Beyond biography: Using technical and professional documentation to historically contextualize women’s agency

Emily January Petersen


In 1908, Harriet Barraclough—Relief Society president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Halifax Ward, Leeds, England—taught the women in her religious community to be “lifters and not leaners.” This communication, documented in a handwritten minute book, falls within various definitions of technical and professional communication (TPC), as the practice of TPC occurs within communities and connects various kinds of knowledge. TPC is not always associated with the public workplace and can be found within the workplace of the home, extra-institutional hobby communities, and religious institutions. In that mode, this article examines the three existing minute books from the Halifax Ward Relief Society of the Leeds England Stake that cover the society’s activities from 1907 to 1921. The minute books document the work and therefore create recognition for women’s unseen labor, highlight the creation of identity within an organization, and illuminate the mediating discourse of community leaders. I argue that TPC is an ideal site for examining the agency that occurs within structures and organizations. The work of the women in Halifax, England, is significant, quantifiable, and recorded. It is representative of the agency that occurs within structures and is shaped by cultural norms, it is relational and social, it happens on a continuum, and it can occur unintentionally. The meeting minutes clarify how women’s actions are representative of agency within a religious context.


agency; women; history

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