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

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mary Musselman Whitmer

It had been a busy time for Mary Musselman Whitmer, wife of Peter Whitmer, senior. Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, and Oliver Cowdery had come to stay with the family to avoid persecution while Joseph worked on translating the gold plates. Her household was large in the first place, and while she was glad to have the prophet there, she was also feeling the strain of providing for extra individuals. However, the Lord recognized the importance of her contribution to the work that was being done, and provided her with an experience that confirmed this to her. Her grandson relates her experience as follows:
One evening, when (after having done her usual day's work in the house) she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction. He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell. From that moment my grandmother was enabled to perform her household duties with comparative ease, and she felt no more inclination to murmur because her lot was hard. I knew my grandmother to be a good, noble and truthful woman, and I have not the least doubt of her statement in regard to seeing the plates being strictly true. She was a strong believer in the Book of Mormon until the day of her death.
Mary Whitmer was the only woman that I am aware of that saw the plates directly. Emma worked as a scribe for Joseph at certain points, but did not see the plates. Mary's experience probably pre-dated that of the 11 witnesses (correct me if I'm wrong, history buffs!). Later on, her family had a falling out with Joseph, and they did not join the saints out West. However, she never denied her testimony.

Mary inspires me for many reasons. I think everybody can relate to feeling like your hard work towards an important cause goes unnoticed. I love this account because it demonstrates that the Lord truly does notice our efforts, and will provide us the strength we need to move forward in them. I love that when she had this affirmation, she not only went to work, but she stopped worrying about the difficulty in doing it. Mary's experience reminds me that the Lord is aware of and values my contributions towards His work.

Mary Musselman Whitmer, James Lamond Carroll
Mary Musselman Whitmer, Moroni's Latter Day Saints Page

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Mother

My mother has one of the more unusual conversion stories I’ve come across. She was introduced to the gospel through her husband’s drunken ramblings.

When my mother met her first husband, and eventually found out he was a not-practicing Mormon, she was a little surprised. She’d heard about Mormon pioneers passing through the Midwest, but didn’t know they still existed in modern times. She didn’t really think anything of it – her parents were Methodist, but didn’t really go to church either.

After their marriage, she discovered he was an alcoholic. All the typical alcoholic drama ensued, but then something atypical started happening. When he was really, really drunk, he would start bawling, and then start talking about this wonderful church that was “the only thing that could save him.” Of course, when he’d wake up the next morning, he would deny it, but my mom recognized that there was something about this religion that spoke to his soul. More interested in saving her marriage than finding religious truth, she started attending Mormon worship services and was eventually baptized. She encountered a fabulous support network, including particularly amazing visiting teachers, and she started developing a testimony of the Mormon faith. While there were certain elements she thought were really odd (she didn’t especially care for the first vision, or the Joseph Smith story in general), she recognized that there was goodness and power in this religion, so she was able to overlook the difficult elements and build on the good.

Her marriage didn’t stick, but her commitment to Mormonism did. The more she learned, the more her testimony grew. She met my father, another recent convert, in a singles ward, and they were sealed in the temple. She talks about how she had said prayer after prayer that her first husband would get his act together so she could have access to temple blessings, and she was very upset during the divorce proceedings that God hadn’t answered her prayers. She now recognizes that the Lord did answer her prayers for temple blessings – just through the marvelous man she is now married to. Her full conversion happened when I was about 7, when we visited the sacred grove. While standing on that ground, she felt a powerful witness that Joseph Smith truly was a prophet of the Lord, and really knew for the first time that his story was true. I didn’t appreciate until recently that it had taken a decade for her to have that final witness of the truth of Mormonism. Her willingness to move forward in faith is very inspiring to me, and it gives me hope that my own doubts and concerns will be resolved if I give them time.

There are so many things I admire about my mother, I don’t know where to begin. She is a phenomenal visiting teacher – the stuff of General Conference addresses. People that want nothing to do with Mormonism will let her in the door because she offers them genuine, no-strings-attached friendship, and I have seen generations of faithful families result from her visiting teaching efforts. She is absolutely dedicated to her callings, no matter how big or small. She is a firm believer in the value of education, and inspired me from early ages to stretch myself and grow; she even had me reading words before the age of two. She has always made time to listen to me and my concerns, no matter how busy she is, or how trivial my concern is in the big scheme of things. I am so grateful for her influence in my life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sarah Studevant Leavitt

I know, I know, my parents are modern pioneers, and they have fabulous conversion stories (I’ll post my mother’s tomorrow). But growing up, I felt I couldn't relate when people told stories about their pioneer ancestors. So it was a pleasant surprise for my husband to look over my shoulder as I was reading about Sarah Studevant Leavitt’s conversion and say “wow, I’m related to her.” :) I'm now part of the club through marriage.

Sarah was born in Lime, New Hampshire. She grew up in a religious home, where her parents taught her to pray and read the bible, and where visitors from many Christian denominations discussed religion. Sarah married Jeremiah Leavitt in 1817, moved to Canada shortly thereafter, and started her family.

She gives the following account of a vision that she had as a young mother:

When I was getting ready for bed one night, I had put my babe into the bed with its father and it was crying. I dropped down to take off my shoes and stockings; I had one stocking in my hand. There was a light dropped down on the floor before me. I stepped back and there was another under my feet. The first was in the shape of a half moon and full of little black spots. The last was about an inch long and about a quarter of an inch wide. I brushed them with the stocking that was in my hand and put my hand over one of them to see if it would shine on my hand. This I did to satisfy others; as for myself, I knew that the lights were something that could not be accounted for and for some purpose. I did not know what until I heard the gospel preached in its purity. The first was an emblem of all the religions then on the earth. The half moon that was cut off was the spiritual gifts promised after baptism. The black spots were the defects you will find in every church throughout the whole world. The last light was the gospel preached by the angel flying through the midst of heaven and it was the same year and the same season of the year and I don’t know but the same day that the Lord brought the glad news of salvation to Joseph Smith. It must have been a stirring time among the heavenly hosts, the windows of heaven having so long been closed against all communication with the earth, being suddenly thrown open. Angels were wending their way to earth with such a glorious message--a message that concerns everyone, both in heaven and earth.

Sarah shared this vision with her relatives and those in the community, and she states that many individuals increased their commitment to God as a result of her vision. She joined a Baptist church because she wanted to be baptized by immersion, but was looking forward to finding the church God restored to the earth. When her sister-in-law confided in her that she had been baptized, and shared Joseph Smith’s vision and mission, she knew she had been told something important. She read the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, and believed in them whole-heartedly. She and her family set out to join the Saints in Kirtland, the first of many migrations she would make to gather with the Saints.

In the interest of space, my account is going to stop here, but she is a woman of remarkable courage and faith. She suffered many hardships and persecution along the way. She not only survived a serious illness, but survived a serious illness during her migration to Salt Lake. She gave healing blessings to members of her family that were in need. She had visions that sustained her faith and let her know that the Lord was mindful of her needs.

What inspires me most about Sarah’s conversion is the way that she looked for guidance from the Lord as she went about her life. I’m amazed that while her baby was crying and she was exhausted, she was able to recognize this vision from the Lord. I often try to compartmentalize my life, keeping "communication with God" in its own separate place, but Sarah’s example reminds me of the importance of being in tune to receive the Lord’s guidance whenever he offers it.


History of Sarah Studevant Leavitt, ed. Juanita L. Pulsipher (n.p., 1919)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Clarissa S. Williams, RS General President 1921-1928

Excerpt from's biographies of past Relief Society Presidencies:

Clarissa S. Williams was a schoolteacher and a woman of humility and exceptional executive ability. Her presidency witnessed an increase of Relief Society involvement in the community. At her recommendation the interest accrued from the Relief Society wheat fund was used for health, maternity, and child welfare projects. The Relief Society Social Services Department, established in 1919, trained social workers, found employment for women, and offered adoption services. The Relief Society also trained nurses, aided refugees, and established a maternity home as part of an emphasis on maternity and health issues. Sister Williams considered the success of health care efforts one of the highlights of her presidency. She and her husband, William N. Williams, had eleven children.

As I was researching Clarissa S. Williams, I kept finding myself wishing I could go to Utah and comb through the archives for records on this woman. The online information I could find was thin. Most of what I've found from here came from an article by Nola Redd; she didn't list her sources, so if something is off, I apologize (the librarian in me hates using undocumented sources).

Clarissa Williams graduated from the University of Deseret (now University of Utah) with a teaching certificate. After graduation, she started her own school. Her love of education lasted throughout her life, and she felt that education for women was a necessity, not a luxury. She married her husband, William, the day before he left for a 2-year mission to Wales, and they eventually had a large family.

Before becoming the general RS president, she'd served in stake leadership, and under the administration of Emmeline Wells and Bathsheeba Smith. As the general RS president, she is praised for her administrative ability and social programs. She instituted modern accounting procedures for Relief Society funds. She instituted a wide range of social programs, including maternity hospitals and funds, women's employment agencies, adoption programs, nursing training, support of refugees, training in welfare tasks for thousands of LDS women, youth camps for underprivileged children, courses in home hygiene and care of the sick, a free milk fund, and health examinations for preschoolers. That's a big list.

I am grateful for the concrete work she did to help women with the issues they were facing, and to improve the world she lived in. Her administrative abilities were strong, and she used them to serve others.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Jane Manning James

The story of Jane Manning James is complicated for me. The prejudice she experienced and the blessings she was denied have always been painful to me. But in spite of her many adversities, her testimony was powerful, and her courage overwhelming, and she stands as a powerful example to me of building your testimony on the sure foundation of the gospel, and trusting the rest to work itself out in time.

Much like Joseph Smith, at a young age (19), Jane Manning felt that something was missing in the religions she had encountered in Connecticut. In 1841, she went to a Sunday meeting to hear the Mormon missionaries speak, and was baptized the following Sunday. Many of her family members were also baptized.

A year after their baptism, Jane and 8 of her family members decided to join the saints in Nauvoo. Because they were black, the Captain of the steamboat in Buffalo refused them passage (and also refused to return their luggage, which had already been loaded onto the boat). This did not deter Jane and her family; they walked the 800 miles to Nauvoo, encountering physical pain and even more racism along the way. Despite these pains, they spent their travels singing hymns, and praising God for healing their feet so they could continue their journey.

The saints originally treated them coolly when they arrived, but Joseph Smith immediately recognized the strength and courage of this family, and welcomed them whole-heartedly. When Jane could not find work or a place to stay, Joseph told her, "you have a home right here if you want it." She stayed with the Smith family for several months, assisting in household chores, and Emma even offered to adopt her into their family (Jane, not knowing what this meant, declined). Her bond to Joseph was strong; after the martyrdom, she declared "When he was killed, I liked to a died myself." She served in the Young household until the migration. While there, she met Isaac James, who she married.

She joined the Saints in their trek west, and gave birth to the first African American baby born in the Utah territory. Despite petitioning prophet after prophet, she was denied the blessings of the temple; however, she stayed faithful, even donating funds to the building of the St. George, Manti, and Logan temples. She was actively involved in the Relief Society, and the women's exponent gives many accounts of the testimony she bore during these meetings (my favorite being her account of anointing herself with oil when she was ill, and being healed through her faith). Despite her own poverty, she showed constant charity to others, sharing the little that she had with those in need. She died in 1908, and President Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral. Her temple work was done shortly after the declaration in 1978.

I love the testimony she bore. Despite the challenges of her life, she stated at the end of her life, "I want to say right here, that my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is as strong today, nay, it is if possible stronger than it was the day I was first baptized. I pay my tithes and offerings, keep the word of wisdom, I go to bed early and rise early, I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all."

I am grateful for her courage, her charity, and her unshakable faith, and I hope to be able to emulate them in my own life.

Jane Manning James, Black Saint, 1847 Pioneer, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, August 1979 Ensign
Remembering Jane Manning James, by Becky Cardon Smith, Meridian Magazine
Honoring Jane Manning James: Courage on a Stage of Bigotry, by Susan Easton Black
Jane Manning James in the Women's Exponent, by J. Stapley
2005 talk given my Susan Easton Black in the Winter Quarters Ward

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Venus Rossiter

Venus Rossiter followed her husband Ernest on several missions throughout the process of her marriage, including Tahiti and France. She could have been content to go along for the ride, but Venus looked for (and found) opportunities to serve everywhere she went.

As a young bride in Tahiti, after adapting to the initial shock of living in a new place (with new diseases), Venus went to work. She travelled all over the islands with her husband, taught about modern hygeiene & nutrition, and organized branches of the Relief Society through Tahiti. She raised funds to buy organs for their meetings, and for the building of the temple. She even went to an island that was being ravaged by the Spanish influenza to provide aid.

In France, she organized the first French-speaking relief society at Lyons. Later in life, when they returned to Tahiti, she translated many of the church hymns in Tahitian. And if all that isn’t enough, she served on the General Boards of both the Primary and the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association. Busy gal.

I’m grateful for her example of courage and tireless service.


Ardis Parshall, Venus Robinson Rossiter: Learning to Serve, Times and Seasons, October 2006.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Nameless Relief Society Board Member, 2005

My senior year in college, I was struggling to reconcile my value as a woman and my experience in the LDS church. The sexism I encountered by some LDS men had always been hard for me, but it had started coming from people I respected as friends and leaders, and it hurt me deeply. I was feeling very frustrated and angry this particular day, and I just wanted to stay home, eat ice cream, and not think about church-related things. But at the end of the day, I did decide to go to my meeting. Our stake RS presidency had arranged for a tour of the Relief Society Building on Temple Square to be given to all our wards' RS presidencies.

While we were waiting for the tour to start, all the other women were standing around chatting, but I was feeling anti-social, so I'd gone off to a corner and was looking at the display items. After a few minutes, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and was greeted by a woman that I didn't recognize. I later found out that she was a member of the Relief Society Board, and the woman who would be giving us our tour. She smiled at me, took me by the hand, and said in the most loving way, "Sister, we need you." She then walked me to the rest of the group. I wish I had words to describe the overpowering sense of love and peace that came over me as she took my hand, but I truly don't. It was a simple gesture, but it was a turning point for me. In that moment, the spirit overpoweringly communicated to me that the Lord needed me, and that the church needed me, in all my strengths and imperfections. He valued me as a woman, and He valued the unique service I could give as the daughter of God that I am.

The more I heard this woman talk as we went through the tour, the more I came to admire her. In the world's eyes, she wasn't very important. She'd alternated between being a kindergarten teacher and a stay-at-home mother. But in my mind, she is one of the most empowered women I have ever known. I've come to understand that it is because she knew who she was as a daughter of God, knew the Lord valued her contributions, and truly made a difference in her service. She just emitted love and power. I loved listening to her talk about her feelings about the biblical women featured in the portraits on the walls, their relationship with Christ, and the love and respect that He showed them. I loved how she'd celebrated her experiences with women in a variety of countries, and how passionate she was about the welfare programs that the Relief Society had been involved in. I loved her earnestness in wanting to hear about our experience as college-aged relief society sisters, and her gratitude for the service we were giving. She was committed to issues facing women, and was serving them faithfully and diligently.

I never did learn her name. I went home and tried to find pictures of the Relief Society Board, but I never did succeed. I've thought about her many, many times over the years, and it has made me think about all of the other nameless LDS women that contribute to the Lord's work. I feel that we're missing something as women in the church when we forget each others' stories. So in honor of women's history month, I am sharing the stories I can. Most of these posts will come from the research of others, and I am grateful to them for bringing me these stories of inspiring women via blogs and other new media. I've been reading all the historical accounts of LDS women that I can get my hands on here in Indiana, and I have felt a surprising kinship with these women. I hope that as you read these stories, that you will be able to recognize the women that have influenced you, and recognize the love the Lord has for his daughters.