Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My survey: Finding out what immigrants think of Utah's new Guest-Worker Program (Part 1)

Utah's Guest Worker Program (Utah Immigration Enforcement and Accountability Act, formerly HB116) stayed intact through this spring's legislative session, despite some legislators' threats to repeal it. If things go as planned, the program will start granting state-approved legal work status to undocumented immigrants living in Utah next summer, 2013. Personally, I have high-hopes that this bi-partisan experiment will function successfully. But I have some questions about how things will pan out.

Utah Guest Worker Program Survey for Immigrants
What percentage of undocumented immigrants will actually apply to enter the program? Is there a broad awareness of the program among Utah's undocumented immigrants? What are immigrants saying about it? Are there aspects of the program (in it's current form) that will deter many undocumented immigrants from getting on board? (I'm particularly interested to know if undocumented immigrants will be daunted by the high application fee ($1,500-$2,000), or if many are concerned about the fact that if the legislation changed after implementation of the program, the state would suddenly have record of thousands of immigrants without legal status.) To what extent does/will the immigrant community trust this program?

At any rate, I decided to put together a survey in which I ask immigrants (both documented and undocumented) for their opinions of the program, and their predictions of how well it will succeed without asking leading questions. To the left is an image file of the survey I came up with. (Click here to view or download document from Thanks to some thoughtful friends, I have translations of the survey in Spanish, Japanese, Traditional and Simplified Mandarin Chinese, and Vietnamese.

My goal is to administer the questionnaire to about 200 immigrants. (I see this as more of a pilot study than a quantitative research project). So far, I've had only 47 participants.

Late spring this year (2012), I attended the Rose Park Community Festival, where I wheeled a toddler-bearing stroller, and wielded a couple of survey-bearing clipboards. I walked around for the last hour of the festival asking strangers if they were immigrants and if they'd be willing to complete a confidential survey. When I got home, I was amazed to discover that I'd only surveyed 10 individuals! That's when I decided I'd need to start searching for ELL classrooms.

Guadalupe School
Guadalupe School is a small community education center on Salt Lake's west side. They offer a toddler-preschool early education program, an elementary charter school program, and an adult English Language Learning program in addition to other community classes.

I visited the school twice last month to conduct my study with two classrooms of their adult ELL students. From the Monday night classroom, I administered 16 surveys, and from the Wednesday night classroom, 21. In both classes, the preferred language in which to take the survey was Spanish for every student. I was surprised how many students had questions about the Guest Worker Program before completing the survey. Maybe I should add, "Had you heard of this new guest worker program before today?" as an additional survey question.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: "Mormon Polygamy, A History" by Richard S. Van Wagoner

This is the second installment in a Utah History book review series on 19th Century Mormon Polygamy. (For readers less familiar with Mormon history, it's important to note that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ended the church-sanctioned practice of polygamy in 1890.)
A few weeks ago (Oct. 6, 2012), I drove through the Mormon pilgrimage to Salt Lake City's Temple Square. My sister and her boyfriend had tickets to the Saturday afternoon session of the LDS Church's biannual General Conference, I dropped them off, and then headed home to watch the conference live on Hoards of Latter-Day Saints filled the cross-walks and sidewalks that afternoon, and as ever, these Sunday-best dressed pedestrians tried to avoid the pamphlets and shouts of antagonists on the lawn outside the temple gates. You know what I mean, the folks wielding signs with slogans like, "Joseph Smith was a Satanist," or "The Book of Mormon is a fraud!"

The anti-Mormon movement is a old phenomenon, it started almost as soon as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was founded. Because of the enthusiastic complaints of early 19th Century excommunicants from the Church, history is rife with reports of LDS scandal and hypocrisy, easy fodder for anti-Mormon literature. The question is, how is any student of history to know truth from fiction?

History may not be as precise a science as physics or chemistry, but real historians are trained to analyze and evaluate historical evidence. For example, they may present several accounts of an event, and emphasize that a first-hand account is more reliable than a second-hand account, a story told the day it occurred is more reliable than one told in retrospect several decades afterward, and the version expressed by an outsider is perhaps less-informed, but more objective than the versions told by those with strong positive or negative bias.

That's what I like about Richard S. Van Wagoner's Mormon Polygamy, A History. In the body and end-notes of his book, Van Wagoner frequently offers analysis of the sources he presents based on the criteria I've described in the previous paragraph. He also adds scholarly objectivity by exposing both sides of the story throughout the book.

I particularly love the chapter, "Women in Polygamy," in which Van Wagoner quotes many 19th Century polygamous women, allowing them to share their own reflections about polygamous life. In this chapter, Van Wagoner argues that life in polygamy was not the "harem, dominated by lascivious males" portrayed by journalists in the late 1800s, and neither was it always the happy ideal plural wives felt compelled to report in public (Mormon Polygamy, A History, pages 89-104). He uses, among other well-chosen quotations, this fascinating statement by Zina D. Jacobs Smith Young, plural wife first to Joseph Smith and then to Brigham Young, and the third General President of the Relief Society:
Much of the unhappiness found in polygamous families is due to the women themselves. They expect too much from the husband, and because they do not get it, or see a little attention bestowed upon one of the other wives, they become sullen and morose, and permit their ill-temper to finally find vent . . . a successful polygamous wife must regard her husband with indifference, and with no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy  (New York World, November 19, 1869; quoted in Mormon Polygamy, A History, page 101).
More About Van Wagoner

Richard Van Wagoner
Although Van Wagoner (1946-2010) was an audiologist, not an academic historian, by profession, his historical works have won awards from the Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association.

It's important for readers to know that Van Wagoner is not without his own bias. He was a fifth-generation, life-long Mormon, and BYU graduate. But, personally, that's one of the things I loved about the book--I'm always curious about how Mormon scholars, sifting through thousands of positive and negative accounts of LDS history, come through it all without loss of faith. Although I've said here that Van Wagoner considers both points of view in his book, he doesn't treat them equally. Overall he argues that a holistic study of Joseph Smith's perspective and experiences, leads readers to see him as a man of ethical leadership and moral integrity. For example, Van Wagoner first reveals statements made in the 1830s and 1840s in which Joseph (already married to Emma Smith) was accused of indecent proposals and extra-marital sexual relationships. Then, in addition to showing the anti-Mormon bias that accompany some of these stories, Van Wagoner says:
Accounts such as these have led some historians to conclude that Joseph Smith was licentious. But others have countered that these stories merely indicate his [early] involvement in a heaven-sanctioned system of polygamy, influenced by Old Testament models (Mormon Polygamy, A History, page 5).
Note: While neither the Church nor Joseph Smith went public about polygamy until the publication of the 12 July 1843 revelation on Celestial Marriage (D&C 132), the first widely recognized plural marriage of Joseph Smith was to Louisa Beaman in 1841. There are also several reports that Joseph Smith was teaching the spiritual principle of plurality of wives to some of his friends in church leadership as early as 1831 (Mormon Polygamy, A History, page 3).

What other LDS scholars say about Van Wagoner

In my search to know what other faithful Mormon historians have said about Van Wagoner's work, I happened upon a couple of interesting articles published on scholarly websites associated with Brigham Young University.

The first article I found in BYU Studies, a quarterly print and electronic journal. The review is written by another famed LDS historian, emeritus BYU professor, Thomas G. Alexander. Alexander calls Mormon Polygamy, A History, a "generally accurate summary of previous published studies." He's pleased that Van Wagoner's work agrees with Joseph Smith's own interpretations of the origins of Mormon plural marriage. He commends Van Wagoner on some of his data interpretations--like admitting that findings on the nature of Joseph Smith's relationship with Fanny Alger are inconclusive. Alexander also points out something that Van Wagoner missed, a piece of the Fanny Alger story that couldn't possibly be true when time and place are fully considered:
Thomas G. Alexander
He [Van Wagoner] cites an alleged interview in the St. George Temple between an unnamed person and Heber C. Kimball, who is said to have introduced Fanny's brother John as the brother of Joseph Smith's first plural wife. This would have been an extraordinary feat since the St. George Temple was not dedicated until 1877 and Heber C. Kimball died in 1868. (Thomas G. Alexander's Review of Mormon Polygamy, A History; BYU Studies)
He suggests that Van Wagoner's work is a step above the work of Mormon authors who, in defense of polygamy, over-do it with "outmoded and indefensible rationalizations," such as spreading the idea that plural marriage was limited to only 2 or 3 percent of Mormon marriages, or that polygamy was necessary to provide husbands for excess females while there is significant historical and sociological evidence that these ideas are just not true. Alexander also calls Van Wagoner's findings, "moderate," which I assume is a compliment.

When Alexander calls the book, "generally true," I take that to mean, it's worth reading, but take it with a grain of salt. His overall opinion of the book seems to be that it's nothing new, nothing special, just a relatively mature compilation of stuff that's already been published. (Of course all of this is old news to the Mormon history world, Van Wagoner's second edition of the book was published in 1989.) Alexander emphasizes that there remain many unanswered questions about 19th Century Mormon Polygamy.

The second article I want to mention is a Maxwell Institute publication. It's a mostly negative review of Van Wagoner's award-winning book on early LDS Church leader, Sidney Rigdon, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess. (They didn't have a review on Mormon Polygamy, A History.) So, although this review has nothing to do with Van Wagoner's research on Mormon polygamy, I'm passing this along, because it was helpful to me to see what the Maxwell Institute scholars have said about Van Wagoner.

In this Maxwell Institute review, the authors praise Van Wagoner for arguing that "Rigdon played a crucial role in the development of early Mormonism and that his contribution was diminished in the wake of his unsuccessful bid to shoulder Mormon leadership after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith." However, they disagree with what seems to have been Van Wagoner's big scholarly project, posthumously diagnosing Rigdon with bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, it seems the reviewers' main concern with Van Wagoner's writing is this:
He intends to expose the "warts and double chins of religious leaders" and "warns all of us that we must ultimately think for ourselves rather than surrender decision-making to others, especially to those who dictate what God would have us do" (Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, pp. x, 457—58). In this way Van Wagoner casts Sidney Rigdon as an object lesson calculated to censure modern Mormons for what his related Journal of Mormon History essay calls "group gullibility" (Van Wagoner's Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Biographical Excess.) 
I laughed when I read that statement. After reading his polygamy research, Van Wagoner strikes me as a skeptic with resilient faith, whereas these Maxwell Institute reviewers seem (to me) to have exaggerated him as a dissident. But what do I know? I haven't read Van Wagoner's work on Sidney Rigdon. I'm just a lady who who had a very positive reaction to Mormon Polygamy, A History.

Note: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship is a branch of Brigham Young University that issues research fellowships, produces lecture series and publishes Mormon studies research in journal and book form. The institute is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

My critique of the book

Although I mentioned (above) my admiration for Van Wagoner's evaluation of his sources, I must criticize him for not doing so consistently. There were a great many sources for controversial accounts that he does not evaluate. For example, In the chapter "Women in Polygamy," he frequently uses quotations from a magazine or newspaper called, "The Anti-Polygamy Standard," but he does not offer background information on the origin or nature of the publication. He also fails to comment on how the publication's presumably strong anti-polygamy bias might affect the legitimacy of the quotations found in it (journalists exaggerating the truth to prove a point, yellow journalism, etc.)

I also disliked the book's unclear parenthetical citation format (more like a non-format.) I'm not saying all historical books should be in MLA, APA or Chicago style (Did those exist in the '80s?), but I am saying that they should have some consistent manner of documentation that clearly leads the reader from the parenthesis to its correlated reference in the bibliography. Some of the parenthetical citations in Van Wagoner's book contain abbreviations, or other shortened, confusing references. I often had to skim through the paragraph again in order to find all the clues I needed to find the source in the bibliography. Additionally, there are some sources (like newspaper publications and personal letters) for which there are no bibliographical entries at all. Van Wagoner gives the date, the name of the publication or recipient, but nothing more. This is extremely problematic.

Overall, I recommend this book for critical thinkers. Van Wagoner presents historical accounts, reminds readers to question sources, and while he makes clear his own interpretations, he leaves room for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. As far as my own conclusions are concerned, I have to agree with Thomas Alexander, there are many questions about the beginnings of Mormon polygamy that historians have not yet adequately answered.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: "More Wives Than One" by Kathryn M. Daynes

For years I've had in mind the goal of getting my hands on a few good books about pre-1890, Utah Mormon pioneer polygamy. (1890 is the year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints formally discontinued the practice of plural marriages.) I'm a faithful Mormon myself, so I wasn't interested in anything with an antagonistic bias toward the Church. I also wanted something objective and academic, rather than a book of faith-promoting tales. Eventually, I decided what I wanted was a publication critically acclaimed by both LDS and non-LDS scholars.

Over the past few months I've discovered and read several books that fit the bill! This blog post is the first in my series of reviews of scholarly books on Utah Mormon polygamy.

Here's today's recommended read:

More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System 1840-1910 
by Kathryn M. Daynes, University of Illinois Press, 2001

Kathryn M. Daynes
Daynes is a professor of history at Brigham Young University, and served as president of the Mormon History Association 2008-2009. This book started as Daynes's graduate dissertation, funded by a grant from Indiana University. My favorite thing about the book is its meticulous primary and secondary source citation. More Wives Than One contains 816 end notes, and a 14-page-long selected bibliography. It's a fairly short read, only 214 pages, if you don't count the appendix.

More Wives Than One cover image
The first chapter of the book is an excellent summary of the beginnings of polygamy among the Latter-Day Saints in Kirtland (Ohio), and Nauvoo (Illinois). The remainder of the book is a historical and demographic analysis of one specific community, the city of Manti, Utah from its settlement in 1849 to 1910. Daynes goes into a detailed study of the plural marriage customs, complex doctrines, state marriage laws and other cultural phenomena that serve to thoroughly illustrate the nature of Mormon society in 19th Century Utah. She then presents quantitative sociological data gathered from marriage records, censuses, and other historical documents pertaining to Manti, Utah. With this data she analyzes
  • The Marriage Market (Ch.5) (Daynes surveys the ratios of men to women over time. She also discusses the departure of unmarried men from Manti in search of work and marriage prospects, and the influx of new immigrants, both male and female.)
  • Women Who Became Plural Wives (Ch. 6). (In this chapter, Daynes shares demographic information about polygamous women across time. This info set includes facts about common ages for new brides, the difference in social status between first wives and plural wives, among other family life details.)
  • Economics and Plural Marriage (Ch. 7) (Here, Daynes concludes that polygamy actually solved some societal economic problems in Manti. For example, wealthy men commonly took women from lower-class families as plural wives, which meant a pattern of wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor.)
  • Civil and Ecclesiastical Divorce (Ch. 8) and  
  • Incidence of Divorce and Remarriage (Ch. 8-9)
Throughout the book, Daynes puts Mormon polygamous culture into context by contrasting it with Victorian American customs and values. By doing so, she thoughtfully reveals the less-obvious reasons behind main-stream 19th century America's violent vilification of Mormons.

For those who don't mind the academic lingo, it's an awesome read!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring/Summer Sabbatical 2012

Dear Readers,

Just thought I'd let you know I'm taking a sabbatical from blogging April-August 2012 in order to complete some larger research and writing projects this summer.  I'll be working on a biographical play about Utah pioneer, Wilford Woodruff; a quantitative study on Utah immigrants' response to the state guest worker program that will start in 2013; and a qualitative study on race and violence in secondary public schools in the Intermountain West region.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

University of Utah Women's Week

Here's an important event announcement that was included in the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office of Diversity and Human Rights weekly news:

The University of Utah will host Women’s Week, Powerful Beyond Measure: Women, Work & Education, March 19-23. Salt Lake Community College President Cynthia A. Bioteau will deliver the keynote address on Wednesday, March 21 at noon in the Olpin Student Union Ballroom. A panel presentation, “Refugee Women and Their Challenges in Work and Education,” will be held at noon in the Hinckley Caucus Room in Orson Spencer Hall on Thursday, March 22. Other lectures, discussions and film screenings will be presented throughout the week. A full list can be found at

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Here's what black Mormons in Utah are saying about Mormon black history.

As black history month comes to a close, I realize with regret that I haven't posted this month about black Utahn history topics.  So here's a start:

A significant piece of Utah black history is Mormon black history. Rather than set up my own summary of historic black history moments in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I'd like to provide a couple of helpful resources here. The image below is a link to a popular blog authored by two black LDS women (also Utahns) who call themselves, "Sista Beehive" and "Sista Laurel."

It's a humorous and thoughtful blog about faith, race, and Utah culture.  Their subtitle is a parody of the LDS women's organization, Relief Society, whose motto is: "Charity Never Faileth." I recommend their article about Elijah Abel, one of the few black Mormons to receive the priesthood early in the Church's history. They also wrote a great post about Amanda and Samuel Chambers, former slaves who became Mormon pioneers, emigrating to Utah in 1870.

Here's another helpful source:

Among the creators/writers of this site are Marvin Perkins, and Darius Gray, who have had leadership positions in the LDS Church's Genesis Group, a social organization for black Latter Day Saints. has a great post on the history of black Mormons and the priesthood. The LDS Church never had segregation, but for over a hundred years, black Latter Day Saints were excluded from the priesthood. (This limitation was formally lifted in 1978.) The post links a great list of articles by black LDS scholars, and significant Church leaders who offer a frank discussion of the issue.

I should add there, that the LDS Church recently made a public statement in response to a Washington Post article about this issue in which BYU professor, Randy Bott, made some controversial statements.