10 years ago, January of 2009, I was a rebelious Mormon teen and wanted proof of it. So I got a small tattoo of a triplet note on my ankle. It took the artist all of 7 minutes to do and cost me $50. I had to take a cash advance on my credit card to pay him, and even then, could only withdraw $40. At the time, I was a wannabe rock star who was sure I was going to move to Phoenix, become an audio engineer, then move to LA to network while working shows and eventually I’d make it big.
What I actually did was pack my white shirts and ties for Guatemala in August that same year to serve a Mormon mission. I spent the next 7 or so years convinced the triplet scar on my ankle was a mistake, a battle wound of apostasy from and incredulousness in the Gospel I loved.
I have since resigned my membership from the Church, but still hold on to my Mormon identity, preferring the label of “secular Mormon” as opposed to “ex-Mormon”. I cling to my heritage and the good parts of the culture that made me who I am today. I know much more about my Mormon ancestors now. I learned that I’m a direct descendent of Israel Barlow, making many people of the FLDS faith my distant cousins.
Growing up I was always told the stories of my Mormon forefathers leading their wives and children across the plains from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Augustus Dodge, my fourth-great grandfather, was a Captain in the Mormon Batallion and the Church is still in posession of his sword. My grandfather once told me that his rifle used to be in the family but was lost, which still pains me to know, as the timeless heirloom would likely be in my posession now.
But the stories I rarely heard were those of my foremothers. This is often the case. As the unattributed mantra goes, “the victor writes the history”, and time and time again in history, men have prevailed and written their version of history. However in my studies since abandonning my Mormon beliefs, I have found that the story of Mormon women is also fascinating and an important part of my heritage.
Utah women were the first in the country to exercise their right to vote. Martha Hughes Cannon, an Ivy League educated physician, ran against her polygamous husband, George Cannon, for a spot in the Utah State Senate and became the first woman in the country elected to a state-level office. Susan B. Anthony spoke numerous times to feminists in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
My Mormon foremothers were badass. So this March, I entered a tattoo shop once again to pay tribute to this incredible part of my heritage.
The tattoo features a pioneer woman, as indicated by her bandanna on her neck, allowing her hair to rebeliously fall, refusing to be kept. Her face displays confidence in herself and determination to improve her situation. She’s flanked by sego lillies, the state flow of Utah, on either side resting above an emblem featuring a bee, surrounded by the Seal of Melchizedek.
This is for Elizabeth. This is for Martha. This is for Elizabeth Haven and her first daughter Pamela who crossed the plains in the hot summer of 1848 at the age of 4. This is for all my female ancestors who lived polygamous lifestyles because they believed it was what they needed to do. Some lived long stretches of time without their husbands to help raise their children. Others lived together as sister wives. Many enjoyed writing, and I adore reading their autobriographies. I imagine, like me, they found it therapuetic.
This is for Alice, for Elizabeth Hudson, for Martha Moore, Lorine, and Marian whose husband’s were called to settle areas all over Deseret. This is for other women forgotten, such as Helen Mar Kimball, who was married to Joseph Smith at the age of 14 but never once mentioned by name in the Church’s newest book recounting the early history of the Church.
These women will live on in the stories I tell my children about them. They will live on and not be forgotten.
The tattoo was done by the incredibly talented and professional Tony Trophy. I highly recommend him.