Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women's Autobiographical Acts

Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women's Autobiographical Acts

Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women's Autobiographical Acts

Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women's Autobiographical Acts

Excerpt

Autobiography is creation myth written in the first person.

—DANIEL B. SHEA, Spiritual Autobiography in Early America

Mention the word “autobiography” to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the “Mormons,” and they will invariably offer you any number of unpublished autobiographical texts, many of which lie, mostly idle, in family members’ drawers, closets, attics, cedar chests, and safety deposit boxes. Other families, such as my own, selfpublish books of life histories or diaries that include elaborate genealogies and photographs to accompany the narrative. Soon after Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, officially established the church on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York, church members began producing a sizable number of daily journals, life histories, and family genealogies. In fact, the expanse of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Latter-day Saint (LDS) life writing seems endless.

Early Latter-day Saints frequently wrote letters, diaries, journals, “personal histories,” and other autobiographical forms about their conversion to Mormonism, describing how God intervened in their lives as they struggled to build up His kingdom amid public derision, physical abuse, murders, and martyrdoms that would precipitate Mormons’ forced migration west. These early-nineteenth-century Mormon autobiographers conceived of their individual life stories as part of a larger history that would chronicle the establishment and development of their church from its beginnings in the East to its eventual expansion across the western American frontier—and beyond. Even today, Latter-day Saints generally relate the stories of their lives within a context of communal religious experience that situates Mormons’ autobiographical acts squarely within a tradition of American spiritual autobiography inherited from the Puritans and Quakers.

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