Woman's Exponent: A Quick and Dirty Topic Model
Digital Matters, in collaboration with BYU's Office of Digital Humanities, is embarking on a project exploring Woman's Exponent, a newspaper that ran from the late 19th Century to early 20th Century. We're hoping to launch in conjunction with Better Days 2020, an NPO dedicated to raising awareness of, and celebrating prominent women in Utah History. Woman's Exponent covered the local and national suffrage movement, and tackled definitions of feminism in a Mormon context complicated by polygamy, or "plural marriage."
We conducted a quick and dirty topic model using RStudio on the corpus, which uncovered a few interesting themes that we ran through over its 1872-1914 run. Below in no particular order, you'll find several topics we found interesting and our speculative, surface-level quicktakes.
A few caveats: as the title of this post suggests, this is highly preliminary, speculative in nature, and by no means exhaustive. We're working with a corpus that has about a 50-65% OCR accuracy rate and have made little effort at cleaning up the data. That said, we thought it would be fun and interesting to run the data through a few processes to see what emerged. At best, it's drawing us to ask more pointed and probing questions--such is the nature of the work.
UPDATE: You can access the raw OCR data, in plain text, on our Github page.
Topic 49, which we're interpreting as discourse about the Pacific Islands, reflects early efforts by the Mormon Church to proselytize in the Pacific Theater. Beginning in the mid-19th Century, Mormon missionaries arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, and from there continued to spread throughout Oceania. Today, Pacific Islanders make up a strong contingency of church members, the consequences of which can be seen in the large population of Pacific Islanders in the state of Utah and Salt Lake City. It's therefore unsurprising that these early ventures would have been reported in the Woman's Exponent.
The topic gets more interesting when we run an analysis of its relevance through the entire 1872-1914 run of the paper, with a particularly conspicuous spike at around 1901, 1902, and a curious valley around 1903, 1904. There is no obvious historical context that would explain the spike and sudden drop off, so investigation into the text itself will be necessary.
A cursory glance at some of the references to "Hawaii" and "islands" on specific pages reveals a fair amount of reportage dedicated to missionaries and converts at various meetings held by The Relief Society.
The Laie Relief Society was reported by Lahaole as being in a prosperous condition. The sisters are diligent in their work. A good report was also given of the Honolulu Relief Society by Kauiopuna, who said they were taking care of the poor, and hold their meetings regularly. Kapili reported the branches of the society at Waialae as fully organized and much interested in their work. (WE, July 1, 1901, 15)
The topic modeling assigned “Polygamy Mormon Monogamy” as Topic 38. The Mormon practice of polygamy influenced the Rocky Mountain region and later citizens of Utah and Idaho in various ways. Mormon polygamy began in the latter half of the 19th century. The tension between Mormons and the U.S. Federal government culminated in the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887 and the 1890 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. The then president of the church, Wilford Woodruff, issued the 1890 “Manifesto” that officially ended the practice of polygamy. In the years after many Mormons continued to enter into polygamous arrangements, it took a second manifesto issued in 1904 by president Joseph F. Smith to end the practice in the mainstream church.
Utah granted women suffrage in 1870; Utah women were actually the first to vote in the United States. In 1887 part of the Edmunds-Tucker Act prohibited women voting in Utah. The U.S. government suppressed voting and other related rights as a means to stop polygamy in western territories. This type of suppression continued with practices like the Idaho Test Oath until western territories agreed to ban polygamy in their subsequent state constitutions.
The topic model reflects a consistent and high occurrence on the topic of polygamy and monogamy. A cursory reading of a sample of the text identified in the topic model highlighted specific mentions of polygamous families, general attitudes within Utah towards marriage, and the Idaho Test Oath in the following issues:
November 1, 1872 starts with Editorial Notes, one of which states ’Pomeroy’s Democrat’ says Brigham Young’s smallest child has forty-nine mothers. If he appreciates the worth of one mother as he should do, he must consider that child blessed indeed.
July 1, 1883 issue reports on Relief Society conferences that stress the truth of the principle of Celestial Marriage.
February 1, 1890 contains an editorial on the recent ruling by Judge Anderson against the ‘Mormons’ who are ‘in good standing,’ and the infamous Idaho test oath.
February 15, 1890 contains a chapter of a serialized account of fictional characters during the Mormon migration from Missouri to Nauvoo. In this particular chapter the characters ruminate on the role of romantic love versus spiritual virtue in marriage.
January 1, 1905 includes a biographical sketch of Elizabeth H. Hyde whose husband William Hyde eventually had five wives, all good women, and was the father of twenty-five children.