Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stena Scorup

Stena was not an aggressive woman. She was a humble woman with many insecurities. Yet she was a highly accomplished woman who made valuable contributions to the church and her community.

In 1922, Stena Scorup became the second female mayor in Utah. She accomplished this only two years after national suffrage had been granted (although Utah had given women the vote many years prior). Her calm manor caught people off guard – she said that at municipal conventions, people expected an aggressive woman and found, in her own words, “a homely, humble school teacher.” Stena was a good mayor. Under her leadership, Salina’s main street was surfaced, electric lights were installed on main roads, water conditions were improved, and she decreased the city’s debt. And she did it all while teaching a course in English at the high school and caring for an invalid brother.

Prior to becoming mayor, Stena was a well-loved teacher in Salina. She was passionate about education, and many students praised her ability to inspire them individually and convince them they were intelligent and capable. Stena’s love of education went beyond teaching. She was a lifelong learner in every sense of the word. She attended summer school and earned her B.S. from Utah State in 1928, and her masters from BYU four years later.

Stena had also served a mission to the northern U.S. when she was 29. She thrived in atmospheres many missionaries hate – street contacting and tracting. She had a talent for calming down hostile individuals and convincing them to hear what she had to say. When she returned from her mission, she stayed highly committed to the gospel for the rest of her life, serving in MIA presidencies, primary presidencies, and was a very popular Sunday School teacher.

I admire Stena’s ability to accomplish her goals while maintaining her sense of self. It would be easy to feel the need to be pushy or aggressive to accomplish what she did, but she just worked hard and honestly, and everything worked together for her good.

Sister Saints, by Vicky Burgess-Olson

Monday, March 9, 2009

Unnamed rape victims, Missouri, 1838

I’ve been on a quest to find the women that serve as the context for some of our famous stories in church history. The story I’ve been drawn to in recent weeks is the “majesty in chains” story. During their imprisonment in Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and other church leaders lay on the floor of their prison, being forced to listen to the boasts of their jailers about the theft, rape and murder they had committed against the Mormons. The men lay in silence for some time, and then Joseph could take no more. Joseph sharply chastened the guards in the name of God, and the guards, overcome by his power, begged his forgiveness.
I realized as I reread the account that aside from that brief mention of sexual assault, I didn’t know anything about the women or the assaults. It is an area of church history I have never heard discussed outside of that brief mention. I knew I wouldn’t find the names of these women, and I imagine that based on the time period they lived in, they wouldn’t want their names to be known. But I also wanted to respect them enough to acknowledge the terrible price they paid for their faith and honor their memory. So I did a little digging to find the accounts others gave of their experiences, and found their rapes discussed in affidavits by Hyrum Smith and Parley Pratt. It is a little gruesome, so this might be the place to stop reading if this is a sensitive area for you.
Hyrum recounted that the mobs not only raped many Mormon women, but the nature of these rapes were downright barbaric. He told the story of one woman who was bound to a bench in a Mormon meetinghouse, gang raped by sixteen men, and was left bound and exposed. Hyrum ended this segment by noting that “the lady who was the subject of this brutality did not recover her health to be able to help herself for more than three months afterwards.”
In Parley’s affidavit, he stated that the jailers named “one or two” women that “twenty or thirty” men had raped, and he stated that “One of these females was a daughter of a respectable family with whom I have been long acquainted, and with whom I have since conversed and learned that it was truly the case.”
We tend to pay a lot of attention to those that are willing to die for what they believe in. And don’t get me wrong, it is a brave and honorable thing to do. But I think we often neglect those that survive, but live the rest of their life physically or emotionally scarred because of a sacrifice they made for their faith. It is an entirely different level of bravery to wake up every day, continue to pay the price, and still keep believing. I think about the young woman Hyrum discussed, and I admire the courage it takes for her to walk into a meetinghouse and sit on a pew. I think about the sister missionaries that were gang raped a few years back in South Africa, and I admire the bravery it takes for them to put their name tag back on and walk down the street. And I admire the courage it takes to give yourself enough time to heal before trying to do these things. I honor these women's example of daily faith under terrible circumstances.
History of the Church, Volume 3, pages 422 & 428. Affidavits Of Hyrum Smith et al. On Affairs In Missouri, 1831-39; Officially Subscribed To Before The Municipal Court Of Nauvoo The First Day Of July, 1843.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nellie Marie Rasmussen Hunter

Throughout my life, I’ve been close to many part-member families, or families where the parents have varying degrees of church activity. While many of these amazing mothers are confident in their ability to raise their children in the gospel, I’ve known many others that are plagued with insecurities that their children are somehow at a disadvantage because of their marriage. It can be hard to find a model for what it means to be a successful mother in a part-member home, in large part because it will mean something different in every family. I’m always blown away by the way these women are able to receive revelation how to guide their family in ways that the Lord would have them go.
Nellie Marie Rasmussen Hunter is one of these many mothers in part-member homes that I admire. Her husband did not join the church until her children were grown, but she raised her two children in the gospel, and one of them would grow to become the 14th president of the church: Howard W. Hunter.
Nellie did not grow up in a stable home environment. Her mother died in 1887 when she was two years old, and she spent her youth moving between the homes of six different families of relatives. When she was 21, she met Will Hunter and fell in love with him. He proposed, but she hesitated because he was not Mormon. She left for Colorado for a time to clear her head (where she received additional suitors and another proposal – so much for simplifying things), but when she returned to Mount Pleasant and met Will there, they boarded a train to Manti to register for a marriage license that same day, and were married that evening. Her aunts had quite the ordeal getting her wedding dress sewn in time.
Nellie made conscious efforts to raise her children in the gospel. She arranged for the branch president to give Howard a name and a blessing when he was five months old. She persuaded Will to come to sacrament meeting with her on occasions. She served faithfully in a variety of demanding callings. She compromised when needed – her husband didn’t want the children to be baptized at age 8, wanting them to wait until they were old enough to decide for themselves, and she agreed (Howard convinced his father to let him be baptized when he was twelve). But most importantly, she taught her children the power of prayer, and how to form a personal relationship with God.
I’m grateful for the example of women like Nellie, and the many women I have known that have worked so tirelessly to teach their children the gospel.
Mothers of the Prophets, Leonard Arrington, Susan Arrington Madsen, Emily Madsen Jones

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Susanna Goudin Cardon

I’ve been thinking a lot about the many ways that faith influences romance and marriage, particularly back during the polygamy days, so you will probably see that theme popping up from time to time in my next few posts. Mormon women have dealt with these complexities in a variety of ways, and I’ve been impressed with women that have prayerfully made a variety of choices. :) So in other words, if you see me praising a woman who took one stance, don’t worry – just wait a few days, and I’ll be praising a woman who did something completely different. I admire all of these women’s ability to make hard choices about such an emotionally charged and completely life-altering area of their lives.

When Lorenzo Snow and other missionaries came on a mission to Italy in 1850, interestingly enough, their only converts were members of a group called the Vaudois. The Vaudois were an isolated group living in the Alpines that claimed an unbroken succession of pastors back to the original Apostles of Christ, and were therefore hated and persecuted by the Catholic Church and associated monarchs. Susanna Goudin and her immediate family were among the converts. Her family became disillusioned and lost their faith, but Susanna stayed faithful and made the decision to immigrate to Utah without them, making the difficult journey with a relative in 1854.

During her stay in Florence, Nebraska, where she stayed while her handcart company was organized, Susanna met and fell deeply in love with a non-Mormon that lived in the area. Susanna had to make the agonizing choice of staying with the man she loved or travelling to Utah with the saints. She decided to follow her faith, but she mourned her loss for a long time. In fact, she “wept bitterly” when she went to the Endowment House a year later to marry Paul Cardon, another Vaudois convert that had made the journey (and, incidentally, her first cousin). Brigham Young reassured her that she had made the right decision, and Susanna trusted his council. She married Paul, and her family remembers their relationship as being full of love, devotion, respect and harmony, even when he took a second wife in 1870.

Susanna was a woman that used her talents to better the condition of those around her. One of the most prominent ways that she did this was her involvement with the Deseret Silk Association. During her youth in Italy, funds were tight due to her father’s early death, so she supported herself through reeling silk. Susanna was quite gifted in the silk arts, so when Brigham Young and Eliza R. Snow, as part of the church’s push towards economic self-reliance, set up silk-raising projects in all of the roughly 150 local Relief Societies in Utah, Susanna became a prominent teacher in this movement. She was so talented that Brigham Young called her on a three month “silk mission” to Salt Lake City, where she trained women from across the territory, who in turn would return their Relief Societies and teach other women. When her mission ended, she continued to teach the sisters of the Logan Relief Society. When I look at Susanna’s life, I am impressed with the way she followed God’s plan for her, often at great personal cost. She had many struggles in her life, but through her faith, the Lord protected her and put her in positions to make valuable contributions.

Sources: Sister Saints, Vicky Burgess-Olson, 1978.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Joan Atkinson

Joan Atkinson was ironing, watching a soap opera, and smoking a cigarette when she heard a knock at the door. When she opened it, there were two men in white shirts and ties, and one of them introduced himself as her bishop. He said that as he was praying, he had felt inspired to ask her to teach Young Women. She told him that she had been baptized at age 10 but had never been active. He seemed undeterred as he showed her the manual and explained where they met on Wednesday night. Then she emphatically said, “I can't teach 16-year-olds; I'm inactive, and besides I smoke.” Then he said, “You won't be inactive anymore, and you have until Wednesday to quit smoking.” Then he left.
Joan was angry – but she was curious and decided to read the lesson. She read the entire manual and memorized every word of the lesson. She didn’t plan to go, but Wednesday night rolled around, and Joan found herself driving to the church, utterly terrified. She gave the lesson to the two laurels word-for-word (including the parts that said “now ask them”), left immediately, and cried all the way home.
When there was a knock at her door a few days later, Joan was positive the bishop had come to retrieve his manual. But it was the two laurels, armed with flowers and cookies. They had a good conversation about the class and the ward, and they invited Joan to come to church with them on Sunday, which she did. She learned the class had 16 members, but only those two girls attended regularly.
Joan took to her calling with energy and innovation. Her quote on this process is priceless:
“With their help, I started teaching the other girls. If the girls wouldn’t come to church, we went wherever they were. We had lessons in bowling alleys, cars, and bedrooms, and on porches. I was determined that if I needed to go to class, those girls did too. One day we were giving the lesson to a girl who was hiding in a closet, and she came out and asked, “What about my free agency?” I told her I had never heard of that lesson and that she could come and teach us the next Wednesday.”
Joan’s efforts paid off. Within a year, all 16 girls on the roll were attending Young Women. Joan said, “Together we learned to pray, to study the gospel, and to help others. We made many visits to the children’s hospital. We laughed together and cried together in a bond of love.”
I love Joan’s example of church service. I absolutely love watching new converts take on their church responsibilities because they come at them without any of the preconceived ideas of how a calling should be performed or what is expected, and completely open themselves to the spirit. Joan inherently knew what mattered most in her calling – loving the girls, and searching for the lost sheep. I’ve known some pretty motivated young women’s leaders, but giving a lesson to a girl hiding in a closet is something I hadn’t come across before. Joan inspires me because of her ability to magnify her calling and her ability to love those she served.

"Not me - I smoke and drink" by Joan Atkinson

Monday, March 2, 2009

Vilate Murray Kimball

One of the figures I have been most excited to learn about this year is Vilate Kimball. The only story I had ever heard about her had been in relation to her husband – the oft-cited story of Joseph Smith telling Heber C. Kimball that the Lord had commanded him to surrender his wife to him. The account I’m familiar with discusses Heber’s three days of agony before he finally decides to bring her to Joseph, and his relief when Joseph tells him it had only been a test, and he would not be required to do so. I’ve always felt Vilate was strangely absent from this account, and wondered what those three days were like for her. How much did Heber tell her, and when? How did she respond to the demands? What kind of woman was she, and what did the future hold for her? I did a little digging, and never did find her description of the incident, but I did find stories about a woman of constant service and giving.
Vilate was constantly willing to put others’ needs before her own. The first additional citation I found of Vilate was that several months after Heber, Phineas Young & Brigham Young had encountered the missionaries, they longed to be with the other saints, and the group decided to take a 125 mile winter sleigh ride to visit the Columbia, Pennsylvania branch. Vilate did not go – she stayed home and watched all of the families’ children so that Miriam & Clarissa Young could make the trip. This willingness to care for others’ children continued - after Miriam died in 1832, Vilate would care for Brigham’s daughters while he served a series of missions.
She was also constantly willing to put the needs of the church before her own. When her husband was about to depart on his second mission to England, she not only had several sick kids to care for on her own, including a 4 week old, but she was so sick with the ague she was confined to her bed shortly after his departure. He was gone for two years. J And to think that I fell to pieces when my husband had to clock substantial overtime when our baby was 4 weeks old - I’m no Vilate, apparently.
In Winter Quarters, there are accounts of Vilate spending so much time bringing food to others and caring for the sick that she rarely took time to eat and take care of herself.
Although she was not given to Joseph, polygamy did impact Vilate. Heber was commanded to take plural wives, and also commanded by Joseph initially not to tell Vilate about the doctrine “for fear she would not receive the principle.” Heber obeyed, but it was hard on him, and Vilate prayed to know what was causing his anxiety. The plan of celestial marriage was made known to her “in a vision,” and Vilate told Heber he should obey. Later, Joseph would propose marriage to Vilate’s 14 year old daughter, Helen. Vilate complied, but was not enthusiastic (when Joseph asked her permission, her reply was “If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say”).
Stories about self-sacrificing women have become so common in the angel-mother dialog of women’s roles that I originally hesitated to include another account of a self-sacrificing woman. But as I thought about why I was having this reaction, I realized that although I may resent the fact that women are often expected to sacrifice in ways men are not (but often do because they are cool like that), it doesn’t diminish the value of the sacrifices that are made. I’m grateful for women like Vilate that are able to serve constantly, and see the needs of others and fill them. I have been blessed countless times by their sacrifices, and hope to be able to serve others in the same way.

"In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith," Tom Compton, 1997
Living in a Chapter of History, Marjorie H. Rice, October 2007 Ensign
Called to Serve, Jeffrey R. Holland, November 2002 Ensign.
“Chapter 1: The Ministry of Brigham Young,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young
“Lesson 39: The Saints Build Winter Quarters,” Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants: Church History, (1997),222
Mormon Enigma, By Linda King Newell & Valeen Tippetts Avery

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Foreword: My Daughter

My life has changed dramatically since last women’s history month. My husband and I finished our graduate degrees, moved to a new city, started working in jobs that are actually in our professions, and I gave birth to our first child last month. I’ve been trying on different roles as a woman, and going through a seemingly constant sense of reevaluation of who I am as a daughter of God and where my worth comes from.
As I look at my daughter, I think a lot about the woman she is. It humbles me to think that behind the uncoordinated movements and the seemingly constant vomit there is a fully developed spirit there, learning about her body and gaining experiences she came here to have. I am amazed by her strength. She is a very gentle creature by nature, but she is no wimp. She just picks her battles, and when she picks them, watch out. I think she will be well served by this – able to roll with the punches, but willing to fight for what matters to her.
I recently had a conversation with a close friend of mine about how limited we as a people can be when we think of the roles of women in the church, and I’ve been thinking about it constantly since then. We define our success as a woman by the roles we pick for ourselves. And then life happens. You picture yourself being a stay at home mom, and then your husband loses his job and you are back in the work force. You picture yourself married, and it doesn’t work out for you. You define yourself as the unstoppable working mom/Relief Society President/PTA president that does it all, then have a child with special needs that requires your constant attention, and you have to cut back. Or you get exactly what you thought you wanted, and it doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be. It can be overwhelming to feel like you’ve lost that sense of yourself, and disorienting to find where your worth comes from. But I’m learning that the roles God needs us to fill are much more diverse than we imagine for ourselves and they allow us to discover talents and strengths we didn’t know we have. It enables us to give service we didn’t know we had in ourselves to give.
So I guess my introductory post branches out from my norm. Instead of discussing a woman of the past, I have been considering the women of the future. As I’ve been studying the women I’m featuring this month, I’ve been struck by how expectations for women change over time and cultures, but at its core, it is about being who the Lord needs you to be in the circumstances He puts you in. I think about the world my daughter will be facing, and I hope she will be able to hold on to what matters most to her, but not limit herself in determining where her worth comes from, or what she is capable of becoming when she opens herself to what God has in store for her.