Monday, March 26, 2012

Algie Eggersten Ballif

It isn't the things that Algie Ballif accomplished that makes me love her. Don't get me wrong: she accomplished a lot. What I love about Algie is the way she accomplished them. She looked for opportunity and education wherever she went, and she found it.

Algie grew up in a home with plenty of work to do. They had the normal gamut of rural, early 1900s Utah survival tasks, as well as periods taking on boarders. Still, her parents kept their family education-focused, girls and boys alike. While they worked, they listened to and discussed opera and literature, and her parents pulled their children into the conversations with the artists, local politicians, and musicians they hosted for dinner. They encouraged their children to consider all sides of an issue and articulately communicate their own opinions.

Algie started her career teaching physical education, dance, literature, and elocution at BYU and Ricks. Dance was her true passion, and she saw a need for more advanced dance instruction to be taught at BYU. She persuaded the chairman of the phys ed department to send her to Berkeley, California for graduate school, and came back and put her skills to use. While her advanced students did not initially receive credit for the courses she taught them, after she returned to her job from Boston (where her husband trained in law and she trained in dance), her many and varied courses did receive credit. She is considered instrumental in the early development of the BYU dance department.

She served in many leadership roles in the community and in national organizations. She was president of the Utah American Legion Auxiliary, and then its national membership chairman. She was the first woman elected to the Provo school board, and she served there for 23 years. While there, she fought hard for men and women teachers of equal experience to receive equal pay, and she succeeded. She served as the Utah pavilion hostess at the New York World's Fair. She was involved in grassroots efforts to encourage women to become educated on political issues, and not just parrot their husbands opinions and votes. She served as the chair of the Utah Democratic party, two terms in the Utah House of Representatives, and as a part of the education subcommittee of Eleanor Roosevelt's US Commission on the Status of Women. Many of these obligations involved frequent and/or lengthy stretches of time away from her children, and some of her neighbors treated her rather rudely for it. But her family was supportive, and she said that the experiences she had were some of the finest in her life, and that she would have had to “lose some of her education” to give them up.

Algie held opinions that didn't always jive with the period's mainstream Mormon thought. She fought for the ERA, she was very interested in the Divine Feminine, and she worked outside the home. But while her thoughts weren't always mainstream, her church activity was. She stayed firmly within the fold (to the point that three members of the quorum of the twelve spoke enthusiastically at her funeral), while still asserting her right to study issues and receive her own revelation on the issues she faced.

I love the way Algie lived her life and her faith on her own terms. I tend to get caught up in the minutia of the daily grind, but Algie saw opportunities to grow as a person and serve others, and she arranged her life to do the activities she felt brought the most good. She felt that because she'd been given great blessings, it was her responsibility to improve the world around her, and her life shows that she worked to do so.

“Algie Eggerston Ballif: No subject was taboo” by Georganne B. Arrington and Marion McCardell. In Worth Their Salt, Too. Edited by Colleen Whitley

Monday, March 19, 2012

Paula Fickes Hawkins

Paula Hawkins entered politics gradually. When her family moved to Florida, she worked as a community activist with the local republican party. She did campaign work for house and presidential candidates, and then sought office herself, serving for 7 years on the state public service commission. She sought a senate seat in 1974, then ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978, but lost both races.

She ran as the republican candidate for a US senate in Florida in 1980. She did not get any help from feminist organizations like NOW – they picketed her for her stances opposing the ERA and abortion. She didn't have any political family ties, like all women previously elected to full terms in the senate. She did benefit from being a part of the Reagan landslide, but still, constituents loved her aggressive style, and she defeated the incumbent. She is the first and only female senator elected for a full term in the state of Florida.

She only served a single term, but she made impressive accomplishments in the area of child welfare while she was there. Her work strongly contributed to the passage of the Missing Children's Act of 1982, which established a national center for information about missing children, removed the prior 48 hour waiting period before federal officials could become involved in a missing child case, and gave parents access to more information about the search. The program has been credited with locating thousands of children.

She also showed personal courage while in office. At a National Conference on Sexual Victimization of Children, she revealed that she had been molested as a child. She felt her revelation would encourage other victims to seek the justice and help that they needed.

I love that Hawkins ran her political career on her own terms. She didn't cave to feminists who wanted her to support more liberal positions, or to chauvinistic reporters who asked her who was going to do her husband's laundry while she served in the Senate. She did the work she wanted to do, in the way she wanted to do it. And she did it with courage and empathy.

Paula Hawkins, 82, Florida Ex-Senator, Dies”, by David Stout. New York Times, 4 December 2009. 
"Paula Fickes Hawkins.” Women in Congress.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bonus: Excerpt from my recent RS Activity Talk

Sorry - no highlight today. I thought it would be fun to include an excerpt from a talk I gave at our Relief Society Activity this week. I was asked to talk about chapters 3 and 4 in Daughters in My Kingdom, with a welfare/self reliance emphasis. Enjoy!

When the Saints were forced from Nauvoo, the formal Relief Society disbanded for about 20 years. But Mormon women were still working to accomplish the aims of the relief society during the migration and early settlement years. When opportunities for service came up, they came running.

I'm going to start off sharing a familiar story, but end it somewhere different than we usually do.

“At the October 1856 general conference, President Brigham Young announced that handcart pioneers were stranded hundreds of miles away. He declared: “Your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains, and attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, or temporal duties, otherwise your faith will be in vain.”

So when I've heard this account in the past, I've heard about what the men did next: the 250 rescue teams assembled within a month; the gratitude the handcart pioneers felt when they saw their rescuers; the inspiring brave, brave teenage boys who gave their lives helping a handcart company cross the freezing Sweetwater River. These are remarkable services. But that's not what we're going to talk about today. I'm going to talk about what the women did.

Let's go back to the moment in the tabernacle that Brigham Young declared that member's faith will be vain if the temporal needs of the stranded handcart pioneers were ignored. The women didn't even wait to leave the building to get to work. They stripped off their warming petticoats, stockings, and anything else they were wearing that they could spare RIGHT THERE in the tabernacle and piled them into a wagon to send into the mountains. And these wonderful women knew the survivors needed more than help getting out of the mountains – they needed help continuing to survive once they arrived. They gathered bedding, clothing, and anything else they could and filled up a building in town so that when the survivors arrived, they could come and get what they needed.

I love this perspective. As a young mom, it is easy to feel like the problems of the world are too big for me to do anything about. I have this fantastic and life-altering bond to my family, but it is a bond and I can't easily step away from it. I can't hop on a plane and volunteer to restore clean water to refugees in Haiti. But if I stay in tune and keep my eyes open for the opportunities around me, I can build from where I stand. God will bless me in my righteous desire to serve, and show me what I can do, not just in the little things, but in the big if I want to take it on.

Relief Society started up again once the Utah settlements were a little more established, and among the many fabulous projects these indomitable sisters took on were several self reliance-related projects. Not only were these women fabulous women's suffragettes who made their case on a national scene, and articulate public speakers in an era when it was considered ladylike to stay silent, they followed Brigham Young's counsel to stay independent of worldly influences both temporally and spiritually. They sewed their own clothes and made their own silk (and if you've ever seen a silk worm, you'll know it isn't a fun process). They arranged a wheat storage program so successful that they could provide food for not only for local droughts and needy members, but earthquake survivors in San Francisco, famine victims in China, and the US government itself to feed thousands during World War I. They sent women to eastern medical schools at much higher rates than the US population at large, established a hospital, and trained hundreds upon hundreds of women in midwifery. Their efforts to live the welfare principles blessed both themselves and the world at large.
These early sisters teach me that my influence is only as limited as my energy and initiative, and I'm grateful for the power I have as a woman of God.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Esther Eggersten Peterson

If you're an American and you've bought something from a grocery store in the past 30 years, your life has been impacted by Esther Peterson. Under her leadership, Giant supermarkets were the first major retailer to introduce many of the ideas we take for granted – price-per-unit labels, sell-by dates, nutrition labels, and generic drugs – and she successfully used government-level positions to make them national standards. That makes her noteworthy enough in my opinion, but that's just the tip of the iceberg for the work that she's accomplished.

Esther worked with more prominent labor unions than I have the motivation to count. She held powerful positions for four different presidents – JFK appointed her to be the director of the Women's bureau in the Labor Department, LBJ kept her in that position and also made her the country's first special assistant for consumer affairs, Carter named her the special assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, and Clinton made her a UN delegate. She served under Eleanor Roosevelt as the executive vice-chair for the president's United States Commission on the Status of Women. She received the Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for “profound contributions to humanity.” She worked hard in the women's rights movement. And in each of these capacities, she worked hard, ethically, and effectively.

Some might consider Esther borderline for including in this blog, as she rarely attended church meetings in her adult life. I'm counting her not only because she considered herself a Mormon, but she has stated that she felt her life work rose out of her Mormonism. She's particularly cited the lyrics of two LDS hymns as guiding her life: “Do what is right; let the consequence follow” and “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not I have failed indeed.” She knew that it was important to look beyond herself and serve others. I love that about her. I'm one that quietly rages about the problems with the world. She took on the world, and nudged it along.

So now I have a reminder to do good every time I check to see if that yogurt in the back of my fridge is still edible.

“Esther Peterson dies at 91; worked to help consumers” by Irvin Molotsky. NYT, December 22, 1997.
“Esther Eggersten Peterson: The most dangerous thing since Genghis Khan” by Carma Wadly. In Worth Their Salt, Too. Edited by Colleen Whitley. USU Press, Logan, Utah 2000.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Amanda Barnes Smith

Amanda Barnes Smith was a woman you can't keep down. She followed Sidney Rigdon into Campbellism, then Mormonism. She and her husband Warren moved to Ohio and did their best to support the saints there, but lost everything when the Kirtland Bank fell.

The Smith family scrapped together what they could and headed to Missouri. Unfortunately, they stopped at Haun's Mill on their way, two days before the massacre there. The mob killed Warren and her son Sardis, and had shot her son Alma in the hip. She'd passed hacked and shot up corpses on the way to find her family, and allowed herself a scream of anguish at the sight of her losses. But when she knew Alma was still alive, she said “I could not weep then.” She knew her son could only be saved through God's healing, and that God's healing wouldn't come if she didn't get to work. She examined the wound and discovered the entire ball and socket of his left hip had been shot away. She asked if Alma believed God could give him a new hip, and he said if she believed it, so did he. She gathered her remaining three children around her and prayed. They asked for faith and guidance. She asked God to make him well and strong, but if not, to “take him in his innocence.”

Guidance came. She received inspiration to take ashes from a fireplace, make lye, bathe the heck out of it, and remove remaining fragments of bone. She received revelation to make an elm poultice and fill the wound with it, and for him to stay put while it grew. This was easier said than done, as the mob was continually nearby, and repeatedly threatened to kill any Mormons that remained. But she knew she was carrying out God's work, and she wouldn't allow herself to be intimidated. After giving her an ultimatum for leaving by a certain date or being killed, they came to carry out their sentence. Amanda met them at the door and took them to see the body of her recovering son. They brought her meat and left her in peace. After five weeks of lying still, Alma had healed, and suffered from no pain or mobility issues for the remainder of his life.

Some of us are familiar with that part of the story, but it is only the start of Amanda's bravery. After Alma healed, the mob demanded that they leave, but had prevented their means of her doing so by having previously stolen their horses. Amanda went to them and demanded her horses back. The captain said they could have one if she paid him five dollars. She replied that she couldn't because the mob had already taken all her money. When he still refused, she took the horse anyways. He let her go. She went to join the Saints in Illinois.

Poor Amanda was not lucky in love. Her first marriage was amicable, but she was well aware of the fact her husband had never stopped loving the woman he had been engaged to before her; in fact, he told Amanda that although he loved her, he’d always love the previous woman’s little finger more than her. But he was a martyr for their faith, so her attachment lingered.

In Quincy, she married a second Warren Smith, but it was not a happy relationship. After the sealing power was restored, he pushed hard for her to be sealed to him, rather than her first husband. She struggled with this decision, as she felt it disrespectful to the first Warren's memory. She went ahead with it, but shortly thereafter, she discovered he had impregnated their hired girl, whom he would later plurally marry and have two sons with. He was abusive and cruel, and after arriving in Salt Lake City, she petitioned Brigham Young for a divorce and got it. After her divorce, and through a convoluted series of revelations and interactions with Brigham Young, she was sealed by proxy to Joseph Smith, and the first Warren was sealed to the woman he'd never stopped loving.

Amanda inspires me on so many levels. I love her ability to receive revelation while staring down horror. I love her courage to fight for her son, while staying on the site and surrounded by the men who killed her husband. But most of all, I love her determined faith. She lost everything when the Kirtland bank fell, but stayed faithful. She lost her husband and son and witnessed the consequences of a massacre, but stayed faithful. She struggled with a bad polygamous marriage, but stayed faithful. Despite all God took from her, she knew what he could give her was more important. And that takes a whole different kind of bravery and insight than staring down a mob.

O My Children and Grandchildren: An account of the sealing of Amanda Barnes to Joseph Smith, by Hulda Cordelia Thurston Smith, November 8, 1921.

A Rare Account of the Haun’s Mill Massacre: The Reminiscence of Willard Gilbert Smith, by Alexander L. Baugh. Mormon Historical Studies,

 Some Highlights in the Life of Amanda Barnes Smith, by Gertrude Smith Rawlins (granddaughter of Amanda Barnes Smith), May 1958.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012: Fight

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a total pushover. I don't say or do things I disagree with to keep people happy. But let me tell you, I hate conflict, and do what I can to avoid situations that are filled with it. I can be downright cowardly in the way I refuse to engage or challenge when confronted with ideas I disagree with.

This women's history month, I've felt drawn to women with the courage to fight for their convictions. Whether it is standing up to corporations or facing down an angry mob, they courageously stood their ground, or even pushed to gain more. And what's more, their courage to fight was firmly grounded in their faith. They acted with the assurance that their rebellions and battles were in line with God's will for them. I'm hoping to learn to channel this courage in my own life.

As for logistics, I'm only promising Monday posts this women's history month. Hopefully I can pull off some more, but I make no guarantee beyond that. Getting my hands on Mormon women's resources requires more organization and time now that I'm not connected to a university. But I hope you enjoy these women's courage as much as I do.