In Before the Manifesto, readers will be drawn into the late nineteenth-century world of Mary Lois Walker Morris (1835–1919) by a happy blend of memoir and diaries, introduced by a capable documentary editor, Melissa Lambert Milewski. Before the Manifesto contains the multifaceted record of a Salt Lake City poet, plural wife, and Church worker, who writes about her life with passion, faith, and keen insights in a time of religious tension and social expansion.
Mary Lois Walker emigrated from England with her parents after the family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At age seventeen, in St. Louis, Missouri, she married the young Welsh artist John Thomas Morris. Despite their devotion to each other, the marriage ended tragically in 1855 with the death of their son followed by John's demise from tuberculosis in Cedar City, Utah. On his deathbed, John, invoking the principle of levirate marriage, asked his older brother Elias to marry Mary Lois and rear up children to him. Brigham Young "approved the arrangement and set the date for the marriage in a year's time." Elias and Mary Lois were accompanied on their journey to the Endowment House in Salt Lake City by his first wife, Mary Parry, and two children. Mary Lois was sealed "for time" to Elias and "for eternity" to John.