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