Women of Covenant, Women and Authority, and Natural Allies

JILL MULVAY DERR, JANATH RUSSELL CANNON, and MAUREEN URSENBACH BEECHER. Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992.

MAXINE HANKS, ed. Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992.

ANNE FIROR SCOTT. Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

In the waning years of the twentieth century, many historians of women are evaluating what the past hundred years—and previous centuries—have meant for women’s lives. Gone from most recent analyses are the simplistic paradigms of the rise and fall of women’s status that characterized much early work in the field (and that judged progress by how well women’s lives approximated those of successful men). Instead, historians increasingly attempt to understand the lives of women on their own terms, rather than either criticizing earlier women for their supposed lack of enlightenment or, even worse, reconstructing their lives to fit contemporary sensibilities, either liberal or conservative. These historians argue that individuals must be understood for the lives they actually lived, not the ones we may wish they had.

While asserting that a person’s life should not be reduced to a political tract, women’s history of the past two decades, just like recent African-American history, nevertheless remains inherently political because both types of history examine, among other things, the way relations of social, political, and economic power have been defined, explicated, and maintained; further, both implicitly or explicitly argue that such power relations of gender or race are socially constructed, not divinely mandated, and are thus subject to alteration. It is little wonder, then that some people find almost any history of women’s experiences profoundly unsettling since such a history may call into question the patterns that have governed the readers’ lives and given order to their world.

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