Before the Manifesto: The Life Writings of Mary Lois Walker Morris

By Melissa Lambert Milewski | Go to book overview

Introduction

After enduring a ship voyage from her native England to an unknown life in America, a long walk across the plains to Utah, the death of her first husband when she was only nineteen, and the loneliness of a plural marriage, Mary Lois Walker Morris may have thought that she had overcome the major challenges in her life. Yet, as the 1880s began, her life was about to turn upside down again. During the next decade, as the federal government challenged the practice of polygamy and pressure mounted for Utah to become more integrated in the United States, Mary Lois's church leaders and fellow Mormons faced prosecution and imprisonment. The pursuit of polygamists threatened her own marriage, and in 1885, after twenty-nine years of marriage, she and her husband, under duress, publicly separated. Mary Lois's memoir and diary provide a deeply felt account of how she experienced and negotiated this time of great change in Utah.

The daily regularity of Mary Lois's diary allows readers to better understand the everyday fabric of a woman's life in Salt Lake City in the 1880s. Meanwhile, the dramatic stories in her memoir provide a glimpse into the thoughts and experiences that a nineteenth-century immigrant woman most wanted remembered. Her voluminous writings also give insight into the rich cultural life, divisive legal battles, and tightly knit Latter-day Saints (LDS) community in Salt Lake City, including the life of the Mormon elite, of which her husband's prominent business position made her a part.

Having experienced both a monogamous and a polygamous marriage, Mary Lois had a special perspective from which to view the social transitions taking place in Utah as polygamy came under attack. At the age of nineteen, she made a bedside promise to her dying husband to enter into a biblical levirate marriage with his married brother, Elias Morris. Despite grave misgivings about becoming Elias's second wife, she kept this vow. By 1879, when her diary began, she had seven children with Elias—five were still living—and lived with him every other week in a twostory home in Salt Lake City.1

1. Elias's first wife, Mary Parry Morris (1834–1919), was born in Newmarket, Flint, Wales, the daughter of John Parry and Elizabeth Parry. She married Elias Morris on May 23,

-1-

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Before the Manifesto: The Life Writings of Mary Lois Walker Morris
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vi
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Memoir 51
  • 1835–1887 Sketch of the Life of Mary L. Morris 53
  • Diary 203
  • 1879- Had a Host of Callers 204
  • 1880- I Can Earn a Triful 241
  • 1881- Conclude to Trust in God 289
  • 1882- Felt Most Acutely My Baby Was Gone 327
  • 1883- Arose from My Pillow to Behold a Great Fire 358
  • 1884- To Take Charge of the Primary Department of the Ward 385
  • 1885- My Husband Has Thought It Wisdom to Absent Himself 420
  • 1886- Going South in the Morning 457
  • 1887- Went to Court to Testify in Favor of My Husband] 496
  • Epilogue 533
  • 1902–1905 Exile in Mexico 534
  • Abbreviations 575
  • Bibliography 576
  • Biographical Register of Names 585
  • Index 629
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