In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo

A valuable addition to the slowly growing body of published firsthand accounts by early Latter-day Saints, this volume presents a selection of diary extracts, letters, and “reminiscences” or memoirs authored by Mormon women. Given the large volume of extant materials, the editor has limited the scope of these texts to the Nauvoo period in the early 1840s. Madsen has chosen twenty-four representative authors, both women of renown, such as Emmeline Wells, Eliza R. Snow, and Bathsheba Smith, and those who remain essentially unknown.

In retaining the original grammar and spelling in these readings, the editor allows readers insight into the widely varied backgrounds and educational levels of the women represented; the intensity of their experience and emotion is recorded in language ranging from highly polished nineteenth-century prose to the halting expressions of the barely literate. The nature of the writing reminds readers of two very important facts: that Nauvoo was on the frontier and that education beyond minimal reading and writing had not yet become a reality for any but the most privileged. In particular, book learning was not considered to be a necessity for women, whose roles rarely extended beyond the private domain of the home and family. One wonders how many more stories of women in Nauvoo have remained unarticulated and unheard because those who lived the experiences lacked the skills to record them. In this context, Madsen is perhaps overly apologetic concerning the spelling and grammatical deficiencies of some of the writers. A short historical explanation of the educational conventions of the time might have been useful in alleviating this discomfort.

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