Abstract

Abstract:

The completion of the American transcontinental railroad in 1869 coincided with great political controversies over the practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) and its influence in the American West. Previous histories of this period pay little attention to how Mormon women and images of them influenced Utah Territory’s political and economic landscape. Male church leaders, church “apostates,” politicians, and other commentators debated the impact that the railroad and its expensive cargoes would have on Mormon women’s bodies, households, and polygamous marriages. Meanwhile, a cohort of elite, white Mormon women formed the Senior and Junior Retrenchment Association. From 1869 to 1877, members of the retrenchment movement attempted to reject imported fashions and embrace a homemade, “tasteful” aesthetic, instead. In this context, dress emerged as a tool to negotiate complex loyalties to middle-class respectability as well as the Mormon Church’s spiritual and temporal kingdom-building project in the Great Basin region. These clashes over Mormonism and the transcontinental railroad mobilized and entrenched emerging ideals of American consumer citizenship.

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