Women of Caliber, Women of Cache Valley: Mary E. Perkes
Mary E. Perkes
“Today the past is before me
Memory picture all so bright”
—Mary E. Perkes
Oftentimes, people who keep diaries do not take time to explain why they decided to record the events of their lives. Some scholars have argued that diaries and journals serve as a “site for coming to know oneself as a responsible agent in the world.” As such, the discursive practice of journaling becomes “a source of private and public power.” Others have referred to journaling as a form of self-therapy, “a method of self-review, self-development and creativity.” Gayle R. Davis argued that for women on the American frontier, journaling functioned as a “coping mechanism, through which the women adjusted to the hardships, freedom, and challenges of the frontier.” This may be true in many, if not most, circumstances for pioneer women who kept journals. Mary E. Perkes’s journal represents a blending of the scholarly arguments, though in her case, Perkes actually provided a reason for keeping a diary. In the first sentence of her journal, Mary explained, “I was reading in the Juvenile Instructor that it would be good for this generation to keep a journal.” Mary kept a journal because she chose to follow the advice given to Latter-day Saint (LDS) youth by leaders of the Church. By keeping a journal, Mary showed devotion to her faith. Additionally, keeping a journal allowed Mary to share her opinions, examine her personal beliefs, and express her individuality in creative ways.
Click to view Mary's journal.
 Cinthia Gannett, “Unlocking the Journal: Response and Responsibility,” NWSA Journal 6, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 278–279; Deborah Western, Gender-based Violence and Depression in Women: A Feminist Group Work Response (New York: Springer, 2013), 55; Gayle Davis, “Women’s Frontier Diaries: Writing for Good Reason,” Women’s Studies 14, no. 1 (1987): 5.
The Juvenile Instructor
Like the Woman’s Exponent, The Juvenile Instructor functioned as a medium of entertainment and communication between the leaders and the young membership of the Church. However, The Juvenile Instructor lacked the political leanings prevalent in the Woman’s Exponent. Instead, The Juvenile Instructor focused on education, filling its columns with stories, poetry, biographies, histories, and lessons intended to strengthen the readers’ intellect and spirituality.
The article that inspired Mary, “Keep a Journal,” written by then apostle Wilford Woodruff, appeared in the January 1, 1867, issue of The Juvenile Instructor, a magazine printed from 1866 to 1929 for LDS youth. In the article, Woodruff explained to LDS youth that journaling “will be a great blessing to them, and their children after them.” Near the end of the article, Woodruff stated, “If my young friends will begin to do this and continue it, it will be of far more worth than gold to them in a future day.” Wilford Woodruff’s counsel resonated with Mary. Although, the task of keeping a personal record seemed daunting nonetheless. She wrote, “I never wrote any thing of the kind and I don’t know how I may write this But in due time I hope to be able to write it as it should be.” Wilford Woodruff instructed readers of the article to “write about anything that is worth preserving, or the best you have.” Arguably, Mary did exactly what Wilford Woodruff instructed. Within the pages of her self-made record, Mary wrote about her family, expressed her individuality and creativity through poetry, shared things she learned in various lessons, and discussed her views of polygamy, proving she was aware of core civic and political issues that shaped Cache Valley communities in the late 1800s.
 Wilford Woodruff, “Keeping a Journal,” The Juvenile Instructor 2, no. 1 (January 1, 1867); Ruel A. Allred, “Juvenile Instructor,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism Vol. 2, ed. David H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 777.
“Life is but a span
So I will always try
To do the best I can
Deceive no living man
Do good when e’er I can
So when my race is ran
I happily may die”
—Mary E. Perkes
Written October 22, 1868
Love and Marriage
Mary’s diary provides insight into the lives of teenagers and young adults in Hyde Park during the 1860s and 1870s. Like most diaries kept by teenagers, Mary’s recounted interactions with friends, experiences at school and church, and the perils of dating. For example, on April 8, 1867, Mary wrote, “Peter Hansen came to ask me to go to a dance with him. I have refused to go with him three time. I hope he will not ask me again.” A few lines later she wrote, “I do not know whether I do right in refusing Peter but I do not to encourage anyone that I do not like.”
From 1860 to 1870, the average age of marriage for women in Utah was between the ages of sixteen and nineteen years old. At the age of seventeen, Mary’s future as a wife and mother regularly weighed on her mind. On June 10, 1867, Mary expressed, “I do not want to marry yet but when I do marry I shall try to get a husband that believes in serving God. I know that I am not any ways near perfect but I should like to have a little wisdom as well as love in the choice of a husband.” As a teenager, Mary knew what qualities she wanted in her future spouse and in herself.
Mary had a few relationships but did not pursue marriage right away. On April 9, 1869, at nineteen years old, Mary wrote, “Mother thinks I have done well to remain single so long.” At that time, Mary had been steadily courting Andrew. (She did not record his last name in her diary.) By August 1869, the two became engaged. On April 12, 1870, Mary announced her marriage to Andrew. She expressed her happiness with her choice of husband.
 Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 107.
“God’s Bidding”: Views of Polygamy
A poem written after the death of Brother Ashcroft, “one of our best men . . . he leaves two wives and five children his loss is severely felt.”
“He is not dead but quietly sleeping
’Till the resurrection morn
Then let’s cease all sighs and weeping
And he comforted altho’ he’s gone
“He is free from pain and sorrow
He is dwelling with the blest
It will scarcely seem until tomorrow
When with him we shall be at rest
“He has gone and done God’s bidding
Taken unto himself two wives
With a purpose pure and holy
To promulgate eternal lives
“May those wives the cease the morning
And strive to live in peace and love
So they may meet him at the coming
Of the Messiah in clouds above
“O ’tis bad to part with a loved one
But Father let thy will be done
Comfort them in their affliction
Be their husband now he has gone.”
Living the Principle
In late nineteenth century, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints openly practiced polygamy. At the time, Mormon doctrine taught that plural marriage was an essential component in obtaining salvation. While highly controversial, and though some women did not support the practice, many LDS women defended their religious beliefs and “lived the principle.” Mary clearly supported polygamy and hoped to have a plural marriage. On August 11, 1867, Mary wrote that she and her friend Ellen had spoken at length about polygamy. Mary and Ellen decided that they “should like to both marry the same man.” Mary explained, “we know that the principle is right and intend to practice it and it would be good for us to go into it together for we know each others [sic] dispositions so well.” Mary and Ellen seemed to recognize that “sister wives” did not always get along. By planning to marry the same man, Mary and Ellen hoped to avoid some of the negative aspects of plural marriage.