Friday, February 29, 2008

MIA reading list 1958, part one

There used to be a recommended reading list for the youth for each year, printed in the Improvement Era. I believe this was in the same era of the Relief Society's Out of the Best Books series of literary anthologies.

I have here the list from 1958-1959 (
Improvement Era June 1958, just in time for summer reading), complete with an order form to mail to Deseret Books if you wanted to purchase the books from them (the most expensive of them was $4). It's an interesting window onto that year, and onto what Church leaders hoped their youth would be reading.

I'll post it in several parts
so I can add comments, since there are 27 books (maybe the most notable thing right off the bat is that the list had 27 books on it!). I also should say that although I consider myself (modestly) well-read, I've only read two of them.

1) The Life of the Bee, Maurice Maeterlinck, $3.00

(first published 1901, so a classic in 1958 - only 35 cents for paperback, and now is only $3.59 for the Amazon Kindle. Oh. You have to have a Kindle. It's okay, you can still get a used
book for under $5). Maeterlinck was Belgian, a poet, writer, and dramatist w
ho lived a racy personal life, the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1911. He fled from the Nazi invasion in the 1930s and went to Hollywood, where he wrote a screenplay for MGM based on The Life of the Bee. Reportedly Sam Goldwyn began reading the screenplay, and burst out of his office shouting, "My G*d! The hero is a bee!" (this was long before Seinfeld got his hands on the concept). In the speech awarding his Nobel prize, the committee praised his surreality:

"Maeterlinck wrote a whole series of dramatic compositions. Most unfold in eras that we could not determine and in places not to be found on any map. The scene is usually a fairy castle with underground passages, a park with lovely shady places, or a lighthouse with the sea in the distance. In these melancholy regions figures often move veiled like the idea itself. In several of his most perfect scenic works, Maurice Maeterlinck is a symbolist and an agnostic... Like Spinoza and Hegel, who were great thinkers though not deists, Maeterlinck is a very great poet although his conception of things and of life is not that of a deist. He does
not deny anything: he simply finds the principle of existence hidden in the shadows."

Which, to me, totally begs the question of whether anyone designated "agnostic" and "not deist" would get within a thousand miles of a reading list for our LDS youth today. That's one of the things that impressed me about this list, is the risks it takes, and the breadth it offers. Anyway, back to Count Maeterlinck...

The Life of the Bee, the committee had this to say:

"In 1900 La Vie des abeilles
[The Life of the Bee] appeared. This book had strong repercussions. Although Maurice Maeterlinck is an enthusiastic beekeeper and thoroughly familiar with the life of the bees, he did not intend to write a scientific treatise. His book is not an abstract of natural history but an exuberantly poetic work abounding in reflections, the sum total of which is almost a declaration of incompetence. It is useless, the author seems to say, to inquire if the strange cooperation among the bees, their apportionment of work, and their social life are the product of a reasoning mind. It matters little whether the term "instinct" or the term "intelligence" is used, for they are but ways of revealing our ignorance in the matter. What we call instinct among the bees is perhaps of a cosmic nature, the emanation of a universal soul. One immediately thinks of Virgil's immortal description of the bees in which he says that a thinker attributes to them a share of divina mens, the divine thought, the divine spirit."

2) Florence Ni
ghtingale, Jeannette C. Nolan (first published 1946), $2.95.

I can't find out much about this particular biography of Nightingale, except that I did learn Ms. Nolan was a frequent contributor to the biography series "Reading Well Signature Books for Children" aimed at young people - for them she also wrote biographies of Joan of Arc, Ulysses S. Grant, and Martha Washington, for example. My local library system has it, so maybe I'll get it through interlibrary loan and read it myself.

In her 2003 article, "Great Adventures in Nursing: Colonial Discourse and Health Care Delivery in Canada's North", Helen Gilbert characterizes Nolan's biography of Nightingale as one of several early twentieth-century works for the youth market which explored "th
e appeal of the Nightingale legend [and] its ability to combine high adventure, womanly virtue, self-sacrifice, physical endurance, and patriotism, all played out in a hostile foreign environment" and she notes "the mythopoeic force of this hagiographic tradition."

3) Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (first published 1869), $1.75.

This is one that I'm sure you know well, so I won't make additional commentary - it's a classic which is still widely read and beloved. University of
Virginia has made a great website to aid in critical study of this important American novel, by the way.

4) The Lees of Arlington, Marguerite Vance (1948), $2.75.

Vance's book is a biography of Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary, and is easily available from used booksellers at dirt-cheap prices. Can't find out much about it; it appears in a list of recently-published children's books in the December 1949 issue of H
arper's Magazine, and one library in my local system still has it on the shelf. I'm going to be keeping the interlibrary loan lady busy for a while.

5) Teacher: Helen Keller, Ann[e] Sullivan Macy (?), $3.50.

Ann (or Anne) Sullivan Macy is best known as the teacher for the remarkable Helen Keller. She was born in 1866 in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, and was placed in a Tewksbury almshouse. Later she attended Perkins Institution for the Blind, since her eyes had been seriously weakened by a childhood infection. Although a series of operations partially restored her sight, she learned the manual alphabet in order to talk with a fellow resident at Perkins. She was graduated in 1886 and one year later was chosen to teach Helen Keller. The two remained constant companions until Ann Sullivan's death in 1935 (by which time she herself was completely blind). In 1905 she married John Macy, who later became a noted writer and literary critic. During the early 1920s, Anne Macy and her former student helped to publicize the new American Foundation for the Blind (founded 1921) and lobbied for its program of increased opportunities for the sightless (source: Columbia Encyclopedia online).

Helen wrote a book about Anne, titled Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy (Doubleday, 1955). I actually can't confirm that Anne wrote one with such a similar title about her student, so I'm wondering if it's Keller's book that is meant to be on this list, and there's just a typo in the ad listing Macy as the author. Here's an online museum of Anne Sullivan Macy.

6) Tamar, Lois Malvern (1952?), $3.00.

A biography of the raped daughter-in-law of Judah, on the MIA reading list? What?? I can't find this book title connected with this author, even on W
orldCat, so I am guessing this is another typo, and the book which is meant to be on the list is Tamar, written by Gladys Malvern and published by Longmans, Green. Its genre is juvenile fiction; her sister (?) Corinne did the illustrations, and that's all I know, but I've already put my ILL request in on this one because I'm so curious about it.

7) An Adventure in Faith, S. Dilworth Young (1956), $1.75, Vol 1 in the Youth Classic Series.

Born in 1897, Seymour Dilworth Young was the great-grandson of Brigham Young. He was a long-time Seventy, General Authority Emeritus, a president of the New England mission 1949-1951, and a prolific Mormon writer. Besides Adventure in Faith, he also wrote Young Brigham Young and a biography of Young, More Precious Than Rubies, and numerous poems which appeared in LDS periodicals. While serving as director of the Los Angeles temple visitor's center, he installed a monument to women based on the Relief Society sculpture garden in Nauvoo. A copy for sale on eBay advertises the content (or maybe quotes the dust jacket?) thusly:

"What red-blooded young man wouldn't want to follow Jed Colby from London, England, shanghaied aboard the brig Wellington, as he traveled the plowing seas, suffered a shipwreck, and journeyed on an exciting trek across half of the continental United States? A rare combination, this book is all that the title implies. Adventure is the keynote from the he moment Jed is carried unconscious aboard the brig until he reaches California with the Mormon Battalion. Faith comes to Jed gradually
as he observes the gospel working in the lives of the members of the Battalion. This book will provide constructive lessons at the same time that it affords fascinating reading."

8) A History of the Prophet Joseph Smith for Young People, George Q. Cannon (ca. 1900), $1.75.

George Q. Cannon (1827-1901) was a counselor to presidents of the Church Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. One of my favorite photographs of him (actually one of my favorite all-time LDS photographs) is of him and other Church leaders in prison stripes while serving time for polygamy in the territorial penn in 1888. I think I have an ancestor in this photo too.

But I digress. Davis Bitton comments on Cannon's view of LDS history here, and he notes that Cannon first published this book in 1900 and then it was re-issued over the years under slightly different titles. Bitton argues that it was almost the LDS version of Parson Weem's Life of George Washington - 19th century moral didactism at its finest.

9) Jacob Hamblin Among the Indians, James A. Little (1881), $0.25.

Twenty-five cents? Although surely not as substantive as
Paul Bailey's book from about the same era (1948) titled Jacob Hamblin, Buckskin Apostle, the booklet listed here is likely a republication of Hamblin's autobiography, which was dictated to Little and published in the 1880s. See also Juanita Brook's Jacob Hamblin, Mormon Apostle to the Indians (Westwater Press, 1980) for more about this unique character. If I'm not mistaken, excerpts from the Little/Hamblin text are posted online here.

10) Brigham Young, Olive [Woolley] Burt (1956), $2.95.

Folklorist and journalist Olive Woolley Burt, editor of the Deseret News Sunday magazine, did post-graduate work at the University of Chicago and Columbia University. She taught school in Utah and Wyoming and wrote prolifically. A short bio of her notes that "with the exception of 1904, she sold something for publication every year from the time she was eight until the year 1971." You go, girl!! In 1958, she had just published the luridly titled American Murder Ballads and Their Stories with Oxford University Press. Strangely, that one doesn't appear on the MIA reading list.

11) The Bound Girl, Nan [Watson] Denker (Ariel Books, 1957), $2.75.

Now here's where if you actually bought some of the books from Deseret in 1958, you just hit the "Antiques Roadshow" jackpot. Nan Denker's beautifully illustrated, and now quite rare, novel cannot be had for under $40, and a good edition will run you closer to a hundred dollars (!). But it's still around in libraries, so you can enjoy this novel about an indentured servant bound while on board ship from France to New Amsterdam, who ends up marrying one of the sons of the family to which she is indentured. (How convenient). One synopsis of the text says, "Learns to spin flax, has trouble with alderman, and ends up with one of the sons."

12) Twelve Around the World, Maureen Daly (1957), $3.50.

Maureen Daly (1921-2006) was an Irish-born journalist and writer most famous for Seventeenth Summer, begun when she herself was seventeen and published in
1938. A coming-of-age tale about a blossoming romance between two Wisconsin teenagers, the book was credited with founding the “Young Adult Literature” category as a separate genre of writing, and it has never gone out of print (although some modern readers might find it hasn't aged as well as they'd like). Twelve Around the World was one of her nonfiction books, and depicts the life of twelve teenagers from different nations. Alberta Eiseman, reviewing it for a New York newspaper, wrote:

"The subtitle of ["Twelve Around the World"], "True Accounts of the Lives and Countries of a Dozen Teenagers," is a better indication of the contents than the title itself. The author makes no attempt at covering the world: Western Europe is predominant, and whole continents are left out entirely. However, the "dozen teen-agers" she describes, and the countries in which they live, provide the subject-matter of fascinating and totally varied vignettes….

Sometimes Miss Daly tries to accomplish too much. It's hard to bring a person to life and describe a country, too, in twenty or thirty pages, and her asides are frequently confusing. The last chapter seems tacked on as an afterthought. Still, this is a fast-paced, interesting book, blessedly free of the preconceptions and chauvinism so often encountered in stories about other peoples."

13) The Wonderful Time, J[ames] L. Summers (Phil, Westminster Press, 1957), $2.75.

This book is mentioned in Barbara Martinec's 1971 article "Popular--But Not Just Part of the Crowd: Implications of Formula Fiction for Teenagers" in English Journal 60(3): 339-344. Martinec notes that whereas earlier formula fiction dealt with "personal" problems (shyness, say, or jealousy), fiction of the 1950s was more likely to explore how the protagonist dealt with social issues or problems beyond their immediate control. The Wonderful Time deals with the adjustment of a boy returning to high school after his discharge from the army. An army veteran in high school? This one, too, I'll have to track down on interlibrary loan, I'm intrigued.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

don't mess with mary

Truly amazing sixteen-year old girls just keep popping up in this course I'm teaching. Here's another. In 1850, a woman named Elizabeth Ellet published a compendium of stories titled The Women of the American Revolution, and it included this jewel of a tale by Mary Hooks Slocumb (1760-1836) who at the time of the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge on this very day in 1776, was the 16-year old wife of a troop commander in the North Carolina Light Horse Rangers.

One night soon after her husband and the others in the troop marched away, Mary had a dream in which she saw her husband bleeding and dead. She woke up terrified, put her small child in someone else's care, saddled her mare, and rode off. By daybreak she had gone thirty miles, starting hearing cannon fire, and rode faster.

She soon found a group of wounded men sheltering under the bridge at Moore's Creek, and thought one of them was her husband until she washed his bloody face and discovered it was another man in the regiment. He told her the wound in his temple was not what was hurting him, but rather the fresh hole in his leg. Mary writes,

"I took his knife, cut away his trousers and stocking, and found the blood came from a shot-hole through and through the fleshy part of his leg. I looked about and could see nothing that looked as if it would do for dressing wounds but some heart-leaves. I gathered a handful and bound them tight to the holes; and the bleeding stopped. I then went to the others; and --- Doctor! I dressed the wounds of many a brave fellow who did good fighting long after that day! Just then I looked up, and my husband, bloody as a butcher, and as muddy as a ditcher stood before me. 'Why, Mary' he exclaimed, 'What are you doing there?'...

"It was a glorious victory. In the middle of the night I again mounted my mare and started for home. Caswell and my husband wanted me to stay till next morning and they would send a party with me; but no! I wanted to see my child, and I told them they could send no party who could keep up with me. What a happy ride I had back! and with what joy did I embrace my child as he ran to meet me!"

Quoted in Ruth Barnes Moynihan, Cynthia Russett, and Laurie Crumpacker, Second to None: A Documentary History of American Women, Volume 1, from the Sixteenth Century to 1865, 177-178.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lesson 3-9 "Encouraging Family Unity"

Continuing the topic thread from last week's lesson on the doctrine of eternal families, this lesson goes for the here-and-now practical applications of those doctrines, and focuses on ways that young women can contribute to family unity. The episode in the Book of Mormon in which a family crisis was triggered when the bows all broke or lost their spring is employed as a useful case study of how real families deal with challenges, and how disunity can make a bad situation even worse.

A few years ago we remodeled part of our house, and it happened to include both the kitchen and the bedrooms. We put a large camper/trailer in the yard so we'd have a place to cook, and to sleep, and ended up camping for four months in our own back yard.
It was cozy, and we got to like it; in fact, it felt a bit lonely to move back into the house, where we were all separated at night and had our own individual spaces. I'm noticing that more opportunities for "connectivity" online and by technology don't necessarily translate into greater connection at home. In fact, they often mitigate against it, and it takes effort to re-create the "trailer" experience for us, bring us together in the same space for meals, prayers, talks, reading aloud, all the things that build unity and create memories.

One excellent point made in the lesson is that the covenant we make at baptism to bear one another's burdens and empathize with each other should be applied within our families. It also digs deep with some serious hypothetical questions - half a dozen are provided for girls to respond to, including a brother who has started smoking, a sibling on a mission needing family financial support, siblings who don't get along while Mom works during the day, a sister with a disability, a Dad who plants a vegetable garden in an attempt to follow the prophet's counsel, and this one, which doesn't sound made up out of thin air:

Family night at your house is something no one looks forward to, including you. Nobody wants to participate in the lesson, and everyone leaves as soon as possible.

Plenty to chew on with those, indeed!

What other hypothetical situations could you imagine generating useful discussion? What are your favorite suggestions for building family unity? Next week's lesson is about family activities, so this isn't really about "things to do" as a family, but how to establish deep, lasting, and real unity.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

perfect girls, starving daughters

Another book about eating disorders, the unvoiced pain of a rising generation of young girls taking expression in self-hatred, castigating media and pop-culture images for not nourishing healthy female development. You think you know this story already, but you don’t. In other words, there is more to say, and I recommend Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body (2007) as eye-opening reading for anyone.

Young-and-angry Courtney Martin begins by scoping the problem of “obsessive-compulsive, overachieving, self-sacrificing” young women, circa now, and vents her rage that these issues persist in her immediate circle of white, well-educated friends, and are on the rise in minority communities too. In her impassioned telling, body obsession, unhealthy food issues, and eating disorders are not confined to a pathologic few (“them”), but are present in every woman she knows (“us”) and thus can’t be conveniently cordoned off or demonized, but should be confronted by all women, everywhere. Martin relocates the divide from outside the self to within it – we all, in varying proportion, contain both the unforgiving drive for perfection (the “perfect girl”) and the insatiable hunger for love and acceptance which drives eating disharmony (the “starving daughter”). The body is the battleground between these two harpies; too many women of Martin’s acquaintance carry a “black hole in the middle” (4) and possess “at the very least, a screwed-up approach to food and fitness” (jacket flap). As Martin puts it, “even if you don’t feel like you have a disease, the quality of your life is diminished if you think about food and fitness obsessively. That, in turn, diminishes the quality of all our lives” (31). Hear, hear.

Aside. You’d think that the gospel would help fill that hole, that we as a people would have made some progress on these issues, but given the new statistics out on the nation’s highest antidepressant use in Utah, and given Mormon culture’s rather narrow definition of feminine beauty (NuSkin anyone?), our relentless comparison of ourselves to some unattainable ideal as a twisted version of “striving for perfection,” and a mind-blowing sugar fix at every ward gathering… we haven’t.

Identifying body obsession as a social problem means that the blame is everywhere, and nowhere. Feminist mothers are to blame, for failing to see that they plowed their own anxieties into their daughters (non-feminist mothers, it goes without saying, would be even more to blame). Absent or uninvolved, or even well-meaning, fathers are to blame for “starving” their “father-hungry” daughters. Girls themselves are to blame for their own culture of meanness, for creating harsh environments for their fellow tweens and teens in which there is no middle ground between prude and bad-girl. Schools are to blame for “naively” pushing abstinence-only sex education, which pushes teens to label promiscuity as liberation. College campuses are to blame, where these issues often come out with a vengeance. The media are to blame, of course, because they serve up “a severely limited visual variety of female bodies” (122) and vapid pop icons in place of the real women singers, poets and writers whose voices should be heard. Hip-hop culture is particularly to blame, for codifying horrific misogyny in its lyrics and images and offering no place for girls except as groupie or sex object. Men are to blame, for sending the wrong messages to women – they say they want physical perfection, but they’re wrong, they only think they want that. Dead-end first jobs are to blame, for demoralizing perfectionist women who thought real life was going to be… more. Women not only starve themselves, but they starve each other of what they really need, which is opportunities for mentors, templates, and (242) “intergenerational interaction.” (Relief Society, anyone?)

Puzzlingly, Martin’s answer to all this self-obsession seems to be a book that is notably self-absorbed. Her curiosity only extends as far as her own experience – it traces the arc of female life, which ends at “post-college disappointment.” This feels oddly truncated – as if there’s a whole adult world she’s unwilling to explore – but her audience, it would seem, is women just like herself. It’s the primal scream of a lost generation.

The frustration is, why on earth should this generation have been lost? Their mothers cracked the glass ceiling. The girls benefited from Title IX. They are educated at the highest rates of any previous generation. They could have been anything they wanted, these girls of the American mainstream—and they turn out scantily clad, politically uninvolved, morally adrift, fashion-focused, shallow, and starving. Society must have failed them somehow, Martin insists. Reading this book left me feeling discouraged – like that story of the person picking up starfish from the shore and throwing them back one by one. The problem feels so vast, the disease so deep in the tissue, the lost ones so very, very lost.

Yet there must be a cure… or at least a ray of hope. Like the problem itself, the cure is complicated, says Martin. It begins with her manifesto—letting go of identifying the self with the body’s shape, size, and condition: “we are not our bodies. Our souls are not our stomachs. Our brains are not our butts” (30). It involves reorienting one’s view of food: “not as an indulgence but as a necessity, not as a foe but as a friend” (231). It means finding “authentic ritual” and spirituality – not “our grandparents’ tall-steeple religions” (259) which taught bodily asceticism, nor “Ana” (anorexia) and “Mia” (bulimia), the hideous substitute gods of online eating disorder groups (251), but something that sounds rather New Age-y in its “intentionality” and “mindfulness” and movement towards “well-being” (269). It involves getting professional help (at premium cost) for eating disorders, convincing a woman to harness the willpower she’s using to harm herself to take care of herself instead, listening to a body’s real hungers and meeting them. It involves admitting, and getting others to admit, that perfection is not effortless for anyone, anywhere, period. It involves cultivating good friends, mentors and support networks, and in the end, it involves reconnecting with the invincible, positive, super-hopeful 8-year old girl inside all of us.

I’m not sure whether this book is more, or less, helpful than the other zillion already out on the market. I’ve listed a few below, but of course they are legion, and I haven’t read them all. I’d say this one is more anecdotal than scientific, doesn’t hesitate to use profanity to make a point, and is aimed more at twentysomethings than teens. I usually scorn the way we set up a totally false divide between ourselves as Mormons and “the world.” But after reading this book I felt like a member of another species altogether than the girls she was talking about, and that saddened me almost as much as the painful stories of self-loathing, despair, and exploitation. Whether third-wave feminism is up to the challenge of reaching this generation adrift is uncertain, but in chorus with caring and aware religious leaders, college professors, high school coaches, community leaders, and positive media role models, maybe if we go seven times around this Jericho and shout loud enough together, we can liberate the generation that should have grown up liberated all along, and set them free from feeling trapped inside their own bodies.

Further reading:
Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (1997)
Kim Chernin, The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity (1985)
Margot Maine, Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness (2004) and with Joe Kelly, The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect (2005)
Susie Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue (1978)
Mary Pipher, Hunger Pains: The Modern Woman’s Tragic Quest for Thinness (1997)
Ira M. Sacker, Dying to be Thin (1987)
Catherine Steiner-Adair, Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health & Leadership (2005)
Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women (2003)

Friday, February 22, 2008

the remarkable eliza

Think all young girls in colonial America sat around stitching samplers and being ornamental? Think again. Although the vast majority of them were slaves, servants, or worked long hard hours in fields and houses, there were some girls of privileged backgrounds with remarkable achievements that shake up our ideas about expectations and realities for colonial women. Eliza Lucas Pinckney is one such woman.

In 1738, British military officer George Lucas and his wife, Anne arrived from Antigua to settle in South Carolina where George had inherited 3 plantation sites in the rice colony. Anne was too ill to be active in the family, so they turned the running of their household over to their 16-year old daughter Eliza (1722-1793).
She was an accomplished and intelligent young woman; as one scholar writes, “he had encouraged her to develop into a woman of compelling intelligence rather than a woman of trivial refinements.” When her father was called away to active duty in a conflict with Spain (the charmingly named War of Jenkin’s Ear), he placed the family’s estate in Eliza’s hands. She oversaw cultivation, studied music and French, read in her father’s law library, tutored her sister and slave girls in reading, and managed the business of the plantation. Here's a silk dress she made as a part of her promotion of silk culture in South Carolina (just as ladies in Utah did a century & a quarter later).
The plantations prospered; she experimented with crops. Over a period of five years she developed a profitable method for growing indigo and extracting the dye – a very important crop in the British empire, and a very profitable one. Confident in business dealings, Eliza hired and fired overseers who reported directly to her, wrote regularly to the family’s agent in London re: property deeds, land and livestock sales. Her father had instructed her fully on her femme sole rights and neighbors relied on her to draw up wills or other legal documents.She was well versed in legal treatises and in the work of philosophers such as John Locke; she was interested in his writings on the self; she wrote in her diary, “I consulted Mr. Lock over and over to see wherein personal Identity consisted and if I was the very same self.”

In 1744 Eliza married the recently widowed Charles Pinckney, a leading lawyer in the colony, who had been a friend and mentor in philosophy, science and literature after her father’s departure. They had four children in five years; three survived infancy and would go on to be important leaders in Revolutionary-era South Carolina: Charles Coteworth (part of the diplomatic mission to France in the 1790s, and a two-time presidential candidate in the early 1800s), and Thomas (also a revolutionary military leader), and a daughter Harriet, who also became adept in business matters, married a wealthy SC rice planter, and assumed management of the extensive estate in the 1780s when she herself was widowed. Charles died in 1758 when Eliza was 36. Until her death from cancer in 1793, Eliza Lucas Pinckney managed her family’s complex business and plantation affairs. Indigo became the most important cash crop for colonial South Carolina, thanks to her ingenuity in developing its commercial potential. As Carol Berkin puts it, “There is little to suggest that Eliza Lucas Pinckney thought of herself as an anomaly in South Carolina and nothing to suggest that her friends and neighbors did either.”

Source: Carol Berkin,
First Generations: Women in Colonial America.
See also here also for more; Eliza's letterbook is still in print.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lesson 3-8 "Eternal Families"

The main points of this lesson are as follows:
  • the family is the basic unit in God's plan
  • the blessings of eternal family life can only be obtained in the temple
  • we prepare for eternal family life now (i.e. we try to live celestial laws in our earthly families)
I am going to find a way to make these beautiful and difficult doctrines meaningful to the girls in my class. I don't know yet exactly what that way is, but I will find one. But for my own personal self, I have some struggles about this topic which the lesson doesn't answer for me. The lesson advises: "Be sensitive to the needs and feelings of young women who may be the only members of the Church in their families or who may come from troubled homes." That should be a red flag that some of this material might be a hot potato. Sorry for the mixed metaphor.

I seem unable to stop wondering about things I don’t know, maybe things which NO ONE knows… the kind of questions people posed to Jesus about the woman with 5 deceased successive husbands. What to do with sealings conducted on earth for “unhappy” marriages, who’ll end up with whom in cases of multiple marriages, who will raise deceased children and how, who lives in whose mansion forever (how do I live with both my parents and my children, whose “eternal household” am I in?), etc etc. I experience a tension between my faith that “it will all work out” and therefore living with mystery and not knowing vs. an all-too-common (over)confidence – misplaced, I fear – in the platitudes we tell one another and the tidy schematic drawings.

I get annoyed with the way these doctrines often get taught. We don’t do them justice. Doctrine & Covenants 132 is tough going and I am still working on getting all its details into my head and heart, but translating it into lesson material is reductive and simplistic – and here’s my point – often does more harm than good, because there is a disconnect between the ideal and the reality. As anyone who’s ever become an Relief Society President or bishop finds out almost immediately (if they didn’t know before), families who are intact, 2-parent, sealed in the temple and living celestial laws in their home often form the visible core of a ward and provide its leadership, but they are a tiny minority. How does teaching these principles benefit the rest? Seems it dangles a bauble out of their reach, or (worse) burdens them with feelings of inadequacy or guilt. I worry it stunts progress. Just as anything which removes someone’s agency is evil, so too are the uninformed obstacles, stumbling-blocks (however well-intentioned) that we place in one another’s path which hinder the progress of others. And diagrams about the plan of salvation are a major stumbling-block for me.

I understand that we need to set our sights high: strive for perfection, not settle for “terrestrial” or “good enough;” our reach should exceed our grasp, or what’s a heaven for, etc. I get that entering into a marriage or working on improving family life with an eye to spending three trillion years with someone offers a new meaning to “long-term relationship” & gives perspective to give stability and meaning to family life. I get that happy families (i.e. functional, loving) are likely to emerge from a sincere living of these doctrines, and that people do have some measure of control over the outcome of their lives.

But. But, but, but. It hurts when it doesn’t work, when sincere & good & faithful people are denied these blessings or told they’ll be separated through all eternity from their loved ones, or be ministering angels to fruitful God-couples. I guess my concern is for the pain that it causes, the silencing of people who don’t fit the ideal, the elevating of a few at the expense of the many, the unspoken hierarchies it creates. As if we value single people less, stigmatize divorce, provide unnecessary stress to people grieving a loss or dealing with a “wayward” loved one.

Let me be clear I’m not attacking or even doubting the doctrine here. I just fear that we apply and implement it with our imperfect human capacities. By putting one kind of family model on a pedestal, it automatically lowers the value of all others. By making one kind the “right” it makes all others “wrong,” and how does that feel? Is this then an anthropological problem, part of our earthly, human need to classify, sort, distinguish and order? A reflection of our earthbound vision? For myself, I settle the turmoil within by rejecting the schematics and saying that we just don’t know enough about how it will all work out. The people who find out tend not to come back and give us the details. I could be all wrong. I say heaven can’t be a 3-tier system, with the top tier neatly divided into 3 stripes, but who am I to say? God being God, it could be however he wants.

I just worry that we set ourselves up (or worse, the kids we teach) for disillusionment by 1) boxing in the afterlife to look like something we humans would recognize, and 2) by implying that “eternal families” are more happier, more right, better than any other kinds of families. This often punishes the unattached in truly damaging ways. Ardis reflected on this at T&S in her post about childlessness, and so did another post recently (somewhere, I can’t remember where I saw it) that addressed our critics who claim we see salvation in terms of the clan, not the individual. Binding together all generations, but only keeping those who “get it right” on earth looks (to my limited, human perspective) like we’re making cosmic cliques which exclude people who would want to be in the in-group but whose fate has been assigned by someone else’s choices. We often don’t wait for God to do the judging, but we wade right in and trouble the waters with our focus on the external family structure as a shorthand way to evaluate others, to classify them as “on the right path” or “not.” Which does a real disservice to those who look like they’ve got it all together as well as those who don’t. Not everyone is comfortable with ambiguity and mystery, so we present as (Gospel Truth) a confident, leakproof model as if we have all the answers, and we use unintentionally hurtful language (a “family” ward? Ouch). We value conformity so much that in practice, it often trumps our tolerance, or our open-mindedness.

I feel genuine pain over this issue, and I don’t know what to do about it except cling to the notion that it’s all bigger than our tidy drawings suggest, and the work of a loving God, and that we humans are (mercifully) not in charge, however much we talk as if we are.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

a great deal of Conduct and Alacrity

I'm teaching a course on early American women's history, and I've got some gems to include here about life for young women in colonial times. Later this week I'll try to post a few more, but here's one for today.

From John Lawson, History of North Carolina (1714).

"The Women are the most industrious Sex in that Place, and, by their good Housewifery, make a great deal of Cloath of their own Cotton, Wool, and Flax; Some of them keeping their Families (though large), very decently appareled, both with Linens and Woollens, so that they have no occasion to run into the Merchants Debt, or lay their money out on Stores for Cloathing..."

"They marry very young; some at Thirteen or Fourteen; and She that stays till Twenty is reckoned a stale Maid, which is a very indifferent Character in that warm Country. The Women are very fruitful, most Houses being full of Little Ones... Many of the women are very handy in Canoes and will manage them with great dexterity and skill, which they become accustomed to in this watery Country... The girls are not bred up to the Wheel and Sewing only, but the Dairy, and the affairs of the House they are very well acquainted withal; so that you shall see them, whilst very young, manage their Business with a great deal of Conduct and Alacrity."

Lesson 3-7 "Our Purpose in Life"

In this lesson we explore life's purpose and how to get individualized, personal revelation about it. The lesson was written so long ago that the Gordon B. Hinckley quote which leads off is from "Elder Hinckley"... bittersweet... it makes me think that one way to approach this lesson would be to comb back through President Hinckley's many talks to the YW given at Young Women's broadcasts during his tenure as president of the Church and to remind them that he saw their lives as full of purpose and meaning. It would be a nice way to memorialize and honor him. I might try doing that. They are:

Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts Unceasingly (2007)

"Now you young women are on the threshold of life... You are literally a daughter of the Almighty. There is no limit to your potential. If you will take control of your lives, the future is filled with opportunity and with gladness. You cannot afford to waste your talents or your time. Great opportunities lie ahead of you."

A simple 4-step recipe for assuring your happiness: 1) pray, 2) study, 3) pay your tithing, 4) attend your meetings.

Stay on the High Road (2004)

"My heart reaches out to you. I appreciate you. I honor you. I respect you. What a tremendous force for good you are.... You are second to none. You are daughters of God."

Mind-body-spirit working together allows us to walk the high road to achievement and happiness. Mind = education and training; Body = controlling desires, being modest, living with zest; Spirit = faith in Jesus Christ, hope that comes from repentance.

You are a Child of God (2003 - actually this is a Primary meeting)

"Never forget, my dear young friends, that you really are a child of God who has inherited something of His divine nature, one whom He loves and desires to help and bless... May He smile with favor upon you. May you walk in His paths and follow His teachings... May each of us resolve to always follow Him in faith. May life be kind to you, for you are indeed a child of God, worthy and deserving of His love and blessing."

How Can I Become the Woman of Whom I Dream? (2001)

"It is an overwhelming responsibility to speak to you. At the same time it is a tremendous opportunity. I pray for the direction of the Spirit... Though of various nationalities, you are all of one great family... In your youth you speak of the future, and it is bright with promise. You speak of hope and faith and achievement. You speak of goodness and love and peace. You speak of a better world than we have ever known. You are creatures of divinity; you are daughters of the Almighty. Limitless is your potential. Magnificent is your future, if you will take control of it. Do not let your lives drift in a fruitless and worthless manner."

On looking at his 1928 HS yearbook, which someone had sent him, he remembered the dreams they had on the eve of the Great Depression, and how one girl he knew achieved her dreams with a life of faith and a strong, long-lasting marriage which had given her life stability, service, direction, opportunities and joy.

"For you my dear friends, the sky is the limit. You can be excellent in every way. You can be first class. There is no need for you to be a scrub. Respect yourself. Do not feel sorry for yourself... Particularly, pay no attention to what some boy might say to demean you. He is no better than you. In fact, he has already belittled himself by his actions."

"Never forget that you came to earth as a child of the divine Father, with something of divinity in your very makeup. The Lord did not send you here to fail. He did not give you life to waste it. He bestowed upon you the gift of mortality that you might gain experience—positive, wonderful, purposeful experience—that will lead to life eternal. He has given you this glorious Church, His Church, to guide you and direct you, to give you opportunity for growth and experience, to teach you and lead you and encourage you, to bless you with eternal marriage, to seal upon you a covenant between you and Him that will make of you His chosen daughter, one upon whom He may look with love and with a desire to help. May God bless you richly and abundantly, His wonderful daughters."

Stand True and Faithful (1996)

"How lucky can you be to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! Here you find choice and wonderful friends. Here you find able and faithful teachers. Here you find opportunities for service. For instance, where else is there any service to compare with being baptized for the dead? You, each of you, may have that opportunity of going to the Lord’s holy house, there to be baptized in behalf of someone who is helpless to go forward in the world beyond without the service you can give. That individual might have been a woman of great power and influence when she was upon the earth. But without the ordinance of baptism she is stopped in her eternal progress. Yours is the opportunity to free her. What an unselfish and wonderful thing this is. You, through a little effort, can become the one to unlock the gate which will permit that individual to move forward on the way of immortality and eternal life. There is not another organization in all the world that offers you this opportunity. It affords the means by which to give the most unselfish kind of service. You will receive no thanks in this life for that which you do in being baptized for the dead. But you will receive a satisfaction in your heart of having done something totally unselfish and much appreciated. Be true to the Church of which you are a part."

The Light Within You (1995 - he wasn't originally scheduled to speak at this meeting, but he did anyway)

"When Sister Hinckley and I were much younger and less stiff and brittle, we would go to dances. She would tell you that this stopped right after we were married. I must confess that I enjoyed her company more than I enjoyed the dancing.

Back in those days there was a popular song, the opening lines of which were:

Somebody loves you, I want you to know,
Longs to be near you, wherever you go.
(Charlie Tobias and Peter De Rose, “Somebody Loves You,” Edwin H. Morris & Co., Inc., 1932)

I have interpreted those words differently from the meaning given by the author. I wish you—each of you, wherever you are—to know that you are loved. You are loved by your Father in Heaven, of whose divine nature you have partaken. And He desires that His Holy Spirit will be near you wherever you go if you will invite it and cultivate it.

There is something of divinity within each of you. You have such tremendous potential with that quality as a part of your inherited nature. Every one of you was endowed by your Father in Heaven with a tremendous capacity to do good in the world. Train your minds and your hands that you may be equipped to serve well in the society of which you are a part. Cultivate the art of being kind, of being thoughtful, of being helpful. Refine within you the quality of mercy which comes as a part of the divine attributes you have inherited.

Some of you may feel that you are not as attractive and beautiful and glamorous as you would like to be. Rise above any such feelings, cultivate the light you have within you, and it will shine through as a radiant expression that will be seen by others.

You need never feel inferior. You need never feel that you were born without talents or without opportunities to give them expression. Cultivate whatever talents you have, and they will grow and refine and become an expression of your true self appreciated by others."

Monday, February 11, 2008

A little unscheduled detour

Atticus Ross Edmunds decided to join us nearly 12 weeks early. It was quite a harrowing journey into the world, but we both made it through safe and sound and only minorly scarred.

For the full story go here. I'm back home and I'll be popping back around here and there, but for the next little while my attention will be much more on baby things than teenage girls.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lesson 3-6 "A Woman's Responsibility to Teach"

Wow, I like this lesson. I especially like the case studies; there's a lot to talk about there. How would you teach in a Christlike way in the following situations?
  • Sarah met Judy, a nonmember cousin, at a family reunion. They began a correspondence and became good friends. Judy recently wrote Sarah and asked her about her religious beliefs. [Hopefully Sarah's doing the same --j.]
  • Lynne has been asked to help her younger brother Tom with his math. He says that he hates math and numbers don’t mean anything to him.
  • Eileen has been called as a Relief Society visiting teacher. One sister has invited her to visit but has asked that she not give a religious message.
  • JoAnn’s father has assigned her to discuss the subject of repentance at their family home evening. JoAnn has three younger sisters and a grandmother in her family.
One thing I thought of when I first read the lesson... if women in their role as mothers can be effective teachers whose impact can be lasting and formative (the stripling warriors story seems a natural fit for this lesson), then I wonder what Mary taught Jesus? We can never know, I guess, but he was the master teacher and he progressed from grace to grace over time, and he must have had a good example in her. Some scholars think that Joseph must have died before Jesus reached adulthood, because he disappears from the story, but Mary outlived Jesus and was with him all along, and I wonder what part of Jesus's teaching style comes from her.

Perhaps some of his homey stories that involve close attention to women's work (bread/leaven, sweeping, grinding, for instance) suggest that he worked alongside his mother and that she taught him from her own experiences. There's a passage from Bruce Chilton's imaginative book Rabbi Jesus which makes such an argument (I don't recommend this book - there was a lot to object to in it, but this image of Mary's teaching through the everyday has stuck with me):

"His childhood experience in Nazareth also led him to speak of God in images drawn from the domain of women. While the males of Nazareth, including his brothers, were gathered in the synagogue, Jesus was learning about God from his mother's daily routine. Once, he was looking at a little mustard plant that spread eagerly over other herbs in Mary's courtyard garden.

'What, my son?' asked Mary.

'Malkhuta delaha,' Jesus replied. 'The kingdom of God.'

If she felt puzzlement, it would have increased when she noticed Jesus staring at her while she kneaded yeast into dough.

'Malkhuta delaha!'

These parables of God's kingdom, as seed and as yeast, are linked in Luke's Gospel. Scholars and theologians have often cited them as proof of Jesus' later skill as a teacher. Skilled he indeed became; but before he was skilled, he was incisive. These were the kind of connections that he would have made as a child, watching Mary and working side by side with her. God was not only Abba [Father], but his Kingdom could be seen, touched and shared in the life of a woman in a Galilean courtyard."

Source: Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (Image Books, Doubleday, 2000), p. 18.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

go weigh in

Over at BCC, Natalie's got a discussion going comparing the young mens and young womens manuals. Go comment over there, and then reflect back over here on the progress of that conversation. Very interesting.