Audacious Women is based on the lives of one hundred women “who were involved with Mormonism in the first fifty years of the British Mission, 1838–88.” The book takes us from their English branches and villages, across the ocean, up the Mississippi, across the plains, and (as far as source documents allow) follows their lives in the new land. This new contribution to Mormon women’s history is a particular goldmine for Latter-day Saints of British descent, who, like Bartholomew, “search for [their] mothers.” Bartholomew concludes that despite often severe trials, such as “the patriarchal realities of the time,” homesickness, poverty, and polygamy, these “women seemed to have as great a shot at happiness in a caring Mormon setting as in an indifferent Old World environment.”
Bartholomew is a believing and rigorous LDS historian. Those wondering about the tone of her women’s history will find her interested in reviving the lives of these women rather than criticizing male hierarchy; in general, she finds that “women’s disappointments usually centered on dead-beat husbands rather than on church leaders.” I was impressed with her research expertise and her obvious familiarity with source archives. Although Bartholomew had hoped to have “quality” records for all one hundred women (“contemporary documents created by a directly involved party”), she had to settle for thirty-four—the remaining sixty-six women come alive through autobiographies or biographies written later in life by the woman, her husband, or another relative. She excluded from her study women whose lives had already been explored well in other places.