Since the 1750s American women have flocked to churches. Women have consistently been the majority in church populations. Religion was the central motivation of the female life experience. Likewise, women comprised a significant portion of the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its first decade. There exists little historical analysis of the contribution and experience of these women as a whole. As a result of this lack of research some historians have made erroneous assumptions of patriarchal oppression and a lack of commitment on the part of early Mormon women. This project closely examines the religious experience of these earliest Mormon women through the documentary editing of nineteen letters written between 1831 and 1843.

The women come from a variety of life experiences notwithstanding consistent membership in The Church of Jesus Christ. They come from a distinct geographical base, a wide span of education, are married and single, and vary in age from twenty to sixty-four years old. Despite these differences, they demonstrate a continuity of religious commitment and dedication.

Three themes dominate their correspondence: spiritual knowledge, bearing witness, and sacrifice. They exhibit knowledge of the existence of God as a Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ as Savior of the world, and Joseph Smith, Jr. as God's direct mouthpiece. They repeatedly and unabashedly testify of these truths to their relations not yet acquainted with Joseph Smith and his message and admonish them to know truth for themselves. To husbands and soon-to-be husbands already believers in Smith's message the women demonstrate the application of these beliefs in their lives and a consistent faith. This knowledge and devotion creates a high level of commitment which leads them to follow Smith over thousands of miles and through fires of persecution. They willingly sacrificed whatever they felt that God required of them. Conviction was explicitly demonstrated through their personal writings proffering an intimate glimpse of a unique religion and belief as the motivation of these women. In religion they found a degree of autonomy to define themselves not readily available in other areas of their lives, they knew Joseph Smith to be a modem prophet with the sure word of the Lord to them. The claim to direct revelation from God was singular. Their conviction to it was sure enough to enable their adherence to this persecuted prophet, belief in new doctrine, and the church which Smith established rather than fulfilling their religious desires through the mainstream religions of the day.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; History



Date Submitted


Document Type





Mormon women, Religious life, History, 19th century, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Membership, Women