Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on 'Remember Me: The Inscription of Self in 19th-Century Mormonism'

Published: Monday, Aug. 27 2012 12:50 p.m. MDT

Hair wreaths, handmade notebooks, jubilee boxes, stitched embroidery and autograph books were just a few of the mediums 19th-century Mormons used to chronicle their lives, said Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on Friday at the Salt Lake City Main Library.

Ulrich, the Phillips Professor of Early American History and 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University, was invited to give this year’s Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture which coincided with the first-ever “Women and the LDS Church: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives Conference." The conference was held Saturday, Aug. 26.

Ulrich explained that in the Bible, when people used the words “remember me,” it was most often said in prayer as a way to garner divine favor.

Fast forwarding to the 19th century, Mormons were concerned with being remembered by their posterity — an idea that threaded to Mormons’ early focus on the family, both with ancestors as well as those who would come after.

Ulrich specifically focused on women and described that it is not just “an issue of what was kept, but what survived and went into the archives.” She described how some women’s journals and letters were hidden in log walls, trunks, sofa tables and even Christmas décor. One family even saved a diary from a bonfire of books, thinking that there might be some use for future generations.

“We need to be more attentive to how documents are created,” Ulrich said. She described how Relief Society women in the 1880s produced “jubilee boxes” of letters, testimonies and personal stories that were locked away to be opened in 1930, the LDS Church’s 100-year jubilee, and given to the oldest living female relative of those who produced the stories. She hoped that someone would study those jubilee documents that have survived.

Ulrich has also studied early autograph albums. Barbara Neff Moses, of Nauvoo, Ill., had signatures of many prominent church leaders including Brigham Young, John Taylor, Eliza R. Snow, Wilford Woodruff, Zina Young and others.

“There is an autograph of Joseph Smith in this album in his own handwriting," Ulrich said. "Would you like to know what he wrote?”

Ulrich read the poem Joseph Smith wrote in Moses’ book: “That truth and virtue both are good, when rightly understood; but charity is better miss, that takes us home to bliss. And so, forewith, remember Joseph Smith.”

Women in the 19th century even imbued their memory into locks of their hair. One woman named Mary Winch collected hair from the Manti South Ward Relief Society sisters, and made a framed wreath that encircled a bouquet in a vase with a baptismal font weaved within, to honor the dedication of the Manti Temple.

“Even though archivists today might believe hair art is a bit creepy … I’m thrilled that Mary Winch made this artifact that ended up in the temple," Ulrich said of the artifact now housed at the Church History Museum.

Ulrich just had one final question for those in attendance: “So what’s in your houses?”

Emily W. Jensen updates "Today in the Bloggernacle" on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, presenting the best from the world of LDS-oriented blog sites. Her extended "Bloggernacle Back Bench" appears on Tuesdays. Email: ejensen@desnews.com

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