Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

English

First Advisor

-

Abstract

Using the minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, journals and diaries kept by early Mormon women, and letters written about healing blessings, this thesis looks at how nineteenth-century Mormon women used rhetoric in healing rituals to build community, claim power, and comfort one another thorough illness, death, and birth. Claudia L. Bushman points out that “Mormon women were much like other American women of their day, but their allegiance to the faith led them in some new directions.” Instead of retreating to acceptable standards of femininity, Mormon women claimed and used godly power and authority.

The women who offered healing blessings believed they held the power of God and demonstrated that connection through healing rhetoric. In several recorded blessings, women used strong opposing forces that mirror Biblical miracles such as life and death,blind and sight, and near death to complete health, to show the power of healing. Unity was important to many new religious and spiritual movements; the healers’ rhetoric makes this clear. Tricotomous tendencies were well ingrained within the structure of narrative and belief: often three women participated in the healing ritual and used the rhetoric of three (such as having three women involved in blessing, or being healed the third time someone visits to give a healing blessing) to claim healing power. Sometimes the women giving the blessing asked for healing and other times they rebuked disease. Analysis of healing rhetoric illuminates the religious and cultural experience of these women during a time of transition in Mormonism and in American culture, showing that Mormon women were, at least in part, able to claim power over their own spiritual and medical needs.

By understanding the similarities and differences in female healing blessings I gained insight into the oral tradition of their healing experiences as well as cultural rhetoric that was important to those who used their power to heal and be healed.

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