Any reader is pleased to find more in a book than he bargained for, and this reviewer was pleasantly surprised that the Dear Ellen volume consisted of more than the edited letters of two Mormon women. Opening with a biographical sketch of Ellen Spencer Clawson and Ellen Pratt McGary, Professor Ellsworth tells of their early life in Nauvoo, their exodus to Winter Quarters and to Utah, and their separate lives in Salt Lake City and San Bernardino.
This sketch leads to the heart of the book which is a series of letters exchanged between the two women in 1856 and 1857. Offering perspectives on conditions in Salt lake City and San Bernardino, the letters tell of the lives of women representing two social classes and two perspectives from within the Mormon community. Far from the center of Mormondom and daughter of a lower class family, Ellen Pratt endured two uneven marriages and divorces and a life which took her from California to various towns in Utah. Ellen Spencer, on the other hand, as the wife of Hyrum B. Clawson, a socially prominent businessman, ecclesiastical leader, and polygamist, saw Mormon society from the top. By focusing on social and family concerns, the letters tell much of life in the two Mormon communities.