Mormon News, August 17–21

In the News

The LDS Church added the presidents of three women’s groups to historically all-male committees this week. Although the committee assignments are bureaucratic rather than sacral, it is nonetheless significant that Relief Society President Linda Burton, Young Women’s President Bonnie Oscarson, globaland Primary President Rosemary Wixom will now be a part of the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, the Missionary Executive Council, and the Temple and Family History Executive Council, respectively. Many women praised the change as an important first step. Julie Smith said listening to women is always good, but it reinforces that, while women are listened to, men ultimately make the decisions. Blogger Jana Riess celebrated the announcement while noting the “double-speak” in coverage by church-owned media, which emphasized that although women have not been represented in this way in the past, the church has always been fair to them and no change was really necessary.

Utah-based artist Leslie Peterson wanted to see what Joseph Smith’s wives looked like, most of whom have never been shown before in church publications. Some of them do not have surviving photographs or paintings. So Peterson painted them herself, based on what she could find out about them, to bring them to life and give them a place in Latter Day Saint history. The Forgotten Wives project is based on the artist’s conception of how these obscure women might have looked. Among the responses so far, many people have expressed shock to find that Joseph Smith had more than one wife. Peterson herself learned this for the first time last year when the church posted an essay on its website about the topic. Her portraits of thirty-three plural wives identified by historian Todd Compton and first wife, Emma, have been on display at Writ and Vision art gallery and rare bookshop in Provo and marketed as a poster.

In October, as school lets out for fall break, hundreds of Utahns will drive south to California to visit beaches and theme parks and never stop in San Bernardino as they hurry west. Few of them will even know it is a city that was founded as a Mormon colony. As they approach the junction on their way to Los Angeles, they encounter signs for Lytle Creek and Swarthout Canyon Road, which are named after Mormon settlers, offering clues to the area’s origins. Apostles Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich founded the city in 1851 as part of Brigham Young’s effort to colonize the West. Six years later, when Young recalled the settlers (half of whom disobeyed because they had grown accustomed to the climate), San Bernardino had grown to a population of 3,000, making it larger than Los Angeles at the time. Lyman’s diaries, soon to be published by Signature Books, go into marvelous and chatty detail about the founding of the city and day-to-day life of the colonists.

In Memoriam

Two Mormon scholars passed away recently: Irene M. Bates, 94, well-known author of Lost Legacy, coauthored with Gary Smith about the church’s onetime office of Presiding Patriarch; and Myron Sorensen, 80, one of the original board members of Signature Books. Sorensen was a supporter of the Mormon History Association and had an impressive book collection; he was always one of the most interesting people to strike up a conversation with due his breadth of reading. Both will be missed.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor