Mormon Sisters is a new edition of a book first published in 1976 by Emmeline Press Limited in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When the original work was published, it was considered to be a “pioneering” study of early Mormon history because prior to that time much of the focus of history had been on the male leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The book brought to the foreground many important issues about the lives of Mormon women in nineteenth-century Utah. Since the time of its first publication, many of the book’s contributors have become prominent scholars. The book published in 1976 represents some of the earliest work by these now widely published and well-accepted historians.
The topics chosen for the essays in the book include biographical sketches as well as essays dealing with some of the political, economic, social, and spiritual activities of women in Utah during the nineteenth century—women’s spiritual gifts, their roles in education, medicine, polygamy, and in the political sphere of promoting women’s suffrage and Utah’s statehood. One of the book’s strengths is that the chapters focus on what “average” women did and how they coped with their situations. While there is some discussion of famous Utah women leaders, I especially appreciated the examination of “typical” women’s lives—their struggles and joys—that leaves us with a much greater understanding of these women and allows us to feel a closer kinship with them.
Since this is a reprint of a previous book, some comparison with the first edition is warranted. Some of the most obvious changes to this edition are an additional preface by Claudia L. Bushman and a new introduction by Anne Firor Scott. The book also provides a reading list of books related to Mormon women that have been published since the previous edition. This list, along with the reading list published in the first edition, are helpful resources to readers interested in furthering their study of women’s lives and issues in Mormon culture. Other changes in this new edition include nine different historical photographs and an update on the lives and careers of the book’s contributors.
The content of the essays has not been changed or updated since the first edition. Since the essays focus on women in Utah during the nineteenth century, the original research and the essays written in the 1970s would not have been outdated unless new evidence had come to light which negated the previous findings. In the case of these essays in Mormon Sisters, updating was not particularly necessary, and a couple of changes that were needed are mentioned in Scott’s introduction. Although the book would be different if it were written today, the authors were desirous of simply reprinting their essays without changes to allow a new generation of students and scholars to learn from their early work.
The essays found in Mormon Sisters are interesting and informative for both the serious student and the reader without much knowledge of the history of women in early Utah. The book is an excellent overview of women’s activities, concerns, and everyday lives and should be recommended reading for anyone desirous of gaining a broader understanding of Mormon women’s experiences in nineteenth-century Utah.