Born 20 January 1903, St. George, Utah; died April 1992
Daughter of Charles and Anne McAllister Whipple
Maurine Whipple was born in an arid city in southern Utah settled by Mormons in 1861 as part of the "Dixie Mission." Her ancestors were religiously motivated pioneers who struggled against drought, floods, and pestilence to build a town that is now a tourist stop between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. They, like many other 19th-century Mormons, were polygamists who struggled with domestic conflicts and psychological and sexual anguishes to support a social system abjured by the now respectable and conservative religion that spawned it. It is from these ancestors and this environment that Whipple drew subject and documentation for her writings.
Whipple spent her childhood and youth in the St. George area, attended the local Dixie College, and then graduated from the University of Utah (1926). She spent several years in Utah and California teaching in smalltown high schools, earning extra money by winning dance contests and playing bit parts in movies. In her spare time she wrote.
In 1937 a friend persuaded Whipple to submit a manuscript to a writers' conference in Boulder, Colorado. Members of the conference encouraged her to continue writing. She submitted an outline of a novel to Houghton Mifflin Company for which she was awarded their annual fiction scholarship of $1,000 in order to complete it. In 1941 Houghton Mifflin published The Giant Joshua (reprinted 1976), a novel about Whipple's ancestors and the environment from whence she came.
Whipple wrote a few magazine articles and This is the Place: Utah (1945), a delightful, if somewhat acerbic, tourist guide, accompanied by a series of photographs. The Giant Joshua, however, remained her only major work; its long awaited sequels were never completed. Whipple continued to live in St. George, having taught school there for many years.
The Giant Joshua revolves around the story of Clorinda Agatha ("Clory") a Mormon pioneer who settled Utah's Dixie and one of the women caught up in the polygamy system. She suffers physically for her commitment to build the "Kingdom" of the Mormons; she suffers mentally with the questions she has about the Mormons' curious beliefs; she suffers emotionally over vows which tie her to a husband three times her age and to sister wives torn with jealousies. With its poignant portrayals of the weaknesses inherent in such a system, the book was branded by the locals as scandalous, its author as heretical. Whipple has relished both appraisals through the years since its publication.
Although occasionally cloying and sentimental, the story remains firmly grounded in the historical milieu which it enlivens. Whipple owed much to documentary materials collected under the Work Projects Administration studies conducted in southern Utah in the 1930s. The Giant Joshua is an arresting book. It has a secure place in the literature of the West and of women, and stands as the single most significant fictional treatment of the 19th-century Mormon experience.
Capener, B., The Giant Joshua: Screenplay (adapted Whipple's novel, 1986).
Who (November 1941). NYTBR (10 Jan. 1941). SR (4 Jan. 1941).
—KATHRYN L. MACKAY