Through examining the life of Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, a nineteenth-century Mormon woman, this thesis establishes an analytical framework for studying the lives of Mormon women in territorial Utah. Their faith, femininity, and the frontier form the boundaries in which their lives are studied. Their faith was primarily defined by the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as a belief in a restored gospel and priesthood, temples, and polygamy. These unique beliefs also fostered an identity as a chosen people and contributed to hostile feelings from their neighbors. Persecution followed and the Latter-day Saint community responded by isolating themselves geographically and ideologically from their perceived enemies. This isolation, in turn, elevated the importance of LDS doctrine and culture in Mormon women's lives.
Mormon women also brought to Utah territory Northeastern notions of domesticity promulgated through women's magazines of the time. In Utah, local newspapers also forwarded the ideals of purity, piety, submissiveness, and virtue. Mormon women claimed to implement these values in their lives, but Protestant women found their acceptance of polygamy an insult to womanhood.
Finally, Mormon women lived on the western frontier, isolated from markets in a desert. Such circumstances inevitably affected their lives. They had to sacrifice convenience, economic stability, and physical comforts while establishing a reliable food supply, irrigation systems, schools, and homes. Domestic production of food stuffs and goods became essential to a family's survival.
This picture of Mormon women, though generally accurate, is not enough to examine the many unique facets of their lives. The triad of faith, femininity, the frontier sets the boundaries for the study, but does not account for the differences between each woman's unique personality and circumstances. I have chosen Martha Jane Knowlton Coray to test the boundaries established in this framework. As a believer, Martha was concerned with building the Kingdom of God. She followed Brigham Young's 1870s directives and her own ambitions to sell medicinal products throughout Utah Territory. Doctrine regarding eternal families and her domestic ideals no doubt contributed to her choice to have twelve children. But Martha and Howard failed at their attempt to practice polygamy, and poverty prevented Martha from doing as much for her children as she would have liked. Martha's life illustrates that although the greatest influences in Mormon women's lives can be identified, the individual paths followed were forged by choice, personality, and determination.
College and Department
Family, Home, and Social Sciences; History
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Billings, Amy Reynolds, "Faith, Femininity, and the Frontier: the Life of Martha Jane Knowlton Coray" (2002). All Theses and Dissertations. 4532.
Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, Mormon, women, Utah, pioneer, frontier, faith, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints