The Lord’s University
by Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel
Women and Feminism at BYU
[p.20]When twelve-year-old Alice Louise Reynolds stepped off the train in Provo on 21 March 1886, she began an association with the small Utah Valley academy—still seventeen years from calling itself a university—whose destiny she would shape as much as it would shape hers. Earlier in the year Alice’s mother had died bearing her eighth child, and Alice’s father, dissatisfied with the education his daughters were receiving at one of the LDS church’s “ward schools” in Salt Lake City, thought the move to Provo would be beneficial to Alice and her sister Florence, age eleven. George Reynolds wanted to provide Alice, whose intellectual abilities he recognized, with the best education possible. He bad heard positive things about what Prussian-born Mormon educator Karl G. Maeser was doing at Brigham Young Academy (BYA), one of the church’s fledgling attempts at secondary education. Maeser had previously taught in Salt Lake City, and his departure, Reynolds believed, marked the decline in the local school’s quality.
The prospect of studying with “Brother Maeser” was initially unpleasant for Alice. Her older classmates recalled him as “severe” and “harsh.” When she and Florence stepped off the train, Maeser met them with his thick accent and formidable, sharp goatee. But something about him—perhaps he tipped his hat to the young women—set the Reynolds sisters at ease. “We fell in love with him the moment we saw him,” Alice later wrote, “and still love him as we have seldom loved anyone else.”1
Alice arrived in Provo at the beginning of BYA’s second decade, as well as during a time of public debate surrounding women’s education in the United States and its territories. While more established schools struggled over the admission of female students, and even feminist educators argued over separate versus co-education, BYA from its beginning served female students and felt progressive for doing so: “Girls,” instructed Susa Young Gates, Brigham Young’s daughter and a long-time faculty member and trustee, “this is an institution which you may well look towards, long to attend, pray God for the power to do so …. [T]hen, when you go out therefrom you will know no prouder boast, feel no sweeter thrill from spoken words than [p.21]in saying or hearing those happy words, ‘I am a student from the Brigham Young Academy.’”2
Female education at BYA, students like Reynolds were taught, was part of what made Monnonism superior to other religions, consistent with Mormonism’s belief that its social, economic, and marital systems were advanced beyond the American mainstream. A sense of newness and youthful energy pervaded the Mormon school. The very evidence of barbarism to the outside gentile world—polygamous marriage in particular—served to fuel Mormon pride. According to Mormons, polygamy solved social problems that plagued other Americans. Still, in comparison to Midwestern and Eastern cities that hosted institutes of higher education, Provo was a rough-edged frontier town. Dirt roads ran between adobe buildings, and academy classes took place in the old Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) warehouse, since the school’s original Center Street building, Lewis Hall, had been destroyed by fire two years earlier. But such roughness did not impede BYA’s conception of its potential. The Provo academy aimed to compete in quality with—and ultimately surpass—its Eastern counterparts. The school’s curriculum at the time of the Reynolds girls’ arrival consisted of primary, intermediate, and grammar departments for children, and academic departments for older students: language, poly technical, commercial, and scientific. The first three were roughly at a high school level, and the latter-the scientific-had awarded the school’s first “collegiate” degree to future Johns Hopkins graduate and church apostle James Talmage five years before Alice and Borence arrived.3
Unlike Talmage and his scientific successors, the Reynolds sisters were directed toward the school’s offerings for women: the normal school, which prepared Latter-day Saint teachers to protect Mormon youth from increasing Protestant (or “gentile”) influence in the territory, a strategy church president Brigham Young had emphasized and with which Maeser fully concurred. A “Ladies’ Work” department focused on domestic skills such as needlework and cooking, elements of the newly forming discipline of “domestic science” that would become a widespread fixture of American colleges by the turn of the century. Like many American institutions-even those that counted themselves as progressive—Maeser’s BYA was ambivalent at best in its attitude toward women. It supported young women who chose a teaching vocation—until they could marry—but was not concerned with equality in educational experience. As historian Gisele Thibault explains, American “women were gradually seen as needing higher education and yet were also seen to be moral guardians of the family and of family life.”4 Most Mormon educators would have agreed. Advocates of American women’s education, ranging from feminist reformers and philanthropists to the Protestant (and Mormon) clergy, consistently made what Thibault calls a “double-edged concession,” that “women are to be wives and mothers first” but that education can provide training to help them better fulfill those roles.5 [p.22]Only when members of Reynolds’s generation had attended Eastern schools did women begin to join BYA’s faculty in greater numbers. However, the focus of their instruction, and influence, was still to be found in the feminine disciplines.
Until her death in 1938, Alice Louise Reynolds was the principal female figure at BYU. After two years of teaching elementary school following her graduation from BYA’s normal school, Alice received an invitation from the academy’s second president, Benjamin Cluff, to pursue college-level education in English literature at the University of Michigan. A church-sponsored student loan program helped to fund the experiment, and Cluff planned for Reynolds to return to teach university-level classes in literature.6 Cluff himself had attended Michigan and established connections with prominent American academics in the East such as William James and John Dewey, and wanted to expand BYU’s curriculum to keep pace with the rapidly developing American academy. His commitment to improving BYU’s academic reputation led him to encourage graduates like Reynolds to receive Eastern educations, much to fanner president Maeser’s dismay.7
Reynolds entered Michigan just two decades after the school had gone coeducational, and was aware of its prominent women graduates, including Alice Freeman Parker, appointed president of Wellesley College at age twenty-six. Reynolds savored being a part of this tradition of university women, as well as being one of a new generation of college-educated Latter-day Saints. During her stay at Ann Arbor, the Mormon community there grew to include over sixty students. After two years at Michigan, Reynolds returned to Provo, where she became “the first woman who taught both high school and college subjects, other than needlework, cooking, and music.”8 Reynolds not only established a literature department, but also developed the school’s library to such a degree that before her death the library named one of its collections in her honor. In 1911 she earned the rank of full professor. She also served as the school’s “matron,” a precursor to the dean of women’s office. She was the first woman to deliver the school’s Founder’s Day address, and was the first female president of the Alumni Association. While working at the university, she attended national suffrage conventions and also served as editor of the church’s Relief Society Magazine for women. Her editorials directed her readers’ attention to national women’s movements and issues in women’s education, including tributes to significant figures in nineteenth-century American feminism such as Lucy Stone. “Great as has been the advance made by women in higher education,” she concluded one editorial, “we feel that it is the future that is big with promise.”9
Although a college education that channeled women into traditional roles still allowed them to “expand their ‘proper sphere,”10 it nonetheless did so without altering the pattern of sex roles and public discourse that prescribed that sphere. While such notions as women’s “proper sphere” [p.23]have eroded over time in the broader American culture—notably since the feminist resurgence of the 1960s and 1970s—among Mormons they find supporters today. In the history of women and feminism at Brigham Young University, Alice Louise Reynolds serves both as a figure of change and of permanence: following her return to Provo from Michigan, her influence helped women at BYU moderately expand their educational opportunities. While current Mormon students may not recognize her name, many of their teachers learned from or knew of her. Into the 1980s a group of moderate feminist—some of whom were her students—met in Provo as the Alice Louise Reynolds Forum. As historian Amy Bentley has recounted, and as we will discuss below, that group’s conflicts with BYU and church officials also chart some of Mormonism’s recent controversies involving feminism, including division within the church over the Equal Rights Amendment.11
The larger purpose of this chapter, however, is to provide a broad historical context for contemporary controversies surrounding feminist faculty and students at BYU. As feminism has become one of BYU’s most heated issues at the turn of the twenty-first century, and even as general advances for women at BYU have been made, self-identified feminist faculty have lost much of the limited influence and prominence enjoyed by their predecessors like Reynolds. Notwithstanding BYU administrators’ assertions that the university is not anti-feminist, contemporary feminists on campus feel themselves to be special objects of scrutiny, suspicion, and restricted academic freedom. To the degree their ideology or activism is public, they find themselves opposed, rather than supported, by administrators. While women’s studies and feminism have gained more ground in BYU’s classrooms in the late 1980s and 1990s than ever before, the administration has worked just as hard to curb what it sees as excesses of feminist influence.
While much research has been conducted on Mormon women in the last thirty years, little—if anything—has been written about women at BYU.12 This oversight by historians seems odd when one considers BYU’s function in Mormonism of socializing young people into appropriate behavior. By examining attitudes toward women at BYU over the last 120 years, we see that many Mormons, unlike their counterparts in the larger American academy, retain nineteenth-century notions of essential gender roles, which presents conflicts for some female students who find themselves opened to the world of academic inquiry and professional ambition, but channeled, officially, into traditional roles, much as their foremothers were. Official endorsements of gender essentialism, most recently found in the church’s 1995 document The Family: A Proclamation to the World, also present problems for many female faculty members, often trained professionally as feminists but forced into self-censorship or, in the cases of Cecilia Konchar Farr and Gail Turley Houston, fired for their public feminist politics and scholarship.
This chapter focuses most intensively on three moments when discussions of gender roles seemed to dominate campus discussion: the Progres-[p.24]sive Era (through the early 1920s), as suffragists in Utah and nationally pressed for expanded women’s rights; the 1950s, when Mormons, like their American counterparts, re-emphasized Victorian roles for women, especially regarding their “place” in the home; and the 1970s, when the national women’s movement—and a small group of feminists at BYU—forced the church to confront its attitudes toward women. In the first two instances, Mormons were roughly aligned with the national mainstream. However, in the third the church has resisted-sometimes forcefully, as in its reaction to the Equal Rights Amendment-the prospect of an American society reshaped by the contemporary feminist movement. The chapter ends at 1990, when Cecilia Konchar Farr, Gail Turley Houston, and other young feminist faculty members arrived on campus; the story of women and feminism at BYU in ‘the last decade of the twentieth century is intricately bound with their stories, which are treated in detail in later chapters.
The Progressive Era
While coeducation was not yet an American norm when BYA was founded, it was more commonly practiced, historian Barbara Miller Solomon explains, in religious rather than secular academies.13 Oberlin College in Ohio had been the first American institution of higher education to promote coeducation, although with certain extra-curricular motives. Founded by religious social reformers, Oberlin maintained a separate program of study for women until 1841 and saw coeducation primarily as a tool to prepare male students for marriage or to minister to mixed-sex congregations. Many public institutions were slower to admit women, and the old-guard elite, like Harvard and Yale, resisted coeducation for over a century. The University of Michigan, where Alice Reynolds would eventually continue her education, opened its doors to women in 1870, only five years before BYA’s founding. Even then, Michigan made the move to coeducation only after years of political pressure and financial difficulty.14
Like Oberlin, BYA served to channel women’s energies and talents into a system that remained, ultimately, male-oriented. As Mormon historian Jill Mulvay Derr noted in the 1970s, although Brigham Young provided many avenues for women’s educational and professional progression, it would be wrong to assume he was fully in harmony with the national women’s movements that attracted some of his plural wives and daughters. Young’s interest in women’s education was essentially pragmatic; he knew it would serve the interests of the Mormon kingdom in the Great Basin. He wanted men who were not in the “mission field” to be at work in the harvest field, attending to strenuous, manual, manly labor. Young berated “big, fat lazy men” who worked behind desks and in domesticated professions. Women were better off filling these posts.15 When the Mormon-owned University of Deseret in Salt Lake City (later the University of Utah) announced new busi-[p.25]ness course offerings in 1867, Young responded in a much-quoted episode to the church:
In addition to a knowledge of the elementary branches of education and a thorough understanding of housewifery, we wish the sisters, so far as their inclinations and circumstances may permit, to learn bookkeeping, telegraphy, reporting, typesetting, clerking in stores and banks, and every branch of knowledge and kind of employment suited to their sex and according to their several tastes and capacities … . Thus trained, all without distinction of sex, will have an open field, without jostling and oppression, for acquiring all the knowledge and doing all the good their physical and mental capacities and surrounding circumstances will permit.16
Derr reads this and other passages as Young’s attempt to “divi[de] community labor among men and women,” allowing “the community to function more efficiently.” The outspoken church leader’s “primary motive was ever the growth of the kingdom [of God],” she suggests, but he also maintained “that only through Saints building God’s kingdom could God build Saints.”17 Derr subtly points to the ways Young qualifies the avenues open to women, drawing rigid limits to women’s “proper place.” (Elsewhere she cites Young as saying, “Keep the ladies in their proper place … selling tape and calico, setting type, working the telegraph, keeping books, &c.”18) Young’s “all without distinction of sex” is countered by the assumption that women’s physical and mental natures will not permit them to perform some kinds of work. At the beginning of the passage, Young makes it clear that women will enter the professional world in addition to having learned proper methods of housekeeping. While he does not echo Victorian voices that called for women’s confinement to the domestic sphere, neither is there an egalitarian expectation that men will take on domestic duties. Rather, home and certain professions were “proper,” and the “circumstances that [would] permit” professional work for women most likely consisted of widowhood, single adulthood, providing for a family while a husband was serving a mission, or a plural marriage that allowed some wives to work in the community while others attended to responsibilities at home. Young’s promotion of women’s education—and that of each of his successors as church president—came with a generally understood condition: “We wish to develop the powers of the ladies to the fullest extent,” he once commented, “and to control them for the building up of the kingdom of God.”19
Mormon doctrine, to be certain, emphasized women’s biological capacity to bear children. Human beings, Joseph Smith and his successors taught, lived pre-mortally as spirit children of heavenly parents, and part of God’s earthly plan required humans to create “mortal tabernacles” to house these spirits. The nineteenth-century system of Mormon polygamy rested on the assumption that child-bearing was central to female identity in the next life: Mormon men could progress to godhood, and their eternal kingdoms [p.26]would be proportional to the number of “queens” they attained on Earth. While such doctrine—and the practice of polygamy in particular—infuriated Victorian Americans, in some ways it was the logical extension of the Victorian domestic ideology that equated women with home and family and men with accumulation in the market. Ironically, Brigham Young—who even permitted Eastern medical training for some Mormon women—was more generous than some of his better-educated American contemporaries, such as Harvard professor Edward Clarke. In an influential if controversial series of books in the 1870s, Clarke argued that education for women would disrupt their biological nature, drawing blood from the ovaries to the brain and preventing the natural reproduction of the human species.20 Clarke represents the most extreme opponents of women’s education. Others debated more general issues such as benefits of coeducation versus separate schools. But BYA anticipated what would become the norm: mixed-sex schools that aimed, at least initially, to channel women into different social functions from men and to use women as resources to build the larger community.
Susa Young Gates’s Young Woman’s Journal, a year before Alice Reynolds graduated from BYA’s normal school, ran an article that exemplified the larger American defense of women’s education: “I shall always advocate education for woman,” wrote the article’s author, “and were I to say whether the sons or daughters of the family shall be educated, I would say, ‘The girls by all means,’ for if mothers are educated, sons are bound to be.” Note that the author ultimately looks out for the interests of sons, not daughters, not even future generations of mothers. Still, the Young Woman’s Journal author primarily addresses arguments made by experts such as Harvard’s Clarke:
I can never believe that higher education will unsex her, provided the cultivation of the heart keeps pace with that of the mind. Her insight to the higher laws of nature will enable her [to] better understand the true and noble relations between man and woman as God designed them, and to teach her more truly to appreciate that “Man in the image of God created he him. Male and FEMALE created he them.”21
This message—that women carry a divine spark but that their divinely ordained role is that of mother—would persist in Provo long after the American public had set it aside.
Not until the 1910s did women begin openly talking about combining career and marriage. Still, explains historian Lynn Gordon, “the anguish over choosing between the two characterized the college years of women from the 1890s to the 1910s and can be found throughout the documents they left behind.”22 As a generation of highly educated women brought scientific understanding to traditionally “feminine” subjects, the new discipline of “home economics” arrived on the collegiate scene. National conferences on home economics led to the founding of the American [p.27]Home Economics Association in 1908. Women students across the country flocked to new course offerings that promised to lend scientific legitimacy to domestic management; in this way, technical training led to practical applications. Nationally, writes Barbara Miller Solomon, “home economics became an important source of female employment” outside the home.23 The growth of home economics as a discipline was embedded in the larger growth of the social sciences, which, Gisele Thibault notes, served as an ideal haven for feminist academics in the early twentieth century.24
As BYA—rechristened Brigham Young University in 1903—moved into the later stages of the Progressive Era, its curriculum expanded to engage these concerns, although in ways rooted firmly in a Mormon world view. For example, Mormon educators reinforced marriage as the principal option for women more than their counterparts elsewhere. One faculty member, Zina Young Williams Card, delivered a week-long “Ladies’ Course” lecture series, addressing such topics as “Homemaking in Life,” “Sex in Life,” “Maidenhood,” “Choosing a Mate,” and “Motherhood.” These lectures reflected national concerns but also stressed ideal Mormon gender behavior. Students wrote essays on one of the daily topics or on “My Ideal Life,” a synthesis of the week’s instruction from “Aunt Zina” that “the moral nature must be trained.” Card emphasized that an abundant life required balance among the physical, mental, moral, and spiritual aspects of human nature. She believed, as one student recorded, that young Mormon women needed to be “wisely and correctly informed” on matters of sex and reproduction.25
Such instruction inevitably returned to sentimentalized gender roles fused with Mormon doctrine. One student concluded that when children ask about reproduction “you should take them and have a heart to heart talk with them and tell them that we have protected their little body under our heart for a long time and that the little spirit came from heaven when the little body was ready for it.” Marriage instruction similarly blended progressive women’s concerns with Mormon teaching about essential gender roles: avoid men who just “want a honeymoon,” Card taught, and pray about your potential mates, since individual men and women contracted with one another in a pre-mortal existence to find each other on Earth. “If you are not married in the Temple,” wrote another student, “you have dammed yourself and will not progress in the afterlife.” At least one student wrote of her desire to be a career woman—”Mrs. Card says I can become a chemist”—because “I want to be able to do something; to make the world better for my having been in it.” But most female students saw their influence as directed in more traditional ways: “Motherhood is the realization of all [a woman’s] life’s preparation and aspirations,” wrote one student, summarizing a sentiment shared by nearly all her peers. “[I]t is the fulfillment of her mission.”26 The emphasis on marriage at BYU would become and remain a hallmark of the institution known in the 1920s as “B.Y. Woo.”27
During the early twentieth century, Alice Reynolds had good reason to [p.28]be hopeful for women’s futures. Other Mormon women like her had gained higher education at nationally prestigious universities and corresponded with the larger academy. In 1922 Reynolds was succeeded as university matron by Amy Lyman Merrill, BYU’s first dean of women. Merrill had a degree from Columbia University in domestic science and a home economics degree from Utah State Agricultural College in Logan.28 She sponsored campus affiliation with the National Association of Women Students and served with other women faculty members on BYU president Franklin Harris’s Care of Girls and Women’s Activities committees.29 The two deans to follow Merrill also had studied home economics at Columbia.
This gradual increase of scholarly credentials and public visibility among BYU women faculty and administrators should not, however, mask ways in which the university expected such women to adhere to traditional gender norms. Nettie Neff Smart, dean of women from 1925 to 1945, attended Columbia University only after her husband’s death. As her successor, Lillian C. Booth, recalled, Smart “[i]n the days of the suffragist movement … formed a strong ambition to become a woman lawyer, desiring activity in the interest of her sex,” However, Booth continues without judgment, “romance and marriage transferred her allegiance” to a “former B.Y.U. professor of horticulture.” Her training in New York following her husband’s death led to her job at BYU, where she “mothered thousands of college girls.” While “she held a place of certain prominence on the faculty,” according to Booth, she “never let that place supplant the humility of her nature.” She died, appropriately, “on Mother’s Day 1945.”30
The Wilkinson Years: Focus on Fashion and Managed Sexuality
Booth’s description of her predecessor, pointing to her role as surrogate mother to female BYU students (a role Booth herself assumed before campus expansion made close contact with individual students unrealistic), reveals ways in which Alice Louise Reynolds’s hopes for the future of women’s education were being effectively undermined. Already BYU had moved toward what would become a formal policy of refusing to employ married women “of childbearing age” as faculty members or administrators, lest young women be tempted away from the home. The vast majority of university matrons and deans of women were unmarried or widowed. These trends initially matched national patterns: Barbara Miller Solomon chronicles a major public debate prior to World War II over the issue of married women who worked outside the home.31 Some women, studies by such groups as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) showed, successfully combined marriage and academic employment, especially when they and their husbands worked at the same institution. Children, however, decreased the likelihood that women would continue to work. By the late 1940s, especially in the wake of the post-war backlash against working [p.29]women, even the few success stories of working married women were on the decline.32
The years following World War I were not a time of public feminist activity, either at BYU or in the American academy at large. According to historian Glenna Matthews, beginning in the 1920s, when suffrage was no longer an issue, younger women set aside the “gender solidarity” of their mothers, and “college-age young people of both sexes tended to be apathetic or conformist about politics.”33 The nineteenth-century “reverence for home,” which ironically had served to provide legitimate authoritative space for women, was, in Matthews’s words, “being rapidly dismantled.” Beginning in 1923, the National Women’s Party—” perhaps the most vigorous women’s organization” of its time—pushed for passage of an “Equal Rights Amendment,” but when that goal had not yet been achieved by the end of the Second World War, the group began to decline in membership. Perceived widely as an eclectic collection of old-fashioned feminists, it failed to attract young members. University-educated women—the AAUW in particular—continued to press for gender equality, but in gradual, less public settings than their mothers and grandmothers had. Not until the late 1950s did American women begin to question the assumption that married women should not maintain employment, and not until the women’s movement swung into full force in the early 1970s did women make much progress against such discriminatory politics.34
For Mormon women, antagonism over issues of education, marriage, and social authority was especially acute. Historian Klaus Hansen notes that during the first half of the twentieth century, Mormonism’s transformation from radical sect to modernized religion, including the demise of polygamy, brought with it an ironic loss of power for women as Mormons whole-heartedly embraced American norms, including the idea of woman as center of the nuclear family. Another tangible loss of Mormon women’s authority, according to historian Linda King Newell, involved the displacing of “blessings” among women—washing and anointing rituals surrounding childbirth, for example—under the auspices of lay male priesthood authority.36 But the lost rituals were only the most visible sign that Mormon women had been inserted into a highly bureaucratizing social system and given primary responsibilities as mothers, wives, and homemakers. “With the consistent encouragement of church leaders,” writes sociologist Armand Mauss, “Mormons [at the middle of the twentieth century] became models of patriotic, law-abiding citizenship, sometimes seeming to ‘out-American’ all other Americans.”37 Certainly this held true for American ideals for married women.38
From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s—the Ernest Wilkinson years at BYU—the activist spirit associated with earlier generations of Mormon women succumbed to continued emphasis on marriage. During the 1950s Wilkinson also launched an extensive drive to expand BYU’s enrollment [p.30] and physical plant. (Over the next fifteen years the campus would grow from 6,000 to over 25,000; in the fall of 1954 almost twice as many female students applied for the new on-campus housing spaces as there were available.39) As Wilkinson worked to expand the school’s size and its national reputation, he also worked to make the university a place where Mormon expectations of women’s roles could be easily fulfilled.
Wilkinson’s drive for BYU’s growth served as the subject of an essay he published in the August 1952 issue of the church’s official women’s publication, The Relief Society Magazine; implicit in the article are the ways he saw that growth accommodating BYU’s women. His article recounts the story of “Ann, a typical [BYU] student,” and while it may not be a wholly accurate representation of how women students lived in the 1950s, it does tell us something about how the administration wanted them to behave. Ann lives in a university-owned apartment with five other girls, eagerly anticipating completion of Heritage Halls, a sixteen-building on-campus dormitory complex designed exclusively for women. This kind of group living prepares female students for family life: “The girls do all their own meal planning, cooking, and housekeeping, practices which, along with early rising, are encouraged by the university because they are good training for future homemakers,” Ann is majoring in home economics and “expects when she graduates to be either a dietician or a mother who really knows the composition and value of foods—she will probably be both.” Like many other girls at BYU, Ann is engaged to be married. Her fiancé, John, is “one of seven hundred returned missionaries on campus” out of a student body of 6,000. “Coming from far distances, where there may be little opportunity to marry in the Church, and surrounded at the Brigham Young University with a religious atmosphere and a wholesome social life, many young people marry or become engaged on the campus, and they nearly all are married in one of the temples of God.” If Ann were not already a home economics major, she might have considered the School of Nursing, the director of which is a “Latter-day Saint woman who is acknowledged as one of the Nation’s leaders in her field.” (The article does not mention her name.) Wilkinson claims that “any girl graduating from the new College of Nursing will be assured of an excellent position at good compensation,” but he makes clear that such employment should only be an option for the unmarried. “[I]f a graduate marries and resigns her position,” he assures readers, “her training as a nurse will make her a wiser mother and be of lasting benefit to her.” Wilkinson is proud to write that BYU’s student body is 41 percent women, as opposed to the national average of 25 percent. This high number of women students gives cause, he says, for “great emphasis” on “family living.”40 Clearly Wilkinson had a specific understanding of BYU’s role in women’s lives—as a place for women to become married and to learn skills that would make them better wives and mothers.
Records of student activities suggest that Wilkinson’s understanding [p.31]was widely shared. Beginning in 1953, BYU’s Associated Women Students (AWS) sponsored an annual Women’s Week on campus, which included sessions on “Necessary Hints to Trap that Special Guy” or “How to Keep Busy While Your Husband Is Away.”41 As Wilkinson had mentioned, Mormon missions, which took many young men and some young women away from campus for up to two and a half years, played a central role in social status on campus: for young women, marriage to a “returned missionary” (“RM”) was quickly becoming the ideal. The early 1950s saw the formation of social clubs related to the mission experience: the Shamrab Kiyels (a name reportedly meaning “faithful women of strength, honor, and virtue”42) organized as a club for female students “waiting” for male missionaries. Women students (and faculty) who were returned missionaries themselves met with other Provo women as Yesharah, a group that had existed since 1928 as an alternative to all-male “RM” clubs.43 The group hosted social functions and placed books in libraries. (A favorite book for library placement was Amy Brown Lyman’s biography of Yesharab member Alice Louise Reynolds.) Worried about women having poor social lives and lower grades than men, BYU’s Associated Women Students in 1955-56 instituted a “co-ed of the month” program to highlight women students’ success.44
Unintentionally revealing of some male students’ attitudes, a note in one BYU history recounts that a school fraternity, close to the time Wilkinson was writing his Relief Society Magazine article, sponsored a Christmas social at which “club members had their pictures taken with their dates wearing dog collars and leashes.” The caption of one such photo preserved in the group’s annual scrapbook read: “Women in their true place: on their knees!”45 Carrying a similar message, the campus newspaper editorialized in 1959 that [i]n this increasingly complex world we live in, it is becoming more and more important for women to be able to understand deep problems … . We’re not trying to say that the “woman’s place” is in the stock exchange, or on the missile launching pad or in the White House. For us the women’s place is still in the home. But let’s take a look at today’s home. It’s a pretty complex thing. In the kitchen there’s an electric range with so many buttons and dials that it takes a background in engineering to run it. … Even in everyday things like planning a budget and buying groceries a woman who has developed her intellect is ahead.46
For women students, a majority of campus activities was designed to promote appropriate Mormon marriages and wifely virtues of good housekeeping. (The new family-living style dormitories were even equipped with sewing machines.47) As Henry Isaksen, appointed as “student coordinator” or faculty liaison between the student government and the administration, told the AWS council in 1956, BYU “coeds” were encouraged to “realize their position in the world,” that the “ultimate goal for a woman is marriage, [p.32]a family, and eternal progression. In this light women can be considered partners with God, a position to be greatly cherished.”48
With continual growth came new challenges for an administration that wanted to exert a large degree of control over student behavior. As a result, two topics in particular became frequent in official and student discourse in the 1950s: women’s dress and student sexual behavior. A significant aspect of campus growth for women involved the dean of women’s decreasing influence over female students. Lillian Booth, who held the position until 1959, was no longer able to visit individually each semester with every female student, as she and her predecessors had attempted. She did, however, manage to counsel 600-700 students assigned to her each year—occupying roughly four hours of each day—but she regretted the loss of personal contact that came with enrollment expansion.49 Accordingly, campus growth facilitated increased activity among members of the A WS council, who served as mediators between Booth and campus women. In the mid-1950s, during the decade that saw the American “invention of teen fashion,”50 campus fashion shows provided a means by which Booth could interact with women students and also influence them to abide by Wilkinson’s developing dress standards.
Campus fashion shows, the apex of AWS women’s weeks, inspired fashion pamphlets produced for BYU and distributed widely throughout the church in the 1950s. Booth and the Associated Women Students sent 3,500 copies of Fashion with a Flair to female students in 1955-56 and an additional 2,500 to church leaders on general and local levels. Approved by the general board of the church’s young women’s organization, the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA), the pamphlet includes entries on fads, fashions, and fabrics. To some degree, it kept with national trends, but its focus was to serve the needs of BYU’s emerging, though still unwritten, dress code.51 (For a broader discussion of the development of BYU’s dress and grooming standards, see chap. 4.) Fashion with a Flair was “developed,” according to the inscription on its title page, “as questions and problems emphasized the need for some concrete source of reference for cleverly-covered styles with fashion appeal.” The pamphlet promised to help “discriminating girls … find clues toward creating fashions which will give expression to the highest ideals of charm and femininity.” The styles modeled in the booklet generally matched current trends—tight-waisted dresses and flared skirts covering “plenty of petticoats”52—but with certain key exceptions. Christian Dior’s reintroduction of “the bosom”—exaggerated breasts constructed with the aid of cones and padding—was popularized in the larger American culture during the 1950s by actress Jane Russell’s weater girl” look.53 Tight sweaters and exaggerated breasts were unwelcome, however, at BYU, so much so that every dress code for the next forty years would prohibit them. Another 1950s trend—the sleeveless evening gown—was also absent from Fashion with a Flair’s pages. Such omissions [p.33]serve to remind us that these guidelines were about more than fashion: they were about what it meant to be a female Mormon teenager.
What is striking about Fashion with a Flair in the context of the more prescriptive dress codes that followed it at BYU is its generally secular appeal: its “fool-proof formula,” in addition to the “plenty of petticoats” mentioned above, is “a whirling, swirling gown that boasts the distinction of L‘AIR DISTINGUE, and finally, a dazzling smile.” In no place does the pamphlet appeal to religious standards of modesty or morality; rather, it encourages its readers to “[s]can the pages of the current fashion magazines for a variety of helpful hints.” Its emphases—on attracting potential husbands (“Tie-silk-a fabric to please him!”) and reveling in “beauty, femininity, and originality”—are not out of the ordinary in a national context. This religious incorporation of secular marketing strategies and leisure pursuits allowed religious leaders to control such activities—in this case, fashion and fashion shows—and to use them in part to manage the social behavior of church members. According to the 1955-56 Associated Women Students report, the leader of the church’s young women’s organization viewed Fashion with a Flair as having “done more good with the youth of the Church than all the preaching that had been done in the last ten years.” The pamphlet’s religious usefulness is also underscored by the thousands of copies distributed churchwide to leaders of local congregations.
Like Fashion, Cathy Comes to the Y, another pamphlet produced by the Associated Women Students in the 1955 school year, similarly emphasized femininity in women’s dress: “Only the men can wear the pants on campus. Let’s remember that WE ARE WOMEN, AND WE ARE PROUD OF IT. Therefore, let’s try to look like them.” Cathy, intended specifically to introduce new women students to BYU’s campus culture, was more openly prescriptive than Fashion with a Flair: No strapless dresses, the pamphlet mandated, unless “escorted by a jacket or a concealing stole.” (Non-fashion oriented instructions concerned topics ranging from “Phonettiquette” to restrictions on men in living areas.) Cathy is narrated in the voice of a “Big Sister,” paralleling a program put in place at BYU in 1955 in which older women students welcomed freshman girls to campus each fall. “Who is your Big Sister?” Cathy asks. “Well, she is one of the friendliest girls on campus, selected especially because of her past activities and her interest in campus affairs,” and one of her most important jobs was to take her “little sisters” to “the annual Big Sister Fashion Show.”
The managerial functions of BYU’s emphasis on women’s fashion in the 1950s are even more apparent when these publications are viewed against the fashion shows. According to the Associated Women Students history for 1955, over 1,500 women students attended the show, which was “divided into scenes such as ball games, lyceums, classes, dates, formal dances, and dorm scenes,” each designed “to emphasize appropriate and stylish wear for each activity.” Big Sisters briefly introduced each new student to women’s [p.34]counselor Lillian Booth. The 1955 show was so successful that another was planned for January 1956 to model “appropriate formal wear from four of the Provo stores”54
Cathy Comes to the Y also outlined the other major administrative concern regarding students in the 1950s: their sexual behavior and the importance of a Mormon temple marriage. “At Love’s Favorite University,” the Big Sister narrator tells her readers, “Love is a time honored and beautiful thing,” not to be marred by public affection: “I’m sure you wouldn’t want him to propose to you in a doorway with 30 girls around … . [T]hen set the stage in your own private way and you will be surprised at what a Freshman can accomplish.” In case the injunction to privacy may be misread as an invitation to sin, the narrator continues: “Of course, on our campus the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our guide for all our conduct,” and quotes from Apostle Mark E. Petersen’s 1953 “Address on Chastity”: “So many heartbroken girls have been to our offices, and asked for private interviews, and have confessed that they had gone all the way with some boy. As they have told the story, invariably, it started with a petting party. Only they couldn’t stop.”55
Petersen’s injunctions against petting and premarital sex came in the context of a national increase of sexual activity among young people that started in the 1920s and reached its peak in the late 1960s. Coeducational colleges and public high schools placed adolescent boys and girls together to an unprecedented degree. The increasing availability of birth control also caused increases in casual sexual activity among young people. The appropriateness of “petting parties,” write the principal historians of American sexuality, was debated in national media; as early as the 1920s these parties were “an increasingly common feature of college life,” with one study revealing that over 90 percent of students polled had “engaged in petting.”56 BYU students of the same period showed little difference: campus newspaper columns made casual references to students who found petting acceptable.57 Over the last seventy-five years, however, longitudinal studies of BYU students, contrary to national trends, actually show a decrease in tolerance for pre-marital sexual activity.58 Petersen’s comments mark the beginnings of official campaigns at BYU to prevent illicit sexual behavior by encouraging rapidly contracted “temple marriages” (a couple’s “worthiness” for marriage in a Mormon temple includes abstinence from premarital sex) and by stigmatizing birth control. Cathy Comes to the Y also quotes Apostle Petersen as warning that “The use of sex is ordained of God, but only in legal marriage. And if we marry properly in the Temple, then in the eternities we can become the parents of eternal spirits, even as you and I were born as children to God.”59
Indicative of these emphases, BYU president Wilkinson devoted nearly three-quarters of his 1955 commencement address to the topics of marriage and birth control. He pointed to marriage and fertility rates of past graduates [p.35]and called on seniors—most of whom were married—to “provide tabernacles for the spirits of men,” in keeping with Mormon doctrinal tradition. “[M]arry those of like spiritual ideals and attributes,” he advised, adding that they should not “postpone marriage unduly.” He also encouraged students to “shun birth control” and not to “postpone families,” warning them of “the fallacy that young couples cannot afford to have a family” or that women should not “give birth to more than two or three children.” Marriage, he concluded, “is the preserver of the human race.”60 Ten years later the executive committee of the school’s board of trustees considered “a report from the Dean of Students that several married students at BYU had requested birth control pills from the Student Health Center,” and instructed the center “not to dispense any such prescriptions.”61
The increasing availability of birth control, however, forced church and school officials to confront a related issue: married women in the workplace. In April 1959 Wilkinson recorded meeting with church president David O. McKay and that “in accordance with advice from [McKay’s] two counselors, I had recently denied employment to two women at the Brigham Young University who intended to become married this summer, but who frankly admitted that they intended to postpone the raising of their families until their husbands were through college.” McKay, Wilkinson wrote, “warmly commended me and said I had done right. He thought we ought not to engage any women on the campus who were of child bearing age; indeed he went further and thought they ought not to be employed even after that time. He said he had just advised his own daughter who wanted to teach school that she should remain at home and take care of her children.”62
The increasingly rigid policy posed complications for BYU’s new School of Nursing, which Wilkinson had mentioned in his 1952 Relief Society Magazine article. In his official history of BYU, Wilkinson writes that Vivian Hansen, a Mormon woman with “a master’s degree in nursing and substantial experience in the field, relinquished a prestigious position in Colorado to accept the deanship of the new college.” However, despite the “wholehearted support of the University and its Board of Trustees, a qualified dean, and a number of eager students,” the nursing school ran into trouble for two reasons. First, the University of Utah resisted the idea of a nursing school at BYU because its officials believed Utah could not support two nursing schools. But second, and more importantly, the school’s “faculty recruitment … was complicated by the LDS emphasis on the primary role of the woman as a wife and mother. Few qualified Church members were available to join the faculty.” Wilkinson adds in a footnote: “The Board of Trustees had adopted the policy that the school would not hire mothers with small children,” although his memo concerning the conversation with McKay suggests the policy was more restrictive. In 1954 Hansen was replaced by a non-LDS dean. The school survived only because most of its [p.36]posts were filled by non-Mormons; all of the graduate degree holders on its faculty were non-LDS. Over time the program was able to carry itself with Mormons gradually joining the faculty, but in the school’s initial decades the message was clear: church leaders considered it more important for Mormon women to stay home than for BYU faculty to be LDS.
Though BYU implemented increasingly rigid policies against employing married Mormon women, the issue of contraceptives did not disappear, especially following the legalization of birth control pills in 1960. Although Mormon students in the 1960s and 1970s seemed firmly to reject the growing movement for “women’s liberation,” their sexual practices within marriage liberalized slightly, to the dismay of those who agreed with Wilkinson’s anti-birth control stance. “The pill” caused Mormon birth rates to drop, along with national rates, to the lowest levels ever recorded.63 For some women students, at least, this meant the possibility of meeting the community expectation of early marriage, but perhaps postponing (or limiting) children before graduation. Wilkinson and some church leaders responded vigorously: Wilkinson even hoped to include an injunction against birth control in a version of the university’s honor code included in the 1967 Faculty Handbook.64
The church’s First Presidency, while balking at Wilkinson’s drastic measure, issued a milder injunction in 1969: “We seriously regret,” the church leaders explained,
that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity. Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by.65
While the statement did not explicitly leave the decision to limit families in the hands of individual couples, it did encourage church members to “seek inspiration and wisdom from the Lord that they may exercise discretion in solving their marital problems,” a phrase which many Mormons took to mean that the size of their families was between them and God alone. Leaders, however, may have left more power for decision-making with husbands than wives: “[W]e feel that men must be considerate of their wives,” they enjoined, “who bear the greater responsibility, not only of bearing children but of caring for them through childhood.” Such consideration seemed to require abstinence rather than “artificial” birth control: “To this end the mother’s health and strength should be conserved and the husband’s consideration for his wife his first duty, and self-control a dominant factor in all their relationships.”66 Such injunctions provided school and church leaders [p.37]with the opportunity to outline and reinforce traditional gender expectations for Mormon women and men.
Regardless of the church leaders’ attempts, many Mormons—including BYU students—seemed determined to incorporate birth control into their marital relationships. An analysis of female graduates from BYU’s class of 1963, accepted as a master’s thesis by BYU’s Department of Church History and Doctrine in 1970, revealed that 63 percent of the study’s respondents used contraceptives. “The conclusions of this study,” its author wrote, “indicate that the Lord’s commandment ‘to multiply’ has been broken by the use of contraceptives.”67
The Oaks Era: Confronting a Re-born Women’s Movement
By the time Betty Friedan in her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, named the “problem with no name”—the feeling among many white, middle-class housewives that their lives were unfulfilling—many women had begun to move beyond the stereotyped roles represented by women in television sitcoms.68 BYU alumna Esther Peterson worked with Eleanor Roosevelt at the head of John F. Kennedy’s commission on women; Civil Rights turmoil gained American household familiarity; and college students grew increasingly unsettled by the status quo. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, almost by accident, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, and in 1966 the National Organization for Women (NOW) was born as a pressure group to prompt government action on women’s issues. A new wave of feminist dissent spread through society and the academy, its full arrival marked in 1970 when NOW captured America’s attention with massive demonstrations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of universal suffrage.69 Thus when University of Chicago law professor Dallin Oaks replaced Wilkinson as BYU’s president early in that decade, it was inevitable that women’s issues would be central to administrative discussions.
In general, Mormon reaction to the national women’s movement came cautiously at first. In 1970, for example, the church’s Relief Society general president, Belle Spafford, addressed BYU students on the topic of “Woman in Today’s World.” Spafford was, in addition to her church responsibilities, president of the traditionalist National Council of Women (one of a cluster of women’s groups to reject the new feminism), and spoke on the occasion of receiving BYU’s Outstanding Woman of the Year award. Despite her mention of tongue-in-cheek references from church leaders that she was a women’s rights crusader, Spafford maintained that women had “spheres divinely assigned to them” based on sex. “[E]quality” was the ideal between men and women, she maintained, but “natural differences” constituted a “divinely ordained division of labor.” While men were called to be God’s “presiding officer[ s]” in home and church, she told the BYU audience, “[w]oman’s primary role is that of child bearer, child reared, and home-[p.38]maker.” Like evangelical women over a century earlier, she saw this reduction to the domestic sphere as having radical social potential. (Also echoing the language of the past century, Spafford explained that women rule “by influence, while men rule by power.”) Indeed, Spafford argued, the church’s Relief Society was radical in origin: Joseph Smith approved of the society’s founding, an act that “made possible the opening of the great so-called ‘woman’s movement’ of the world.” Six years after the organization of the Relief Society, she offered as evidence, the first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls.70 Although Spafford could hardly be considered a feminist when contrasted against the national women’s movement, she could nonetheless link Joseph Smith with the national movement’s origins without risk of official censure.
Before long, however, church leaders—already under siege for maintaining a discriminatory policy against ordaining black men of African descent to the church’s lay priesthood—had begun to challenge the national women’s movement. In January 1971 Mormon leaders sent an official missive to Mormons worldwide attacking “the more radical ideas of women’s liberation”; the official church magazine that month contained a vinyl recording of the message.71 As the decade moved forward, notwithstanding a growing number of overtly feminist Latter-day Saints, the church dug in its heels resisting change in American family structure and gender behavior. Through the 1970s BYU’s women, like those of earlier decades, had their attention directed almost entirely toward marriage. This emphasis, one school official explained, “keeps [the students’] heads straight; keeps them from Women’s Lib and things like that.”72 Women’s Week in 1971, for example, charted the Mormon woman’s expected life path, though the week ended on a playful note: the five days’ themes were “Reflections of Womanhood”; “Beginning as a Child”; “Tripping into Teenhood”; “And Now a College Coed”; “And Suddenly a Wife”; and the concluding day’s dance, “I’d Rather Be a Bachelorette.” A newsletter from the Office of Women’s Activities in 1972 emphasized similar themes. The office existed, the newsletter explained, to provide “programs to fit your interests and needs in the areas of well-rounded feminine education and enjoyment,” including a “hake-off contest, Preference [women’s choice dance], Women’s Week, fashion show (where the store is our campus), Bridal Fair Dates, Impromptu, and many more” activities, such as a “Cookies to Vietnam” drive. (“There will be many happy soldiers as a result of over 100 cookie bakers,” the newsletter announced.) The preponderance of poor married students caused the office to promote a volunteer babysitter service, as well.73
The emphasis on traditional marriage continued to be complemented in the 1970s by an emphasis on women’s clothing. Although the school allowed “modest pantsuits” for women beginning in 1971, jeans were off-limits until the late-1970s, a regulation that received increasing attention through the decade.74 In the late 1960s, prior to Oaks’s arrival, President [p.39]Wilkinson had stepped up his assault on what he considered indecent women’s fashions, the mini-skirt in particular. Working with Dean of Women Lucile Petty, Wilkinson tried to codify a dress code for women students. Frustrated by the church’s softening of its dress standards in the publication For the Strength of Youth (a pamphlet issued to church teens), which had changed its recommended women’s dress lengths from “cover[ing] the knee cap” to the more ambiguous phrase “of modest length,” Wilkinson begrudgingly followed suit and set BYU’s standards at ‘Just above the knee.” “Indeed,” he complained in a January 1970 memo to Petty, “for some of the more plump girls even that is not modest.”75
During Oaks’s presidency, dress standards for BYU women in particular were designed both to distinguish the sexes and to promote chastity. (Standards for men, on the other hand, such as the prohibition of long hair and beards, were intended to stem even the appearance of political dissent.) On the modesty front, the rejection of the “sweater girl” look from the 1950s remained in place, both in the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth and in BYU’s dress code: “Tight-fitting sweaters and figure hugging clothes of any kind are not appropriate L.D.S. dress.”76 Apostle Mark E. Petersen, long the source of advice on chastity for Mormon youth, wrote in a 1973 book, Virtue Makes Sense! (co-authored with his wife, Emma Marr Petersen), that women’s modesty prevented “boys” from sexual misconduct, even rape: “Do you know what tempts boys to molest girls today more than any other one thing?” the Petersens asked.
It is the mode of dress of girls who often wear extremely abbreviated clothes even on the streets, who wear dresses well above the knees, whose clothing about the bust is often so tight and revealing that it nearly takes the breath away from the boys who look at it. It is the low-cut evening dress, which permits a boy to dance all evening gazing down into a half-concealed but half-disclosed bosom, thus setting him on fire with an unholy desire. It is often the very skimpy gymnasium suits girls are forced to wear in their physical education classes at school. When the boys are coming into their teens and reaching maturity. and such sights are placed before their eyes, almost like an invitation, can we blame them-any more than we would the girls who tempt them-if they take advantage of those girls?77
Appropriate dress, on the other hand, should “enhance [women’s] natural beauty and femininity” without “calling attention to a person’s body.”78 An undated dress code brochure from the early 1970s, A Style of Our Own, makes the point more explicitly: “Our dress and grooming standards have been designed to create visual differences in clothing worn by men and women. These important differences have their origin in God’s eternal plan for men and women.”79 Unlike the fashion focus of the 1950s, which regulated dress by appealing to national fashion trends, restrictions during the 1970s cut against the national grain, as the phrase “A Style of [p.40] Our Own” suggests. BYU officials and church leaders found themselves increasingly unsettled by what they perceived as feminists’ encouragement of a “unisex” society.”80 Other feminist fashion innovations also received attention in the updated dress code: A Style of Our Own specifically prohibits the “no-bra look,” a prescription that endures in today’s dress code.
Despite general student apathy, even antagonism, toward the women’s movement in the 1970s, the decade would witness much change for BYU women, particularly female faculty members and a handful of administrators. Many of these women also worked during the decade to raise a moderate feminist consciousness among female students and to broaden official attitudes toward women’s education and life planning.
Social changes surrounding the women’s movement, and the Equal Rights Amendment in particular (proposed in 1972), affected the way BYU dealt with women faculty, though not as directly or as quickly as they affected the outside world. In 1972 Congress passed an Education Amendments Act to reinforce its 1964 Civil Rights Act as applied to federally assisted institutions. Oaks’s administration, which drew heavily on the faculty of the university’s newly established J. Reuben Clark Law School, was aware that the school’s hiring policies prohibiting married women with children from joining the faculty invited litigation. During the final years of Wilkinson’s tenure, BYU had appeared confident in its restrictive policies for women faculty. In 1971, for example, the decade-old policy had been included among a number of resolutions for church schools in the South Pacific: “Refrain from hiring mothers with [sic] children in the home within the church schools,” the recommendation read. “Replace when possible working mothers that are presently employed.”81 Oaks, though, brought a greater sense of legal obligation to statutes already in place, as well as considerable legal acumen in resisting legislation that would affect BYU’s fundamentalist approach to gender issues.
Times New Roman; font-size: small;”>Following a highly publicized academic sex discrimination case in 1970, congressional hearings on the subject led to legislation that extended Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect women’s rights in educational settings. Between 1970 and 1972, the Equal Pay Act, Public Health Service Act, and Title IX of the Education Amendments all worked to limit discrimination against women students and faculty in universities and medical schools that received financial support from the federal government. “Having laws in place (even though they may not always be well enforced),” according to a history of the era written by the Task Force on Women’s Higher Education, “coupled with strong pressures from women both on and off campus, has made a major difference in the position of women in higher education.”82
In response to such developments, Oaks and Commissioner of Church Education Neal A. Maxwell asked trustees for direction on how to address the legislation. In May 1973 the First Presidency, themselves officers of the [p.41]board of trustees, responded to Oaks and Maxwell’s inquiry with a letter distributed at a meeting of the board. Working from the position that the church advocates sustaining the law, the presidency gave its “counsel and direction that in the employment and compensation of women-as in all other matters-you give careful observance to the requirements of the law.” This point aside, the leaders reaffirmed their traditionalist stance on gender roles:
As you are aware, the leaders of the Church have consistently taught that mothers who have young children in the home devote their primary energies to the companionship and training of their children and care of their families and should not seek employment outside the home unless there is no other way that the family’s basic needs can be provided. As we view the distressing conditions in our society, many of which we attribute to the weakening of influences of the home, we earnestly desire that all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—as well as all persons everywhere—would follow this counsel. We expect the teachers in the Church Educational System to continue to teach this principle[.] …
The letter presented a complicated response to a changing society. “Our counsel that mothers should not be employed outside the home,” its authors believed, “is not contrary to the laws mentioned above since these teachings concern matters of belief on which we are content to teach the membership correct principles, and let them govern themselves.”
Publicly, then, the church would not continue to insist on a discriminatory and possibly illegal policy. But privately it hoped that married Mormon women would not act contrary to church teachings and would voluntarily not seek employment at BYU or elsewhere, for that matter. “Since the law does concern the action of employers,” the letter concluded, “the administration of our church schools, colleges, and universities … should scrupulously observe the requirements of the law.” They asked Oaks and Maxwell to prepare “an appropriate resolution to give effect to the foregoing counsel and rescind any prior actions of the Board inconsistent therewith for those portions of the Church Educational System affected by this law.”83
Historians have characterized the Oaks era as a time of expanded opportunities and recognition for women on campus.84 Behind the scenes, though, a group of feminist faculty worked overtime to keep the campus from dissolving into a right-wing reaction to Title IX, the Equal Rights Amendment, and the women’s movement in general. In 1974 Oaks appointed an Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women at BYU, chaired by Margaret Hoopes, an associate professor of child development and family relations. Hoopes’s mandate was to inform Oaks about changes in women’s status in the larger society and what impact they would have on BYU, particularly regarding issues such as job equality, the legal implications of affirmative action, Title IX, and the ERA. Oaks planned to address campus [p.42]concerns on women’s issues and the women’s movement and looked to Hoopes and her committee for advice.
The ad hoc committee faced an initial challenge: Oaks distrusted the women’s movement’s strategy of legislating social change and using universities’ reliance on federal aid to the movement’s advantage. As would become increasingly clear during his public opposition to Title IX in 1975, Oaks found such tactics repressive. He feared, according to the school’s 1976 official history, “the unfortunate coincidence that financial stress in higher education came at a time when powerful interest groups were seeking to correct long-standing discriminations that have adversely affected their opportunities for education and employment.” Mormon leaders and university officials would have been wary in the 1970s of such “powerful interest groups” because Mormon practice called not only for discrimination against women in university hiring and church government, but also for widely publicized discrimination against black men of African descent in church priesthood ordination. (During the late 1960s BYU’s athletics programs were subjected to several boycotts from other schools over the practice.85) Oaks feared that “[i]f America’s institutions of higher learning lose control of … who attends, who teaches, and what standards are enforced—private independent higher education will no longer exist.”86
In outlining areas for improving women’s situation at BYU, Hoopes and the ad hoc committee had to convince Oaks not only that he should refrain from categorically dismissing the feminist movement, but also that many women at BYU were already sympathetic to the movement and that female students would benefit personally by improved campus attitudes toward women. The report admittedly walked a thin line but still confronted issues head-on: “Although it is doubtful that anyone at BYU would align himself [sic] with the most militant and radical goals” of the national women’s movement,87 wrote the committee,
we have people dealing with the issues in a variety of ways. Some have thoughtfully and carefully educated themselves regarding these concerns, and this awareness is reflected in their teaching and their behavior. Others have become somewhat aware of the issues but react in a defensive, fearful, or sometimes flippant manner. Still others have their “head in the sand”: they know nothing about the issues, either because they mistakenly believe they are not relevant to BYU, or because they have not taken the opportunity to learn about the concerns of women.
The committee squarely placed itself among the first group and assumed, throughout the document, that Oaks would do likewise.88 Almost immediately the report brought the issues to BYU’s home turf, compelling the Provo campus to confront the relevance of the national women’s movement. Recognizing BYU’s self-conception as a bastion for “moral leadership,” the committee questioned the university’s ability to lead [p.43]in areas in which it remained uninformed: “The amount of leadership which can be exercised is diminished by the amount of ignorance exhibited by those who would be leaders.” Specifically, the committee played two trump cards: the importance of family values and the church’s ambivalent desire for outside approval, referring to a BYU-produced child development film that had been denounced at a national conference—”and on campus”—as “sexist” to illustrate their points.89 These examples from the opening paragraphs illustrate a strategy used throughout the document and in other interactions between the committee and the Oaks administration: by emphasizing affinities between the women’s movement and Mormon teachings, the committee prevented opponents of the movement from being overtly dismissive.
The ad hoc committee outlined three areas in need of administrative attention: curriculum, faculty education, and structural changes in university governance. On curriculum, the committee concluded that existing courses showed a serious deficiency in representing women’s perspectives. They requested more information about women’s history and issues to educate faculty and students. Some women’s studies offerings were available in 1974, the most successful of which was a course taught through the university’s honors program, and more courses were projected for 1975 through the Department of Child Development and Family Relations (Hoopes’s home department) and the English department. Still, the committee concluded, to offer only “seven courses in which the unique problems of women are mentioned, [and] only three of those focusing primarily on women” was discouraging “when compared with the total number of courses offered at the institution.” The religion department in particular, according to the report, needed improvement.
Curricular changes could address statistical inequities the committee found problematic. Female students, for example, had graduated faster than males since 1966; a 1969 policy change in admissions promoted equal numbers of men and women students; and the percentage of female graduates had increased since 1971. But the percentage of women in upper-division classes had decreased, due to the number of women who dropped out of BYU at marriage, to an “historical low in 1974-75 of 35%,” leaving the most challenging courses male-dominated. Equally troubling to the committee, female honors graduates had decreased since 1968. “This information indicates,” the committee wrote, “that the same kinds of incentive are not nearly as high for women as for men to remain in school, to perform at their highest capacities, or to seek majors which prepare them to support themselves.”90
The committee proposed a two-pronged program for curriculum reform: departments needed to include in their career-planning introductory courses an awareness of “life-span planning” for women, and departments needed to combine out-of-class advisement for women with the more content-oriented classroom changes. (Throughout the report advisement rem-[p.44]ained a major issue: women were consistently advised to assume traditional roles, the committee reported, and most women students sought no academic counseling. As further evidence of the need for increased advisement and life-span planning, the report showed that 65 percent of women polled on campus had no defined “life plans” outside a traditional marriage scenario, that “[ m ]any of them had selected names for children, though they were not even dating anyone at the time.”) The most sweeping curricular reform concerned the committee’s call for an interdisciplinary women’s studies minor, similar to minors already offered in Indian education, Latin American studies, Spanish-speaking American studies, Asian studies, and European studies.
To support the importance of “life-span planning,” the report cited U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics suggesting that most women work outside the home, “even if they marry and have children.” In addition, “10% of all women never marry,” the statistics reported, “while 10% of those who do marry never have children.” By focusing entirely on traditional family roles for female students, BYU was sending women into the world unprepared for real life challenges.
Male faculty members and administrators, the report claimed, needed to be educated on women’s issues, as well. (“Teaching at this institution,” one male faculty member had reported on a survey, “should be a priesthood calling,” meaning that no women would qualify.) Male administrators, the committee found, “lead women faculty and staff to feel guilty about working, even though they are not married or have no children in the home.” Less than half the faculty women surveyed felt their work was “given recognition with any frequency,” and “[s]ome women felt that there was little possibility of their becoming administrators or being given equal opportunity for professional development,” including funds for research or conference attendance.
The committee offered straightforward recommendations for structural changes, including a publicly acknowledged university women’s committee; a woman named as associate dean of student life to represent women faculty at an administrative level (the dean of women’s position had been abolished in 1972); and a women’s resource center to oversee the proposed interdisciplinary women’s studies curriculum. “Our young people, male and female,” the committee argued, “will confront the issues of the women’s movement when they leave this campus. The [Women’s Resource] Center should be a place where students and faculty can receive information about these issues within the context of the Gospel, and can see the implication of arguments in both positive and negative directions.” Since the center’s director would embody such a mediating function, she “must be knowledgeable enough that she can talk effectively with the very angry women on campus, yet moderate enough that no program of the Center does anything but lead people closer to Christ while helping them see what [p.45]they could become … . Though such a person sounds like Wonder Woman, it is our belief that there are several women on this campus who could fill such a role, and more who could be brought to campus.”
Following the report, Oaks in a series of meetings with committee members made it clear that he would speak publicly in the fall of 1975 to the faculty on women’s issues and offer certain recommendations, although there were some areas—women’s studies and a resource center in particular in which he could not agree with the committee. Women’s studies courses and resource centers were widely identified in the mid-1970s with what conservatives perceived as a feminist revolution on college campuses hence Oaks’s reported hesitancy to establish them at BYU.91 J. Hoopes and fellow faculty members Karen Lynn of the English department and Reba Keele, an associate director of the honors program, still unsure of whether a female faculty member would be assigned to an administrative position to deal with women’s concerns, tried in a memo that summer to convince Oaks not to dismiss completely the women’s movement and to address his apparent unwillingness to endorse a women’s studies minor and a resource center: “If there is any chance of the appointment of a female advisor of any sort,” they wrote, “may we suggest that she not be limited at the start in her thinking and planning? We recommend that no public statement be made regarding women’s studies or a center until we examine the ways in which such programs may or may not fit in with the University’s future plans.”92
In response to Oaks’s proposed public statement, the women encouraged him to soften or set aside an “all-encompassing negative statement about ‘the women’s movement.’” Rather, they suggested that it “may be unnecessary to attack the Women’s Movement (which is a nebulous concept at best), and perhaps unnecessary even to mention in a public statement the words ‘women’s movement’ at all,” since “we are not justified in ignoring those parts of the movement which point toward a moral or ethical step forward.” Oaks could, they recommended, emphasize the centrality of family and “eternal principles” without ‘‘just emphasizing the most traditional means of implementing that principle.” Regarding Oaks’s concern that students and church members look to BYU faculty and staff as role models, Hoopes and the others argued that “[c]arried to its logical conclusions, this assumption—that is, that neither working mothers, working wives, single people, nor divorced people are appropriate role models for our youth then ideally our BYU faculty should consist entirely of married men, with a handful of widows as the only women.” The faculty women sought to change Oaks’s mind on this point: “[O]ther faculty members are important models too … . Consider the variety of situations in a typical LDS ward!” they suggested. “A newly divorced woman who is trying to glue together her self-respect needs to be able to recall, ‘I knew Margaret Hoopes. She was divorced, and yet she was at peace with herself, and she knew the Lord loved her. Maybe the Lord can still love me.’“ If “the criterion” for role modeling [p.46]would “become one of a Christ-like model, not of marital status,” then BYU faculty would be more sure of “model[ing] eternal principles.”93
When Oaks addressed the annual fall faculty workshop, less than a month later, on “Concerns and Aspirations of Women at Brigham Young University,” his text clearly reflected the ad hoc committee’s report and follow-up sessions with Hoopes and others, including their recent memo. Equally clear to the women were those points on which he had disregarded their advice. Their most clear success—aside from obtaining an overall supportive statement on women’s concerns from the university president—was in dissuading him from directly attacking or even mentioning the women’s movement. Rather he acknowledged that “[s]ome of the strongest social currents of our time concern what are called ‘women’s issues,’“ ranging from “sinful practices such as abortion at one extreme to such praiseworthy goals as encouraging women to realize their highest aspirations for service, creativity and personal development.” Still, he made it clear that he was engaged in moral conflict with a changing culture: “Our students and faculty must be prepared to deal with these issues,” he continued, “because the forces we confront will not allow us to ignore them or brush them off with simplistic answers.” The extent to which Oaks saw himself as waging such a battle would become clear over the next two years in his strident opposition to Title IX and the ERA.
Oaks adopted much of the ad hoc committee’s language and reasoning: “We should encourage our young women to make effective educational plans for the whole span of their lives,” he said later in the address. “I like to call this ‘life-span planning’ rather than ‘career planning,’” he said, “because of the anti-marriage and anti-family connotations of the word career.” But he explicitly rejected the committee’s proposals and ignored Hoopes’s and the others’ follow-up pleading on other points: he made it clear to faculty that he wouldn’t approve either a separate program for women’s studies or a women’s resource center. He would not relinquish the position that men’s and women’s different societal and familial roles are God-ordained, and agreed to revise study and advisement materials containing “so-called sex stereotyping” only where such “is not clearly prescribed by the teachings of the living prophets.” Oaks also made it clear that he was no fan of gender inclusive language; while he allowed for the use of “he or she, him or her, his or hers,” he announced his distaste for “neuter designations,” much in keeping with church leaders’ fear of “the unacceptable … extreme of the unisex society”: “I have not appointed and will not appoint a Chairperson at BYU,” he said, adding that “the terms ‘man’ and ‘men’ are properly used as generic terms for all human beings[.]” Oaks’s statement, while failing to embrace fully the suggestions of the women’s facuIty committee, did outline positive change for BYU women in several regards. While marriage and motherhood remained the “preferred alternative” for female students, Oaks admitted that such options might not [p.47]be available to everyone. He chastised advisors who counseled women not to pursue graduate degrees. Perhaps most significantly, he took the advice of the ad hoc committee and announced the appointment of a female faculty member, English professor Marilyn Arnold, as a special assistant to the president for women’s concerns. This was done, Oaks said, because the school needed “at least one pair of eyes that sees our curriculum, teaching, counseling, and personnel policies and practices in light of the special experiences of a woman.” Oaks wanted this appointment to make clear his belief that “no reason [exists] why women cannot occupy leadership roles in the University, including the supervision of men. In my judgment, the inevitable ‘Priesthood’ or ‘Patriarchal’ model that applies in the government of the family and the Church does not apply in the employment market.”94
As the fall 1975 semester began, Oaks presented an abbreviated version of his comments to BYU students in the annual President’s Assembly. Tailoring his talk specifically to students—he omitted all discussion of faculty advisement material or shortcomings among faculty—Oaks focused on reasons Mormon women should receive a university education. One reason, based on statistics Hoopes’s committee had provided, was pragmatic: most women need vocational skills at some point in life. Another reason was theological: “Education is more than vocational,” he said. “Education should improve our minds, strengthen our bodies, heighten our cultural awareness and increase our spirituality.” But the reasons most stressed continued to be family-related, specifically maintaining traditional gender stereotypes: “Our young women at Brigham Young University,” he said early in his talk, “properly aspire to and prepare themselves for the experiences and blessings of motherhood, which is their highest calling and opportunity for service.” He cited church leaders’ teaching that “mothers who have young children in the home should devote their primary energies to the companionship and training of their children and the care of their families, and should not seek employment outside the home unless there is no other way that the family’s basic needs can be provided.” He likewise ended the talk emphasizing the role of education in preparing women for motherhood, invoking reasoning that dated to nineteenth-century debates over women’s education (and earlier): “Some have observed that the mother’s vital teaching responsibility makes it even more important to have educated mothers than to have educated fathers. ‘When you teach a boy, you are just teaching another individual,’ President Harold B. Lee declared, ‘but when you teach a woman or a girl, you are teaching a whole family.’”95
While Oaks may have maintained traditional emphases on women’s divine gender roles and continued to view the women’s movement with suspicion, he was, importantly, the first BYU president to take women’s concerns seriously since early in the century. Advocates of women’s rights did not hesitate to use Oaks’s public pronouncements to their advantage. One of two women to deliver forum addresses as part of the university’s 1975 cen-[p.48]tennial celebration, Elouise Bell of the English department, broke new ground for women by openly aligning herself with the movement in the face of mounting controversies over Title IX and only a few months following Utah’s vote against the ERA. In her address, “The Implications of Feminism for BYU,” she noted that 1975 had been designated an International Women’s Year and used Oaks’s recent emphasis on women as a springboard. “What is a feminist?” she asked her audience. “What are we talking about? What does it mean to say Sister Bell is a feminist or that President Oaks is a feminist?” Admitting that “[e]ast of the Utah-Colorado border and certainly west of the Nevada border, I would be considered only a very moderate feminist if I were indeed granted that label at all,” Bell nonetheless walked the student audience through a set of consciousness-raising exercises, pointing out the male bias of the traditional university and helping them to recognize historical challenges to women’s equality in general and challenges to Mormon women in particular. The previous April, for example, BYU had graduated over 1,500 women, more than 1,100 of whom had represented only two colleges: education and child development. “While these are fine fields for women,” Bell commented, “there are many other opportunities. There are as many opportunities for women as for men, and it’s this message that the feminist wants to communicate to the young college woman.”96
Although Bell was more overtly feminist than the ad hoc committee’s report, she echoed many of its main points, particularly about the uncertainty of traditional marriage and the need for better life planning, as well as the need for positive women role models. As single women themselves, Bell and other female BYU faculty spoke with authority and from experience about the uncertain prospects of the traditional marriage role: BYU’s hiring policies virtually guaranteed that married women would not teach, thus creating a small female professorate that fell outside the officially sanctioned ideals for Mormon women. In this Bell and others—nearly all of whom were unmarried, divorced, or widowed—had an advantage on BYU’s playing field, allowing them to challenge gender norms that privileged marriage. A female student, Bell explained, “ought to see women in positions of authority in positions of success, in positions of achievement, and she ought to get the message, indirectly as well as directly, that there are opportunities for women and there are many options open.” This spin on similar statistics differed subtly but significantly from the pragmatism Oaks endorsed. “Someone had said,” she continued, “that the average BYU coed has planned her life up to the point of naming her first four children, and beyond that she has made no plans … . I would like very much to see us, while we have those young women here at BYU, help them think their lives beyond the wedding reception.” After arguing that feminism was not inimical to the family—a charge leveled at the movement by many Mormons and other religious and social conservatives—and after instructing students that “Women’s Lib” was a derisive and [p.49]inappropriate term, she concluded much as Hoopes, Lynn, and Keele had in their memo to Oaks a few months earlier:
Let it not be said that BYU or the Latter-day Saint people stood on the sidelines while great and needed social reforms were taking place in the twentieth century … To all those in the BYU community, I extend the challenge to examine the issues of feminism, to make decisions about them individually on the basis of reason and the light of truth within you, to welcome a new day when women can hold on to all that is traditionally fine and right and God-given and God-ordained, and to encompass as well new alternatives, new options, greater fulfillment of potential, and an ever-increasing responsibility and desire and willingness to do our share in building the kingdom of God.97
Bell’s hope that Mormons would increase in political activity was fulfilled the next month, in what was a less-than-ideal way for many BYU feminists, when Oaks announced BYU’s official opposition to Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act. Title IX’s history had been drawn out and controversial. Between 1972 and 1975 the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) addressed the task of implementing Title IX, which read: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”98 Oaks’s opposition to Title IX stemmed from his fear that much of BYU’s sexually segregated environment—including dress and grooming standards (BYU will “not be prescribed into a unisex standard of appearance,” he told the school newspaper99); its opposition to coeducational housing; and, in keeping with the nation as a whole, its male-biased funding of athletics—would be threatened by potential federal intervention in school administration. (Other opposition to Title IX surfaced nationally, characterized by one historian as “much hue and cry about athletics or … father-son dinners.”100) During a waiting period before the HEW’s regulations took effect, Oaks testified against Title IX in congressional hearings. The measure passed, and in October 1975 Oaks issued a written “Notification of Brigham Young University Policy of Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Sex.” The HEW regulations called for schools to post their compliance with Title IX; Oaks used the opportunity to announce BYU’s unwillingness to comply on six of Title IX’s regulations. The protest garnered some press attention, and BYU students became caught up in an anti-Title IX frenzy (“HEW Rules May Affect Standards,” ran one Daily Universe headline in November 1975), but HEW officials assured BYU over the next four years that the government would not interfere with limitations imposed by private institutions for religious reasons.101 During the 1970s, Title IX and a “barrage of knowledge” about it, according to one history of the era, [p.50]“helped to redefine campus policies [nationally] and establish new norms of behavior.”102
Oaks’s rhetoric surrounding his opposition to Title IX—that it would eliminate God-given differences between the sexes and increase federal intervention in private institutions-anticipated Mormon opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, the issue that would drive feminism in Provo underground for nearly a decade. The ERA had been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1971 and by the Senate in 1972, after which it went to individual states for ratification. D. Michael Quinn, the most thorough historian of Mormon interaction with the ERA, cites polls that suggest Mormons in Utah initially supported the amendment,103 although BYU’s official newspaper reported as early as 1973 that a majority of students opposed it.104 Several BYU faculty women, however, joined by some faculty wives and Provo members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), supported the amendment in spite of increased opposition from church and university leaders.
The AAUW in particular provided a forum for discussing the ERA. The group had existed in Provo since 1933 and been active from 1945 through the mid-1970s. Organized nationally in 1882 by university women in Boston, the AAUW in the twentieth century remained a quiet force for women’s equal access to education, especially during the years following suffrage when public feminism ebbed. BYU had become AAUW accredited under president Franklin S. Harris in 1944. The AAUW’s Provo chapter had long organized study groups in literature and the humanities and served as a social center for educated women—career academics and housewives alike—and annual book sales raised funds for AAUW post-doctorate fellowships.105 The local AAUW, like the national organization, drew together women who were more politically liberal than the Mormon norm. In 1961, for example, the Provo chapter founded a “status of women” committee to review civil rights legislation, despite an undercurrent of suspicion among many Mormons of the civil rights movement in general. The local press, which regularly reported activities of the Provo chapter, also kept tabs on the national organization: “National AAUW Attacks ‘Far Right,’” announced the Provo Herald on 28 January 1963, in a headline to a story about the AAUW’s position that “irresponsible attacks from the far right on American officials and institutions have done more to undermine democratic freedoms than the communists have achieved through propaganda.” Against the grain of a religious culture that sanctioned racial discrimination, the local chapter held annual Coretta Scott King Scholarship Luncheons. In 1970, when J. D. Williams of the University of Utah’s political science department addressed the Provo chapter, his topic was “How Not to Sleep through a Revolution,” directly addressing racial attitudes among Mormons.
In the early 1970s, as a generation of AAUW members began to gray, the local chapter lamented the fact that Utah had the lowest AAUW mem-[p.51]bership of the eight states in its region,106 and political apathy among female BYU students made it seem as if increased membership was unlikely. Still, the group maintained activity and promoted discussion of the ERA on BYU’s campus. The group’s newsletter for March 1974 announced a meeting on the “pros and cons” of the amendment. The next month’s newsletter acknowledged that “[t]he Equal Rights Amendment has been a very controversial and emotional topic. This meeting is an attempt to inform AAUW members and other interested persons about the effects of the amendment in an intelligent and rational way.” Close to seventy-five people attended. If the ERA was divisive in the spring of 1974, it only became more so by the end of the year, when the church’s general Relief Society president, Barbara Smith, under direction from church leaders, publicly announced her opposition to the amendment. Gust a few months before Smith’s announcement, in September 1974, twenty-four women legislators from Utah, most of whom were Mormon, announced their support for the ERA.) In February 1975, after an editorial in the church-owned Deseret News denounced the ERA, Utah defeated ratification. After the church’s First Presidency made its opposition public in the fall of 1976, arguing that the ERA would “stifle many God-given feminine instincts,” the State of Idaho rescinded its earlier ratification.107
Although BYU attempted early in the ERA controversy to remain neutral, limiting, in Michael Quinn’s phrase, “its anti-ERA speakers to General Authorities and others with high Church positions,”108 Oaks was compelled by church apostle Ezra Taft Benson to allow non-Mormon anti-ERA activist Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative Eagle Forum, to speak on campus.109 But BYU faculty provided some of the amendment’s chief opponents as well as supporters in the state: Rex Lee, dean of the university’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, authored the small book, A Lawyer Looks at the Equal Rights Amendment, in which he provided the clearest legal defense of the church’s opposition, including the church’s anti-gay bias.110 And Oaks himself—who, as an ordained regional representative of the church, had received instruction from church officials to resist the ERA—111 participated publicly in the church’s battle with its proponents. In April 1978, after learning that several pro-ERA professional and academic associations would boycott states that refused to ratify the amendment, Oaks sent a letter to nine such groups, threatening to remove BYU’s institutional membership from each. The groups included the American Home Economics Association and the American Association of University Women. “We at Brigham Young University cannot support this action,” Oaks wrote, “and we are embarrassed to have membership in an organization that engages in such a repressive tactic” as a boycott.112 After a student editor of the Daily Universe criticized Oaks’s reasoning, Oaks reprimanded her and instructed the paper’s faculty advisors to prevent publication of editorials or letters critical of his stance.113 In June, Oaks followed through on his threat to the professional [p.52]organizations and withdrew BYU’s membership from each, including the AAUW.114
If BYU produced some of the church’s most able opponents of the ERA, tension on campus was heightened because the school was home, as well, to some of Utah’s most vocal feminist leaders. Jan Tyler, a BYU education professor, had been selected early in 1976 to organize the state’s International Women’s Year (IWY) Conference, which would convene on 24-25 June 1977. Though Tyler was criticized for selecting a liberal organizing committee, she strove to maintain balance, including full participation of more conservative Mormon women. By the time the conference took place, the ERA’s future was still in question: ratification was only needed in three more states, but support had begun to diminish. Conservatives nationwide mobilized to use the IWY conferences as a battleground to defeat the amendment. Although Utah had already voted not to ratify, the state’s IWY conference was the nation’s largest—”twice as large as California’s,” writes Martha Sonntag Bradley, the event’s principal historian.115
The size of the Utah convention was due in large part to a coalition between some male church leaders, the church’s Relief Society, and conservative social groups such as the Eagle Forum and the John Birch Society. Some church leaders had instructed Mormon wards to send delegates to the conference to vote down feminist proposals, including “child care, abortion, sex education in the schools, employment ‘quotas,’ and equal opportunity for women.”116 Though the majority of Mormon women were voting against proposals they considered threats to “the family,” others, including Reba Keele, director of BYU’s honors program, felt that the Relief Society was being exploited by conservative men: “Now, I didn’t see any of the men at our small group session [on education],” she later recalled, “but in the large group, they were ubiquitous. They were everywhere. Always around the margins. Always with these walkie-talkies, always having certain women going to talk to them and then they’d bark into the walkie-talkies.”117 Prior to the conference, Jan Tyler recalled, conservative Utah senator Orrin Hatch, an active Mormon, had telephoned her several times in what she described as an attempt to “take complete control of the conference.”118 In the end, conservative Mormon women, mobilized by church and non-church groups alike, turned the conference into the nation’s most resounding conservative triumph.
According to Tyler, one result of the controversial conference, which to some degree pitted Mormon women—at BYU and more generally-against one another, was that “every woman who was there was radicalized, either very conservatively or, if you already had some kind of awareness, you were “ more radicalized.”119 This was true for Martha Sonntag Bradley, a twenty-six-year-old mother of three children (all under three years old), who attended the conference at her mother-in-law’s request. Bradley would, later in the next decade, teach in BYU’s history department and participate in the [p.53]school’s academic freedom controversies of the early 1990s. (For more on her case, see chap. 7.) In her history of the conference, Bradley recorded her own experience:
When I entered the voting booth Friday afternoon, I was fully prepared [as she had been instructed] to … cast a negative vote [on all national IWY agenda items]. As a woman who was trying to be a righteous Latter-day Saint, I believed that a negative vote was support of righteousness and the family. Then I began reading the recommendations. I was stunned. They dealt with access to more and better day care for public workers, museums for women and children, and better legislation to protect women who had been raped or molested by relatives or strangers. I found myself suddenly sobbing. The tears running down my cheeks were tears of rage, betrayal, and dismay. I felt I had been tricked—not by my mother-in-law or even by her good-hearted Relief Society president—but rather by some larger force that I didn’t quite understand and couldn’t quite name. This was the moment of my feminist awakening.120
Following the conference, controversy and division continued to mount nationally and at BYU, where a majority of students and faculty sided against the ERA. 121 President Oaks took further measures to stifle pro-ERA sentiment on campus. In May 1979 Oaks instructed Marilyn Arnold, his assistant for women’s concerns, to prevent the Provo-based Alice Louise Reynolds Fonun (whose membership included BYU faculty such as Reba Keele and a number of AAUW members) from using the Reynolds room in the Harold B. Lee Library for their monthly meetings because the forum’s meetings included discussion of the ERA.122 As in his opposition to Title IX, Oaks prepared to defend BYU and the church from what he perceived to be an invasion from the outside world. Following the 1979 high-profile excommunication of Sonia Johnson, president of the Virginia-based Mormons for ERA, Oaks urged students and faculty to “close our ranks, and let the winds howl and the heathens rage.”123
In the wake of the controversy at Utah’s IWY meetings, and after the Johnson excommunication, feminist activity at BYU took a beating. Tyler, Keele, and other activist women gradually left the university. In the mid-1970s, however, while more vocal battles were fought over the ERA and Title IX, a number of lower-profile events set the stage for an important reemergence of public feminism on campus late the next decade. Keeping their heads below the rounds fired over ERA politics, some faculty members worked behind the scenes to make BYU a better environment for women. During the 1975-76 school year, Oaks’s original ad hoc committee on the status of women evolved into an official Women’s Advisory Committee (the name changed to Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns the following year). Over the next two years the Advisory Committee formed subcommittees to further investigate the needs of campus women, addressing such issues as conflicts between “homemaking” and education; supplemental [p.54]childcare for faculty and students (no proposals on this point have ever been accepted); the extension of the university’s highest scholarships to women (achieved in 1976); the needs of re-entry and non-traditional women students; and the possibilities for developing women’s studies and resources through existing departments and counseling facilities. During the 1976-77 year the Advisory Committee sponsored several workshops on gender equity to faculty from the humanities, fine arts, family living, education, and religion departments.124
The 1976 institution of BYU’s women’s conference—initially administered by the student government’s Women’s Office—also ensured that discussion of women’s issues would survive the ERA controversy, though with varying degrees of support for or hostility toward feminism. The 1977 conference featured Camilla Eyring Kimball, the wife of the church president and a fierce advocate of women’s education. Early conferences provided a forum for speakers such as Tyler, Keele, Bell, and Arnold to press for increased awareness on campus of women’s issues. The conference also hosted Mormon women artists such as poet and playwright Carol Lynn Pearson.125
The student Women’s Office also continued to host annual Women’s Awareness Weeks, where discussion of feminist issues sometimes became heated—especially surrounding the IWY period. Chairing a 1977 panel on “Men and the Women’s Movement,” BYU political scientist Omar Kader charged that “[t]oo often people mistake the difference between being against certain women’s issues and being against women. Most of the men on this campus,” he said, “are against women in general.” Co-panelist George Pace of the religion department disagreed, arguing that BYU men “love” women but prefer them in traditional roles. Without gender-segregated roles, Pace claimed, “[w]e will yet see great tragedies” befall society, including “the disintegration of the family.”126 During the same Awareness Week, Jan Tyler, who had left the university in the wake of the IWY for a position at Utah Social Services, said that President Oaks’s 1974 ad hoc committee, she now felt, had been “merely window dressing …. I never saw a time when that committee was taken seriously,” she said. “It was structured to fail.”127 Such feminist expressions were countered, especially at the end of the Oaks administration, by university invitations to homemakers to speak at campus forums on the “special career” on motherhood. The report of one such speech in the Daily Universe referred to the guest speaker only by her husband’s name—”Mrs. Sidney R. Reynolds.”128
Although Oaks would not institutionalize women’s studies curriculum or a resource center, his administration did oversee the founding in 1978 of the Women’s Research Institute. The institute was designed to encourage research on women’s issues as well as keep church and school leaders “informed of developments in the women’s movement.”129 Ida Smith, daughter of a former LDS general authority and the institute’s first director, [p.55]recalls a sense of duty to help heal various campus factions. She remembers standing “on the shoulders of women like Jan Tyler and Reba Keele and others who were pushing for change … [and] willing to stand up and have their heads knocked off’ in the face of anti-ERA sentiment on campus.130 Smith herself was no stranger to controversy. She encountered some, for example, in response to a BYU women’s conference address later published in the church’s Ensign magazine. Though she denounced the “excesses” of the “women’s movement” (the “devil,” she said, would have us “become a unisex society”), Smith argued forcefully that “men and women are of equal value and of equal importance in the sight of God,” and that men and women are created in the image of male and female heavenly parents, and that men and women share “the blessings of the priesthood” and “gifts of the spirit.” Smith’s main argument, which came in response to the suggestion that women lacked scriptural role models, was that both sexes should turn to Jesus as their “main” example. “Nowhere,” she told her audience, “does the Lord say that tenderness, kindness, charity, faithfulness, patience, gentleness, and compassion are strictly female traits and should be utilized by women only. And nowhere does he say that courage, strength, determination, and leadership should be the exclusive prerogative of men.”131 Smith had to work with a larger conservative constituency, some of whom succeeded in lobbying church leaders for her dismissal. As an ex-officio member of the Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns, Smith helped link that group’s interests with those of the Women’s Research Institute, and from its beginning to the present the institute has provided a place for faculty and students to discuss and debate feminist issues in the academy and the church.
Despite Jan Tyler’s pessimism regarding its earlier incarnation as Oaks’s ad hoc committee, the Advisory Committee launched extensive investigations that resulted in two significant documents: the May 1979 “Thoughts on the Concerns of Mormon Women at Brigham Young University and Elsewhere,” and a 1980 report on “The LDS Woman and the Threat of Rape.” The first was an attempt to articulate a moderately feminist philosophy, phrased in terms acceptable to church leaders and members that recognized the need for expanded educational opportunities and expectations for women. Drawing on brain research and Mormon scriptures alike, the document affirms both “subtle” and “obvious” differences between women and men (ranging from “women’s intuition” to “biological differences”), but argues that Mormon culture had not valued these differences equally. “We need to understand and teach,” the report emphasized, “that the man’s usual role is simply more visible than the woman’s … but it is not more important, and does not carry more divine approbation than a woman’s role.” The report also argued that “we sometimes become dogmatic and judgmental” about gender roles, presuming we understand more about gender differences than is actually possible. “In trying to define roles along rather rigid, traditional lines, society [p.56]may have in some sense thwarted the natural expression of inherent differences between men and women. … When men and women are free to choose their educational and other goals, … then their innate, divine natures will move them toward pursuits harmonious with God’s purposes for them.” Indeed, the report concludes, “women’s issues” would not be a matter of such contention (as they were in 1979) if “women in the Church were … valued and counseled with in [a] reciprocal manner” with Mormon men.132
The second major document to emerge from the Advisory Committee regarded rape, an issue of increasing publicity in the wake of feminist writer Susan Brownmiller’s national bestseller Against Our Will. During the 1977 International Women’s Year conference, Utah’s women’s groups had also brought attention to problems with Utah’s rape laws and encouraged local groups to organize task forces on the issue.133 Local and campus media had become more willing, as well, to report incidents of sexual assault.134 In addition, the church had begun to confront its attitudes toward rape. For decades church leaders addressing the issue (usually in the context of broader messages about “chastity”) relied on a 1942 First Presidency message to church youth: “Better dead, clean, than alive, unclean … .”135 Two influential Mormon texts, published subsequently and still in print, Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine and Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness carried variations on the theme. In 1974 the First Presidency issued two statements close together, one that softened the position slightly—”We feel that a person should resist with all her strength and energy. Having done this, she would not be guilty of unchastity”—and a second that made more significant modifications:
It is conceivable that a woman could be so terrified by mere threats of violence or death made by an attacker that her sense of agency would be overpowered, causing her to submit without making a real show of resistance … . Under these circumstances, we feel that the safe course is for leaders of the Church to urge sisters who are threatened with rape to resist to the maximum extent possible or necessary under the circumstances, leaving it to their own conscience and good judgment as to the degree of such resistance. Furthermore, because of lack of knowledge of the circumstances involved, which only the parties to the rape would know, we should not presume to judge a woman who has been raped and who survived, leaving such judgment to the omniscience of the Lord.136
In 1979-80 members of the Advisory Committee became aware of an incident in which a female BYU student jumped from an attacker’s car on a freeway because, she later said, she understood that she would be better off dead than raped. The anecdote especially unsettled Kent Harrison, a physics professor and new Advisory Committee member. As the committee discussed the issue, they quickly realized that none of them knew of an official church stance on rape. After several months of investigation, Harrison [p.57] learned of the 1974 First Presidency statements when another committee member, Brent Barlow, received them from the church’s general Relief Society offices upon inquiry. Using the 1974 statements and the results of his research—including a catalog of general authority comments derived from the 1942 First Presidency message—Harrison drafted a position paper on rape and LDS women. He suggested the need for a clear official statement to counteract prevailing Mormon attitudes that death is preferable to rape and that a rape victim has somehow compromised her “virtue.” In addition, with input from committee members Barlow, Gary Anderson, and Ida Smith, Harrison drafted a letter, intended for a general authority, outlining the need for official church statements or articles in church publications on rape awareness.137
As Harrison and other members were at work on the rape issue, the Daily Universe reported that campus police and the community were, in the wake of highly publicized attacks, taking increased rape prevention measures. Emergency phones had been installed at ten campus locations and fences had been constructed around wooded pathways.138 In April 1980 the Provo Daily Herald, independent of Advisory Committee activity, ran a series of articles on rape awareness, addressing the reality of rape “even in nice towns,” but not making specific reference to Mormon attitudes. Harrison responded enthusiastically to the series in a letter to the editor, drawing attention to Mormon connections to the issue: Because “virtue” and “chastity” are associated in Mormon rhetoric with resistance to rape, he argued, victims are less likely to report the crime and often carry feelings of guilt for what was beyond their control. “A victim of such an attack must be viewed as still virtuous,” he wrote. “Victims should not feel guilt, on top of the trauma they already have experienced.”139
In the context of increasing rape awareness on campus, Harrison and other Advisory Committee members made Oaks and Commissioner of Church Education Jeffrey Holland aware of their interest in clarifying church positions on rape. In response, Harrison learned from Holland that BYU religion professor Daniel Ludlow was reviewing material on rape for consideration by the First Presidency.140 That fall, as BYU president Oaks was succeeded by Holland, the Advisory Committee learned that Ludlow as drafting a statement on rape for consideration by the First Presidency. After obtaining, via Holland, a copy of Ludlow’s statement, Harrison and other committee members suggested changes that would prevent problematic interpretations regarding victim responsibility. They also recommended, in light of the fact that it had taken the committee months to discover the First Presidency’s 1974 statements, that any new statement be included in the church’s General Handbook of Instructions and the Ensign magazine.141 When Harrison learned from Lavina Fielding Anderson, then an editor at the Ensign, that the magazine was planning to publish a cluster of articles on rape, he supplied the authors with copies of the Advisory Committee’s [p.58]paper. The articles, one of which was written by a general authority, Rex D. Pinegar, and the other by BYU clinical psychologist Maxine Murdock, appeared in October 1981. Both supported the ACWC’s position that rape victims bear no blame for their assault.142 Harrison and the others never heard back from Ludlow, but when the First Presidency finally issued a new statement on rape in 1985, it was a mild improvement over previous attempts. In it the First Presidency counseled ecclesiastical officers to “refrain from assigning moral guilt to a victim who has been subject to significant force or credible threats, leaving final judgment to the omniscience of the Lord.” Regarding victims: “Persons threatened … should resist to the maximum extent possible or necessary under the circumstances. The extent of resistance required to establish that the victim has not willingly consented is left to the judgment of the victim.”143
The Holland Era: A New Wave of Student Activism and Increasing Concern for Faculty Women
For most of the 1980s, levels of student feminism were low, although women students continued to benefit from the advances made by faculty women, the Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns, and the Women’s Research Institute. Women students made in-roads at the law school and called attention to the need for husbands and wives to share housework and support each other in careers.144 From 1981 to 1983 the independent BYU newspaper, The Seventh East Press, provided a forum for discussing interest in women’s issues, including the need for a general Women’s Office on campus. The press also reported on religion professor Rodney Turner’s infamous campus talk, “Eve’s Daughters and the Second Temptation,” in which Turner reaffirmed BYU’s purposes to provide mates for worthy men and to train women to be wives, mothers, and homemakers.145 In 1986 a group of students founded another independent publication, Student Review, which continues to provide discussion of feminist issues, including articles by faculty members Cecilia Konchar Farr and Gail Turley Houston that would be used against them in administrative attempts to remove them from the university. One of the Review’s earliest articles on Mormon feminism was coauthored by student Kristin Rushforth, who would eventually help found the student feminist group VOICE.146
In the wake of American feminism’s high point, church leaders continued to warn women—at BYU and elsewhere—against subverting traditional gender roles. In 1985 First Presidency member Gordon B. Hinckley exhorted Mormon women not to seek priesthood authority.147 Two years later church president Ezra Taft Benson delivered an address, “To the Mothers in Zion,” at a church parents’ fireside. “Contrary to conventional wisdom,” he advised, “a mother’s calling is in the home, not in the marketplace. … The counsel of the Church has always been for mothers to spend their full time in [p.59]the home in rearing and caring for their children.” The address was quickly and widely circulated in pamphlet form. Although most BYU women probably concurred with the church president’s advice, Benson’s talk unsettled enough women, recalled Mary Stovall Richards, then director of the Women’s Research Institute, that “people were lined up outside the [institute’s] office” to seek advice, encouragement, affirmation, and consolation.148 Some students also were reported to have inquired at campus counseling centers if Benson’s talk meant they should quit their academic programs, and faculty and students at the law school slated an open meeting to discuss the talk’s implications for married women law students.149
The following year witnessed what was probably the most significant development that decade in women’s issues on campus: the October 1988 founding of a group called the BYU Committee to Promote the Status of Women. Five students met in a campus building to discuss resistance to feminism at BYU. Kristin Rushforth, one of the women present, had been accepted as a transfer student to the University of Utah and was planning to leave BYU. The new group gave her reason to stay. As the group’s membership grew, several women began to talk about their experiences as victims of date rape. When the group decided to invite a counselor from a local rape crisis center to speak on campus, however, they were informed by administrator John Stohlton that “Rape is a very controversial issue” and that the university has “some very conservative contributors who wouldn’t appreciate your approach.” Their request was denied, and Stohlton suggested they ask a campus police officer to speak instead. “We hadn’t ever thought of rape as a ‘controversial issue,’“ Rushforth later recalled, “and had therefore completely overlooked the fact that our overtly anti-rape agenda might offend any of the university’s benefactors who happen to be pro-rape.”150
In 1989 the group took on the name VOICE (after a group discussion of Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice) and in 1990 gained official on-campus status as a member of BYU’s Student Association. VOICE had—and still has—a knack for attracting press attention (see chaps. 6 and 8). Their weekly meetings have drawn large crowds, often because the supposedly sensational topics attract reactionary observers. Among the group’s largest meetings have been visits from general Relief Society presidency member Aileen Clyde and playwright Carol Lynn Pearson, who performed her play Mother Wove the Morning to a campus audience before she was banned in subsequent years. In 1992, the year prior to the excommunication or disfellowshipment of six Mormon intellectuals, called the “September Six,” VOICE had invited future excommunicants Lavina Fielding Anderson, Maxine Hanks, and Paul Toscano—each on separate occasions (see chap. 7). Themes covered at other meetings have included dealing with sexual abuse, AIDS and other women’s health issues, feminist midwifery, poetry readings, the place of men in feminism, and the sesquicentennial of the Relief Society. At [p.60] VOICE’s high-point, during the 1991-92 school year, membership leveled off at around 150.
The outlook for female faculty members in the 1980s also appeared promising. As commissioner of church education, Jeffrey Holland had already established a friendly working relationship with members of the Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns. In his opening talk to faculty, he addressed the needs of women in particular: “I intend to give women every opportunity,” he said, “for education and growth and development and administration and research and salary—and promotion that is available to men, each according to his or her merit and desire. That seems so self-evident and mutually obvious that it seems absolutely needless to have to say.”151 Throughout his term as BYU president, Holland met with the Advisory Committee at least annually to review progress toward these goals.
In 1984 church leaders decided to co-sponsor, with the university, the annual BYU women’s conference, the main focus of the Women’s Research Institute under its second director, Mary Stovall, who joined BYU’s history faculty in an adjunct position in 1983. Throughout the decade, women’s conference directors and many of its more than 5,000 annual attendees reported increased tension between professional women—often featured as panelists and keynote speakers—and homemakers, who formed much of the audience. This divide became especially apparent following Benson’s “To the Mothers in Zion” address as women were forced to defend their life choices in theological terms. At the 1987 conference (themed “Accepting Diversity, Accepting Unity”), only a few months after Benson’s talk, participants noted an increase in the division. Patricia Holland, the university president’s wife, pointed to this impasse in her keynote speech: “I am very appreciative,” she told the women assembled,
of the added awareness that the women’s movement has given to a gospel principle we have had since Mother Eve and before—that free agency, the right to choose. But one of [its] most unfortunate side effects [is that] we seem even more uncertain and less secure with each other. We are getting not closer, but further away from that sense of community and sisterhood that has sustained and given us unique strength for generations … Obviously the Lord has created us with different personalities, as well as differing degrees of energy, interest, health, talent, and opportunity. So long as we are committed to righteousness and living a life of faithful devotion, we should celebrate these divine differences, knowing they are a gift from God. We must not be … threatened and insecure; we must not need to find exact replicas of ourselves in order to feel validated as a woman of worth.152
Patricia Holland’s vision for embracing the diversity of Mormon women has never been realized—particularly at the BYU and Relief Society’s women’s conferences. Through the end of Jeffrey Holland’s tenure as president, the school’s intention for the conference—argued most forcefully by Provost Jae Ballif—was that it act as a forum for discussing “through both [p.61]scholarship and faith” the difficult issues faced by Mormon women in the context of changing social norms.153 Decisions during the 1990s to refuse highly successful Mormon women as conference speakers suggest that officials tend to agree with the concerns of traditional women who felt that the programs were too liberal.
In addition to trying to coordinate a balanced women’s conference, Stovall and other Women’s Research Institute staff continued to press for the institutionalization of a women’s studies curriculum, as well as for employee child care programs. Neither was accepted by the administration. The institute did succeed, however, in securing grants for research in women’s studies. With the support of one such grant, Cecilia Konchar Farr, then a graduate student in English, completed the first BYU master’s thesis in feminist literary theory, although she had to remove the school’s name from her paper’s title.
In 1991 Stovall’s successor, Marie Cornwall of the sociology department, was able to create a women’s studies minor by establishing it in the sociology department, whose faculty embraced the idea, rather than proposing it as a university program. This course of action circumvented the university administration. The minor’s two core courses were both sociology offerings, and its first students came from social science programs. As the program grew, it quickly culled students and course offerings from humanities, the sciences, and the honors program. It continues, with the Women’s Research Institute, to be a central resource for feminist students and faculty.154
During the 1990s women made some advances at BYU—establishing a gender balance in the student body (in 1994 women actually outnumbered men for the first time) and raising awareness of faculty women’s concerns regarding parity in salaries in particular.155 But as the remainder of this book shows, few issues have generated as much controversy as feminism. Although faculty members have discussed feminist issues with more rigor and in greater numbers than ever before (a faculty seminar on feminism in 1992 attracted as many as 100 participants, with a wide range of responses to the issues156), the high profile nature of feminist firings, coupled with what appears to be an extra rigorous hiring procedure for female job candidates (see chap. 10), suggests that the issue will continue to be divisive as long as feminists keep their voices public—or even in the classroom. The recent reaction against feminism can be viewed against the backdrop of a larger cultural “backlash” against feminism, to use a term popularized by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi, who chronicles a media—and New Right-driven campaign against feminism in the 1980s. Faludi suggests that “[j]ust when women’s quest for equal rights seemed closest to achieving its objectives, the backlash struck it down.”157 To many feminists at BYU, it certainly seems that just when feminism was poised to achieve respectability at the university, the spate. of controversies and firings has helped ensure that feminist goals would not be achieved quite yet. Following the dismissal [p.62]of Cecilia Konchar Farr and the departures of Tomi-Ann Roberts, Martha Nibley Beck, and Bonnie Mitchell (and just preceding the resignation of Martha Sonntag Bradley), the chair of BYU’s sociology department, Lynn England, wrote BYU president Rex E. Lee that “it will take more years than I have left in my career for us to recover from these [faculty]losses. We fool ourselves,” he continued, “if we think other able and sensitive women scholars will ever give us an opportunity to recruit them.”158 The intervening years have seen, it seems, only more departures and few resolutions.
The history of women and feminism at BYU also demonstrates the tensions brought to bear on an institute of higher education with dual allegiances to conservative religion and national academic standards. On the one hand, female faculty and students are expected to abide by the gender norms prescribed by LDS church officials and tradition. But academic training in every era of United States history has led women to question models of male authority and to seek to establish social equality betwen the sexes. For Mormon women, this can be challenging, as it involves, in Cecilia Koncbar Farr’s phrase, “dancing through the doctrine.”159 As the stories in the following chapters indicate, that dance can be dangerous, and it remains to be seen whether the future that Alice Louise Reynolds saw early in the century as so “big with promise” for women’s education will deliver security for feminism at BYU in the twenty-first century.
[p.62]1. Amy Brown Lyman, A Lighter of Lamps: The Life Story of Alice Louise Reynolds (Provo, UT: Alice Louise Reynolds Club, 1947); also see Lyman’s own In Retrospect: The Autobiography of Amy Brown Lyman (Salt Lake City: General Board of the Relief Society, 1945), for more details on women at BYU in this era.
2. Susa Young Gates, “The New Brigham Young Academy,” Young Women’s Journal 3 (June 1892): 394. Thanks to Mara Ashby for help with this and other citations. The church’s University of Deseret, established in Salt Lake City in 1850, was also coeducational from its founding, to the chagrin of Protestant female moral reformers who characterized Mormons as barbaric in their attitudes toward women. See Peggy Pascoe, Relations of Rescue: The Search for Female Moral Authority in the American West, 1874•1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), chaps. 1 and 2.
7. Bergera and Priddis, Brigham Young University, 8-13; Ernest L. Wilkinson, Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 4 vols. (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 1:211-19.
11. Amy L. Bentley, “Comforting the Motherless Children: The Alice Louise Reynolds Women’s Forum,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23 (Fall 1990): 39-61. The forum was in part a reincarnation of the Alice Louise Reynolds Club, started during Reynolds’s lifetime.
12. It is important to note that both “feminism” and “Mormonism” are much broader than we may appear to give them credit for here; obviously we are dealing with generalizations, since both groups contain individuals of a variety of social, political, and theological views. For landmark publications in the study of Mormon women, see Leonard Arrington, “Persons for All Seasons: Women in Mormon History,” BYU Studies 20 (Fall 1979): 39-58; Claudia L. Bushman, ed., Mormon Sisters (Cambridge, MA: Emmeline Press Limited, 1976); Vicky Burgess-Olsen, Sister Saints (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1976); Linda King Newell, “A Gift Given, A Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick among Mormon Women,” Sunstone, Sept.-Oct. 1981, 16-25; Mary Lythgoe Bradford, ed., Mormon Women Speak (Salt Lake City: Olympus Publishing Co., 1982); Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson, eds., Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987); Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992); and Maxine Hanks, ed., Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism (Salt Lake: Signature Books, 1992). For a recent article by tvvo BYU professors, see B. Kent Harrison and Mary Stovall Richards, “Feminism in the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” BYU Studies 36 (1996-97): 181-99.
25. Quotations from sample student essays from the 1920-21 school year by Alice Wilson, Marian Miller, Desta Shepherd, and Margaret Skinner, in Zina Card Papers, UA 349, University Archives, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (hereafter BYUA).
26. Other examples abound. “Familiarity is the curse of the age,” the same student repeated Card’s teaching: “To the boys it’s ‘hands off.’“ While “[s]ex in life must be protected and guarded from infancy until time of marriage,” this student [p.64]wrote, it should not be “a topic to be shunned and only talked about in ‘subdued whispers.’” Another student expanded on this theme: “We should teach the great principles of life to children by the truth not by saying that I found little Brother or Sister under a cabbage.”
28. Lillian C. Booth, “A Research Study to Locate and Compile the Names and Short Histories of the Matron, Dean of Women, and Counselor for Women at Brigham Young University for the Years 1879•1957,” unpublished manuscript, 1957,10-11, UA 56, BYUA.
32. On the AAUW, see Susan Levine, Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth-Century Feminism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995). On the post-war backlash, see Ruth Milkman, Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War II (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), chap. 7.
34. See Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women, 173-78. On the NWP’s early attempt at an Equal Rights Amendment, see Nancy F. Cott, “Historical Perspectives: The Equal Rights Amendment in the 1920s,” in Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller, eds., Conflicts in Feminism (New York: Routledge, 1991).
38. Just as the assumption that women’s political and educational activism lay moribund between the achievement of the vote and the feminist resurgence of the 1960s and 1970s is mistaken—the constant activity of the AAUW, for example, is one sign of women’s perpetual public action—it would be an overstatement to suppose that all BYU women wound up as June Cleaver clones. For example, Esther Eggertson Peterson, who graduated from BYU in 1927, became the school’s most nationally prominent female graduate. Unlike Reynolds, though, Peterson publicly recalled the atmosphere of male privilege present at BYU—similar to that found in the nation as a whole, but “With the added weight of religious authority. Her feeling of being stifled as a woman, coupled “With a growing sense of the relatively small size of the Mormon community, led her and a few others to become part of a Mormon “lost generation.” After moving to Boston and marrying a non-Mormon, Esther “threw [her] energies into work with the labor movement,” which had come to eclipse the women’s movement. Her work in the labor movement brought her into association with U.S. president John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 named her as director of the Women’s Bureau in the Labor Department and as executive vice chair to Eleanor Roosevelt on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. After working for presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter in consumer affairs, Peterson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1979 she was named Democratic Woman of the Year. Although she attributed her motivation to be involved in social causes to her Mormon childhood, she lamented the fact that the spirit of Mormon suffragists and women educators had fared so poorly in Utah. See Sunstone, July 1988, 51. Also see Esther Eggertston Peterson, “The World Beyond the Valley,” Sunstone, Nov. 1991, 21-25.
44. During the 1956 Women’s Week, a “Dean for a Day” contest resulted in an undergraduate, Marilyn Arnold, swapping places with Dean of Women Lillian Booth, who attended Arnold’s classes. ‘Junior Coed Named to Swap Duties with Woman Dean,” Daily Universe, 1 May 1956. See the discussion of the Oaks years below for Arnold’s contributions later in BYUs history.
51. This strategy is in keeping with Laurence Moore’s argument in Selling God: Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). Moore sees religion as competing in a cultural market, requiring it to appeal to consumer tastes and trends.
52. Fashion with a Flair (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1955). This phrase matches Elizabeth Ewing’s description of a “profusion of petticoats” in A History of Twentieth-Century Fashion (London: B.T. Batsford, 1974), 169.
61. Executive Committee Minutes, 16 Dec. 1965. On Wilkinson’s anti-birth control movement in general, see Bergera and Priddis, Brigham Young University, 119-20, which demonstrates that Wilkinson was the dominant force behind the movement. For a more general discussion of Mormons and birth control, see Lester Bush, “Birth Control among the Mormons: Introduction to an Insistent Question,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 10 (Autumn 1976): 12-44.
64. The handbook was printed with the incomplete sentence: “The church does not approve of any form of .” According to Bergera and Priddis, “The words ‘artificial birth control’ were supposed to have appeared in the space left blank, but Wilkinson had been unable to secure the endorsement of the First Presidency” and had the press remove the phrase at the last minute. See Bergera and Priddis, Brigham Young University, 119-20.
80. An August 1978 anti-ERA statement from church leaders uses the phrase “unisex society.” See Quinn, “LDS Church’s Campaign,” 138. Also see below for more details on the ERA as it affected BYU women.
82. Mariam K. Chamberlain, ed., Women in Academe: Progress and Prospects (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1988), 16. For a series of essays written amidst and in the wake of these changes, see Editors of Change Magazine, eds., Women on Campus: The Unfinished Liberation (New York: Change Magazine, 1975). A decent summary of the legislation is included in Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 4:298-300. (While Wilkinson is identified as the primary author for the first three volumes of this official history, the fourth volume, in an effort to assure fair treatment of the Wilkinson era, was written with Bruce Hafen’s and Leonard Arrington’s supervision.) One Mormon perspective on Title IX, on which the official history draws heavily, is Monte Stewart, “HEW’s Regulation under Title IX of the Education [p.67]Amendments of 1972: Intra Vires Challenges,” Brigham Young University Law Review, June 1976, 138-87.
83. Harold B. Lee, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney for Board of Education and Board of Trustees to Dallin H. Oaks and Neal A. Maxwell, included in Minutes of the Combined Concurrent Meeting of the Executive Committees of the Church Board of Education and Boards of Trustees of Brigham Young University, Ricks College, and Church College of Hawaii, 17 May 1973.
84. Oaks is credited in this area both by Wilkinson’s official Brigham Young University (“When Dallin Oaks became president of BYU, one of his first actions was an investigation of the status of women employees,” 4:310) and by Bergera and Priddis, who write of Oaks’s “willingness to redress past inequities based on sex, a reflection of his sensitivity to changing social conditions” (Brigham Young University, 37). As the discussion below indicates, we believe both histories overstate Oaks’s personal role.
86. Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 4:295-96. The final passage, in Oaks’s own words, is taken from his anti-Title IX testimony before the Postsecondary Education Subcommittee of the Education and Labor Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, 24 June 1975. For a later interview with Oaks on these issues, see “The ‘Pervasive Insensitivity’ of Government to Colleges,” US. News and World Report, 24 Dec. 1979, 51.
93. Ibid. In conclusion they left the president with a challenge: “It appears that there are two competing goals of the University which may be mutually exclusive: does the University intend to aid its students to cope with the statistical realities we observe in our society and church (esp. regarding singleness); or does the university wish to create a picture of admirable but not universally attainable ideal against which its members compare themselves, without providing … alternatives when the comparison falls short? Your definition of the goal will affect the position you take about what an effective role model is. In any case, it is the Christian modeling that is important. “
94. Oaks, “Concerns and Aspirations of Women at Brigham Young University,” Annual Brigham Young University Fall Workshop, 26-27 Aug. 1975. The talk was paraphrased and reported in the official faculty newsletter, Y News, 2 Sept. 1975.
95. Oaks, “Statement on the Education of Women at Brigham Young University,” Brigham Young University President’s Assembly, 9 Sept. 1975. The text was reprinted and reported (“Prepare for life, Oaks tells women”) in the Daily Universe, 11 Sept. 1975. The newspaper’s reporting focused on the “contingencies” [sic] of women’s lives, particularly the uncertainty of marriage. For an incarnation of this gender ideology that pre-dates the education debate of the nineteenth century. See Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), chaps. 7 and 9.
96. Elouise Bell, “The Implications of Feminism for BYU,” Brigham Young University forum address, 30 Sept. 1975, published in BYU Studies 16 (Summer 1976): 527-40. A year later Bell linked the Provo feminist community with a vibrant Mormon feminist community in Boston, which included writers and historians such as [p.68]Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Claudia Bushman, when she edited a “Provo issue” of the Boston-based Exponent II, Sept. 1976. The publication was named after a nineteenth-century Mormon suffragist organ. The issue featured an interview with Marilyn Arnold.
101. See Bergera and Priddis, Brigham Young University, 37; Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 4:300-12, contains a dramatic account of the affair in which BYU emerges as a “leader and champion of those institutions which believe in the continued existence of independent higher private education … ‘ This leadership comes,” the history continues, “at a time when there is widespread dissatisfaction with the unprecedented regulations and controls emanating from Washington” (313).
104. Quinn cites a Deseret News poll as late as November 1974 in which 70.3 percent of Utah’s general population and 63.1 of its Mormon population in particular favored the ERA. Measures taken by LDS church leaders to defeat the ERA began the following month. See ibid., 105. For BYU student opposition, see “Majority Opposed to Amendment,” Daily Universe, 25 Jan. 1973, cited in Bergera and Priddis, Brigham Young University, 389n81.
112. Dallin H. Oaks to American Home Economics Association, 27 Apr. 1978, sample letter attached to Oaks’s memo to BYU faculty members advising them of his action. Oaks to All Faculty and Administrative Staff, 27 Apr. 1978. See also Quinn, “LDS Church’s Campaign,” 137; Bergera and Priddis, Brigham Young University, 38-39.
121. See, for example, Tony Woller, “Y Coeds Turn Thumbs Down on ERA,” Daily Universe, 7 Feb. 1977. The article notes that 76 percent of campus women interviewed opposed the ERA. Although several students (and 84 percent of the campus survey) said they believed women had been discriminated against historically, only two of the students interviewed showed even mild support for the amendment. “We need wise mothers,” said Julie Vandervere, “but we need wisdom [p.69]as much as mothers.” The more typical response is represented by the comment from student Rhonda Wright: “I have no idea what [the ERA] says, but I’m told to be against it so I’m against it.”
124. “Kapp Committee Report to President’s Council,” 9 June 1982. Thanks to Stacy Burton for providing us with a copy of the presentation by Marilyn Arnold, Karen Lyun, and Elouise Bell to the College of Humanities faculty on 11 Nov. 1976.
128. John Jesse, “Women Have Options,” Daily Universe 4 Apr. 1979. Oaks said afterward that the mother of nine had delivered a “most appropriate” address. Perhaps the decision to refer to the speaker only as Mrs. Reynolds reflected a criticism the Universe had received from a faculty member the previous year for referring to another woman by the “morally degrading and unpronounceable title of ‘Ms.’ “ See Everett G. Larson to the editor, Daily Universe, 11 Jan. 1978.
135. LDS General Conference Report, Apr. 1942, quoted in Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, Apr. 1979, 41-42, and cited in the Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns report, “Concerns about Rape as Seen in an LDS Context,” 1979-80.
137. See several drafts of [B. Kent Harrison], “Concerns about Rape, as Seen in an LDS Context,” Feb.-Apr. 1980; Harrison to Myrna Pratt and Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns, 27 Feb. 1980, which includes a draft of the letter to an unspecified general authority. (In his memo Harrison asks for advice regarding which authority should receive the letter; he also expresses concern about “counseling the brethren.”)
139. The Herald series on rape, by staff reporters Charlene Winters and Apryl Cox, was published in the paper’s “Women Today” section (“Women’s issues, food, fashion, and home furnishings”), 13-20 Apr. 1980. See also B. Kent Harrison, “Series Makes Point,” Daily Herald, undated newspaper clipping in our possession.
[p.70]142. Rex D. Pinegar, ‘‘‘Let God Judge between Me and Thee’: Dealing with the Trauma of Rape,” Ensign 11 (Oct. 1981): 32-35. Although Pinegar does suggest that victims should resist an attacker “with all [their] might,” he clearly tells victims that “You must not count yourself guilty of that which you have not done!” (35). See also Maxine Murdock, “When It Happens to One ‘Among Us …’: A Discussion of the Most Common Misunderstandings about Personal Assault,” Ensign 11 (Oct. 1981): 36-41, which aims to debunk cultural myths about rape that assign blame to victims.
143. First Presidency (Spencer W. Kimball, Marion G. Romney, Gordon B. Hinckley) to local church leaders, 7 Feb. 1985, quoted in General Handbook of Instructions (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989), 11-5. The Handbook states further that “[v]ictims of the evil acts of others are not guilty of sin.” Thanks to Lavina Fielding Anderson and Kent Harrison for help in unraveling this series of events and with these citations.
146. Michelle Youtz, Kristin Rushforth, and Mark Freeman, “Early Mormon Feminism,” Student Review, 10 Feb. 1988. The issue, titled “The Sexes,” contains several additional articles on gender topics. Also see, for further examples, Eric Wilson, “From Sisters to Colleagues: A History of Sexism in the BYU Faculty,” Student Review, 8 Mar. 1989; and Eugene England, “An Open Letter to All Teachers and Students: Combatting Racist and Sexist Theology at BYU,” Student Review, 11 Oct. 1989. The “Gender Issue,” Student Review, 16 Feb. 1990, is devoted entirely to women’s issues, as is a controversial follow-up a year later, 20 Feb. 1991, which included an article on abortion by Cecilia Konchar Farr. The “Women’s Issue” published in July 1993 featured coverage of Farr’s firing, along with a controversial article by an anonymous BYU lesbian. Also see undated issue devoted to feminism, ca. 1996.
150. Kristin Rushforth, “Finding a VOICE: How It All Began and What It Means to Me,” address delivered to the Women in Law Forum [at BYU], 14 Feb. 1992, reprinted in All in a Good Year: VOICE: BYU Committee to Promote the Status of Women, 1991-92 (Provo, UT: VOICE, 1992), n.p.
154. Laga Van Beek, “Marginalization vs. Mainstreaming: Brigham Young University, a Case Study of a Conservative University,” Utah State-Wide Conference for Women’s Studies and Women’s Centers, Weber State University, 9 Apr. 1994.
155. “BYU Has More Women Enrolled than Men,” Salt Lake Tribune 28 Sept. 1994; Casey Stephens, “Rumors of Gender Discrimination at Y ‘absolutely false,’ Pres. Lee Says,” Daily Universe, 7 Oct. 1994. A Universe article the same semester reported that marriage rates among students were on the rise—36 percent of male students and 20 percent of female students were married compared to 18 and 6 percent in 1986 and 12 and 3 percent in 1962. Another article in the same issue reported, though, that birthrates had declined among married student couples. The article quotes Thomas Holman, director of BYU’s family studies doctoral program, [p.71]as saying that birth control was not the “moral issue” among Mormons that it had been a few decades earlier. See Kendall Johnson, “Church Dominant Factor in BYU’s Marriage Rates,” and Gaylon Garbett, “Records Show Students Having Fewer Babies,” both in Daily Universe, 31 Oct. 1994.
156. Cecilia Konchar Farr to Bryan Waterman (and Electronic Latter-day Women’s Caucus), electronic correspondence, 19 June 1996; Deborah Rossiter to Bryan Waterman (and Electronic Latter-day Women’s Caucus), electronic correspondence, 18 June 1996.
159.Cecilia Konchar Farr, “Dancing through the Doctrine: Observations on Religion and Feminism,” in George D. Smith, ed., Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience: A Mormon/Humanist Dialogue (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 141-51.