartial, and scholarly, a writer or teacher may unwitting be giving equal time to the adversary.” And lastly: “The final caution concerns the idea that so long as something is already in print, so long as it is available from another source, there is nothing out of order in using it in writing or speaking or teaching.”

    Susan Tanner was likely strongly influenced by Packer’s philosophies about representing church history from a faithful perspective. (After all, his talk is required reading for anyone who is applying to enter the CES program to become a full-time seminary teacher. ) Packer’s cautions may have weighed heavily on her mind as she prepared the manuscript for Daughters in My Kingdom. In light of that, she might have deliberately chosen to avoid discussing Emma’s well-documented use of the Relief Society to oppose polygamy simply because it was simply not faith-promoting (from the perspective of the contemporary institutional church). Tanner may have deliberately decided not to take DIMK in the same direction as Women of Covenant, which scapegoats Emma Smith for the dissolution of the Relief Society (which Kaimi mentions in the podcast). In wanting to redeem Emma, Tanner may have avoided discussing her opposition of polygamy so as to avoid casting aspersions on Emma’s character. (The part of the LDS Church News article where Tanner discusses her dream about being lost in an amusement park of wordly distractions seems to lend some credence to that possibility.) Perhaps Tanner wanted to redeem Emma as a positive role model for LDS women. That’s certainly a noble goal in my opinion, but deciding to avoid talking about polygamy entirely in that chapter is certainly problematic in my mind.

    With that being said, I think there is still room for your interpretation, Lindsay, that Tanner just didn’t realize the full anti-polygamy context as she was reading (and re-reading) the RS minutes. As we mentioned in the podcast, if an amateur scholar (meaning non-academically trained) reads the RS minutes cold without any context, it’s potentially very easy to misunderstand what is really going on. Tanner may have legitimately overlooked some of the subtle political overtones of the Nauvoo RS Minutes. Only Tanner knows whether that is true or not, I suppose. I guess I should listen to the full interview she did with the Mormon Channel about the project some time to see if it gives us any more clues.

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