Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example

Book Review

same_sex_dynamicsD. Michael Quinn, University of Illinois Press,
(416 pp.) ISBN 0-252-02205-X, $29.95
(Gay and Lesbian Studies/Mormon History)
Review by Duane E. Jennings

What were same-sex relationships like in the heartland of nineteenth century America, hundreds of miles away from New York City and San Francisco?

D. Michael Quinn’s book, Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans, answers this question, that same sex intimacy was widely accepted. The author compares a wide range of American cultures, social history and twenty years of research in Mormon archives. With the meticulous record keeping of of the Mormon Church and its members, a lot of evidence is presented suggesting remarkable tolerance of homoeroticism until the mid-1950s both within the Mormon Church and Utah. Siting evidence from Mildred J. Berryman’s earliest community study of Lesbians and Gay Men in America, that took place in Salt Lake City between 1916—1938, personal diaries, articles from official Mormon Church publications and other sources, one gets the idea that Salt Lake City was never as straight nor as straitlaced as some would have the world believe.

Particular interest for many may be the coming out of three prominent Mormons in 1919, by way of the official Mormon church publication, Children’s Friend. These prominent leaders included Evan Stevens, director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Louie B. Felt and May Anderson who each served consecutively as general primary presidents, the auxiliary organization for children through age eleven.

Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans is destined to be a landmark book in the process of Lesbians and Gay Men reclaiming their history in the heartland of America. The book should be available the last of May or first of June in most bookstores, especially those with a Lesbian/Gay section. Of course one can always order it from one’s favorite Deseret Bookstore branch, while holding ones lover’s hand, bedecked in Gay Pride paraphernalia.

D. Michael Quinn is an independent scholar and free lance writer, is the prize-winning author of books including Early Mormonism and the Magic World ViewMormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, and Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. He resigned as a professor of history and director of the graduate program at Brigham Young University in 1988 to continue his studies of Mormon and American history.