A Lady’s Life among the Mormons

By: J. Stapley - January 01, 2008

One of the most invaluable publication series in Mormon Studies is Utah State University Press’s Life Writings of Frontier Women, with Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Series Editor. I have the full quiver of volumes and several have been integral in my research in Mormon liturgical history. This year, perhaps in a bid to balance the various narratives, USU Press is printing Exposé of Polygamy: A Lady’s Life among the Mormons.

The publisher summarizes as follows:

After the 1872 publication of Exposé of Polygamy, Fanny Stenhouse became a celebrity in the cultural wars between Mormons and much of America. An English convert to Mormonism, she had grown disillusioned with the Mormon Church and with polygamy, which her husband practiced before associating with a circle of dissident Utah intellectuals and merchants. Stenhouse’s critique of plural marriage, Brigham Young, and Mormonism was also a sympathetic look at Utah’s people and honest recounting of her life. Before long, she created a new edition, titled Tell It All, which ensured her notoriety in Utah and popularity elsewhere but turned her thoughtful memoir into a more polemical, true exposé. Since 1874, it has stayed in print, in multiple, varying editions. The original book, meanwhile, is less known, though more readable. Tracing the literary history of Stenhouse’s important piece of Americana, Linda DeSimone rescues an important autobiographical and historical record from the baggage notoriety brought to it.

Perhaps unkown to the editors, the 1872 edition was digitized in 2006 (both the first printing and the second) by Google Books (see my previous write-up on the impact of Google Books in Mormon Studies). These are not only searchable through Google, but as they are in the public domain, one can download a PDF of the entire book for personal use.

As I previously stated, this series has been an unqualified success. My favored volumes include the diaries of Helen Mar Whiney, Patty Bartlett Session, Louisa Barnes Pratt and others. The Pratt volume is available in previous form: it was included in the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers’ publications which are digitally available from ancestry.com. But Ellsworth’s edition is faithful to the holograph, which highlights the frequently abusive editorial procedure of the DUP, and includes valuable annotation (though not up to the standard of Compton’s edition). While I am happy to see any publications highlighting women’s history in Mormon Studies, I find USU Press’s choice for this year’s series edition rather disappointing. I don’t really see what added value is had by its publication.

My vote for future volumes: the Mary Ann Freeze and the Ruth May Fox diaries.

8 Comments

  1. Helen Mar Whiney

    I think you mean Whitney, right? :)

    Comment by m&m — 1/2/2008 @ 1:04 am

  2. Heh. Yeah. Fixed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 1/2/2008 @ 1:11 am

  3. Thanks for the post, J. I don’t recognize the editor’s name. Do you know anything about DeSimone’s background?

    Comment by Justin — 1/3/2008 @ 1:25 pm

  4. I have no clue, Justin. I had never heard of her until reading the USU Press release.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 1/3/2008 @ 2:33 pm

  5. I read through Stenhouse’s book this afternoon; it’s a quick read–and apparently a quick write (two to three weeks). I don’t know that it’s a sympathetic look at Utah’s people, given its lack of balance and perspective. It’s overly dramatic and too often lapses into hyperbole.

    Comment by Justin — 1/3/2008 @ 3:45 pm

  6. Yeah. It is completely, “meh.”

    Comment by J. Stapley — 1/3/2008 @ 3:51 pm

  7. The March 18, 1872, issue of the Salt Lake Tribune editorialized: “Mrs. Stenhouse is a lady of culture and refinement and her thrilling story of the peculiar institution is the certain forerunner of its overthrow, as was Mrs. Stowe’s of Southern slavery.”

    Comment by Justin — 1/3/2008 @ 4:52 pm

  8. I noticed that DeSimone is on the editorial staff of the Journal of Mormon History. She’s listed as Linda Wilcox DeSimone (is she the same person as Linda P. Wilcox?).

    Comment by Justin — 1/11/2008 @ 5:59 pm

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