Women in Utah History: Paradigm or Paradox?

Women in Utah History: Paradigm or Paradox?

Women in Utah History: Paradigm or Paradox?

Women in Utah History: Paradigm or Paradox?


A project of the Utah Women's History Association and cosponsored by the Utah State Historical Society, Paradigm or Paradox provides the first thorough survey of the complicated history of all Utah women. Some of the finest historians studying Utah examine the spectrum of significant social and cultural topics in the state's history that particularly have involved or affected women.


Linda Thatcher and Patricia Lyn Scott

The chief goal of this book is to integrate Utah women of all ethnic and religious backgrounds into the broader field of women’s studies. Readers will find that these historical essays show women in Utah as sharing much with other American women, particularly in the West—in other words, as not unique. But they are also diverse and distinctive—in other words, not as expected.

The title Utah Women’s History: Paradigm or Paradox? recognizes the stereotypes normally associated with Utah’s largest group of women: Mormon, polygamous, Caucasian, under-educated, male-dominated, etc. On the one hand, Utah women are seen as a paradox (contradictory to the national norm) for embracing polygamy and submitting to hierarchal Mormon Church authority. On the other hand, they can be seen as paradigm (an example or model) for forging their own way with self-reliance and industry. Perhaps the paradox is that Utah women were both representative of national women (a paradigm) and distinctive. Few realize that Utah was the second territory to grant women the franchise (1870), and Utah’s women often sustained themselves and their families both economically and emotionally for long periods of time, while their husbands were away on church assignments or dividing their time among multiple households. Julie Roy Jeffrey wrote concerning polygamy: “With its peculiar tensions and freedoms, polygamy did, of course, shape the Mormon female life on the frontier. Mormon women were different from women on other frontiers in a number of ways which were related to their religion. Yet they also shared with other pioneer women common frontier experiences and even common ideas about woman’s place in the world. To be a Mormon woman on the Utah frontier was, therefore, to be both the same as, and different from, pioneer women elsewhere.”

Utah was also a mixing ground of cultures. Native American women of many tribes led lives that having changed little over centuries, were shattered within a generation when a great flood of white settlers washed over their traditional territories. Mormon missionaries proselyted in European countries . . .

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