Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bookends to a Week (literally)

It's been an exam week. Hopefully my last one. Oh I hope.

And it's been a week bookended (literally) with two pretty incredible tender mercies. Like some of the biggest I've ever seen. The kind that get me through these kinds of exams.

Last Saturday, after one of my worst runs ever (oh! the humidity! the August heat! the miles!), as I was eating my well-deserved breakfast, Fed Ex knocked at my door with a giant 70-lb. box from a woman for whom I do contract work. Bless her heart. She sent me her collection of the Woman's Exponent, from when she wrote her own dissertation on Utah women's suffrage. She said this collection saw here through her dissertation and she hoped it would see me through mine.
Now let me tell you about this gem. I discovered the Exponent when I worked as a research assistant at BYU. Published between 1872 to 1914 by Utah women, the newspaper covered everything from Relief Society minutes to correspondence with national suffrage leaders to fiction and poetry and biographies and editorials. Very progressive editorials, I might add. And oh! My favorite women! Emmeline B. Wells, Eliza R. Snow, the list goes on and on.

I love these women. I love feeling the raised print on the pages. I love the handwritten names at the tops of the papers--who they belonged to. I love them because I know them. I love Jane Snyder Richards, who was the Relief Society president in Ogden. It was her idea to create stake Relief Society organizations, and under the direction of Brigham Young, right before he died, she was the first. Her husband, Franklin, gave the most beautiful lecture on women and marriage and the sharing of priesthood that I've ever read. And now I've got them here with me. Their words will provide fodder for my research, and their spirits will accompany me on this process.

Fast forward to this past Saturday. After another horrible run (oh! the humidity! the August heat! the miles!), I found another package on my doorstep. This one was from another woman for whom I worked before I started graduate school. I was her research assistant on several projects--namely early Relief Society documents and Eliza R. Snow poetry. Well the poetry book just came out. And I'm happy to present it to you here:

Over 500 poems, each of them carefully annotated and introduced, present snapshots of a beautiful early Mormon trajectory, filled with personal relationships, development, editorials, theology, history, and faith. They are the stories of an amazing journey. I loved getting to know Eliza on a very personal level--pouring over her journals and letters, tracking down her speeches, experiencing her travels and newspaper publications. I loved researching and writing, organizing and formating, discovering the mysteries of people referred to only by their initials based on clues in the poems, understanding the social, cultural, political, economic, literary, and religious implications of her references. I loved it all.

And I loved working with two master historians and writers. I loved our day-long writing sessions, get-aways at Karen's cabin or Jill's cabin. I loved laughing our heads off at the antics we imagined in this nineteenth-century life. I loved pulling together the threads and now, finally, seeing the finished product.
Two bookends. Some of Eliza's poems even appear in those Woman's Exponent copies. From primary sources to adept analysis and interpretation... these two packages have reminded me why I'm here in the Washington DC summer dog days, why I'm plugging through minor fields. I need to gain the tools, to learn the trade, to sharpen my ability.

But I also need to remember and to fuel myself and to refreshen my passion. And these two packages have done just that.


Paul and Mari said...

What great Tender Mercies!

The homestead said...

I love surprises like this! They are the highlights of life.

Laurel said...

coming from a girl who WISHES she had the mind you do, even I am loving the Eliza book.

I loved that you've been surrounded by the history that is the reason for you doing what you do.