Linda King Newell, 82, Pioneering Feminist Mormon HistorianHistorians in the News
tags: Mormonism, religious history, womens history
Linda King Newell, whose pioneering work on the history of women in the Mormon faith won her acclaim as the leading feminist scholar in her field, but also led leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to blacklist her for undermining traditional views about the religion’s founding era, died on Feb. 12 at a hospice facility in Salt Lake City. She was 82.
Her husband, L. Jackson Newell, confirmed the death.
Mrs. Newell was one of several feminist Mormon scholars who, beginning in the 1970s, questioned the received history of their faith, asking how and why women came to be seen as second-class members of a patriarchal institution. Her writings frequently put her at odds with church leaders, but her mastery of the archives and persuasive writing style won her admirers among Mormons and non-Mormons alike.
“She was the boldest Mormon feminist historian of the late 20th century,” Joanna Brooks, a professor of American studies at San Diego State University, said in a phone interview.
Mrs. Newell was best known for her book “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet’s Wife, ‘Elect Lady,’ Polygamy’s Foe,” published in 1984 and written with Valeen Tippetts Avery, a historian at Northern Arizona University.
Emma Smith, the first wife of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, had long been demeaned by scholars and church leaders as either passive and long-suffering or vindictive and shrewish — that is, if they paid attention to her at all: “Mormon Enigma” was the first full biography of her in more than 100 years.
Mrs. Newell and Dr. Avery presented a very different Emma Smith: a person who helped guide her husband until his murder in 1844, and who later advised their oldest son, Joseph Smith III, as he established his own branch of Mormonism, today known as the Community of Christ.