This stereotype has influenced the treatment of Mormon women by historians, an influence that persists in modern times, said Catherine A. Brekus, an associate professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Brekus, a non-Mormon, delivered Saturday's Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner lecture at the 45th annual Mormon History Association Conference convening in Kansas City this weekend. Traditionally, the Tanner lecture features the perspective of an outstanding scholar who does not normally publish or research in Mormon history.
"On one hand, historians outs ide of the LDS community seem to have been influenced by the caricature of the degraded polygamist wife, and although they have never articulated their reasons for ignoring Mormon women, they seem to assume that they aren't worth studying," observed Brekus, whose research took her to the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City,
"On the other hand, scholars who specialize in Mormon history have been so determined to defend 19th-century LDS women against lingering stereotypes that they have sometimes exaggerated their agency," she said. "The result is that we are left with a fractured picture of Mormon women as either deluded, downtrodden slaves or fiercely independent matriarchs."