Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taking "Crazy Ned Tullidge" Seriously

In a Winter 2000 Dialogue article, Claudia Bushman sings the praises of Mormon historian and writer Edward W. Tullidge, calling him mercurial, quixotic, self-destructive, emotionally and mentally unstable; but noting his writing accomplishments despite his difficulties. Such a description could be calculated to capture my attention! "I want to take him seriously," Claudia avers, explaining:

"Tullidge wore his heart on his sleeve, serving his current grand ideal, whatever it was. He had troubled relationships with the LDS Church, the RLDS Church, and the Godbeite movement. He yearned to be a devoted follower and to promote the virtues of an institution, but could not stick...Diligent and optimistic, he was a victim of his broad aspirations, falling short of what he might have done. Able, hard-working, and articulate, he was also a heavy drinker given to emotional outbursts." (Claudia Bushman, Edward W. Tullidge and The Women of Mormondom, Dialogue Journal 33:4, p. 15.)

Having recently read Tullidge's book Women of Mormondom, I have become fascinated by and enamored of his writing style. As a fairly young man in the 1860's, Tullidge became the first Mormon writer to successfully bridge the gap between inside and outside views of the Church, writing for several impartial Eastern periodicals. This accomplishment is all the more surprising to those acquainted with his Women of Mormondom, with its impassioned defense of Mormon origins and doctrines. The book was written after his flirtation with the Brigham-disillusioned and reform-oriented Godbeites and his subsequent reconciliation with the LDS Church.

Tullidge's purpose in writing this book seems to be to take the traditional male-centric story of Mormonism and retell it with a more female perspective, bringing out the parallel experiences of women. In doing this, he had a great deal of assistance from Eliza R. Snow, who placed her considerable prestige behind the project. As well as garnering financial support, she urged the sisters under her influence to contribute their stories to the project. As a result, the book contains monograph histories which are to be had nowhere else.

Leonard J. Arrington says that Tullidge stands alone as a Mormon feminist historian in his day, despite his wild eccentricity of style. There are several ways in which he demonstrated his feminism. Though by today's third wave feminist standards they fall short of the mark, they were progressive for the mid-nineteenth century.
  1. He elevates women as being more attuned, mystical, and receptive to the Spirit than men.

    "She has a divine mission always, both to manifest spiritual gifts and to perpetuate spiritual dispensations. Woman is child of faith. Indeed she is faith. Man is reason. His mood is skepticism. Left alone to his apostleship, spiritual missions die, though revealed by a cohort of archangels. Men are too apt to lock again the heavens which the angels have opened, and convert priesthood into priestcraft. It is woman who is the chief architect of a spiritual church." (Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom, p. 20.)
  2. He accentuates the women's world of family and sisterhood, romance and sensitivity over the historical and authoritarian position of men.

    "The women...comprehended...the significance of the name of Israel...Indeed perhaps they have best understood it. Their very experience quickened their comprehension...The Mormon women have borne the cross and worn the crown of thorns for a full lifetime; not in their religion, but in their experience." (Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom, pp. 68-69.)
  3. He creates a female theology through which to view the Mormon connection to Hebraic origins.

    "He names a 'holy female Trinity,' of Eve, Sarah, and Zion--mothers in Israel at different times of history. Motherhood is the Mormon woman's everlasting theme. Eve is the Mother of a world, Sarah the mother of the covenant, and Zion (a group name for polygamous wives) the mother of celestial sons and daughters." (Claudia Bushman, Edward W. Tullidge and The Women of Mormondom, Dialogue Journal 33:4, p. 25.)
  4. He promotes women's suffrage as necessary to ensure the right of women to decide what types of marriage shall be permissible under law.

    "Woman is chief in the consents of marriage. It is her right, under God her father, and God her mother, to say to society what shall be the relations between man and woman--hers in plain fact, to decide the marriage question. The women of Mormondom have thus far decided on the marriage order of the patriarchs of Israel..." (Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom, p. 549.)

Having read Tullidge's impassioned defense of Mormon feminism as well as plural marriage, I find it incomprehensible that he was soon (within 2 years of publication of the book) to convert his allegiance to the Reorganized Church, which holds the position that polygamy was never taught by Joseph Smith. I haven't been able to find any more information on why Tullidge took this rather drastic step, but it certainly fits his mercurial personality.

If "Crazy Ned Tullidge" has captured your interest, check out my further post on his writings: The Apostolic Authority of the Nineteenth Century Mormon Woman at the Juvenile Instructor.


In The Doghouse said...

Thanks for some background on Tullidge. I read his book The Women in Mormondom a couple of years ago, and found it both educational and fascinating.

C. L. Hanson said...

Wow, that sounds fascinating! Where'd you find a copy of that book?

Bored in Vernal said...

Click the link, Chanson!

Anonymous said...

Not only that - he revised his bio of JS, published in 1880 under RLDS auspices, to deny that JS ever taught polygamy.