Brittany Chapman Nash is passionate about Latter-day Saint women’s history. Before she left the Church History Department to be with her two young children at home, she co-edited the series Women of Faith in the Latter Days. We recently asked her about her career, her family, and her newest book, Let’s Talk about Polygamy.
What drew you to studying women’s history?
I always gravitated toward personal records. I began keeping my own journal when I was about 8 years old and loved to read my parent’s journals. When I started researching my great-great-grandmother’s journal, it introduced me to women’s history in a powerful way as I learned how fascinating the story of Latter-day Saint women’s history is. It awakened in me a passion and a love for history.
You earned a master’s degree at the University of Leicester in England. What is something you enjoyed about living in England?
Oh, everything! I loved being introduced to a different culture. I had lived in Asia and that was a fascinating experience, but I wasn’t able to understand everything because I couldn’t speak the language. In England, I could bask in the culture, the literature, and the people because I could understand everything. I really feel like I learned a better way of being [while] living in England.
What was your reaction when you were asked to write Let’s Talk about Polygamy?
I was definitely excited, and I felt a deep sense of responsibility to do it well. In order to do the topic justice, you need to shine light on both sides of the story—those who had positive experiences and [those who had] negative experiences living in plural families. People who lived it are the only ones who can really tell us what it was like, so they should be telling the story.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
I grew up in areas where there weren’t many Latter-day Saints. When people found out I was a member, they would ask about polygamy, and I always cringed. It’s only as I’ve learned about polygamy on a deep level that I feel how important it is to the story of being a Latter-day Saint and to the legacy of faith that our religion is built upon. I hope that, by learning more about the Latter-day Saint practice of polygamy, people who may have felt like I did—embarrassed or ashamed—will feel a sense of personal reconciliation and have confidence discussing the issue.
If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be?
Oh, my goodness, what a question! I would have dinner with my great-great-grandmother Ruth May Fox. . . . She was [her husband’s] first wife in a polygamous marriage. She was [once] asked about polygamy and why she did it. She said, “I was a Latter-day Saint and I professed to believe everything that the Latter-day Saints did, and one of those things was polygamy, and so I embraced it.” Understanding her personality, that statement is pretty profound. Her level of faith and commitment is inspiring to me.
What is your favorite part of being a wife and mother?
The first thing that comes to mind is just the sweet simplicity of things. I mean, there are chaotic days and trying times, but to have my purpose be the upbringing of my children and the well-being of my family is a huge blessing. It brings me a lot of joy.
What does it mean to you to let God prevail in your life?
God has an infinitely good plan for our lives: something much better than what we would construct for ourselves. In my life when I have allowed Him to prevail, that’s when the magic has happened and the good things have come. . . . His plan is infinitely better than any I could come up with, and things ultimately work together for our good.
Lead image: Courtesy of Brittany Chapman Nash
Let’s Talk about Polygamy, written by historian Brittany Chapman Nash, offers a candid and engaging history of polygamy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the voices of those who practiced it. Nash helps readers understand not only the facts and chronological story of polygamy but also the how and why. Why did Latter-day Saints embrace polygamy? How did it work? And what does the history of polygamy mean for Church members today? Available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.