Heathen in our Fair Land : Anti-polygamy and Protestant Women's Mission to Utah, 1869--1910
New York, NY
This dissertation explores the roles that Protestant women missionaries played as anti-polygamy activists in the larger anti-Mormon movement of the nineteenth century. Whereas men dreaded the "tyranny" of Mormon theocracy and the debasement of Mormon theology, women focused almost single-mindedly on the horrors of Mormon polygamy. Protestants utilized a discourse of race, class, and nationhood to paint Utah as a foreign mission field inhabited by savage peoples, but such strategies proved unsuccessful since the Mormon heresy had arisen on American soil, among former Yankee Protestants. Several hundred Protestant women served as missionaries to Utah, though their numbers are small compared to the hundreds of thousands of women who signed antipolygamy petitions, read titillating novels about plural marriage, and attended lectures on the evils of Mormonism. The women who served in Utah faced rough conditions and strained to meet high expectations; in the absence of male pastors, these frontier missionaries often preached, performed funerals, and led worship in addition to their more "feminine" activities, such as teaching school. Although they arrived in Utah with high hopes of redeeming Mormon women from the debasement of polygamy, Protestant women missionaries soon discovered that Mormon women adamantly defended polygamy on the grounds of women's rights. Protestant denominations turned their attention away from adult Mormons to Mormon children, predicting that education would provide the means for the eventual destruction of Mormonism. Although that larger hope was not realized, Protestant churches provided an excellent education to thousands of children in Utah. In 1890, two events occurred which signaled the demise of Protestant missions: a Free School Act mandated the inauguration of free, tax-supported local schools in Utah, eroding the educational niche enjoyed by Protestants; and the LDS Church announced that it would end the practice of polygamy. This "Manifesto" essentially evaporated Eastern funding for Utah missions. Although the anti-polygamy crusade enjoyed two brief resurgences at the turn of the century with the Congressional trials of Mormon elected officials Brigham H. Roberts and Reed Smoot, the movement essentially died out when polygamy officially ceased.