cover image Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy

Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy

Colleen McDannell. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-022131-7

In this detailed, deeply moving book, McDannell (The Spirit of Vatican II), professor of history and religious studies at the University of Utah, traces the evolution of Mormon faith culture from its origins in the 1830s to the present day, arguing convincingly that women have always been “active creators of [that] culture.” They participate not only in the home and in the Relief Society (the church’s often influential women’s auxiliary), she writes, but also through political activism, scholarship, missionary work, theology, voting (which the men of the Utah Territory approved in 1870), and, more recently, blogging. McDannell argues that unique Mormon ideas about gender have shaped the community’s shifting relationship to broader currents of American social life, perhaps most strikingly argued in her examination of late-20th-century Mormon feminists and antifeminists. McDannell effectively uses the long, active lives of Emmeline Wells, Belle Spafford, and Laurel Ulrich to give readers a sense of what it meant to live through these changes. These highly detailed portraits will help readers understand how and why Mormon women could experience excommunication over feminist views and the forceful elimination of plural marriage by the U.S. government as simultaneously traumatic events. McDannell’s thoughtful exploration of American Mormon women is as challenging as it is enlightening. (Nov.)