Recently I saw the the current film titled “Emma Smith” and several interesting questions arose. I thought I would share several of these with you.
1–when Emma married Joseph Smith in the movie, the wedding band was placed upon the right “ring” finger of Emma. She wore the ring on her right hand throughout the film. Others wore their rings on their right hand as well, and this practice was plainly intended to represent the custom of the period (ca. 1820). After discussion with several individuals, with no answer forthcoming, a little Google research was in order.
Wedding rings are relatively new as a marriage custom, with those coming from orthodox Christianity and Western Europe traditionally wearing the ring on the right hand. Those of German origin, which represents a large percentage of the population of New York and Pennsylania during the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries, were of German and Swiss origin–and no doubt had considerable influence on the early practices of the LDS faith. We typically think of the Pilgrims and other early settlements as being English; but in fact the greatest number of immigrants arrived from Germany during the time period in question.
Early LDS development also included a large body of individuals that en masse joined the LDS Church through the conversion of Sidney Rigdon. Further study of this group–known to have a strong influence on early development of the Church–is justified to determine their theological swayings, beliefs, and customs. Based on prior research, it is my impression that we will find this group associated to some degree with contemporary Piest and Anabaptist thinking of the era.
In the United Kingdom and within the United States in past generations, women wore wedding bands much more commonly than men did. Today, both partners often wear wedding rings, though for work-related reasons, personal comfort or safety a spouse may not fully implement this practice. Some may dislike the concept of declaring their legal status through jewelry, and waive the practice.
Learning from marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economic times, and the impact of the great war, led to a more successful marketing campaign, and by the late 1940s, double-ring ceremonies made up for 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the depression of 1929.
From Feudal times, to the recent acceptance of “equity” by our court system; an engagement ring was given as consideration into the legal contract of marriage. The ring, in effect, becomes the consideration (earnest money) thus making the contract legally binding. Many a broken engagement during the times prior to the start of the twentieth century ended in the court system as contractual or tort liability–essentially breach of contract. As genealogists, we often read about marriage Banns and Bonds–which a large some of money or property is pledged by the groom to insure his performance of the contract.
Anyway… while the Emma Smith movie may have difficulty competing with ‘Gone With the Wind,” it does offer some insight into the historicity of the period; and many scenes are depicted in their actual locations. The film has a strong emotional component, with a noticeable lacking of in-depth story; but it is probably worth viewing for the music, scenery and emotional appeal.
2–Another puzzle that the Emma Smith film brings out is the use of “bonnets” by the women portrayed in the film. Several years ago I wrote an article on prayer coverings worn by women in the 18th and 19th centuries, and even today. The Emma Smith movie portrays women wearing bonnets both inside and outside–giving one the obvious conclusion that these bonnets were actually depicting the wearing of prayer coverings.
To set the stage, the prayer covering seems to emanate from Western Europe, primarily with the Piest religions of Mack and Luther. While the traditional woman today shuns this Biblical requirement, few even know that the head covering is required by scripture. The Catholic Church, over the past fifty years, has also accepted the uncovered head–even as a fashion statement. The only possible reason that I can see. To learn more, read the versus of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16,
So, in the movie we see the liberal use of bonnets both indoors and out. Pioneer women customarily wore a bonnet when outside; ostensibly to shade the sun and keep their hair from the ravages of the prairie. Today, we have the Amish, some Mennonite sects, Shakers (what few are left), Brethren, and other orthodox or fundamentalist groups still involved with this practice. I have noted that when venturing outside, these devoted women also wear their bonnets (over their prayer caps).
Does the Emma Smith movie, for historical accuracy, show the use of the bonnet as a surrogate for the head covering? I have asked this question before, and not come to reason with it. After several years of genealogical study of portions of New England, I believe the members of the early LDS Church very well may have worn head coverings. It was the custom of the day, circa 1800.
I don’t have an answer for this, but hope some of my friends do. For that reason, this will be distributed by email, hoping to evoke a response so this matter may be resolved. Did women in the early LDS Church wear prayer caps or coverings? Please post or email your thoughts.
3–finally–a final parting comment. The Emma film deals with issues, but without sufficient information to define the problem nor draw a rational conclusion. Towards the end of the film a brief, but very direct statement is made concering LDS polygeny–referred to as polygamy within the film.
The LDS Church is currently facing a great deal of criticism over this matter, and historically they have chosen not to deal with this topic in a public way. Before making a positive statement or offering an opinion, I would need to view the movie again. But, is this statement an attempt by those making the film to change the public perception of Mormon polygamy?
The statement could be construed as apologist; or with more license as an explanation of how the practice was viewed. I have no opinion, but am interested in yours on this matter. I think we have not heard the last of this statement–and that it may have been placed there for a particular reason, intended to draw comment and discussion to a heretofore sensitive issue.
Please post your responses, as many would enjoy and benefit from your comment. These issues are of interest to me, and all commentary will be greatly appreciated so we can all learn what the director of this film really wanted to tell us.