Sunday, December 7, 2008

I'll be back in March

:) I assume people stopped coming here for new content months ago, but I figured it would be polite to officially state that this blog will go back to being a "women's history month" blog, rather than a year-round project. Life just got a little too crazy to give this the attention it deserves. But I've already started putting some posts together for March, so I'll see you all again then!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Guest Post!: Julia Mavimbela and Josephine Robinson

So life got hectic, and I've been slacking. But to atone, I bring you a fabulous guest post from the fabulous Amanda, whose ward was lucky enough to have her give a talk on LDS women and how they find joy in their lives. Thank you, Amanda, and I hope we get to hear more from you in the future!

Dear LDS women fans,
I spoke in church a couple weeks ago on how LDS women have found joy and faith in their lives. I was asked specifically to recount experiences from actual women. Erin was kind enough to let me contribute a little to this blog (Thank you Erin!). This is an adaptation of that talk.
The best way to introduce Mormon women might just have been given by the 19th century book entitled Mormon Women (a link is provided by Erin on this site).

"An epic of a woman! Not in all the ages has there been one like unto it. Fuller of romance than works of fiction are the lives of the Mormon women. So strange and thrilling is their story-so rare in its elements of experience-that neither history nor fable affords a perfect example; yet it is a reality of our own times. Women with new types of character, antique rather than modern; themes ancient, but transposed to our latter-day experience. -Women with their eyes open and the prophecy of their work and mission in their own utterances, who have dared to enter upon the path of religious empire-founding with as much divine enthusiasm as had the apostles who founded Christendom. Such are the Mormon women-religious empire founders in faith and fact."

The language might be a little overstated, however, I could not have introduced the lives of LDS women any better. As LDS women our lives are truly different than the average woman. We are aware of our eternal character and our eternal identity as a woman. This gives us the faith to accomplish any good task that we set our hearts upon and the perspective to stick through it. And these are two women who I believe exemplify those traits.

The first woman to introduce to you is Julia Mavimbela. She is a member from South Africa who joined the church in 1981. The trials and tragedies that have been a part of her life are more than most of our families will see in generations. However, her faith and joy in the gospel are undeniable. I quote- "I give thanks to God that He has made me a woman. I give thanks to my creator that He has made me black; that he has fashioned me as I am, with hands, heart, head to serve my people. It can, it should be a glorious thing to be a woman. It is important for women to stand together and rise together to meet our common enemies-illiteracy, poverty, crime, disease, and stupid unjust laws that have made women feel so helpless as to be hopeless."

I would summarize the story of Sister Mavimbela but I would much recount in own words her life and service as an LDS woman.
"That is how I joined the church. I feel that I became involved with the Church by being involved with the people.
My country is a county of many problems, some known to you. There have been quite a few unpleasant times-1976 for example, which found Soweto [her hometown] most unhappy as a result of riots against changes in the educational system. That was one of the most challenging times of my life-to see what we called schools going up in flames, what we called libraries being battered down, and worse still the waste of all that young talent when the education programs ceased. All of what I would call our treasure was being destroyed. Later, strikes saw parents out of work, which made things worse for many families." Sister Mavimbela joined the church during those trying times. She continues-
"I am grateful to the Lord that something was touched in me at that time. I developed a plan to try and help the young people, and my plan was to try and engage the hand to engage the mind. With nothing to start with, I asked for the use of an abandoned churchyard. It was infested with rodents; it was covered with waste. I was allowed to use it….I collected the little children, from four to ten years old, to go into that churchyard and start gardens. I have always fond pleasure in a garden. At times as a mother is isn't possible to get away from the family when some annoyance comes up. But if you can go into the garden, I can assure you, brothers and sisters, it's such a beautiful place. When you break up the soil, you feel you own heart melting and by the time you have done a little work, often you forget what had disturbed you."
"So I taught my little ones at that time, as we were dealing with the lumps of dirt, that these lumps could be overcome if we worked them with the knowledge that we were preparing to get something out of the soil. And when we began putting in the little plants, I would say to the children, 'you see? Now the trouble you perhaps see at home, cover it with the soil, like we're doing with the plants. See what good things you can grow if you nurse this little patch.' I could see us all begin to feel more peaceful, more at ease, though I, too, had be tense and frightened to speak of anything positive during the days of unrest when we were starting those gardens."

Sister Mavimbela began using those gardens not only to soothe those little children but to teach them. And over time, she found that not only the young children were coming, but the older children as well. The older children would leave the riots and come to the gardens for some peace. She told the youth "where there was a blood stain, a beautiful flower must grow." As the number of children grew, so did the space that the gardens needed. Soon the gardens were all over her town, and as time went on, she was asked to grow gardens all over her country. Service and children brought joy and faith to that Sisters life.

This is the kind of woman who has changed the world. Her type is the women who we write books about and speak about at firesides. But there is faith and accomplishment that can be found in those unsung women in our own ranks.

Josephine Robinson was a member of the Elkton ward in Delaware [now split]. Her account is told in the wonderful book called Mormon Lives. Here is a short quote from her:
"My first church calling was Sunday school pianist. Of course I didn't know how any of the hymns were supposed to sound [she was a convert]. I hadn't taken piano lessons since I was about fourteen. There was a particular week that I practiced and practiced and I just couldn't get it. I started crying and banging on the piano. Finally, I just asked the Lord to help me. I learned from that that the Lord never said "do everything". He said, "do all that you can do."

Josephine explains about her current calling as RS president.
"The spiritual part of being Relief Society president I find difficult. I am not experienced enough to have all the wisdom and answers for everybody, but I do enjoy trying to make the organization more functional, to have better socials, better visiting teaching. When the bishop asked me what one thing I wanted to learn from being Relief Society president, I said it was to have a love for the sisters. I'm not one to go up and put my arm around somebody, not that I don't think about it, but some people can do that more naturally. Working with people has made me more understanding. I don't get to do everything I want to do, but we have to realize that the gospel is what's true. It's the gospel! That is why people join the church."

Josephine found joy and faith in her calling. It wasn't easy. But the understanding of the gospel as truth, that is what kept her going. She searched for what she could do.
These women impacted those around them, a whole nation in Sister Mavimbela's case, and a family and ward in Josephine's case. Both are equally powerful. It truly is a beautiful thing to see that small and simple individuals can bring great things to pass. As a woman, I cannot be grateful enough for the example that these women give of the possibilities of service and growth in my own life.
Susan Buhler Taber, Mormon Lives: A Year in the Elkton Ward (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993)
Cornwall, Marie and Susan Howe. Women of Wisdom and Knowledge:Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences. (Shadow Mountain, 1990)

Monday, June 30, 2008

YW Presidents in the Ensign: Check it out!

It took our mail a few weeks to catch up to us, so I just got our June Ensign on Saturday, but I just wanted to point out that they did a great feature on past general Young Women's Presidents. It was fun seeing how the program changed over the years, and to read these wonderful women's testimonies. They aren't terribly detailed, but still worth reading!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hannah Tapfield King

I apologize for neglecting this blog - in the past few weeks, I moved cross country, started a new job and an intense course load, and had some technical difficulties, but I'm back.

What first caught my attention about Hannah Tapfield King was her ability to bear testimony. Her account of her life in Representative Women of Deseret hadn't jumped out and grabbed me, but then towards the end of her words, she stated:
...surely my few words wiil be a testimony that I rejoice I am a Latter-Day Saint. I have passed through many reverses and tribulations but in my darkest hours the Gospel has been a light upon my path and a lamp for my feet and I realize day by day the smile and approbation of God upon me.
I can't explain why, but for some reason as I read these words, I felt very strongly God's love for his daughters - his smile upon us, if you will. I decided to do a little more research into Hannah's life, and I'm glad I did, because this was a woman that understood God's love for his daughters.

Hannah was introduced to the church by her dress-maker in 1849, and she believed easily and whole-heartedly. Fifteen months would pass until she met another member, but when she finally attended a sermon by an American elder, she was baptized in the River Camm that same day. Like many converts, she faced disapproval in her community, and she and her immediate family headed to Utah in 1853, where Hannah made her mark.

Hannah was a dedicated and prolific writer. She wrote poetry, essays, biographies, and contributed regularly to the Woman's Exponent. My favorite work of hers that I stumbled across was entitled "Women of the Scriptures." She highlights the virtues of many Old Testament women, including Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, and Esther. She reserves the highest praise for Eve. She writes
[Eve] stands in close proximity to God the Father, for she is the life giving spirit of the innumerable hosts that have figured upon this earth. The one grand, stupendous act of her life is all that is told of her in the Bible, and it is enough.

I had always wished we had heard more about Eve after the garden, but I love that Hannah emphasizes that future silences don't detract from the importance of the choices she made and the life she lived.

Hannah had a firm belief in the eternal value of women. :) In one of her many somewhat spirited comments, she wrote, discussing Adam and Eve,
I would observe here in the penalties they afterwards incurred their punishments were entirely distinct; labor was laid upon the man, on the woman a far severer trial - "In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee!" showing plainly that this was not the original position in either case.

I love both her spunk and her faith in women's equal importance in the sight of God in the eternities.

Hannah was missed by many of her contemporaries after her death. There are several occurances in the Woman's Exponents of articles written and meetings held in her remembrance. She was an intelligent and motivated woman who encouraged women to live up to the potential that God wanted them to achieve.

Representative Women of Deseret, Augusta Joyce Crocheron
Hannah T. King, “Women of the Scriptures,” republished in Woman’s Exponent 32, no. 6 (Nov. 1903): 41.
Hannah T. King, "Woman," Woman's Exponent 7, no. 9 (Oct. 1878).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, part 2 of 2

In 1831, the Rollins family moved to Jackson County, Missouri. For a time, things were going well for the saints there, but soon persecution arose. She witnessed tar and featherings, and her own home was damaged by the mobs. But Mary stayed true to her faith (even, in an interesting twist of fate, turning down an offer from Lilburn Boggs to come and stay with his family and receive a good education in exchange for giving up Mormonism).

In July of 1833, a mob set on William Phelps' print shop, where the Book of Commandments were being prepared for binding. 15-year-old Mary and her 13-year-old sister Caroline were hiding nearby and watched as the Phelps were driven out of their home, their possessions ransacked, and the printing press shoved out a window and onto the street. Then, someone said "so much for the Mormon commandments," and dumped the manuscripts into a trash pile in the street. Mary, having had her own confirmation of the truth of these commandments, was determined to do her part to save them. Knowing full well what the mobs could and had already done to those that angered them, Mary and Caroline ran into the street, grabbed as many pages of the manuscript as they could hold, and took off running. The mob spotted them, and two men came running after the girls. Mary and Caroline climbed through a fence and hid in a thick cornfield. They laid the sheets on the ground and covered them with their own bodies. Mary states that although the men came close, they never did locate the girls and eventually gave up the hunt. The girls gave the manuscripts to Sister Phelps, and Mary eventually received a bound copy, which she "prized highly."

The portion that Mary and Caroline preserved cover (more or less) the beginning of our current Doctrine and Covenants to partway through chapter 64. They were "eagerly" quoted by missionaries, and were cited by church officials.

I'm grateful for Mary and Caroline's incredible courage and faithfulness. At age 15, Mary had received confirmation that the Book of Commandments was a sacred document, and put her life on the line to preserve what she could. She had a remarkable influence for good. On a personal level, I'm grateful that largely through her actions, I have access to these revelations. So many revelations that have strengthened my faith and given me encouragement are found in these chapters: guidance for receiving personal revelation; Emma being called to expound scriptures; confirmation of the Lord's love of the individual and the worth of souls; additional understanding about the atonement; the list goes on and on. While I know that no principle essential to our salvation would have been lost, I am grateful that Mary and Caroline risked so much so that we could have these words, and I cherish them all the more because I know their story.

Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, UG&HM 17 (1926).
Saving the Book of Commandments, Gospel Art Kit.
The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants, Robert Woodford

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, part 1 of 2

I work with the young women in my ward, so I'm especially drawn to accounts of brave, spiritual, and intelligent teenagers girls that have a profound influence for good.

A few weeks back, I had a discussion with my husband about influential Mormons, and he brought up Mary Rollins and her sister, Caroline (isn't he great?). Mary was one of those women that I learned a little about in primary and promptly forgot about, so it was good to be reacquainted with her, and learn more about the rest of her story. I could probably spend a month on Mary, but I'm just going to focus on the teenage Mary in these two posts.

When Mary was ten, she moved to Kirtland, Ohio with her widowed mother and two siblings. After living there for two years, they heard Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson teach about the restoration, and twelve-year-old Mary and her mother were baptized in 1830. A little later, John Whitmer brought a copy of the Book of Mormon to Kirtland. Mary found out that Brother Morley had it, and sought him out. She managed to talk him into giving her the book for the night, even though he hadn't yet opened it himself.

When she took it home, she was chastised by her family for her precociousness, but everyone took turns reading it. Mary loved it. When she returned the copy to Brother Morley the next morning, he commented that she couldn't have read or remembered much of it; she responded by repeating a verse she had memorized and outlined the history of Nephi. She states that he was shocked, and told her "child, take this book home and finish it, I can wait." Around the time she finished the book, Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland. Joseph visited Mary's home, and when he found out that Mary was the reason the copy of the Book of Mormon on their bookshelf, he immediately gave her a blessing, as well as giving her Brother Morley's copy permanently.

Mary heard Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, and Thomas Marsh speaking in tongues at Sunday meetings, and "made it a subject of prayer" to understand tongues. One day when the three men came to her family's home with unfolded sheets from the Book of Commandments, they began speaking in tongues and called on Mary to interpret it, and she did. She states that as she did so, she felt the spirit of the revelations "in a moment." Her testimony of the value of these revelations was very powerful, and she would take great risks in the future to preserve them.

Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, UG&HM 17 (1926).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Harriet Ann Griffin Shaw

A few weeks back, our stake relief society organized a fabulous celebration of LDS women, past and present. Several historical women were featured prominently, and today's post comes from one of these presentations.

When Harriet joined the LDS church in England on February 1, 1837, her father was not pleased. He was a prominent businessman in Staffordshire, and was worried his family would be disgraced. Harriet stayed faithful and bravely moved forward. She married Charles Shaw, and when they left for Utah in 1865, they had three children, aged 4, 2, and 9 months. The journey was difficult. They had prepared well, and had even paid in gold for first-class passage to the United States, but conditions on the ship were still poor, and their carefully-packed bags were stolen. However, the family pressed forward. At Emigration headquarters, they were given a team of oxen and a wagon to head West. Charles had never seen an ox before, so there were many humorous moments on their trip to Winter Quarters.

At Winter Quarters, Harriet's faith was tested. Her two-year old son died of measles due to the poor conditions; they had no coffin, so he was buried in a too-small box with his feet dangling out the end. When her baby daughter came down with canker, other women told her she was cruel for insisting the elders bless her daughter, when it was so clear she would not make it. But Harriet would not back down, stating "I know she has a work to do." Harriet was right - her daughter lived. Harriet's trek west was filled with even more challenges and difficulties, even more poor conditions and sicknesses, but Harriet made it to Utah.

From there, I was intrigued, so I did a little research. Harriet's story is less dramatic once she arrived in Utah. However, we know that she stayed faithful, and that she was actively engaged in building the kingdom. She settled in Cache County. She sent in Relief Society reports to the Woman's Exponent (in her humble way - one particular entry ended with "Hoping you will pardon me for trespassing on your valuable space"), and she was listed as an "agent" of the publication on several occasions. She was involved with the Primary program, and she served as a counselor in a Relief Society Presidency, emphasizing in her messages the importance of educating and raising children.

Harriet is one of those women that is rarely heralded, but absolutely essential to the work of the church. Harriet trusted in the Lord, despite her trials. I'm not a mother yet, and sometimes the onslaught of accounts of children that died on the trail can be easy to block out and not fully appreciate. But for some reason, reading Harriet's account reminded me of the personal cost she paid for her faith, a cost that so many have paid. Harriet had faith in the importance of women's contributions to the Lord, and a belief in the importance of the contributions her daughter would make. She worked diligently at serving her ward and strengthening her community. While she was not a particularly prominent figure, she served faithfully, and generation after generation of her descendants have been doing the same thing - doing what they can to serve the Lord and their communities.

Stake Enrichment Presentation
William S. S. Willes Company, Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, Church History Library and Archives
Woman's Exponent: generally, and June 1, 1864; April 1, 1883 specifically.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 6 of 6: Later Years/Relief Society

Emmeline Wells had made important contributions to Relief Society throughout her life. In 1876, Brigham Young gave her the responsibility for organizing the church's grain storage program, which would become so successful that it sold over 200,000 bushels of wheat to the U.S. government in 1918 to help with the war-time effort (after the war, president Woodrow Wilson and his wife personally visited Emmeline to thank her for her efforts). She served as general secretary to the Relief Society for 20 years. She headed committees, organized celebrations, and was involved in the legal incorporation of the Relief Society.

In 1910, Emmeline Wells became the 5th general president of the Relief Society. She would serve from 1910 to 1921. It was a period filled with triumphs and trials for Emmeline. In 1912, the Relief Society took on responsibility for burial and temple clothing. Despite her best efforts to keep it going, the Relief Society Board would not pick up the tab for the Exponent, and it ceased publication in 1914. Also in 1914, the Relief Society issued a standard curriculum. Among the issues Emmeline emphasized during her presidency were motherhood, women's and children's legal rights, welfare, and elevating the minds and spirits of LDS women. Her executive capabilities were constantly utilized for the good of LDS women.

In 1921, Emmeline was released as general Relief Society president, which hurt her deeply, as the past three presidents served until their deaths. Emmeline only lived 3 weeks past that date.

I kept trying to cut these posts down so I could write about more than one woman this month, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I admire Emmeline's strength, her commitment to improving the status of women and providing them a voice, and her ability to trust in the Lord (even when it hurts to do so). The more I learn about her, the more I admire her. Her life was not what she would have chosen for herself, and she was often disappointed, but her faith in the Mormon religion was unshakable, and her trials truly made her strong and a force for good. I'm grateful for her example.

Emmeline B. Wells Biographical Sketch,
Emmeline B. Wells: A Fine Soul Who Served, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Ensign, July 2003

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 5: Women's Suffrage

I apologize in advance that I'm going to have way too much fun with my new free account to the Britannica online for web publishers. Loving this feature.

Many factors led to the divide between the National Woman Suffrage Association (created by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (created by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and others), most prominently the level of involvement they wanted with working toward suffrage for African American men. A less-discussed factor was difference of opinion about what on earth to make of these polygamist Utah suffragists. The American Woman Suffrage Association wanted nothing to do with them, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton insisted that all women should be welcome in the organization, especially if they had similar goals. Therefore, Emmeline Wells and other Mormon women formed an alliance with the National Woman Suffrage Association, and Emmeline represented Utah women there for roughly 30 years.

Emmeline's suffrage creds are impressive. In 1870, when Utah women were (temporarily) given the vote, Emmeline was among the first to exercise that right. In 1874 she was appointed vice-president of the Utah chapter of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Among the many suffrage conferences she participated in were the National Woman's Suffrage Association in 1879 and the National Suffrage Convention in 1882. In 1889, she formed the Woman's Suffrage Association of Utah, through it leading a campaign that resulted woman's suffrage being part of the package-deal for Utah's statehood in 1896. She was embraced by Susan B. Anthony at the National Woman's Suffrage Association meeting in Atlanta in 1895 after her address on Utah's prospective admission to statehood. She met with U.S. senators to discuss "Mormon" questions. She attended the Woman's International Council and Congress in London in 1899. And of course, there were her constant efforts through the Exponent.

Not only do I love her commitment to women's rights, but also the way she stayed true to her Mormon identity. Throughout her suffrage work, she lobbied for the rights of Mormon women, particularly on issues of polygamy and the right of women to own property. Mormon women were not always treated well at these meetings, even by the National Woman Suffrage Association, but Emmeline served as a good-will ambassador for Mormon women. I love the way she carved a place for herself in both realms where she could be true to her principles and fight for them, and am grateful for the tangible improvement she made to the status of women in the United States.

4 Zinas, Martha Sonntag Bradley & Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia Volume 2
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells, Encyclopedia Britannica
Emmeline B. Wells, Utah History Encyclopedia, Carol Cornwall Madsen

Friday, April 18, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 4: Woman's Exponent

:) Enough about Emmeline's challenges. The final three posts are going to focus on her accomplishments.

On June 1, 1872, the first issue of the Woman's Exponent was published, with Louisa Greene serving as chief editor. As a part of describing its purpose, it pledged: "we will endeavor, at all times, to speak freely on every topic of current interest, and on every subject as it arises in which women, and the great sisterhood the world over, are specially interested." And it would serve this purpose for over 40 years, providing a forum for Utah women to define themselves, keeping women politically informed, and informing the spread-out saints of what was happening in other areas of the territory. While the stated purpose took a fairly calm and non-radial tone ("we have no rivalry with any, no war to wage, no contest to provoke"), even in this inaugural issue, Emmeline Wells made her voice heard. She contributed an article entitled "Woman's Rights and Wrongs" which took aim against laws and customs that denied women the vote, equal job opportunities, and equal compensation for labor performed. Five years later, in 1877, Emmeline Wells would become the chief editor of the Woman's Exponent, a position in which she would serve until the Exponent's demise in 1914.

When congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, rescinding the right of Utah women to vote (previously granted in 1870 by Brigham Young) and further punishing individuals that practiced polygamy, Emmeline Wells and the Woman's Exponent sprung into action. Thousands of Exponent readers, and Emmeline in particular, protested this act and defended the rights of women both to vote and to practice polygamy. Emmeline wrote many passionate defenses of both causes in the Exponent. The Exponent played an important role in the suffrage movement in Utah, and documents the many political activities of Utah women.

Emmeline also recognized the inherent historical value of this publication. She felt the journal should "furnish good material for future historians...not only concerning woman's work, industrial and educational, but the lives of the women." While the rights of Utah women are certainly featured frequently, the Exponent never lost sight of its mission to provide a voice to women's experience. Scrolling through, you can find a wide range of topics, from original poetry to practical tips for washing children; autobiographies of Mormon women to literary pieces on Shakepeare's portrayal of Portia in Julius Caesar. I love the diversity of the topics addressed in this publication, and its efforts to reach all kinds of women.

In 1914, the Exponent hit financial ruin. Emmeline lobbied for the Relief Society Board to take ownership for the publication, but failed. The Relief Society Magazine began publication the following year.

I am grateful for Emmeline's efforts in producing the Exponent, both for its work to promote many of the rights I enjoy as a woman, and for the record it provides of the lives and interests of so many Mormon women.

Woman's Exponent, Volume 1 Number 1
Representative Women of Deseret,
Augusta Joyce Crocheron
Women of Mormondom, Edward W. Tullidge
Women of the West Museum: Emmeline Wells

And also, you can check out the modern reincarnation of this publication, Exponent II.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 3: Becoming Self-reliant

Married life was unkind to Emmeline, at least in the beginning. After working as a teacher for a year, Emmeline’s mother feared her school associates would lead her away from the church, and she arranged for Emmeline to marry James Harris, the son of a local presiding elder. She traveled with James’ family to Nauvoo in 1844. She and James had a son, and she seems to have looked back on this period as a difficult time, but a time the Lord sustained them and gave them peace. However, it would not last. Her son died shortly after his birth, and James deserted her.

She began teaching again, and became a plural wife of Newel K. Whitney, who was significantly older than her. She traveled to Utah with the Whitney family in 1848. In 1850, Newel died, and she was alone again, this time with two daughters to support. She started teaching again.

Perhaps out of economic necessity, Emmeline approached Daniel H. Wells about marriage in 1852, and she became his seventh wife, having three daughters with him. She appreciated that he was faithful and served diligently. However, for much of their marriage, Emmeline felt isolated from Daniel, who was busy with his church and civic responsibilities, as well as his six other families. Indeed, she was the only one of his wives who did not live in the “other house” with him. A characteristic journal entry on these feelings states:

Wednesday Sept. 30, 1874: ...Misery and darkness and I have no one to go to for comfort or shelter no strong arm to lean upon no bosom bared for me, no protection or comfort in my husband ... O if my husband could only love me even a little and not seem so perfectly indifferent to any sensation of that kind. He cannot know the craving of my nature. He is surrounded with love on every side, and I am cast out. O my poor aching heart. Where shall it rest its burden, only on the Lord, only to Him can I look every other avenue seems closed against me ...

And she did look to the Lord, and he strengthened her. Emmeline previously described herself as “nervous and delicate,” but she became strong. Because she did not have a “strong arm to lean upon,” she became independent and self-reliant. She found satisfaction in writing, writing for The Women’s Exponent, and becoming its editor in 1877. She became actively involved in the Relief Society, eventually serving as the General Relief Society President from 1910-1921, and serving in many leadership positions prior to that time. She became actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement, forming close relationships with such figures as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Carrie Chapman Catt. I admire Emmeline’s ability to trust in the Lord, and trust in herself. She turned to the Lord during her trials, and He shaped her into a powerful force for good.


Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr.

PBS: New Perspectives on the West, Emmeline Wells

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Emmeline Wells, part 2: Early Life and Conversion

Emmeline was born in Petersham, Massachusetts in 1829. She was an intelligent, thoughtful, and somewhat precocious child, known for her good memory and her love of nature and poetry. She received an excellent education for a woman at that time. In 1841, while she was studying at New Salem Academy, her mother encountered the Mormon missionaries and was baptized. Community members recruited Emmeline to persuade her mother to give up Mormonism, but didn't get what they had bargained for - Emmeline decided to be baptized as well.

When Emmeline decided to be baptized, she met with a lot of adversity from her friends at the academy, who tried to convince her to change her mind. I really enjoyed the passage from Representative Women of Deseret about this period in her life. The language is a bit over-the-top, as was characteristic of the time, but it hits on some important aspects of Emmeline's character:

On the 1st day of March, 1842, when a little group of Latter-Day Saints was assembled to perform the ordinance of baptism … zealous friends sent messengers down to ask her if she was sure she was acting of her own free will and choice, otherwise they would take her by force and she should never lack for means of higher education, but if she accepted the Mormon faith and gathered at Nauvoo she must renounce not only her friends but also all the advantages of literary culture she had so ardently hoped to attain, and be forever disgraced. Not knowing but that it was true that her hopes for further advancement must be resigned, she laid them on the altar of her faith, willing to yield up her future entirely to the will and care of her Creator … She told her mother and friends then what proved true afterwards, that the crisis was past, she had renounced all she had before looked forward to, henceforth she desired to dedicate herself entirely to the work in which she had enlisted.

I love Emmeline's faith here. "Literary culture" was very important to her, and the decision to leave it behind could not have been easy. Yet she knew that if she trusted in the Lord, He would take care of her. And He did. Emmeline was given many opportunities throughout her life to use her brains and talents, blessing many lives along the way. I love that in 1912, she received an honorary Doctor of Literature from BYU for her work in literature and writing - the first Utah woman to receive an honorary degree. I love that she was able to use her talents, as well as receive recognition for them.

Representative Women of Deseret, Augusta Joyce Crocheron
Women's Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1900, Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, Jill Mulvay Derr
Emmeline B. Wells, Utah History Encyclopedia, Carol Cornwall Madsen

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 1

I believe in women, especially thinking women
-Emmeline Wells

I am excited and nervous about writing this series of posts about Emmeline Wells. I can't begin to describe my admiration, respect, and gratitude for this woman, and I want to do her justice.

I have a confession. Before starting this project, I intentionally avoided accounts of polygamous women in the early church because I thought that with my feminist sensibilities, I would have a hard time handling their circumstances. So imagine my surprise when I read account after account of empowered, intelligent, and independent women's rights activists who also happened to be in polygamous marriages (although it is clear that not all women in polygamous relationships had this experience). Emmeline Wells was one of the first of these women that I encountered. Her life and accomplishments impress me, and I'll talk about them in upcoming posts. But I love her strong sense of self and her convictions, and I want to focus on that today. In addition to being an advocate for women's suffrage, she was also an advocate for the right of Utah women to be in polygamous relationships as a part of their religious commitment. I love how she combines these belief systems in her rhetoric:

The world says polygamy makes women inferior to men -- we think differently. Polygamy gives women more time for thought, for mental culture, more freedom of action, a broader field of labor... and leads women more directly to God, the fountain of all truth.

Another of my favorites of her quotes on the topic:

All honor and reverence to good men; but they and their attentions are not the only source of happiness on the earth and need not fill up every thought of woman. And when men see that women can exist without their being constantly at hand... it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them.

I love Emmeline's ability to carve a niche for herself in these two seemingly contradictory realms. While she wasn't always happy with her treatment under both of these systems (and for good reason), she stayed true to her convictions and made important contributions to both the women's rights movement and the LDS church. Instead of nursing hurt feelings, she worked to foster understanding and make improvements. While I can't relate at all to wanting to be in a polygamous relationship, I relate to her efforts to reconcile her faith and feminism. I hope as I go through life, I'll be able to develop the moral compass that Emmeline had so I can find my own place within these two value systems, and to contribute in my small way to both groups.

PBS: The West, Episode 5

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Some changes

Some of you may have noticed some changes about this blog. :) Primarily that my blog's title is now half the size it used to be. That feels good. I was debating if I was going to keep this blog going past women's history month, but hearing an audio request to keep it going from Amri on BCC tipped the scales. I feel like I've barely started describing the many LDS women I admire, and I've loved learning more about the lives of these women. I'm not going to try to keep up the daily pace anymore: a girl's gotta study sometimes, and I need to allow time for some ILL materials to get here. But I'm planning to post on at least one woman a week. I'm really excited about this. I feel like as I study these women, I get a better picture of the diversity of the contributions LDS women make, and the kind of woman I can become.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Jane Snyder Richards, part 2

Jane's decision to be baptized had a profound influence on the path her life would take. Her life would be full of hardships, but she emerged strong and faithful.

Not long after her baptism, she met and married Franklin Richards, and they started their family. Jane was one of the individuals present at the meeting where Brigham Young was recognized as the successor to Joseph Smith. She was attending with her young child, and she had bent over to pick up the plaything her child had tossed to the floor (glad to see that some aspects of church meetings never change). While her attention was diverted, Brigham Young took the stand. When he began to speak, she heard the voice of Joseph Smith, and when she looked up, she saw Joseph's image.

When she and her husband fled the persecution in Nauvoo, she was very pregnant with her second child. At Sugar Creek, her husband was called to serve a mission, leaving Jane alone. Because of the hardships she endured on the trail, both of Jane's children died. In both situations, when she pleaded for help from those in the communities they crossed, she was treated cruelly - one woman sent her dogs after her, and the midwife she sought robbed her. Her own health was frail while she stayed at Winter Quarters. I can't imagine how abandoned and alone she must have felt as she lay in her bed. Yet she stayed faithful, and did what had to be done.

Her husband returned from her mission, and they made the trek to Utah. When she arrived, she became deathly ill again, and her life was once again spared by the power of the priesthood. Once her health returned, she became an active part of the community. Although she was a woman that "dreaded publicity," she became actively involved in the Relief Society organization, doing branch visits with Eliza R. Snow, becoming Relief Society president of the Weber stake, and eventually becoming first counselor of general RS president Zina D.H. Young. She met with Belva Lockwood and Susan B. Anthony, and attended the National Council of Women in 1891. She was dedicated to temple work. I love that she, like many other women from her time, were able to put aside their inhibitions and let the Lord use them for good.

A statement Orson Whitney made of her really stuck with me. He said she was "independent and outspoken, [yet] she is still reverential and respectful to authority." That is a difficult balance to find, and I'm impressed that she did it so gracefully. I'm grateful for her example of faith, service, and ability to hear and act on promptings from the Holy Ghost.

Jane Snyder Richards, History of Utah, Orson F. Whitney

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jane Snyder Richards, part 1

I'm realizing that doing full entries for these women are resulting in long, long posts. I find so much inspiring about these women, and I just can't bring myself to cut their stories down much more. So today's post will recount Jane Snyder Richard's conversion, and the next post will discuss her life after her baptism.

Many of the women I've researched have had immediate and powerful conversions. Jane was not one of these women. When her family encountered the missionaries, many of them were baptized within a short time, but Jane held out, despite the miraculous healing her brother experienced when he was baptized. When her family would bring up the subject of baptism, Jane, in her 17-year-old way would state "What sins have I committed?," and insist that she didn't need it. However, her outlook changed when she became seriously ill in 1839. Doctors didn't know how to help her. Jane's brother Robert had a profound influence on the shape her life would take. In her words:

When he returned and found me so ill, he felt very anxious and fasted and prayed for me … without water or food for three or four days. … He came into my room and laying his face beside mine on the pillow, said, ‘Oh, sis, I wish you were baptized.’

The next morning … I was paralyzed and apparently dying. I could not speak nor move, though I was able to understand everything and to nod my head. My brother wept beside me and again said he wished I was baptized. Then he asked if he could administer oil and pray for me. … While he was praying light came into my mind, and I saw as plainly as if a book was opened before me with it written in it my need of baptism. If Christ who was sinless needed to be baptized, should I hold myself as better than He?

At that moment, all pain left me. The paralysis was gone. I was only weak. As my brother rose from his knees, I … begged for baptism. He remonstrated for it was now midwinter and ice would have to be broken and the exposure might be fatal. But death I was not afraid of—only I must be baptized.

In consequence of my persistence I was carried to the lake the next day where ice a foot thick had been broken. The people had congregated in large numbers. Some had told us that my brother would be arrested if he should immerse me in the critical situation I was in. However it was done, and I was well from that time. … I told [the people] that all this was of my own free will, that I was not constrained to do it, … and that they must not do harm to my brother because he was doing God’s work and God would punish them if they interfered.

Jane's experience ends happily. Her health returned, and her brother was not persecuted for baptizing her.

What I love most about Jane is how once she had her own experience with priesthood power, her resolve was firm, and she did whatever it took to commit herself fully to her Heavenly Father. I really related to this. I've had my struggles with the way gender divisions work in the church, and I still can't come up with a satisfactory explanation for why things are divided the way they are. But I know that when the priesthood is exercised by righteous men in the manner the Lord has prescribed, the blessings that have poured into my life are more than I can receive. The majority of the moments where I have been the most sure of the love the Lord has for me, and the work he wants me to do, have come through priesthood power. And that is enough for me. That is all the answer I need to commit myself to the Lord and his work for me. Like Jane, the priesthood helped me put aside my pride and get on the right path.

Autobiographical sketch of Jane Snyder Richards, in LDS Historical Department, pp. 1–7, as found in YW Manual 3, Lesson 12: The Blessings of the Priesthood.
History of Utah, volume 4, Orson F. Whitney, 1904.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mary Isabella Hales Horne

Mary Horne is a powerful example to me of faithfulness and magnifying your calling. When Mary Horne was first called as a Relief Society President of SLC 14th ward in 1837, she described herself as a "timid" woman, and said she was surprised by the call. But the Lord recognized her as an able administrator and woman of faith, and Mary was able to find her voice and have a profound influence on the shape many church programs took.

My favorite part of Mary's work is her efforts in organizing the Ladies' General Retrenchment Associations that eventually evolved into our current youth programs. Brigham Young was concerned that the women in the church were not spending enough time focusing on their spiritual development. He had noticed that in the areas he was visiting, the sisters had been skipping their meetings to make elaborate efforts in hosting him. "Sister Horne," he said, "I am going to give you a mission ... —the mission of teaching retrenchment among the wives and daughters of Israel. It is not right that they should spend so much time in the preparation of their food and adornment of their bodies, and neglect their spiritual education." She served as the president of this organization for 30 years. Mary took the work seriously, and I love her commitment to assist women in moving away from outward appearances and towards a stronger spirituality. She was also involved in organizing the youth of the church in similar societies.

Mary was an activist in the women's suffrage movement. She was the chairman of the well-attended "Mormon Women's Mass Protest Meeting" on March 6, 1886, which was organized to protest the disenfranchisement of women by the American government, as well as protesting the "indignities and insults heaped upon the wives and daughters of Mormons in the District Courts." She was also a member of the committee that drafted the resolutions for the bill that would grant Utah women suffrage.

This "timid" woman would serve in many other administrative capacities in a variety of organizations: counselor in the Silk Association, Deseret Hospital committee, treasurer of the Relief Society board, president of the Women’s Cooperative Mercantile and Manufacturing Institution, and 26 years as a stake relief society president.

Emmeline Wells said of Sister Horne, "[she] was a born leader, a sort of General among women, and indeed in this respect might surpass most men. … —A woman of great force of character, and wonderful ability, such a one as might stand at the head of a great institution and carry it on successfully. … Even President Young once nominated her for Justice of the Peace, and in character and ability to judge, she was not unlike Deborah of old, or Queen Elizabeth of modern time. … Sister Horne can appropriately be called a stalwart, a champion for the rights of her own sex, and indeed for all mankind. … Sister Horne had a fine presence on the platform, or in the pulpit, spoke with great earnestness and was wise in her utterances, prophetic in nature, familiar with the scriptures and handled her subjects well. Like others of her time, she was undoubtedly a woman of destiny."

I'm grateful that she was willing to put aside her notion of herself and her capabilities, and let the Lord transform her into an important tool in building his kingdom.

Mary Isabella Horne, Representative Women of Deseret
Mary Isabella Horne: Faithful Sister and Leader, by By Lyneve Wilson Kramer and Eva Durrant Wilson, Ensign 1982

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Mother of Frank Croft

I've been missing in action for the past few days. Our stake had a fabulous celebration of women in the church this week, and I've been busy participating. I was thrilled to discover a good friend of mine is a descendant of Drusilla Dorris Hendricks, who I highlighted earlier in the month, and was able to learn even more about her life. Eventually, I'll have to post about it, but a different moment from the celebration really stuck with me, and I'm going to post along that theme tonight.

At the conclusion of the program, all the attendees sang a hymn about motherhood that a woman in our stake had written. I was the only woman at my table that did not have children. At the end of the program, one of these women leaned over to me and said, "I remember that before I had children, I thought moments like these were overly sentimental. But now that I am a mother, it surprises me how much I need them. I don't hear appreciation for what I do anywhere else, and I dedicate so much of myself to doing it." As I was thinking about my blog, I realized just how big a part motherhood plays in the lives of LDS women, yet how infrequently I discuss motherhood here. In part, I think it is because I am not in that phase of my life yet, and I relate more to other elements of these women's stories. But I am firm believer in the importance of the work mothers do, and I want to make sure it is discussed.

I don't know the name of the woman I'm highlighting today; I only know she was the mother of a man named Frank Croft. A small fragment of her story is shared by Arthur M. Richardson (I've put her words in bold so her part of the story stands out more):

Elder Frank Croft was a missionary in the state of Alabama. Because he persisted in his legal rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States in preaching righteousness unto the people, he was forcefully taken to a secluded spot of the backwoods for the purpose of receiving lashings across his bare back at the hands of armed and vicious men. Having arrived at the place where they had concluded to administer the torture, Elder Croft was commanded to remove his coat and shirt and bare his back. He was then tied to a tree to prevent his moving while he received his lashing until the blood would flow.

Having no alternative, he complied with the demands of the mob, but in so doing, a letter he had recently received from his mother fell from his coat. A short time before, he had written his parents a letter, condemning mob violence and mistreatment of the elders. In his mother’s letter she counseled: "My beloved son, you must remember the words of the Savior when He said, 'Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name’s sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for you will have your reward in Heaven for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.' Also remember the Savior upon the cross suffering for the sins of the world when He uttered these immortal words, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Surely my boy, they who are mistreating you Elders know not what they do or they would not do it. Sometime, somewhere they will understand and then they will regret their action and they will honor you for the glorious work you are doing. So be patient, my son; love those who mistreat you and say all manner of evil against you and the Lord will bless you and magnify you in their eyes and your mission will be gloriously successful. Remember also, my son, that day and night, your mother is praying for you always."

Elder Croft, tied to the tree, was so situated that he could see the leader of the mob, who had picked up the fallen letter and had decided to read it before giving word to his men to start the lashing. The elder observed the hardness of his features, the cruelty in his eyes.

He then realized that no sympathy could be expected from him. He closed his eyes while waiting the moment when the beating would begin. He thought of home and loved ones and in particular, of his beloved mother. Then he uttered a silent prayer in her behalf. Opening his eyes, a moment or two later, feeling that the leader had had time to finish reading the letter, he was amazed to see that the man had retired to a nearby tree stump and having seated himself, was apparently re-reading the letter; but what was more amazing to the elder was the change in the man’s countenance. He would read a line or two or a paragraph and then sit and ponder. Deep down in the elder's conscience was the hope that the man's heart had been touched by the loveliness and beauty of his mother’s letter.

To Elder Croft, it seemed an interminable time had elapsed when the mob leader arose and approaching the helpless elder said: “Feller, you must have a wonderful mother. You see, I once had one too.” Then, addressing the mob he said, "Men, after reading this Mormon's mother's letter, I just can’t go ahead with the job. Maybe we had better let him go." Elder Croft was released and went his way. The loving influence of his mother seemed very near in his heart and mind.

I think that sometimes the task of parenthood seems overwhelming. What I love about this story is that Mrs. Croft didn't have to be the stereotypical supermom to profoundly influence her child. Maybe she kept a meticulous house, cooked elaborate meals, and organized wildly successful welfare projects; maybe she always burned the stew, couldn't keep up with her mending pile, and felt overwhelmed by her responsibilities. We don't know. It isn't relevant to the story. What provided her son the protection he needed was her testimony, her fervent prayers, and her ability to follow the Lord's promptings. It blows my mind to think of how many mothers out there doing these things, and how large of an influence it has had. I find it remarkable to see how frequently the Lord is able to magnify and transform our efforts when we trust in him, and serve him to the best of our abilities.

Arthur M. Richardson, The Life and Ministry of John Morgan [Nicholas G. Morgan Sr., 1965], pp. 268–68. As found in Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3:30, An Aaronic Priesthood Holder Cherishes Womanhood.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happy (belated) Birthday, Relief Society!

I lost track of the date - pretend this post and yesterday's are switched.

In honor of the birthday of the Relief Society, I'm briefly highlighting the organization's founding instead of a specific woman.

In response to Sarah Granger Kimball's desire to form a ladies society, Joseph Smith invited the women to meet with him to discuss a greater plan that the Lord had for their society. At this first meeting, there were 20 women and 3 men present, and they met in the upper story of the red brick store. Joseph organized the society "after the pattern of the priesthood," and declared that the church had not been perfectly organized until the women had been organized. He expanded the goals of the original society. He gave the inspired prophetic counsel that the women should care for those that were in need, and assist in strengthening the morals of the community. Emma Smith was elected president, as a fulfilling of the revelation that would become D&C 25. Joseph also added that Emma was "to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of the community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings." Emma selected Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as counselors, Eliza R. Snow as secretary, and Elvira A. Cowles as treasurer.

There are many accounts out there that are much more exhaustive than this post. But I just want to say that I am incredibly grateful for the organization of the Relief Society. It blows my mind to consider the countless acts of service, large and small, that women have given as a part of this organization. In the short period of time I've been involved with the Relief Society, my testimony has been strengthened, my skills expanded, and my knowledge enhanced. I have served and received service from others, and experienced tremendous growth from both. I'm grateful for the many women and men who have made the organization what it is today.

Relief Society: Divine Organization of Women, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.
History of the Church, 4:604–5
Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Relief Society in Nauvoo, Barbara Winder

Monday, March 17, 2008

Louise Yates Robison, RS General President 1928-1939

At first glance, Louise Yates Robison hardly seems like a boundary breaker for women. Don't get me wrong - her contributions were highly valuable. She led the Relief Society during the great depression, which was a time when the church leaned heavily on the Welfare efforts of the Relief Society. That is no small accomplishment. She emphasized the importance of voluntary and personal service to others. But she didn't have the passionate gusto and women's rights enthusiasm of many of her predecessors. She was described as quiet, unassuming, and down-to-earth. One of the things she is most remembered for is her love of music, and the fact she dubbed the many Relief Society choirs "singing mothers." She is also remembered for starting "Mormon Handicraft," a shop which allowed Relief Society sisters to sell homemade gift items. Her resourcefulness and dedication to the value of mothers inspires me. Though these were certainly valuable accomplishments, she struck me as more traditional.

So I was surprised to learn that she was the first woman to address the church at a regular session of General Conference in the capacity of General Relief Society President, and as near as I can tell, the first woman to speak at a general session of conference in over 70 years. The only woman prior to that time that I could find was Lucy Mack Smith addressing the church in 1845 (correct me if I'm wrong, history buffs!). The fact that we as Mormons are able to learn from each other, male and female, black and white, 12 years old or 92 years old, is one of my favorite parts about the way we worship. I love that she started the trend of hearing inspired words from men and women alike at general conference.

I also relate to President Robison because we share a love of the history of LDS women. In 1933, she instigated the building of a Relief Society monument in Nauvoo on the location of its founding. It is thought to be the first effort of the LDS church to mark its historic places in Nauvoo.

Louise Y. Robison Biographical Sketch,
Louise Yates Robison, Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sarah Granger Kimball

I learned early on that Emma Smith was the first general president of the Relief Society. What I did not learn until recently is how the organization came to be formed. The marvelous Relief Society program that we have today was born through Sarah Granger Kimball's desire to assist in the effort to build the temple in Nauvoo. I think it is a marvelous testament of the way the Lord is able to take our talents and good intentions and turn them into something incredible.

Sarah was passionate about the construction of the temple. She began her efforts to aid in its construction within the walls of her own home. Her husband had not joined the church at this time, and Sarah was unsure how to approach him. In her autobiography, she shares how she brought it up, and I think the account really shows her personality:

My husband came to my bedside and as he was admiring our three days old darling. I said "What is the boy worth." He replied "I don't know he is worth a great deal." I said "Is he worth a thousand dollars?" The reply was "Yes more than that if he lives and does well." I said "Half of him is mine is it not?" "Yes I suppose so." "Then I have something to help on the Temple." (pleasantly) "You have." "Yes and I think of turning my share right in as tithing." "Well, I'll think about that."

Her husband discussed this conversation with Joseph Smith, and after some banter about the boy becoming church property, he gave a much-needed donation of $500 to the temple's construction.

Sarah's efforts did not stop there. She and Margaret Cook decided to combine their efforts to sew shirts for the men working on the temple. They realized other women would want to help, and had a meeting about organizing a ladies' society in Nauvoo. Sarah asked Eliza R. Snow to write a constitution and bylaws for the society, and they presented it to Joseph Smith. When Joseph read the constitution, he said they were the best he had ever seen, but then said: "This is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and he has something better for them than a written Constitution. I invite them all to meet with me and a few of the brethren … next Thursday afternoon." At that meeting, he organized the Relief Society, an organization about which he proclaimed "the Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized."

I admire many things about Sarah Kimball. She was a vocal advocate of women's rights. She financially supported her family for many years when her husband hit financial difficulties. She served in leadership positions in the Relief Society at the ward and general level. She spoke passionately about the father and mother God. She was bold, courageous, determined, faithful, and true to her convictions. But what I love most about Sarah's story is that it teaches me that when we serve God in the best way that we know how, he will magnify and transform our efforts into something beyond what we could accomplish on our own.

Autobiography, Women's Exponent, September 1, 1983, page 51.
Relief Society: Divine Organization of Women, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.
Sarah Granger Kimball, Mary Stovall Richards, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Volume 2.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Alice Merrill Horne

Many have observed that Mormon culture places a high value on the cultural arts. Alice Merrill Horne is one of the individuals that promoted this. Throughout her life, Alice was passionate about the cultural arts, particularly the visual arts, and used the leadership opportunities that she had to promote them.

Alice served in a variety of influential positions in Utah. She was the second woman to serve on the Utah State Legislature. She served for 14 years on the RS General Board. She wrote prolifically for the Improvement Era, Juvenile Instructor, Relief Society Magazine, and Woman's Exponent. She represented the U.S. at the International Congress of Women in Berlin, and as the Utah chair of the International Peace Committee. She also served in a variety of leadership capacities for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers & Daughters of the Revolution.

A common theme of her service in these organizations was promoting the arts. On the legislature, she pushed through a bill creating an art institute in Utah and creating a state art collection (which now bears her name). She wrote lessons for the RS on art appreciation, landscape study, and architecture. She exhibited and sold countless paintings by Intermountain artists. She published poetry collections and a handbook on Utah Art.

However, Alice's influence was not limited to the arts. She cared deeply about education and public health. While serving as a state legislator, she sponsored a bill to provide teaching scholarships for students at the University of Utah. On the RS board, she campaigned for tougher standards for milk sold in the state, and established several free milk stations in Salt Lake City for underprivileged families.

I'm impressed with Horne's tireless service, and the way she utilized the platforms she had been given to improve the world around her.

Alice Merrill Horne, Harriet Horne Arrington, Utah History Encyclopedia.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Romania Bunnell Pratt Penrose, M.D.

In the October 1873 general conference, President Brigham Young issued the now famous proclamation that

If some women had the privilege of studying they would make as good mathematicians as any man. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes and raise babies, but that they should study law . . . or physic . . . The time has come for women to come forth as doctors in these valleys of the mountains.

Romania Pratt was one of the women who answered that challenge. With five children, the youngest 6 months old, it was not going to be easy. She and her husband, Parley (jr.), both sold important possessions so she could go east to study medicine: she sold her piano, and Parley sold his family home. She left her children in the care of her parents and boarded the train.

The path to her degree was not easy. She arrived late in the semester, and had to work hard to catch up. When she returned home for the first time, 2 of her children did not recognize her. Despite the earlier sacrifices, she ran out of money, and the Relief Society had to raise funds so she could finish her degree. But she endured and excelled: her dissertation was well-received, and she graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia. She was the first woman to leave Utah and obtain a medical degree (although several women already trained in the profession came to Utah at an earlier date). She stayed in Philadelphia for a time after completing her degree to receive additional training in the eye and the ear.

Parley and Romania divorced in 1881. In 1882, she opened her own practice on Main Street. It is likely she performed the first cataract surgery in Utah. Many male doctors were initially unhappy about her presence (they thought women doctors should only be treating women's health concerns), but she eventually earned their respect.

Romania was actively involved in improving the world she lived in. She was involved in the women's suffrage movement. She was a part of a group of women that opened a community hospital for those in need. She regularly wrote columns promoting better hygiene in the Young Women's Journal.

I'm inspired by her determination, intelligence, and courage. Despite great personal cost, she followed the counsel of the prophet, and she used the gifts that God had given her to serve others. For you BYU grads who lived in Heritage Halls, you may recognize her name because she would eventually have a residence hall named after her. I think it is marvelous that her name lives on that way, allowing the students who live there to follow her example of excelling in education and using that knowledge for good.

First Utah Woman Doctor, David Grow.
Romania Pratt Bunnell Penrose, M.D., Susan W. Howard.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sheri Dew

I worry about white-washing the women I’m featuring. I don’t want to set up false and unattainable images of these women, but I also don’t feel the need include their flaws for the sake of including their flaws. If I were writing a book, I would have plenty of time and space to discuss the nuances of these women. However, the focus of my blog is to celebrate these women, despite their imperfections. I think that is part of the beauty of telling each others’ stories. It inspires me to see the amazing things that imperfect individuals are able to accomplish.

To me, Sheri Dew is one of these imperfect, yet inspiring women. It is true that she has used rhetoric about the gay and lesbian community that I find hurtful and counterproductive. It is also true that she has broken boundary after boundary for the contemporary LDS woman, presented me with new models for what it means to be a daughter of God, and improved my communication with Deity.

As a brand new freshman in college, I remember attending my first general relief society meeting and wondering what on earth I was doing there. All the talks were focused on motherhood (which I thought had nothing to do with me), and I struggled to take the sing-songy voices seriously. And then Sheri Dew got up to speak. Early in her talk, she stated,

“Have you ever wondered why prophets have taught the doctrine of motherhood—and it is doctrine—again and again? I have. I have thought long and hard about the work of women of God. And I have wrestled with what the doctrine of motherhood means for all of us. This issue has driven me to my knees, to the scriptures, and to the temple.”

And there she stood, living proof not only that God values the contributions of all women (not just the ones with their own children), but someone who’d had her own doctrinal wrestle before God about women’s roles and came out stronger, more committed, and at peace. For the first time, I felt like I belonged in Relief Society. I’ll admit I knew little of what General Authorities said on the matter, but as she continued her talk, it was the first time I had heard motherhood talked about in an empowering way. Listening to Sister Dew speak convinced me that I needed to have my own wrestle before God and find out what the Lord had in store for me as a woman of God.

Sheri Dew’s list of accomplishments is impressive: first unmarried woman in the general relief society presidency; first female CEO of Deseret Books; delegate to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women; biographer of two prophets; popular author and prolific speaker. Her speaking and writing style resonated with people – so much that I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard someone say in exasperation, “you know, Sheri Dew isn’t the fourth member of the Godhead!” This path was not the one she would have picked for herself, but she dedicated herself to serving the Lord in the capacity he needed her to, and she has reached countless individuals as a result.

I haven’t read her later books, but I did read No Doubt About It, and it increased my desire to become the kind of woman the Lord wants me to be. I was also profoundly influenced by a fireside she gave during my undergrad. The standard formula for receiving personal revelation had not been working for me. As part of her address, she stated that God communicated to different people in different ways, and that you can improve your communication with God if you approach him prayerfully and ask how He speaks to you. I did, and she was right: I began experiencing revelation in ways I never would have considered before.

Sister Dew has had a measurable and profound impact on my spirituality and sense of worth as a daughter of God, and I am incredibly grateful to her for it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pooling our collective knowledge

When I started this blog, I only expected a handful of friends and family to read it. It has been exciting for me to learn that so many people out there share my passion for learning about the marvelous women in our history.

I'm really a dilettante in Mormon history. I find it fascinating, but I have only recently started exploring it. Justin B.'s resource suggestions made me realize that there are a lot of resources I'm not tapping into. I have been pleasantly surprised with the amount of information available on LDS women, but sometimes it can be a little difficult to find. So, I'm going to start a "recommended resources" sidebar for learning about the experiences of LDS women, and I want your advice on what to include. What are your favorite books/databases/journals/blogs/etc to use to find information about LDS women?

Also, I'd love to have guest posts if anyone is interested. I'm always eager to learn more about the inspiring women in our history. You can email me at "womenshistoryerin" at gmail dot com if you are interested.

Rigmor Heistø

I think a large portion of the LDS population has at some point encountered some form of misunderstanding or discrimination about what we believe (my personal favorite was being told "I know all about the Mormons, I've studied John Smith, and I think you're too nice a girl to wind up with all those husbands" - priceless). Rigmor Heistø, as a new convert to the church in Norway, decided to do something about it.

In 1967, three years after she joined the LDS church, Rigmor and her husband divorced. While their marriage had been troubled before she joined the church, her conversion increased the problems. She found herself for the first time in many years needing to find work to provide for herself. After stints as a clerk and a substitute teacher, Rigmor enrolled in college to become a full-time teacher.

After sharing with her ethics professor that the incorrect information about the LDS faith presented in a book published by Einar Molland, a leading theologian in Norway, had caused so many problems in her marriage, her professor arranged for a meeting between Rigmor and Professor Molland. Professor Molland told her that he could understand people converting from Lutheranism, the state religion, to Catholicism or the Methodist church, but not to Mormonism. Rigmor replied, "If I hadn’t known any more about the Church than you do, it would be the last thing I would have done," and proceeded to ask him where he found the "nonsense" he had published in his book. Love it. She told him that he could have talked to the LDS mission president (whose office was up the road) to find out more, and let him know about what his incorrect information had cost her. Professor Molland apologized, and when he published an updated version of his text, he allowed Rigmor, the mission president, and a few other Mormons to review and correct the section on Mormonism.

This was the first of many, many occasions that Sister Heistø used her courage and likability to promote understanding between the LDS faith and other religions. She arranged for a successful teaching exchange program between BYU and Universities in Norway. She compiled and edited a book, entitled This We Believe, where representatives from 37 faiths contributed chapters on their respective religions. She persuaded the appropriate individuals to remove a film that defamed the LDS religion to be removed from schools. She even contacted the Attorney General of Norway after he made comments about the erosion of family life in Norway to let him know about the church's efforts to improve family life (he called her personally and arranged a meeting with her to discuss it).

I thought this quote from Rigmor in the Ensign was priceless: "I think the Lord knows two things about me. He knows I am not afraid of other people. Why should I be? … And," she adds, smiling, "He knows I can talk."

I'm grateful for Rigmor Heistø's willingness to "talk" - to speak up about her beliefs, and encourage understanding.

The Power of One, Jan U. Pinborough and Marvin K. Gardner, Ensign Feb. 2000

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Geertruida Lodder Zippro

Geertruida Lodder Zippro's story has been referenced on many occasions in the bloggernacle, but it is one of my very favorite stories about LDS women. I grew up hearing stories about pioneer women and contemporary women, but very little about the women in the middle, so I'm grateful for Geertruida's account.

When the German air force bombed Rotterdam in 1940 (shortly after the Netherlands surrendered), Sister Zippro demonstrated her remarkable dedication to her calling as district relief society president. Sister Zippro, living in Amsterdam at the time, was determined to go to Rotterdam to check on their welfare. The fact that she was brave enough to travel to a city that had just been bombed is remarkable enough. The fact that she rode her bicycle, unaccompanied, 60 miles to get there astounds me. Trains and other forms of public transportation had been disrupted by the war, but she did not let this stop her resolve to care for those in her stewardship. She worked hard to provide relief when she got there. She managed donations of bedding and clothing, and helped find shelter for displaced saints.

This was the first of many trips throughout the Netherlands that Geertruida would make on her bicycle. In fact, her trips were so numerous that she wore out her tires beyond patching. Her husband fitted strips from a rubber garden hose on her rims, and she went back to work, arranging food distributions and allowing the branches to communicate with each other.

I love the vivid mental image that Geertruida's account provides. When I feel overwhelmed in my callings, the image of Sister Zippro biking through war-torn Rotterdam gives me courage. Her story gives me faith that if I trust in the Lord, I will be given the strength I need to do the things He needs me to do.

Geertruida Lodder Zippro: The Extra Mile, Ardis Parshall, Times & Seasons, November 2005.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sarah De Armon Pea Rich

When mob persecution hit in Missouri, Sarah De Armon Pea Rich was at a similar stage in life as I am now - newlywed in her early twenties. It made her account feel very real to me.

Sarah and Charles Rich married near Caldwell County and were living in a log house in Far West, Missouri. She thought they were "the happyest couple in all the land." Their property was doing well, and she enjoyed having the opportunity to hear Joseph Smith preach on a weekly basis. Her parents had gone to visit Illinois when the mob violence began, and unable to return, they asked Sarah and Charles to stay in their home. While there, the Riches took in seven families that had been forced to leave their homes by the mobs; this was the most they felt they could provide for. Mobs camped near her home, and harassed the families often. When her husband tried to ride up to them with the white flag and make a truce, they shot at him, and he was forced to flee to Illinois to save his life. She was able to see him briefly before he left, and they planned to meet in Quincy when circumstances allowed for it. She was pregnant with their first child when he left, and it would be three months before she was able to travel to Quincy and rejoin him.

Sarah convinced the mobs that they had killed her husband, so they gave her peace for awhile, and she even managed to reclaim some of her property for a time. When they found out that her husband was alive, they stole her livestock and chickens, and threatened her: "[the mob] would often come to my house and tell me if I did not tell where he was hid, they would blow my brains out, at the same time pointing pistols at me." Sarah stood firm against the mob those three months, and then prepared to make the 400 mile journey to Quincy in the dead of the winter. Their journey was difficult, particularly the passage of the Mississippi River, and Sarah's health was poor, due to her pregnancy, but she did what she had to do to make the journey.

Sarah and Charles uprooted their family many time to follow God's will for them. They joined the Saints in Nauvoo & Utah, and then founded colonies in San Bernardino and the Bear Lake Valley (Utah/Idaho). The temple blessings she and her husband received in Nauvoo sustained them through their the periods of uncertainty. She states, "If it had not been for the faith and knowledge that was bestowed upon us in that temple by the influence and help of the Spirit of the Lord our journey would have been like one taking a leap in the dark."

I love Sarah's courage in the face of the mob. Her life was threatened time and time again, but she stayed strong and committed to her principles. In the portion of the account I read, Sarah strikes me as the kind of woman who did what the Lord wanted her to do without pitying herself - she didn't even mention her pregnancy until she explained that they had to cross the river immediately because she "knew not what moment I would be confined with my first child." :) Talk about understatement. Sarah knew that she was doing what the Lord wanted her to do, and didn't spend time lamenting the sacrifices she was asked to make; she knew the Lord's blessings were sure.

Women's Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900. Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, & Jill Mulvay Derr.
Leaving Nauvoo the Beautiful, July 2005 Ensign.

If you want to learn about her conversion to the gospel:
Aaronic priesthood manual 3, lesson 25, gives an account of her conversion. Love the account, love that it is in our youth manuals.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Drusilla Dorris Hendricks

I loved reading the account Drusilla Dorris Hendricks wrote about her time in Missouri and Illinois. Her ability to recognize the hand of the Lord in her life during heartbreaking circumstances really resonated with me.

In the spring of 1836, Drusilla and her family moved from Tennessee to join the saints in Clay County, Missouri. She was part of a group of six families that shared a fifty acre plot of land. While there, she rejoiced that she was able to provide aid and shelter to Saints that had been driven from Jackson County, Missouri, not knowing that a similar fate awaited her family. While visiting family in Independence, she and her husband learned that a mob was gathering in Clay County to drive out the Mormons, so they returned and prepared. Her husband and other men tried to stand firm against the mob, but eventually gave up their property and moved to Caldwell County.

While in Caldwell county, the Hendricks' crops were destroyed in a prairie fire, and the family had to literally run for their lives to avoid it. They preserved their house, and her husband, John, was able to find work on a nearby property that sustained them through the winter. Despite these trials, Drusilla describes this period as a time that she was "never happier in [her] life." Among the blessings she shares during this period, she states

I was always very sickly until now. I had quit taking snuff, tea, and coffee, and I became healthy and strong. Where before I could not walk half a mile, now I could walk three miles and not tire, for we kept the word of wisdom. I can bear my testimony to the world. I could run and not be weary, walk and not faint. I received health in my navel and marrow in my bones and hidden treasures of knowledge.

They enjoyed a three year period with little persecution, but then mobs started forming in her area. Her husband was among the men that stood on guard against the mobs, and as a result, they lost many of their crops because he could not work the fields, but Drusilla gathered in all she could. During the Battle at Crooked River, her husband was shot and seriously wounded. He would remain an invalid the rest of his life. Despite the growing mob action, she left her children in the care of neighbors (some of which fled and left them during the massacre at Hans Mill a few days later), and went to assist her husband as best as she could. When the Saints fled the area, the Hendricks were not ready because of John's condition. A mob entered her home one evening, but through Drusilla's levelheadedness, they did not harm her family and she persuaded them to leave. Eventually, they sold what they could, bought a yoke of cattle, and moved to Quincy, Illinois.

Conditions for the Hendricks in Quincy were poor. Their quarters were small, and John's condition worsened, and Drusilla had to work tirelessly to care for him. After being there for two weeks, they were completely out of food. Drusilla prepared their last bit of corn mush, served it to her children, and sent her son out to look for food. Drusilla then gives a beautiful account of her inner struggle at this moment. She states

The conflict began in my mind: "Your folks told you your husband would be killed, and are you not sorry you did not listen to them?" I said, No I am not. I did what was right. If I die I am glad I was baptized for the remission of my sins, for I have an answer of a good conscience. But after that a third person spoke. It was a still small voice this time saying, "Hold on, for the Lord will provide." I said I would, for I would trust in Him and not grumble.

This moment is really powerful to me. I love the image of these inner voices arguing with each other, and then the voice of the Holy Ghost joining the conversation and bringing her peace. The Lord did provide for her and her family, and they eventually joined the Saints in Utah and became "productive" members of the society there.

Drusilla is a powerful example to me of faith during incredibly trying circumstances, and of recognizing all that the Lord has given you, even in circumstances when many would only see what he had taken away.

Women's Voices: An Untold Story of the Latter-day Saints, by Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, & Jill Mulvay Derr.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Amy Brown Lyman

I loved Jeans' youth lesson on previous general relief society presidents over at Beginnings New, and it made me interested in learning even more about these women. I knew very little about Amy Brown Lyman, but became curious about how she led the women in the church during world war II, and did a little research.

Amy Brown Lyman was born in 1872 in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Her parents instilled in her a belief in the importance of education, and the belief that one person can make a difference if they put in the effort. Her mother treated the ill and led many social programs in their community, and Amy followed her mother's example repeatedly throughout her life.

She married Richard Lyman in 1895, and joined him as he pursued graduate studies at Cornell and the University of Chicago. She made a commitment during this period to work to improve the human condition through social work, and she made good on this commitment.

President Joseph F. Smith appointed her as the 1st director of the church's social welfare department in 1919, and she served in this capacity until 1934. Among her many accomplishments here, she trained over 4100 women to work as family social workers. She was also an able politician. She served on the Utah State Legislature in 1922 and helped push through the federal Sheppard-Towner Bill, which provided infant and maternity care nation-wide. She was also pivotal in helping pass a bill which created an institution for the mentally disabled, and served on its board of trustees for over a decade.

As General Relief Society President (1940-1945), she cut spending while increasing welfare. To assist in the war efforts, she focused on self-reliance & war time thrift in her teachings, and the Relief Society provided assistance through assembling first-aid kits & sewing hospital gowns.

In 1943, personal tragedy hit. Her husband, an LDS apostle, was ex-communicated for "cohabiting" with another woman (he was eventually rebaptized over a decade later). In 1945, the strain on her marriage became too great, and she asked to be released as general RS president. However, she did not stop her social work efforts, and worked in a variety of settings for the next fifteen years. While I am sad she felt she needed to be released from her calling, I am impressed at the work she was able to accomplish during that two year period between the news of her husband's affair and her asking to be released. I can't imagine how devastated she felt, but she still recognize that her abilities were needed, and she went to work. She died in 1959.

I love Amy's tireless efforts to improve the world she lived in, and her faith in her ability to do it. She didn't just accept the problems she saw in the world around her - she immediately looked for ways she could help. I hope to be able to emulate that in my own life.

Amy Brown Lyman,
Relief Society Presidents: Amy Brown Lyman, Nola Redd
Amy B. Lyman, Wikipedia