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Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
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© Copyright Kelly Ann Thompson-Eggertsen, 2021 All rights reserved
The collective memory of persecution as formulated by Parley P. Pratt in his autobiography impacted the Mormon community for generations. With the help of theorists Maurice Halbwachs, Jan Assman, and others to explain collective memory and how it is transmitted, this dissertation examines the life cycle of a collective memory as seen through the autobiographies of three Mormon women of different generations. It builds upon E. E. Erickson’s 1918 University of Chicago dissertation, The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life that argues that Mormonism was a social system adjusting to challenging circumstances. This examination argues that more factors than outward social stimuli affected this group’s memory. Distance from the original memory, ideology, the kind of storytelling, and the quality of the narrative all play a role in a generation’s response to a collective memory.
The formation of a collective memory requires producers and reproducers or those who retell it or pass it along. As a producer, Parley P. Pratt, especially through The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt portrayed himself as intellectually, spiritually and, in other ways, uniquely qualified for his position. In other words, Pratt was selective in his accounting. Consciously or not, he did not disclose details that revealed his personal participation in Mormon polygamous marriage or real wartime violence against Missourians because he did not want to blemish his reputation as an apostle and, by extension, his reputation as victim. Because they identified with
his story, Mormons nurtured a belief among themselves that they were ever the victims, never at fault. The reproducers of this social memory of persecution include church leaders who have retold anecdotes from Pratt’s autobiography at the LDS General Conference pulpit to Sunday school teachers and church magazine writers throughout the intervening one hundred and fifty years.
Louisa Barnes Pratt, contemporary of Parley P. Pratt but no close relation, titled her autobiography The History of Louisa Barnes Pratt: Mormon Missionary Widow and Pioneer. Her story first obtained by her would-be editor in 1955 but then more widely shared during the 1970s was finally published in 1998. Her work shows a gendered adaptation of the Mormon collective memory of persecution. The main persecution that she perceived and of which she complained was at the hands of those who disagreed with polygamy. She wanted her husband to take additional wives but he rejected the principle. A believer in the Cult of True Womanhood and as such a well-versed martyr, Louisa demonstrated a predisposition for dramatic suffering like Parley P. Pratt by outlining her status as chosen of God through her distress defined mostly by her troubled marital relationship.
Martha Cragun Cox, a 2nd generation member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born in 1852 in Millcreek, Utah. Influenced not only by the original Mormon collective memory of persecution as advanced by Parley Pratt, Martha, because she grew up in St. George among those who had participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was also impacted by an additional layering of the Mormon collective memory of persecution. Portrayed for nearly a century as innocent victims of an offending California-bound Arkansas wagon train, the southern Utah saints, in reality, had been the aggressors in that tragedy. The influence of these people on Martha is found in the retelling of their stories found in her autobiography. The
stories she shares might qualify as folklore but they ought not to be dismissed as untrue or irrelevant. Perhaps most importantly, to uphold the overt standards of her forebears, she chooses a lifestyle that is in every aspect the hardest one she could possibly choose.
The third generation response to this Mormon collective memory of persecution was vastly different from the earlier ones. It was modern. As evidenced in her autobiography, Mary Almeda Parry Brown (or Medi as she was known), like other intellectuals of her era, steered Mormondom’s collective memory of persecution in a new direction. As an accomplished academic, Medi graduated from Columbia’s Teacher’s College around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. As the wife of a man who became ill and eventually committed suicide, she assumed responsibility for providing for her self, her three stepchildren, and her own two children as an underpaid university professor. In the throes of her difficult life – in the throes of various types of persecution – she expressed conviction of God’s mindfulness of her in more intellectual and scientific than readily identifiably Mormon ways. Medi’s autobiography illustrates what happens when a generation rejects either outright or partially the memory handed down to them.
These women’s autobiographies tell three different, difficult, female experiences within the Mormon faith. When analyzed together they reveal the influence of a social memory upon multiple generations. A reader of this examination finds stories that a group of people tells amongst its self, learns more of that group from those stories, and comes to appreciate the powerful forces these stories are. Understanding how collective memories originate, their necessity, and what qualifies as healthful stories, a group can do much to foster group longevity and wellness.
Thompson-Eggertsen, Kelly Ann. (2021). “The Stories That We Tell”: Mormon Women, Autobiography, and the Mormon Collective Memory of Persecution as Influenced by The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. CGU Theses & Dissertations, 299. https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgu_etd/299.