BYU professors Julie K. Allen and Sarah Reed and BYU student Becca Driggs gave three talks about religious Scandinavian immigrants as part of BYU’s International Education Week and invited students to participate in genealogy research.
The talk, entitled LDS Convert Women: Voyages from Scandinavia, consisted of three presentations, each focused on women from different regions of Scandinavia who migrated to Utah in the late 19th century.
Allen began by sharing her research on Danish women who converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and migrated to Utah. Driggs reported on Swedish immigration and Reed on Norwegian immigration.
Each speaker mentioned specific Scandinavian women they learned about during their research and how stories from each woman’s life had inspired them. The presentation covered how Scandinavian converts struggled to conform to the Word of Wisdom and participate in plural marriage, which was common at the time.
Allen teaches Scandinavian Studies and Comparative Literature at BYU. In her presentation, Sisters in Zion: Scandinavian Convert-Immigrant Women in Pleasant Grove, she shared statistics on Utah’s Scandinavian population in the late 19th century and discussed the pressures they felt to conform to mainstream American culture.
Allen said it is important to recognize the strength of religious, linguistic and ethnic communities. She told the story of a Pleasant Grove woman who relied on a network of neighbors to help her chop wood and plant corn while her husband was away for some time. When her husband returned, she made sure he repaid the families who had helped her.
“This kind of barter economy is so fascinating,” Allen said. “I don’t think we’ve written much about it in historical sources.”
Reed is an assistant professor of history. In her presentation, “As Many Rare Flowers as You Can Bring: Anna Widtsoe’s Mormon Norwegian Immigration Letters,” she discussed the implications of including personal letters in the study of historical events.
Driggs is a Kennedy Center student research fellow pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in global women’s studies. Her presentation, From Fjords to Fields: the Journeys of Early Swedish Mormon Settlers, focused on how Swedish women who immigrated to Utah encountered polygamy and the Word of Wisdom. She emphasized the importance of understanding the religious past of our communities.
Driggs shared that as part of Allen’s research team compiling a searchable database of Scandinavian women who converted to the Church between 1850 and 1920, she began researching Scandinavian women’s lives.
“I couldn’t get their stories out of my head,” Driggs said. “I chose to focus on what her life has taught me about the Word of Wisdom, polygamy, immigration, mixed-faith families, overcoming depression, dealing with church leaders, and finding strength in neighbors.”
BYU student Maren Cooper, who minors in Global Women’s Studies, said she enjoyed the event because it allowed her to get in touch with her own family history. She also said the speakers’ concrete stories helped her learn interesting aspects of church history.
“My great-grandparents immigrated to Utah from Norway,” Cooper said. “I felt like I could empathize a bit. It was interesting to learn more.”
Allen said it was important for students to know they had the opportunity to participate in research similar to their own and invited them to participate in future Education Week events and activities.
“There’s so much to discover,” she said. “There is so much to explore. There is so much interesting research to do.”
Driggs reiterated the call for students to learn more, especially about genealogy.
“Family history is not boring,” said Driggs. “And it’s not just your family, either. It’s our story. It’s all our families, our church, our community, it’s our state, it’s our country. So don’t be afraid to get involved.”