The power of the word : Self-inscription in the journals of nineteenth-century Mormon women
University of Arkansas
This study explores personal motivations and literary methodologies in the private journals of three nineteenth-century Mormon women: Eliza Roxcy Snow, Patty Bartlett Sessions, and Mary Jane Mount Tanner. Self-inscription is defined as personal writing which both forms and informs the author, which is designed as a legacy from and monument to the author, and which satisfies authorial psychological needs in one or more ways. The study is confined to personal journals written close to the time of recorded events (minimizing autobiographical glossing) and to record-keeping efforts which are consciously and consistently entered into over an extended period of time.
The three selected journals offer a variety of kinds of literary voices and choices, and each author is historically interesting individually and as representative of her community. Eliza R. Snow was considered a Mormon “presidentess” and held high offices in the female hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her personal writings especially reveal her sense of community, and her self-revelation is simultaneously group-revelation. Patty Bartlett Sessions was a successful cottage businesswoman and a midwife who delivered about 4,000 babies in some 60 years. Economically independent as a polygamous wife, Sessions's journals inscribe the author through her tasks and accomplishments. Mary Jane Mount. Tanner's is the voice of one who came to adulthood and lived her entire life in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Her journals record her own literary aspirations and personal growth and development, and simultaneously reveal the advancement of the Mormon community in the Wasatch Mountains and the gradual assimilation of that community back into American society. All three authors traveled across the American prairies in the great Mormon exodus, and all three participated in plural marriage as polygamous wives.
Reflecting the literary preferences and standards of their times, these journals offer unique insights into an important American subculture and reveal educational, religious, and political milieus from a woman's point of view.