Deseret Book is producing a series of biographies called Women of Faith in the Latter Days. Until recent decades, historians have mostly written about the male experience, so this series is shining some much-needed light on the experience of the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The editors are calling for submissions, asking primarily for stories of women who left their own accounts of their experiences. My fourth-great grandmother Ann Prior Jarvis was a good candidate for the series since she left several interesting autobiographies and a lengthy journal, so in January 2011, I submitted a proposal for a chapter about her. I was delighted to get an email saying that the editors accepted my proposal for Volume 2.
Not long after the chapter was accepted, I became ill and fainted and hit my head and suffered a serious concussion. I could barely focus on the computer screen for several months, and I still needed to convert Ann's most interesting autobiography from a holograph (handwritten) copy to a digital copy. My parents and brothers and sisters and sisters-in-law came to the rescue. From their locations all around the United States, they each downloaded several pages of the autobiography and typed them and sent the text to me by email.
Then the hard work began: condensing 18,240 of Ann's words down to less than 3,500 words, and trying to keep the story cohesive and true to Ann's experience and voice. To help with the process I summarized the major themes in her story: conversion, the experience of gathering to Zion, the gift of healing, and the pain of separation. And complaining! She tended to complain and she had very good reason to do so, so I wanted to make sure the story had a flavor of that, as well as her humor and her elegant turn of phrase despite her lack of education.
Along the way I had a delightful time visiting with the president of the Washington County Daughters of Utah Pioneers, since that organization has a nice picture of Ann Prior Jarvis in their collection, and although copyright has long since expired, it was necessary to get permission to publish the picture.
It was a real pleasure working with the editors at Deseret Book. I've never worked with an editor before, and I was impressed by their professionalism and attention to detail.
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My husband gave me a copy of Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Vol. 1 for Christmas last year (link), and Volume 2 was recently released and is available at Deseret Book (link). I'm reading through a copy now, and as I read through the biographies, I've been touched by the experiences, and I've also been touched by the affection the authors seem to have for the women they write about.
It's quite a collection, subjects and authors both. The authors include a number of academics and well-known authors in the field of Mormon studies as well as many descendants (like me) familiar with their ancestors' life writings.
The authors approached the material differently. A few chapters, like mine on Ann Prior Jarvis, consisted almost entirely of the life story; others, like Todd Compton's chapter about Mary Dart Judd, framed her writings in context and provided a survey of the academic literature on the topics raised by her life story.
Since I don't see a list of the chapters online, here are the contents of Volume 2: