Women and Authority:
Edited by Maxine Hanks

Chapter 4
Historic Mormon Feminist Discourse—Excerpts

I. Woman’s Exponent

[69] [Woman’s Exponent was an independent newspaper published by the Relief Society, the women’s organization of the LDS church. Lula Greene Richards served as first editor, from 1872 to 1877. Emmeline B. Wells edited the Exponent from 1877 to 1914, thus maintaining an independent women’s publication for thirty-seven years. The Exponent addressed a wide spectrum of women’s concerns, including Liberal and Cultural feminism, republican motherhood and housewifery, and polygamy. The following are a few examples of liberal/cultural feminism from the publication’s first decade.] Vol. 1 (June 1872), No. 1

Woman’s Rights and Wrongs

Woman's ExponentThe agitation of the woman’s rights question aims at obtaining a broader recognition for the rights of women, as a moiety of the social structure, now deprived of many privileges it is contended they should enjoy, and refused rights which it is claimed they should possess equally with men. It is a natural outgrowth of the restless spirit of the age, which seeks to accomplish “reforms” real and fancied, in numerous directions. There are many rights which woman should possess yet of which she is denied by custom and by statute law, but more especially by the former … she should have access to every avenue of employment for which she has physical and mental capacity … if a woman does as much work [71] as man, and does it as well, she must … receive equal pay for it … She should not be held more responsible than man—if as much—for sexual crime …

It is held that by women possessing the right to vote, they could exert a powerful influence in the halls of legislation to remedy many wrongs to which they are subjected, and it is rightly so held; yet much depends upon women themselves, independent of the elective franchise, in changing the tone of society and in moulding custom, that all of the sex may receive justice from each other as well as from men. —EMMELINE B. WELLS, Vol. 1 (June 1872), No. 1

The “Woman Question.”

Perhaps no agitation looking to the accomplishment of a great result ever progressed so rapidly in the time, or at the same stage and brighter prospects of success, than that which seeks to secure for women the right to enjoy and exercise the elective franchise, and the right to earn her living by any means of industry open to man for which she has capacity x And while woman should have and enjoy every right which her Creator has designed for her, She never can form nor have a world of her own, where horrid man will not be found. The “Woman Question” is the question of both man and woman; and “woman’s rights” should as deeply interest men as women. Woman is the mother of the world, and her interests can no more be separated from those of man, than could the world exist with only one sex. It is to be hoped that this fact will have full weight in the future agitation of the “Woman Question.” –EDITORIAL, Vol. 2 (June 1873), No. 1

An Address

… [W]e my sisters … should be a shining light to the nations of the earth. But I often say to myself, are we what we should be? … We are to be progressing, and growing better. If we have done well to-day, we must do still better tomorrow. We believe in eternal progression. It will not do to say that we have so much to do that we cannot do any more, because the works and duties of the women [72] of Zion are constantly increasing. No where on the earth has woman so broad a sphere of labor and duty, of responsibility and action, as in Utah … To be sure we have many of the crosses of life, but what do we meet them for? Are they for our own good and benefit or do we meet them all as for Zion’s sake? Do we let Zion take full possession of our desire, our ambition?…

We have self all absorbed in the interest of the work of God. We are here to perform duties, and to do our part towards establishing God’s Kingdom. We, my sisters, have as much to do as our brethren have. We are to work in union with them…

Paul the Apostle anciently spoke of holy women. It is the duty of each one of us to be a holy woman. We shall have elevated aims, if we are holy women. We shall feel that we are called to perform important duties. No one is exempt from them. There is no sister so isolated, and her sphere so narrow but what she can do a great deal towards establishing the Kingdom of God upon the earth.

I am proud to see so many young ladies associated with the Relief Society in Ogden. There should be an association in every settlement, and in every ward in Salt Lake City … If you associate together, your minds are improved, you are gaining intelligence, and you are retrenching from ignorance. The Spirit of God will impart instruction to your minds, and you will impart it to each other…

Now, in Salt Lake City President Young counseled Sister Horne and myself, and Sister Smoot to organize the Young girls … There was cold water thrown on the efforts made. It was turned to ridicule by many. They said ‘what is the use of the girls meeting together, and praying, and talking?’ And I would ask what is the use of our brethren meeting together? If the young girls and the boys do not need the Spirit of the Gospel, there does not any person need it … [Y]ou can feel that you have a mission in Zion. Study the principles of the Gospel, converse on them, understand them, so that you may be able to cope with any of the wisest of the world … I see the Relief Society here has no house of its own—no house that it can control. I know the sisters are accommodated. But each Society needs a house at its own disposal. And if the sisters in Ogden, with the sanction of the brethren, undertake to build a house, the brethren will help them. It is said that God helps those who help themselves…

There is another thing I want to mention before I sit down. [73] President Young is requiring the sisters to get students of Medicine. He wants a good many to get a classical education, and then get a degree for Medicine. So far as getting the degree is concerned, there would be no advantage, but in connection with the degree, the female practitioner stands on the same grounds a man does. Are there here, now, any sisters who have ambition enough, and who realize the necessity of it, for Zion’s sake, to take up this study. There are some who are naturally inclined to be nurses; and such ones would do well to study Medicine, if they are inclined to do so. If they cannot meet their own expenses, we have means of doing so. It is proposed that the sisters, instead of expending means to emigrate foreign Saints, spend that means in educating young women … there are many branches you need to study before going to the expense of being boarded abroad to study. You need to study Physiology, Anatomy, and other kindred branches.

Then, another class of women is wanted more advanced in age, who are natural nurses, and would be willing to study obstetrics … We are waiting to get up as large a class as we can … so that we can have our own practitioners, instead of having gentlemen practitioners. In ancient times we know that women officiated in this department, and why should it not be so now? The difficulty is in getting the sisters to feel like undertaking it.

Now if there are any who will attend through all of these classes, their expenses will be met … Don’t you see that our sphere is increasing? Our sphere of action will continually widen, and no woman in Zion need to mourn because her sphere is too narrow.

God bless you, my sisters, and encourage you, that you may be filled with light … inasmuch as you are wise stewards, you will find time for social duties, because these are incumbent upon us as daughters and mothers in Zion. By seeking to perform every duty you will find that your capacity will increase, and you will be astonished at what you can accomplish … You, my sisters, if you are faithful, will become Queens of Queens, and Priestesses unto the Most High God. These are your callings. We have only to discharge our duties. By and by our labors will be past, and our names will be crowned with everlasting honor, and be had in everlasting remembrance among the Saints of the Most High God. —ELIZA R. SNOW, Vol. 2 (Sept. 1873), No. 8

Strong-minded Women.

[74] The election has come and gone, and how often has been heard from women the remark “Oh! no thank you, I did not vote, I am not strong minded.” Poor, silly things! Did you not know that by such a speech you called forth pity for yourselves … Acknowledge, if you will, that you are indifferent to the interests of the community in which you dwell or, that you are too ignorant to understand the social and political questions involved, but do not say it is because you lack moral strength to express those opinions in public … ten thousand times better to be strong-minded, the true companion of your husband and brothers, the guide and promoter of your children’s welfare … So should we consider and guard the elective franchise, using it conscientiously, as a God given privilege, and when men are placed in nomination, of rulers or delegates who would rob us of our rights, our united ballot should be against them.

… are you so ignorant of the doings of the Utah Legislature that you do not know that … they gave us the right to hold property exclusive of our husbands’ control? So that an industrious woman, with a trade or business, though tied to a thriftless man, need not be despoiled of her earnings to supply the needs of his lazy existence. And the heiress, who would fain be loved for herself alone, need not fear the advances of the fortune hunter, for her possessions are still hers after marriage … for any upstart demagogue or unprincipled libertine to claim the right to legislate for, and govern a woman’s heart and conscience, simply because he is a man, is what no strong-minded woman will concede. Should such men succeed, however, in disenfranchising us, we will continue to study the art of self-government, and the principles of religion and so instruct our children. —LAURA M. MINER, Vol. 2 (Mar. 1874), No. 20

Why, Ah! Why.

… I believe in women, especially thinking women. Are we human beings, rational and accountable, and yet permit to lie dormant the highest faculty of our nature—thought? Alas we see it every day! But there is a day dawning when we will be better [75] understood, if not appreciated; and every woman in Utah, who has the interest of her sex at heart, should exert her utmost influence to extend the circulation of the Exponent; for wherever it finds its way, into whatever home, village or town, it penetrates there will thought be awakened, there will woman begin to feel and understand that there is something elevating and inspiring, worth living for, worthy of attainment. —“BLANCHE BEECHWOOD” (“Emmeline B. Wells”), Vol. 3 (Sept. 1874), No. 9

Woman, A Subject.

The time was when women were held in “small repute,” inferior, subordinate, made to feel so by custom and continual practice, until they grew half ashamed of being such…

Now the “scene is changed;” from ocean to ocean woman and woman’s rights, is re-echoed. It is THE subject now in discussion. Every fault of mankind has been directly or indirectly attributed to women, until it has become a by-word among men when any startling or sensational catastrophe occurs; “There’s a woman at the bottom of the mischief.” Is it not time they took up the cudgel in their own defense?…

[Woman’s] incapacity, her demerits, all her weak points, brought out in the most unfavorable light to prove her inability to fill any but a home sphere; nature never designed her for any other, SO SAYS THE VERDICT; and if she dares to overstep the prescribed boundary, or pass the limit society has assigned her, woe be to her! She is forever disenchanted; she has lost all true womanly grace and purity … The responsibility of the whole world of mankind, (according to these ideas) rests upon her shoulders and those of her sex, and yet she cannot raise her voice, loosen her tongue, or send forth her opinions and ideas to the world without condemnation.

Men are afraid that if women are allowed to mingle more freely, and their interests become more closely associated with man’s, they will lose the peculiar charms of modesty, grace and shyness … that it will make them coarse and bold, where heretofore they were refined even to sensitiveness…

[76] How far woman’s influence can be exerted, in bringing about the redemption of man, the future will prove; that all her instincts, faculties and intelligence will be called in question, that the most thorough mental training, calculated to develop all the latent strength and increase the growth of intellect will be needed for the cultivation of the highest and holiest attributes implanted by the Deity, who can doubt?

… And if men would interest themselves in helping to develop woman’s higher powers, instead of placing almost insurmountable barriers to hinder their progress, they would find it much to their own advantage; and women who are the most highly cultivated morally, mentally and religiously, are the very ones to do honor and reverence to men, who possess the noblest attributes and are nearest akin to God and Divinity. —“BLANCHE BEECHWOOD,” 28 Oct. 1874

Woman’s Rights.

Do I believe in woman’s rights? Yes, I believe in them in many ways besides that of voting. But in the first place, I solemnly protest against woman’s being judged, condemned and punished according to the laws that she has had no hand in making. Indeed I think there is great need of a revolution in the sentiments of both women as well as laws …

I remember some years ago while riding home with some neighbors … The driver of the wagon who was an Elder, said, “Do you think I would ever ask forgiveness of a woman!” I answered him, “If you should do your wife an injury, would you not rather ask her forgiveness, than let the feeling created by the wrong she had suffered rankle in her breast against you?” “No! never would I stoop so low as to ask forgiveness of any woman!”

I presume many if not all, who read this article, have heard similar expressions from similar ignorant men. Now I would ask, what is there in man that he should consider himself so much better than his better-Half! If he sprang from the Deity, did not woman also? If he is made of mettle like that the Gods are made of, is not woman made of the same? If he came from his Father’s loins, and [77] was nurtured upon his Mother’s lap, what other place did his sister come from that she should be accounted so inferior to him? If the Lord had a purpose in creating the male part of humanity, had he not equally as good a purpose in creating the female part also? Or did He make her simply to bear the fault of man?

I know we are taught that Eve was the first to sin. Well, she was simply more progressive than Adam. She did not want to live in the beautiful garden for ever, and be nobody—not able even to make her own aprons. —E. N. B., Vol. 3 (15 July 1875), No. 16

Rowing against the Stream

Every day those who are stepping forward in the march of improvement, with a determination to accomplish something creditable and exceedingly desirable for woman, are made painfully aware, by the current of opposition which pours in upon them from all sides, that they are literally rowing against the stream. Generation after generation have yielded the palm in favor of man’s superior intelligence, until it has become a time-honored, authenticated, and established positivism, “immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians”; and although there have been here and there, striking specimens of a higher order of woman’s intellect than the general standard, yet these are looked upon as exceptional digressions, and not as implying any particular talent or ability in the sex itself?

… Take the question home, gentlemen. I appeal to you who labor for the advancement of true knowledge; put yourselves in our places, equalize the thing…

If a woman dares to stand up in public and express her ideas, (even before her own sex) or if she happens to differ in point of opinion from her husband, father, or brother, she is at once set down as a radical. Or as belonging to a certain “stripe of female characters,” (a term I have heard,) who ransack the country, and in open defiance of all the laws of propriety, good-breeding, and modesty make for themselves a standard of morality; endeavoring to gain influence by imposing upon the unsophisticated and unwary…

It is proverbial that men do not choose intellectual women for [78] wives. They consider them very appropriate for old maids; this helps them to bear their CRUEL lot with a better degree of serenity; gives them occupation in place of family cares. But for domestic home companions—Oh no! The assertion is widely circulated, among the “fair sex,” that the more shrewd, designing, artful, insinuating and intriguing a woman is, the better chance she stands of filling that exclusive place in a husband’s affections…

Does not this erroneous state of things call aloud for reform? And ought not those to be commended, who are willing to launch forth upon the stream of public opinion, conscious of the justness of their cause; and with unceasing and unhesitating energy and perseverance, row against the stream; fearless of the storms they must encounter, or the fierce surging of the angry waves of popularity? If it were possible to awaken each one to her own individual need, would there be any occasion to stand up and advocate reform?…

Here at home, among those who profess to be Saints, is the very cruelest test of our sincerity and integrity in the cause we have undertaken. Sneers, reproaches, taunts from those who ought to assist us in this very work. They cannot, or will not see we are working for an ultimate good, for a true and permanent elevation of character, for an independence through one’s own exertions and real merit … They look upon us with suspicion, fancy we would undermine their influences with the opposite sex…

There is abundant room for all, and union will lighten the labor effectually; therefore we call upon all who are desirous to see our children better than their contemporaries, to lend a helping hand in this extensive enterprise of rowing against the stream. —“BLANCHE BEECHWOOD,” Vol. 3 (Feb. 1875), No. 17

A Woman’s Thoughts

One of the greatest topics of discussion in this age, is the proper and appropriate sphere and position of woman; what she can do, and ought to do, and is capable of doing. What she is likely to become in the future from mixing in the society of the opposite sex…

Colleges and Universities are now open to women, the bar [79] (the pulpit even), the lecture hall, and many other occupations for those who have the faculty, the ability, and the moral courage, to face opposition, to withstand criticism and defy ridicule. That there is now (and every day widening) a broader field of labor open to woman, a higher cultivation of her brain, a more just appreciation of her merits and attainments, among the best and truest of mankind, are facts which have become visibly apparent…

It is not time that men gave woman encouragement in being practical, earnest, strong-minded, self-reliant, original, (if you will,) that she should feel she had an agency of her own, independent of man? Will not women seek more earnestly to strengthen their intellect and correct their judgment when they can be convinced there is a responsibility resting upon them, which will effect not only themselves, their children, and their immediate circle of acquaintances, but more or less influence society at large, the country in which they dwell, the government which bears sway over all.

While men are determined to keep women subordinate, they will of course pamper these “defects in her, because it is flattering to their own self-love;” and they cry out, “We want women left us and not female men,” and talk and write, about making room for a “third sex.” … A very fine writer has said, in answering common objections, that one of very frequent recurrence is, that “Women would become the rivals of their husbands, instead of their companions.” … Does it not behoove us to create for ourselves a higher standard, and having fixed firm in our resolves to attain whatever able, with the weapons we have to use and the tide of opposition we must swim. —EDITORIAL, Vol. 1 (July 1875), No. 3

An Old Maid’s Protest.

I suppose you men, “Lords of creation,” entertain the idea, that because some people remain single and continue to remain single for an unlimited length of time (and these persons happening to be of the feminine persuasion) that it is because they never have had the opportunity of changing their conditions in life. Let me hasten to disabuse you of these false impressions, and assure you that such is not the case, but that it is possible, absolutely possible for some persons to exist, even when debarred the exquisite pleasure of the [80] charming society of the sterner sex.

I have no doubt but that you will greet this with a cynical smile, as your conceit and vanity are developed to such an extent as to prevent you from accepting it as truth. But such it is. You may call me “Woman’s rights advocate,” “Blue stocking,” or any other tender epithet, I care not. I am independent, and not afraid because I am a woman to express my views on any subject. You may think I am only joking; but I warn you not to test the truth of my remarks by proposing to me, for I have such an utter detestation for the whole sex that it is with the greatest difficulty that I can treat the men with common civility. And don’t think I have been crossed in love either, for I haven’t. —THE OLD MAID IN THE CORNER, Vol. 4 (Oct. 1875), No. 10

A Criticism

Even in this day of reform and attempted regeneration, remarkable inconsistencies are manifest in the lives and opinions of many intelligent people. A practiced physician declares against girls and women filling the positions of school-teachers, dry-goods clerks and compositors, because of the injurious effects likely to follow their being too much on their feet. He does not, perhaps, reflect that no reasonable objection can be made to a person sitting a good portion of the time in occupying either of these positions. He finds no fault, however, with a woman standing all day over the wash-tub or at the ironing-board. No, these are generally considered as wholesome exercises. He does not express any regret that his own wife and daughters spend more than half the time on their feet, over a heated stove, washing dishes and keeping the house in order. Yet women of experience will testify that there is nothing more tedious and wearing than these never ending in-door household drudgeries.

A noted politician denounces the idea of woman dabbling in politics as something that would “prove corrupting and degrading to her.” Yet in his own home, when he is present, scarce an hour or a half hour passes in which some unpleasantness does not occur. He is constantly waging petty war-fares with members of his own household, yet is a professed advocate for “peace and purity where [81] woman exists.” The supposition might arise, that he considers woman has no right to an existence on this earth at all. —EDITORIAL, Vol. 4 (15 Nov. 1875), No. 12

Woman’s Work

… Women have not only a work to do at home but abroad for all mankind. This work is more complicated than that of man, for whereas men are only expected to fill one office or calling usually, women are always expected, under all circumstances, to fill at least two, and perform the real labor of a dozen. Man singles out a profession, or a trade, he spends a specified amount of time in making himself acquainted with his business; if he marries he is just as competent to discharge the duties of his profession; marriage does not interfere with him in the least.

How is it with woman? Vastly different, I assure you. When she marries she takes upon herself the cares of housekeeping and all its accumulation of work; next comes maternity and its increasing anxiety and responsibility. And yet she has capacity to enjoy and endure even more, how many men would manifest similar courage? … In the mean time the husband is keeping up with the times, and everything new he recognizes, and familiarizes himself with the progress of the age. How much benefit does the wife derive from his knowledge? Very little. Occasionally he may give her some information if it suits him, but in a general way, if the wife asks her husband for information he replies in monosyllables.

What remains to be done then? inform one’s self…

[B]ut let all be awakened to the wrongs that must be righted and the world will see that woman’s work is not simply to multiply and replenish, but to renovate and restore; to cultivate and develop the highest instincts and aspirations…

Let woman speak for herself, she has the right of freedom of speech … But women are too slow in moving forward, afraid of criticism, of being called unwomanly, of being thought masculine. What of it? If men are so much superior to women, the nearer we come up to the manly standard the higher we elevate our sex…

It may be well enough to have learning one never makes use of, but in my opinion it is exactly similar to having clothes you never [82] wear, or a grand parlor you never use…

Woman’s work in this day and age is not only an individual work, but a universal work; a work for all her suffering sisterhood; and it will want all the courage and heroism it is possible to arouse in the rising generation to stem the current tide of vice and evil, and so purify the earth that the Millennium can be ushered in. —“BLANCHE BEECHWOOD,” Vol. 4 (Nov. 1875), No. 12

About Fashion

… I wish to express my ideas about the vain and foolish fashions our elders talk so much about. I dare not deny that we, women of Utah, who ought to know better, do allow ourselves to be carried away by the follies and foolish fashions of the outside world, so as to make ourselves ridiculous, but must we shoulder all the blame?

Do not our elders in Israel, who are the stronger vessels, follow such fashions? For instance, what about their elaborate gold watches and chains, and their fine gold toothpicks, and their fancy shirt studs and dainty walking sticks, etc.; what are these but fashions? Let us ask ourselves the question, if we are really the people of God as we claim to be, why not, men and woman with one accord wear our homemade, and save the means we spend for all these things, to bring to Zion the poor and honest in heart of our people in foreign lands, and use it to build temples, etc. I cannot help but think when I see our leading elders get up and talk about the extravagance of women, that in one sense of the word we are no more extravagant than they are; they do not, for a moment, realize that all those little fancy nick-nacks that have been mentioned, cost money. Oh no, they think because a women puts twelve or more yards in her dress that she is extravagant, but allow me to say that the price of one suit of clothes for a man, would dress this Utah girl (only think of it) for one year. We as a people are supposed to wear homemade, yet the lords of creation must have at least one suit of broadcloth, at a cost of $75 or more. Now reflect on these ideas, and decide for yourselves which is the most extravagant. —Respectfully, A UTAH GIRL, Vol. 4 (Jan. 1876), No. 15

Dependence and Independence

[83] I often wonder why it is that women will be so dependent. Why they think, or at least a great many of them, that it is their calling to be dependent upon mankind for all they have or are in this world, imagining that it looks more womanly to depend upon the sterner sex for a name and standing in society, than to go to work and earn it. Is it because that men as a general thing, have taught them that dependence upon them is necessary; that a weak, languishing woman with hardly life enough to laugh a good hearty laugh, one, who if left to depend upon herself would find her staff of support very frail, is more to be admired, than one who has been taught to be self-reliant, and who can, if necessary, earn not only a livelihood; but a name which will be honored by all. Bah! I get perfectly disgusted with womankind when I think how little independence there is among them. There are so few who will think, or act for themselves. It is my candid opinion that this would be a happier world if there were a few more independent women in it. —JUNE, Vol. 5 (Aug. 1876), No. 6

Editors Exponent

… When swallowed up in the work and cares of my household I found but little time or opportunity to go out, except on the Sabbath to meeting, where I would hear that which comforted and stimulated me to endure all trials, and to perform my duties as a wife and mother … Since my health has been delicate I have been going through a pretty hard school, but I feel to acknowledge the hand of God in all my trials … Last winter after being sometime sick and low spirited, I was administered to by Sisters E. R. Snow and M. T. Smoot; my health and spirits revived … —HELEN MAR WHITNEY, Vol. 5 (Mar. 1877), No. 158

Home Affairs

Miss Eliza R. Snow, President of Latter-day Saint Women’s [84] Organizations left Salt Lake City Wednesday morning, Feb. 5th, to visit the different organizations of Weber Co. and assist in organizing Y.L.M.I.A. and Primary Associations in various places … Miss Snow was absent over two weeks, and held during that time, seventeen meetings, at all of which she occupied considerable time in speaking, exhorting and giving instruction to the sisters in their various duties and callings … She has administered as Priestess for many years in the “Lord’s House.” She travels from place to place, as duty calls her to attend the meetings and conferences of the sisters in all the various localities in the Territory. —Vol. 7 (1 Mar. 1879), No. 19

Editor Exponent:

If I felt competent to write anything like my more gifted sisters, I would often take my pen to help fill up the pages of our valuable paper, the WOMAN’S EXPONENT—the name itself is significant of all good. Why can we not as women proclaim against injustice, clamor for redress, earnestly contend for our rights, so long denied to womankind; sound aloud to the world that now is woman’s era, the time when she is beginning to comprehend her true position side by side with man, her brother, companion and friend, not master … —MARIE, Richmond, Vol. 8 (June 1879), No. 1

“No Outside Meddlers”

… Allow me to quote: As to the woman question, why not let it be a woman question? Why make a man question of it? Women are competent to decide on their own course of action…

Why does man step in to decide for her? That’s what puzzles me. I am not at all particular at our voting, but what I am particular about is to know why I do not know as well as man does, whether or not it is right for me to vote, or to “speak.”

“Don’t suppose, now, that I wish to do any of these things, having an outsider stepping in between me and my conscience to transact my private business for me.” —MRS. A. M. DIAZ, Vol. 8 (15 Aug. 1879), No. 6

[85] … I think it the most arrogant presumption for man to assume the right to decide all points of right and wrong, all questions of propriety or expedience, and even what is womanly.

Being a profound believer in reciprocal rights and duties, I protest against further allowing men’s opinions to be our highest court of appeal until they shall pay the same high honor to our opinions (just think, in that case, of the vast overturning there would be in the world’s affairs!) Until that happy day, I insist upon my right to have and to hold my own opinions, and to act upon my own judgment … —L. L. D., St. George, UT.

To the Branches of the Relief Society

Should Members of the Relief Society go the Bishop for counsel?

The Relief Society is designed to be a self-governing organization: to relieve the Bishops as well as to relieve the poor, to deal with its members, correct abuses, etc. If difficulties arise between members of a branch which they cannot settle between the members themselves, aided by the teachers, instead of troubling the Bishop, the matter should be referred to their president and her counselors. If the branch board cannot decide satisfactorily, an appeal to the stake board is next in order; if that fails to settle the question, the next step brings it before the general board, from which the only resort is to the Priesthood; but, if possible, we should relieve the Bishops instead of adding to their multitudinous labors … Is it necessary for sisters to be set apart to officiate in the sacred ordinances of washing, anointing, and laying on of hands in administering to the sick? It certainly is not. Any and all sisters who honor their holy endowments, not only have right, but should feel it a duty, whenever called upon to administer to our sisters in these ordinances, which God has graciously committed to His daughters as well as to His sons; and we testify that when administered and received in faith and humility they are accompanied with almighty power.

Inasmuch as God our Father has revealed these sacred ordinances and committed them to His Saints, it is not only our privilege but our imperative duty to apply them for the relief of human suffer[86]ing. We think we may safely say thousands can testify that God has sanctioned the administration of these ordinances by our sisters with the manifestation of His healing influence. —ELIZA R. SNOW, Vol. 13 (15 Sept. 1884) 

II. Exponent II

Exponent II, the “spiritual descendent of the Woman’s Exponent,” is an independent quarterly Mormon women’s magazine founded in July 1974. Distinctly female-identified, Exponent II has preserved the tradition of the earlier Exponent by publishing a wide spectrum of Mormon women’s concerns in their original voice and style. The publication has chronicled a continuing Mormon feminist trend: while presenting a large array of cultural feminist views, as did its predecessor, it also contains examples of liberal, and radical feminism.

Exponent II Is Born

Exponent IIOne hundred and two years ago a group of Mormon women began publication of a forthright newspaper called the Woman’s Exponent … The discovery of this newspaper has meant a lot to women today. Our foremothers had spirit and independence, a liveliness their daughters can be proud of…

The Mormon women of the Greater Boston area have been thinking and talking about Mormon women’s issues for five years now. Our network of sisterhood grows constantly … and we hope to catch more of our sisters in this net of common experience and understanding.

To that purpose we begin publication of Exponent II, a modest but sincere newspaper, which we hope will bring Mormon women into closer friendship. Faithful, but frank, Exponent II will provide an open platform for the exchange of news and life views…

Exponent II, posed on the dual platforms of Mormonism and Feminism, has two aims: to strengthen the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to encourage and develop the talents of Mormon women. That these aims are consistent we intend to show by our pages and our lives. —CLAUDIA L. BUSHMAN, Vol. 1 (July 1974), No. 1


[88] x Women’s problems in the church are serious and need to be addressed as such, recognizing that these problems cannot be discussed without heated controversy because they strike at the basic concept of patriarchal order. As a new publication in the field, you will soon have to decide whether you are going to meet these issues head-on or carefully sidestep themx

So that there is no question, I am talking about issues like abortion, birth control, homosexuality, divorce, working mothers, child care, women’s voice in the decision making process of the church, dress standards, women’s education, Relief Society, and yes such practical matters as balancing the household budget and counseling for women. My point is, to be a true heir to the Women’s Exponent, you must act as a forum for these problems and you must approach the task professionally x I wish you only the best. —JERRIE W. HURD, Colorado, Vol. 1 (Dec. 1974), No. 3

Dear “Mormon Sisters, Inc.,”

When I first started looking at the Mormon past years ago, I found that the original Woman’s Exponent gave me a better picture of what the nineteenth century LDS woman’s world was really like than all those works which promised to “tell it all” put together. Nowadays I find Exponent II a much better window into that world than all the Deseret Press, Bookcraft, and Church literature put together. Bravo to you all for your efforts. —JAN SHIPPS, Indiana, Vol. 2 (Sept. 1975), No. 1

Closet Feminists

Many LDS women today are closet feminists. They feel a certain affinity toward the women’s movement, yet they are reticent about admitting it. Part of the problem is semantic. Terms like “feminism” [89] and the more derogatory “women’s liberation” are unpopular in Mormon circles generally. We might make the term “feminism” more palatable by defining it as a conviction that women should be allowed the freedom to develop themselves culturally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually, hindered only by their own motivation—not by extrinsic barriers such as culturally, not divinely, derived sex roles … We are autonomous individuals with infinite potential, and the Lord expects us to use our abilities wisely. That we see ourselves as significant members of the human family is not only the essence of the Gospel, but also of feminism as I see it…

In speaking of the characteristics of the “new woman” emerging in the late nineteenth century, a sister from Provo stated: “ … the distinguishing characteristic of the new woman is her intense longing for the same freedom of action that her brothers have” (Clara Nuttal, Young Women’s Journal, 3 February 1897). How very relevant this nineteenth century statement is in the light of today’s women’s movement … I am a feminist in my desire to enjoy the freedom our Father in Heaven intended for each of His children, regardless of sex. —LORIE WINDER, Utah, Vol. 2 (June 1976), No. 4

The Next Ten Years

Exponent has always encouraged an open forum. We have always insisted on the personal voice: “Get rid of the second and third person—and even the first person plural if it’s coupled with ‘should,’” we would often write to contributors. “We want to hear from you.” The ever-popular “Sisters Speak” column, which has never required a polished essay, has allowed many women to respond to a stated question in a more informal way. The high quality of the personal essay has continued to be Exponent’s greatest strength … We also wanted to provide a place for both the career woman and the at-home woman. That balance has been the single most difficult problem we have had to deal with. We are continuously accused of favoring either career women or at-home mothers when all we have really wanted was to get both groups together to [90] talk and see each other’s lifestyle.

Another commitment we had from the very beginning was to feminism; however, it has been a very Mormon, conservative brand of feminism that caused some women to accuse it of being “milk toast,” while others called it “an instrument of the devil.” Most non-Mormons think the idea of a Mormon feminist newspaper is a contradiction in terms, but they are usually delighted and/or impressed when they read it. Every issue during the five and a half years that I was editor had at least one article that dealt with something related to feminism. I believe that our gentle approach did appeal to more women and therefore exposed them to ideas they would never have considered without the newspaper. —NANCY T. DREDGE, Editor, 1976-81, Vol. 10 (Fall 1983), No. 2

Sisters Speak

Don’t let others push you out of the Church. It’s our church, too. Somehow, we allow those who define the Church narrowly to make us think that if we don’t fit in, we have to go somewhere else. I need you to stay in the Church. I need you to be there to teach and to lead because we can always remind those other people that the Lord created diversity, and that there should be a diversity in His Church. I think He would love that. There is a vast spectrum of acceptable behavior and acceptable thinking within the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church as an organization, and somehow we can help the two to stumble along together. —MARY PAXMAN MCGEE, Virginia, Vol. 10 (Fall 1983), No. 1

Sisters Speak

Several years ago at a stake conference, a visiting authority gave an excellent talk but ended with these words: “Women, be good to your husbands because in the end they are the ones who save you.” I was blown apart! What about [91] unmarried women? What about Christ? … [I] turned on my heel to compliment the gentleman on his fine talk and to question him about his closing remarks. Never before Exponent would I have had the courage to question. I would have silently felt betrayed. Now I speak up, perhaps put new wrinkles on brains, and sometimes even get satisfying results.

Exactly one year ago I voted “no” in sacrament meeting. It came as a surprise to me; it was not premeditated. If I had thought for one more moment, I would have abstained. Afterwards I felt terribly conspicuous as though I had just committed the original sin of Mesa. No one here votes “No” … After my negative vote, I had a long discussion with my bishop. He listened to my ideas, and I listened to his. He told me how much he respected me, and he changed. —SUZANN UPSTILL WERNER, Arizona, Vol. 10 (Winter 1984), no. 2

Opening Remarks

I am usually introduced as “Esther Petersen; she has been in labor for fifteen years.” I always say that I’m not sure I brought forth the right things, but as far as my children go, they were right … As I look back … I wonder about the little frictions that I’ve had with the Church. I think that part of this friction occurred because of the way that I was raised.

I was encouraged at BYU to use my brain, and I asked questions. For everything that can be quoted to me about being conformist, I can quote you something pointing the other way. These Sunday School principles have guided me all my life and given me the courage to stand up and be different: “Do what is right, let the consequence follow”…

I’ll never forget once when I was teaching at Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers. The students were working women from all over the world—the world in microcosm … When the girls from Great Britain found out we were going to be visiting Mrs. Roosevelt, they thought it was like going to meet the Queen … I worked with her again to organize the President’s Commission on the Status of Women…

When I was at BYU … our thinking was so broad and so big; our faith could encompass these things. Now you hear, “Don’t read [92] it; don’t think about it. Accept what we tell you.” That I can’t stand—the narrowing. It’s the broadness that we need, and I think our religion is—my interpretation is—that it is broad and big. I have lived my religion, honestly. —ESTHER PETERSEN

“Our Mother’s Love”

At times when my mother has extended love to me that I needed and was thankful for, I couldn’t return it. Something in me hunkered down inside … I was incapable of voicing or extending love. Incapable of receiving love … I sometimes think that we behave toward our Heavenly Mother much as I have behaved towards my earthly mother. I’m sure that She extends Her love to us and that we accept and are blessed by it. But when it comes to knowing Her or acknowledging and accepting who She is and how She feels for us, we hunker down inside ourselves and turn away…

We justify our lack of interest in our Eternal Mother with such excuses as, “Oh, that just hasn’t been revealed.” But the doctrine has been revealed. It was revealed to Joseph Smith over a hundred years ago. We have received the doctrine. Isn’t it our responsibility to seek a confirming witness of this revelation, to strive for a testimony of our own?

And another excuse: “Heavenly Father must not want us to know about that right now. If He did, He’d reveal it to the prophet.” Can we honestly think that Heavenly Father would not want us to know about this eternal companion and the role She has played in our existence? … God would reveal it to the prophet, if we were worthy and prepared to accept that revelation … I think that we can trust in the goodness of God. He is not sexist or demeaning.

I think that we could take a step towards better understanding our heavenly Mother by praying to recognize her attributes in the godly women in our lives. I have identified the quality of love that our Heavenly Mother feels for us in the quality of love my mother has offered me … praying, fasting, seeking to know more—we can, if we will, come to accept Her identity as well as Her love. —SUSAN HOWE, Vol. 10 (Summer 1984), No. 3


[93] … [My grandmother] had begun when I was no more than twelve to warn me about certain rights and privileges men might well seek to deprive me of. There is a very old conspiracy, she told me, against women of talent, and it owes its major power to the fact that women are kept ignorant of its existence … I had begun, by then, to carry notebooks and sharp pencils and sometimes even finished poems in my pockets. “You will write in your spare time,” she said, “which you will have to steal. If you have any success with it, anything untoward in the characters or fortunes of your children will be the fault of your negligence while pursuing your evil ‘other interests.’ And if your husband should not advance in the Priesthood or in his career, it will be your fault for not being a proper encouraging helpmate.” —VIRGINIA SORENSEN

“Conversations with Senior Women”

… I would have missed some great opportunities for development if I had been trained to think that everything I did had to be planned and supervised by a man. I love and honor the priesthood, but I believe I have some power, too. I have blessed my children when they were small. I had to do much that related to family welfare which couldn’t have been done if I had had to wait for a man to do it. —VIRGINIA CUTLER, letter, Dec. 1976

“The Priesthood”

The Priesthood was often mentioned while I was cooking at our stake girls’ camp last August. “The Priesthood” visited the camp most evenings. One morning “the Priesthood” even stayed for breakfast … I think somebody is mixed up, maybe a lot of somebodies … The men aren’t the Priesthood; they do hold the Priesthood, which allows them to perform specific ordinances and give blessings that are recognized by the Lord. If we use the term “Priesthood” only to refer specifically to the power of God and its use on the earth, we won’t confuse polishing a boy’s shoes with honoring the Priesthood of God. —CARREL SHELDON, 2 Sept. 1976

Sisters Speak

[94] While I have always enjoyed my friendships with women, the women’s movement has changed my attitudes about women. Now I not only enjoy the warm companionship, but I also genuinely respect the opinions and have a much greater sense of the overall worth of women. I feel that I am with wise and knowing people when discussing any topic with them. —JUDY R. DUSHKU, Massachusetts, Fall 1979

If the Prophet asked me to spend a half hour with him discussing women’s issues, I would want to tell him how much I sense that some of the women around me are groping for direction and definition and dialogue from the confusion that is going on around us—in and out of the Church—with the uprooting of accepted past mores. I experience this even more among the younger women who teach with me in Primary and from my daughters and their friends when they are home from college. It isn’t that these women necessarily agree or disagree with what either the Church or the world is saying about women’s issues, but rather that they express an urgency to be part of the discussion. They want to express the feelings that come from their reading, thinking, praying, listening, and from the promptings of their own souls. They feel there is no real forum at this time for them to express their ideas and concern. —SHIRLEY GEE, Washington, Winter 1981

On Appendages

It happened again today. In giving the announcements in sacrament meeting, the first counselor in our ward bishopric invited the “young women” and the “Aaronic Priesthood” to meet with the bishop after the meeting. I suppose it is hopeless to protest. Now that the Mutual Improvement Association (I liked the word Mutual) has become the AP/YW, it seems inevitable that priesthood will become as much a synonym for boys as for men…

Unfortunately, in the process of teaching our young men [95] that they bear an awesome responsibility, we sometimes convey unfortunate attitudes toward women. I was both amused and dismayed one Sunday when, as I went into the chapel, I almost literally ran into one of my Seminary students as he was coming down an aisle with too many sacrament trays balanced in his hands. Instinctively I reached out to help him. He flinched. It was a pure reflex, nothing personal intended, but I instantly knew that I was no longer Sister Ulrich but an unclean woman steadying the ark.

Part of the problem is our vocabulary. Because we use the word priesthood to refer to both the vehicle and the power, we get into some curious situations, almost like mistaking a utility pole for electricity or a sacrament cup for water. In October conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley began his sermon by referring to the “great meetings” held on consecutive Saturday evenings by the “priesthood” and by “the women of the Church” … Do we assume that because male members over twelve “hold” the power to act in the name of God that their contributions to the kingdom are somehow more central than those of women? I am sure President Hinckley did not mean to suggest that, but the inference can easily be drawn.

In Doctrine & Covenants 84, Joseph Smith taught that the priesthood “continueth in the church of God in all generation, and is without beginning of days or end of years.” It “administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom.” Through it the “power of godliness” is manifested “unto men in the flesh.”

I don’t understand all that those words imply, but it seems perfectly obvious to me that the priesthood in this sense is quite distinct from any group of persons, male or female. In fact, in Section 84 and again in Section 107 the prophet seemed to teach that the priesthood was distinct from any office in it. “And again, the offices of elder and bishop are necessary appendages belonging unto the high priesthood. And again, the offices of teacher and deacon are necessary appendages belonging to the lesser priesthood.” (84:29-30; also see 107:5).

Reading that scripture again this week, I was struck by the word appendages. My dictionary says that an appendage is “an adjunct to something larger or more important.” Though some people like to treat the activities of women in Relief Society, [96] Primary, or Young Women as somehow lesser than the activities of elders or bishops, I can see no difference between an appendage and an auxiliary.

Maybe it is time we tried to distinguish between the larger power to do God’s work and the particular assignments each of us has in the Church. As we begin to do so, we may discover how little difference there really is between men and women. The minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society certainly dispel any notion that Joseph Smith reserved the term priesthood for male members, On March 30, 1842, he told the women gathered at the Lodge Room in Nauvoo that their new society “should move according to the ancient Priesthood” and said that “he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day.”…

Last fall I met a high school friend that I hadn’t seen for twenty-five years. She has never seen a copy of Exponent II. She does not read Dialogue or Sunstone, but she does go to the temple faithfully, and she has worked hard to support her family and raise her children in the Church since her husband’s tragic death. She told me that when she heard President Hinckley’s talk at General Conference she turned off the television, gathered her teen-aged children around her and said, “I don’t want you to ever think that the priesthood is synonymous with the men of the Church.”

May her tribe increase. —LAUREL THATCHER ULRICH, New Hampshire, Vol. 11 (Winter 1985), No. 2

Sisters Help

… The Doctrine and Covenants instructs parents to bring their child to the elders of the Church for a name and a blessing. We wanted to do just that. We stated that while it is our hope and prayer that the day will soon come when a child’s mother might be among those elders, we understand that right now a mother, as a non-priesthood holder, would not be participating in the blessing, just holding the baby. We received a typical reply: long silence. As the gestation raced toward its conclusion, we called for an answer and finally received one that the stake had received from Salt Lake … The answer was still no.

[97] Quickly we wrote to said authority, begging for an explanation of the discrimination against women because male non-priesthood holders can hold their babies and female non-priesthood holders cannot. Response came from the area presidency through our stake president: We were granted permission…

We followed Doctrine and Covenants 20 as literally as we could. Mom held the baby, seated. The elders circled mother and child, laying hands on the baby for the blessings…

Many women came up to us afterward to comment. Their reactions ranged from timid surprise (“I always felt I should be there; I just never thought to ask”) to joyful exuberance (“I felt like having another baby just so I can participate in the blessing, too!”). No negative comments were made to our faces.

Oh, yes. The name our trend-setting daughter received? Huldah. —DAVID AND LYNN BORUCHOWITZ, New York, Vol. 12 (Fall 1985), No. 1

Sisters Help and Sisters Speak

… The best thing that has happened within myself is my changing attitude toward authority. Authority and power are things that I now bestow on others. Realizing this has been empowering for me. In the past, I went from one authority figure (usually a white, male, Church leader) to another trying to get someone to give me permission to use birth control or trying to find someone who agreed with my position on some other issue … Obedience isn’t going to be as good a preparation as using my own judgment, making some mistakes as well as some wonderful decisions, learning from both my mistakes and successes, and taking responsibility for my own actions … Church leaders are now much less authority figures to me. —ANNE CASTLETON, Rhode Island, Vol. 13 (Summer 1987), No. 4

Readers’ Responses

[98] I want to confess that I really hate being a wife and mother sometimes. Does anybody else feel that way? (I know you do; I just had to say it.) It seems to me like those women out there who aren’t mothers but who want to be could help us poor harried moms whose lives don’t have ten uninterrupted minutes, one single private half hour, in them. Why don’t we help each other more? Why don’t we give each other a break? This is my scream in the dark. I’m tired and ornery, and I wish that I could afford a maid and some child care this summer. Thanks for being a place I can say so. —JULIE J. NICHOLS, Utah, Vol. 13 (Summer 1987), No. 4

Finding a Piece of the Pattern

… I have attempted to assemble the pieces of my knowledge of the gospel into a form that would enable me to accomplish my Heavenly Father’s design. Some of the teachings I have tried to understand have felt as uncomfortable as the bodice of the fashions that I was told should fit me just like they did all the other girls. Similarly, I tried to “wear” some Church teachings that apparently “fit” others quite easily. I pulled and stretched, trying to position them so that they would hang comfortably on my form. But despite my efforts to nod in understanding of standard explanations, the words did not offer a good fit—they weren’t yet right for me…

I need an extra two inches attached to the bodice of that dress! And I’ve needed it since I was ten years old. Two inches of extra fabric—length allowing me to stretch and bend—two inches of What if … How about … Could we consider … Might there be more … I need two inches of room to be me. With that two inches, I can then wear the dress. —MARY KAY GROH, Indiana, Vol. 14 (1989), No. 4

Abortion: Learning to Speak from Experience

Many people with the strongest opinions about abortion have had no personal experience with a decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy. They explain that their beliefs are motivated by Mormon theology, but each has a different understanding of this [99] theology that directs them. I am struck by the diversity of religious logic that shapes attitudes about abortion … If I can generalize at all, it would be to say that those who have had direct involvement in this decision usually feel less strongly that there is a correct position and more strongly that the issue is far more complicated than one position can possibly accommodate. They tend to fall more often on the side of choice for reproductive freedom because they resent simple formulae being applied to all circumstances and people.

While my sampling is small and informal, and while I remain startled by the divergence of opinion within our LDS fold, I am starting to see and understand strong currents within our thinking. Regardless of what is printed in bishops’ handbooks, regardless of what is stated as the Church’s official position, and regardless of what individual Church leaders have added by way of interpretations and advice, we are a people of diverse experiences and, therefore, diverse conclusions. While some are greatly influenced by loose doctrinal arguments, much of what our people believe has less to do with theology and more to do with their own experiences with birth-related events. —JUDY DUSHKU, Massachusetts, Vol. 15, No. 4

… There is a real irony in being a Mormon and considering abortion. Yes, we believe that life is sacred; yes, the official Church position is against abortion. But according to our doctrine, abortion does not kill the spirit; what it does mean is that spirit is forced to go elsewhere. And so with prayerful heart, as a family we made a decision that the best interest of this particular spirit was to deny it birth to these parents at this time. —NAME WITHHELD

… After five children, I decided that I had had my last. When I became pregnant for the sixth time, I felt that it was too late for me, and I became very depressed. I couldn’t stand the thought of being a mother again … Various concerned people tried desperately to convince me not to have an abortion…

Although a few of my friends listened helpfully, the entire decision-making process was, for the most part, a horrible ordeal. [100] The abortion itself was nothing, and I’ve never felt bad about having it. What I do feel bad about is that at a time when I would have appreciated nurturing and support from spiritual leaders and friends, I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection. —NAME WITHHELD

… I was thirty-four years old. It was my twelfth pregnancy. I had eight living children. The last four pregnancies had been very difficult. In order to carry my eighth child, I had had to stay in bed for the better part of seven months … After the birth of that baby, I begged for a tubal ligation. My doctor refused…

When I realized that I was pregnant, I was desperate … I just could not face another pregnancy and one more child to take care of. I was not doing that well taking care of the children I already had … My choice had to be kept secret from my husband and from my friends who were all, at that time, members of the Church. No one even knew I was pregnant. My only fear as I went in to have the abortion was that someone would find out and stop me before I could have it done…

I have never felt compelled to confess the matter to any Church authority. I did what I had to do to survive. The pregnancy should never have occurred; I wish that it had not. But, I do not feel guilty, and I have no regrets. —NAME WITHHELD

Reader’s Response

I am entering my fifth year as Relief Society president in a large ward. I often feel like I have one foot in a rushing river of changes in women’s lives and one foot on the immovable bank of Church traditions…

I believe I am hearing a growing skepticism in Relief Society. I hear some older women complain that they don’t fit in or that they feel displaced or disoriented or that they just feel a certain emptiness in one place in their hearts. The feminist movement has challenged the basis they built their lives upon … Reactions by older women range from anger—usually at young women who are trying to mesh [101] feminism with Church ideals—to uneasiness that their chosen lifestyle of the last thirty years is being questioned—to a kind of quiet sense of betrayal that they were not better prepared for the empty nest or that somehow Church teachings denied them some choices for personal growth. I see older women as having a tougher time with the feminist upheaval than the younger ones, who seem to have more choices available to them and who seem to be finding ways to interweave feminist ideas and Church teachings.

The uncertainty that I hear in Relief Society as women feel the foundation shifting beneath them cannot help but extend to uncertainty in women’s relationships with local Church authorities. More women are less likely to trust Church authorities because women everywhere are doubting that men know what is best for them. The less-trusting attitude that some women have may also be part of a general lack of respect toward traditional authority in society: People don’t give doctors, lawyers, teachers, and clergymen their full trust as they did formerly; the traditional Mormon relationship to authority may be a natural extension of this general distrust. This disorientation or distrust may cause women to withhold their full allegiance to priesthood authority for a time until the dust settles. —PAMELA BOOKSTABER, New Jersey, Vol. 16 (1991), No. 1

Letters to the Editor

… When she was five years old, my daughter leaned over to me as the sacrament was being passed in our Provo ward and said, “Girls get to pass the sacrament, too, right?” It was a question that I knew would come, but it came much sooner than I had thought it would. I responded, “No, they don’t.”

“Why?” she whispered.

“Because,” I replied, inadequately (but, remember, I was having to make this up as I went along), “they don’t have the priesthood.”

“So?” she asked, and I felt that somewhere, trumpets were sounding for this daughter who was then and still is willing to question the apparently arbitrary and capricious. —LISA BOLIN HAWKINS, Utah, Vol. 16 (1991), No. 1

Adoption vs. Abortion

[102] Adoption is not a solution to abortion. Enduring a pregnancy, a birth, the joy, and then leaving a hospital alone is not a solution. Adoption is not “right” as opposed to abortion being “wrong.” Both are tragedies and horribly unfair, but I must say that I think I would have suffered less had I had an abortion … Secrecy overshadowed my personal needs, my need to be with people who knew and loved me. My needs were not mentioned, just the needs of my baby … And this need for secrecy continues to stop me from sharing what happened to me, from talking with others who have gone through the same thing. Silence also keeps me from preventing others from repeating my story…

I was not supposed to go through this tragedy so that some family could have my baby … How I wish it all hadn’t happened. How can I explain that I love her but would have rather aborted my pregnancy? How can I explain that I really don’t think she was supposed to, or had to, come through me? —NAME WITHHELD, Vol. 16, No. 1

Reader’s Response

My husband is a Utah State Representative and, as such, had the unpleasant responsibility of voting on the issues of abortion. Many times we tried to sort through the issue together…

In the end, I felt he at least understood something about my position … When the debate on the House floor began, he argued that a father is not required by law to donate needed body organs to a disabled child after birth. Why, then, do we require a pregnant mother to provide all of her body for nine months to sustain a life? He proceeded to help strike down the first tier of the abortion bill, the most restrictive part, and then voted in favor of the bill that was passed…

I continue to believe that abortion should not be illegal in the first trimester, that it should be a personal decision on the part of the woman. I believe that an abortion does not kill a spirit. Spirits are eternal … However, some pregnancies have the potential of [103] killing an already existing woman, either physically or mentally. I stand by the right of a woman to decide which course to take. —TERRY ANN HARWARD, Utah, Vol. 16, No. 2

“The Mormon Female Experience”

Mormon women suffered a considerable loss of power when the autonomous Relief Society was absorbed into the general church structure … I recently talked about women’s issues with a female bureaucrat of the Methodist church, which now boasts several female bishops and many female ministers … She traced their current female power to the refusal of the women’s missionary society to be absorbed into the male-run bureaucracy. Instead, the women had bargained for so many seats in the hierarchy. They traded their autonomous organization for a percentage of the main church’s power structure. The change in [our] Relief Society was a retreat in every way. In retrospect, I have often wondered if Mormon women gave in too easily…

Perhaps the Relief Society could revert to an older model and create a resurgence of women’s spiritual powers … The Relief Society could deal with the mother-in-heaven issue. The nature and existence of mother-in-heaven remains a major issue for many. She could be recognized as the head of the Relief Society … Mother-in-heaven fills an important niche because women in the Church still suffer from an absence of role models. They have their mothers, but the generations are always out of synch. They have the leaders of the women’s organizations who are certainly admirable figures, but … This group, like our mother-in-heaven, is almost completely hidden from us. While we may know them individually, they have no public face other than to be gracious, well-behaved, and silent. Why not have a general conference sometime when we hear only from the wives?…

Will women be given the priesthood? For every woman who passionately claims it as her due and as the ultimate will of the deity, there is another who says she doesn’t want it and wouldn’t take it. I hear new moderate voices saying that they look forward to having it, and that this will be part of the progress of the church [104] … I did have a distinct feeling recently that women would one day receive it … Someday the female priesthood will seem as commonplace as priesthood for black men does today … The future of women in the church will gradually open itself to us. From my perspective, I think that we will have some positive and pleasant developments. —CLAUDIA BUSHMAN, Vol. 16 (1991), No. 3

III. The Alice Louise Reynolds/Algie Ballif Forum

In September 1977 a group of LDS women gathered in Provo, Utah, to support chairwoman Jan Tyler in the aftermath of the International Women’s Year (IWY) Utah state convention, where thousands of Mormon women had flocked to defeat all proposals. Tyler and other Mormon women who had planned the convention “were left dazed, feeling betrayed, ashamed at the action of their sisters, and offended at the level of hysteria in the meeting.” These Utah Valley women met regularly from January 1978 as the Alice Louise Reynolds Women’s Forum to discuss liberal and cultural feminist issues. They met in the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University but were “banished” in 1979 due to “subject matter … of the National Organization of Women and various other ERA ideas.” In January 1984 they renamed themselves the Algie Ballif Forum, and still meet in the Provo City municipal building.

Who Is My Sister?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of Wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of Hope, it was the winter of Despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …” Either we are for men, or we are against men, we are for families and building them, or against families and are destroying them, we know our places (as women) and stay there, or we don’t know our place and move about, and the lists of comparisons go on … when in fact, any position on a continuum is a part of the whole…

[105] To suppose that we can divide and separate, isolate ourselves from others and not do damage to ourselves is to be ignorant of how tightly bound together we are … We can only destroy or diminish a thing or a person outside ourselves after we have destroyed the essence of that thing or person which is within us. With that perspective … WHO IS MY SISTER? Every woman who has preceded me, all with whom I presently co-exist, and those who are yet to come … I’ve identified a few patterns of female behavior which are self-defeating and destructive for all…

[W]hen I used to go “crabbing” in Washington, I noticed that if a crab would climb … and pose ready to go over the top of the crab pot, numerous claws from other crabs would begin waving and clawing and grasping, finally succeeding in the task of pulling back down the audacious would-be escapee … it reminded me of some women. If they see another woman strive in ways they don’t approve … they will do everything they can to pull her back … into a place often designed and imposed by men…

Women have often functioned as Cheer-leaders; no matter how poor the team (usually men) we are enthusiastically bouncing around on the sidelines telling them how wonderful they are, and we do all within our power to convince ourselves and the crowd of this illusion. No matter how … negative the impact upon women (and families and children) the Cheer-leaders continue their “rah, rah, rahs” … The crucial game of life, unlike sports, requires the full participation of both women and men…

Many women are comfortable by accepting sterotypic roles such as “wife” and “mother,” and in their state of dependence they are disinclined to work for the welfare of women … As long as she is comfortable and accrues all of the benefits she wants, this type of woman will maintain the status quo … She will ridicule and ostracize her sister who is willing to take the risks, to enter the struggles … she walks off with the benefits without understanding the prices that have been paid…

[M]asses of women sell their labor, service, mind, talents, abilities, souls, dreams, all … for the paltry price of approval, attention, and pseudo-admiration … they are highly indoctrinated to believe that admiration is of more worth than integrity and self-respect. I’ve seen women go through unbelievable flip-flops, [106] giving up activities and beliefs dear to them, all for approval … a conditional acceptance which may be withdrawn at the slightest provocation.

The parrot-like woman has so little self-confidence and so little respect that … she becomes the conduit for other authorities (again, usually men) and their espoused wisdom which has very little to do with her or with women in general. She is afraid to think and reason things out in her own mind … [or] come up with a different conclusion than that of the authorities. The puppet-like woman acts as a responder to cues received outside of herself. These women are programmed, manipulated and controlled by forces beyond their own will. A woman who denies the validity of her own experience commits a form of suicide, self-abandonment…

A “token” woman is given a title that has no parallel in the organization and that serves as a euphemism … she is to be a change agent for women but in fact she is the gate-keeper for the men. It does not matter how bright she is, how credentialed she is, how capable she is, her identifications and efforts always end up with the men, against the women she is there to help, and if that does not happen she is very quickly done away with … History teaches us well what becomes of insightful, aware women … they are labeled witches or become scapegoats…

Because the structure of societies and systems are androcentric, the world is full of camps of woman-identified women; however the largest predominance of women are male-identified … self-identified women know the personal meaning of “I AM that I AM” … these are the hope of any society … a wealth of gifts as an inheritance to future generations flows from them…

In discussing these behaviors there is one virtue I wish to encourage: Patience. Patience with those who believe there is only one way; those who need scapegoats; those just becoming aware of the problems; those who believe it all has begun with them; those who only see their anger; those who don’t recognize anger is rooted in pain; those who cannot deal with the anger and other emotions because they have not yet confronted their own anger and emotions; those who are ignorant, who easily become fearful; those who never become adults; those who do not see the problems…

In the eternities, women do not report to men. Both, like our [107] Heavenly Parents, create a Unity and Harmony … Ultimately, there can be no Sisterhood without the Motherhood of a Goddess. —JAN TYLER, Forum Speech, May 1979

Dear President Kimball:
We speak for a sizeable minority of LDS women whose pain is so acute that they must try to be heard. Does the First Presidency really know of our plight? … Suddenly many devoted Mormon women are being treated like apostates … We desperately need to know whether, after serious consideration, soul-searching, and prayer, you … find us unworthy, a minority open to attack, and ultimately expendable … If not, can the word get out that Mormon feminists are not to be subjected to intimidation, rejection for Church assignments, loss of employment, and psychological excommunication. Every difference of opinion or sincere question should not be answered with a threatening indictment of one’s testimony. We are women who love the Lord, the gospel, and the Church; we have served, tithed, and raised righteous children in Zion. We plead for the opportunity to continue to do so in an atmosphere of respect and justice. For decades we have been part of the solution, whatever the need has been; we are saddened to be now considered part of the problem … —Letter, 1979, in Dialogue, Fall 1990, 50

Transcript of a Forum Discussion, Sept. 1980

[I]n the fifty years that I’ve lived in Provo, I have never enjoyed anything as much as the Alice Louise Reynolds Forum. Algie and Thelma were my neighbors for many years, and they invited me to hear Sonia Johnson when she came the first time. And I went with some misgiving, because I felt that perhaps I was on the wrong side of this thing. Still, I really felt surprised and frustrated by the church’s stand. As I told my husband when I got home, I saw all the women there whom I have admired for their intellect for all these years at this meeting, now meet to question and to find answers and to at least be unafraid to examine the problem. This meant a lot to me … —BELLE VAN WAGENEN

I’m proud to be Algie’s sister … as a [108] family we were always ready to ask questions of our parents, and they answered us … I took classes at the University of Chicago … as we studied many of the varieties of religious experience … I just couldn’t leave it alone. Those things helped me to appreciate the type of searching that we are into now … I do feel for the many women who have been oppressed, and whose lives, I think, have been fearful because of priestcraft, they have felt they couldn’t do anything unless their husband said “that’s okay.” Instead of being unafraid to use their own minds and their own free agency. —THELMA EGGERTSON WEIGHT

… what has happened to the church where I was educated? … In the last decade or so, I’ve been told … that a liberal Democrat cannot really be a good Latter-day Saint; and that the ERA is a moral issue, and as such, should be soundly defeated … liberal [means] “generous … tolerant, broad-minded … democratic or republican” … I am still proud to call myself a liberal … is the Utah Association of Women, which largely represents the women of the church, now trying to turn back the clock to the Dark Ages which preceded the humanist tradition? I’m a humanist … interested in people of all kinds …

My great-grandmother was one of the distinguished Utah women who worked for women’s suffrage … the Utah Constitutional convention in 1896 [passed] one of the most liberal equal rights planks in the whole United States. Even the proposed ERA cannot match it, since it provides that “men and women shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights.” … why can’t a group like ours have an open discussion on planned parenthood, rape, or even the ERA, without fearing reprisals and ostracism, not to mention excommunication? In spite of my roots in Mormonism, if the church in which I was nurtured on liberal principles can no longer tolerate freedom of thought or expression, I have almost reached the place where I no longer care whether or not they choose to keep me on their rolls. —ANNA SMOOT TAYLOR

[I’m] a descendant of the Mormon pioneers … I came to the decision that I needed to have my name removed from the rolls of the church … I had written this letter “ … I can never divorce myself from Mormonism. I am an ethnic Mormon. But after much soul searching, I find that I must go ahead with my plans. This is the only honest thing for me to do. The strange and the [109] sinister things that are happening under the guise of church doctrine alarm me … More and more I find that there is no room at all for intellectual reasoning by members and especially by women in the church. It is unforgivable for a woman to question any decision … I am protesting against the growing feeling in the church preventing women from assuming more than a traditional role … my great-grandmother … said: “I will go through the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven side by side with Brigham Young or I will not go at all. I will not follow at his back.” (Harriet Cook Young) … I’m sure that she would understand me. —GENE WHITTAKER

[A]men to the things that have been said … I have come from a strong background of strong women, independent women, and yet they have always been true to the church, and I’ve always been very active. But I am concerned over the fact that by just belonging to this group, someone is getting our names … maybe some of the rest of you received this letter. It said Ex and ERA and you were to sign it if you wanted to be excommunicated or if you had been excommunicated. Now I am wondering what kind of computer system are we getting throughout the church that is going to pinpoint you and not give you your free agency to think and do the things that you want to do without being questioned … Why do they assume that just because you belong to an organization they can ask you if you wanted to be excommunicated and to sign your name? … —PHYLLIS VAN WAGENEN

I’ve been a teacher at Provo High School for 21 years now. I went to Washington to work for Congressman Wayne Owens, who was an old missionary friend of mine, and then worked for Congressman Gunn McKay for three years on Capitol Hill. I found a great deal of inequality between men and women in that last office I worked in … I lost my job with Mr. McKay, very suddenly. Then, I was fired from my Relief Society job because they called and wanted to know how I felt about the lessons, and I thought they truly wanted to know. The lesson was about working mothers—I was teaching the Social Relations class. I told them how I felt, and I was quickly relieved of my job. And the third thing, in opposition to Beverly Campbell’s coming to Utah (I had heard her on television say “The Church paid for my transportation to Utah.”) … I purposely did not pay my tithing … I had never ever spoken up [110] before. I had questioned just a little, but I don’t think I was really vocal. Nevertheless, those bad things happened to me because I expressed some questions or a little opposition … —WANDA SCOTT

… I, like some of you, feel no personal frustrations about a woman’s role. But I am concerned about some of the things that are happening. I’m a conservative and Anna is a liberal. But Anna and I feel very much the same about a great many things … I feel that we are really losing a great many wonderful things that women have by tradition in our church, and this is distressing to me. I would like to preserve and conserve those. —SHIRLEY PAXMAN

In 1954 … I was president of the Primary and president of the Mutual and then in the Relief Society presidency and the whole route. But when those years passed … I did join the League of Women Voters … I believe decisions are made at many board levels by men for women, and we have to abide by their rules … They say we believe in equality in the Mormon church, but we also, then, must have equal time for expression. And we will never be equals if they speak for us … I was very comfortable in speaking out for women to have a voice and to defend the position of the Equal Rights Amendment.

I found it challenging to meet with the state legislators, to talk about the different issues … It was a great surprise to me to find that Utah was dragging its heels, or dragging her heels, or really his heels … I still defended it [ERA] … This strong defense has put me into some very awkward positions in the church … my temple recommend was voided because of my ERA position … Going against the current church policy during the decade of the 70s has cost a terrific price in my health and on my community image. But I think in the long run, in the total picture, I will be considered one of many who made things happen. So for that, I am grateful. —LONETA MURPHY

When I came home from the 1977 IWY Conference, I was shattered—totally shattered … We had gone to a great deal of work to prepare some very fine material which was completely rejected … one of my sons said, “Well, Mom, you were ‘outpoliticked.'” … he was right. I and a lot of others were outpoliticked. I don’t like to admit that the church is in politics. Maybe it was inadvertently involved, or perhaps inexcusably ineptly involved in politics, but it was … an established fact.

[111] By now, 1980 … I’m at the point where I can say, “All right … let the church have its politics, and I’ll take mine outside … and try to do my thing in another sphere … I was appointed to the State Legislature a year and a half ago, and I am a candidate now. I’m having to find explanations for my indiscretions of the past because I did openly support ERA … things like that are being used against me … There were five women in the legislature last year out of 104. It was lonely. I think that what we need to do is get our women to thinking about the real issues and not chasing ourselves around in bitter circles over doctrinal things that we are not going to be able to solve here, but to get on with some real practical things … where we can have an effect. —LUCILLE TAYLOR

… I have not wanted to break the ties which were so deeply rooted in my background … Whatever has made me reluctant to break away has become insignificant in the conflict that has divided our church members in current times and made me feel open hostility, indignation, and frustration. The church’s attitude has removed all guilt feelings I ever had and has made me feel justified in my dissent.

One night in the spring of 1979, I was so disturbed with the course of events that I couldn’t sleep. I finally arose to write down the thoughts that literally poured out …

“Thomas Jefferson said, ‘I swear upon the altar of God, eternal hostility toward any form of tyranny over the mind of man.’ … I am offended by the arrogance of some men—often bishops and stake presidents—who … tell others what to think … judge or punish them for thinking … To belong to a church that would stifle my right to openly discuss issues is unthinkable … To pretend to believe in something that is at opposite poles from my reasoning, violates my sense of integrity and I cannot in good conscience belong to a church that expects this of me. I am definitely not in harmony with that kind of tyranny. Therefore, I declare my independence from it and ask that my name be stricken from the rolls.” As yet, I have not sent this letter. —FERN SMOOT TAYLOR

I feel that this is one of the most precious hours—it may be two hours—that I will spend in my 84th—nearly 85th year … I feel a diversity of ideas that I think is remarkable … I feel that many of the expressions here tonight indicate that sooner or later there will [112] be great changes for you and me in our church … I feel that we have to remember how different we all are. In each one of us, you know, there is a heritage that is different … you have suffered deeply because of some of the situations that have existed. And I have suffered. And … I still have miles to go before I sleep.

My faith and my religion have changed much over the years from the time I was here at the BYU in school … we did have great freedom of thought … Our father and mother opened up our home for Sunday discussions … We heard things, and we listened, and we asked questions. That has never left us.

I am still asking questions. I wish I knew what my concept of a Mother God is. I know there is one, an essence of compassion, a great overriding something that I have to have in my consciousness in order to be happy … in this beautiful diversity of opinion that we have had here tonight, we find the essence, I think, of great womanhood …

We do have opposition. It is a difficult opposition. It is an opposition that hurts, sometimes very deeply, because you know you are not understood by those that have probably known you all your life … how we need to support each other, to know that you and I and all of us are having struggles. And we don’t want to give up those struggles. They are very valuable. We have to have them … —ALGIE BALLIF

I’ve been working on a master’s degree in architecture here at the Y and up at the U … in a very real sense, I have inherited the benefits of everything that you people have been doing, because I’m in the process of just breaking away and going ahead and doing my thing without worrying about what this or that or the other person says …

[My mother] was a systems analyst with the airlines … she has given me a sense of the world being open to me … after all, if my mother can do it, I can do it … I visiting teach one woman who always listens avidly to every scrap of what I am doing and how my classes are going. She says, “Oh, that sounds so fun. But my husband would really like me to stay home.” … I happen to have a husband who is very supportive. He is the one that has led out in this whole business, which is kind of funny. I think half of the people who know us think he is henpecked and that the reason he supports ERA is that his wife is such an odd person, but he has really been the [113] moving force. —NANCY EVENSON

I have a concern that we talk about diversity and allowing people to deviate from norms, but we mean that only if they are within very narrow ranges … I have a concern that so many feel that they have the right to determine the femininity or definition of others. I am tired of doing ABC’s over and over for others. I’m tired of being told that I’m unfeminine if I wear pants …

How are the anti-suffrage arguments B. H. Roberts made similar to the anti-ERA arguments now being made? … How is the rationalization about why we don’t know anything about Mother in Heaven like the rationalizations about why the blacks didn’t have the priesthood? … What is the impact on both men and women of the priesthood’s being both the governing arm and a sex-linked characteristic in the church? … Why am I silent about the Utah Association of Women as a “study group”? … what was true of what Sonia said about the church? “Savage misogyny” is a weak term for some of what I have seen during my history here … When millions are spent on READER’S DIGEST ads, and money is spent to send Beverly Campbell to fight against the ERA, I wonder about my tithing … Why should Sonia be excommunicated because Jeff Willis is her bishop, and Teddie [Wood] isn’t because Chick Bradford is hers? Why should the pain depend on where you live? … wouldn’t it be better to spend that energy in living the gospel instead of trying so hard to stay with the church? … I went out into the hall at the [IWY] Salt Palace, having just been told by a woman with garment lines under her blouse that the state would be better if people like me left it. I was hurt, disillusioned, and heartsick. Gloria Perez, whom I assume is Catholic, ran toward me, threw her arms around me, and said, “Reba, I have not been able to do anything these last two days but to think how painful this must be for you.” By their fruits ye shall know them. —REBA KEELE

IV. Mormons for ERA

Mormons for ERA was formed in 1978 by Sonia Johnson, Hazel Rigby, Maida Withers, and Teddie Wood. MERA worked for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and “to expose the efforts of the Mormon [114]Church to defeat it.” These liberal, cultural, and radical Mormon feminists rode the crest of American feminism’s “second wave” and often found themselves alienated by the LDS church. Founder and president Sonia Johnson was excommunicated; others either left the church, became inactive, quieted their feminist voice, or persisted as Mormon feminists. Sonia Johnson’s experience was recounted in her autobiography, From Housewife to Heretic (New York: Doubleday, 1981).

[T]he Woman’s Exponent is full of rhetoric about women’s rights that today’s Mormon women would find shockingly radical … they are venerable women, our Mormon mothers—real saints. And coming from them, the ideas in my [Senate] testimony had the force of their known piety and of their honored position in the present-day church. After all, I … was not saying it. Emmeline B. Wells was. I wasn’t saying it, Lucinda Dalton was … How could anyone fault them? …

When I had nearly finished the writing of the testimony, I felt a great desire to end it well … I knelt by the couch in my library, shut my eyes, and said simply, “Dear parents, help me.” Hearing rustling, I opened my eyes, and there around the three sides of the room, with their heads about six inches from the ceiling, stood a throng of women in old-fashioned dress. Not like a photograph or a tableau, but moving slightly.

I knew at once who they were. They were the women whose words I had been reading all week with gratitude and love—my foremothers. They did not speak to me so that my ears heard their voice, but I heard their message clearly and ringingly in my mind: “Don’t be afraid. This work has to be done. It is hard, but it is our work too, and we are helping you all we can … we are with you …”

I felt surrounded and lifted up by loving arms. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before. I am not a visionary person or the least bit psychic … There must be a dozen ways to explain this phenomenon. My Mormon background encouraged me to think of these women in … brown dresses as real personages of the spirit …

[115] Whatever it is and however it happened, I learned later that I was not alone in having experienced it. A week after the Senate hearing, I told this story to Jan Tyler in Salt Lake and she said, “I’ve seen those women, too, Sonia. One day in 1974, during the heat of the Utah Legislature’s debate of the ERA … I gave a pro-ERA speech to the wives of Utah legislators at the Utah Historical Society …

“As I was speaking, I looked out and saw women in old-fashioned dresses standing all around the sides of the room. Like you, I knew who they were, and I also felt their love and encouragement. The legislators’ wives … afterwards … crowded around me … distressed about the church’s new anti-ERA posture. I turned to one woman … and said, ‘There were other women besides us present here today.’ She replied, ‘I know. I felt them.’”

… nearly a year and half later, two months after the excommunication, I told this story to some sympathetic Utahns at Marilee Latta’s home in Salt Lake City and as I was telling it, Marilee turned to Jan and said, “Isn’t it surprising how many of us have had that same experience!” —SONIA JOHNSON, from Housewife to Heretic, 125-28, composed ca. 1978

Mormons for Era Newsletter

Oct. 1980

Mother in Heaven

MOTHER IN HEAVEN LOVES MORMONS FOR ERA flew again this summer, this time around and around the Hill Cumorah on the last night of the pageant, while a valiant ERA contingent demonstrated until the whole performance was drowned in pouring rain. —Oct. 1980

Mormons for ERA NewsletterERA “Testimonies”

With two girls and two boys, I had four good reasons for supporting the ERA but, ironically, it was the First Presidency’s publication of an anti-ERA letter which caused me to start taking the ERA seriously. I read to try to understand their viewpoint; but as I read, I began to realize that behind the “Equality yes, ERA no” rhetoric was a sentiment which said, “Equality NO!” Still, I stayed out of ERA politics and kept my mouth shut. Then I found out that [117] people were using their ecclesiastical influence in an effort to kill the ERA. That was the last straw. I found the courage to express my feelings about the ERA.

I am now an outspoken supporter. I talk to the press and to women’s groups about Mormon involvement in the nation’s anti-ERA politics. I wish I had started doing it sooner … no church can campaign in the political arena, hiding behind the pulpit when criticism comes and claiming the criticism is religious persecution.

The principle of “equality of rights under the law” is a fair and correct principle … For more than two hundred years, women in America have been legally denied those rights … For my daughters and for my sons, I work for the day when ALL of us will enjoy the equal protection of the laws. The day will come. It’s a matter of simple justice. —— NADINE HANSEN, California

Era Uprising in Mormon Tabernacle

Time and again pro-ERA church members have petitioned the First Presidency of the Mormon Church to reconsider or discuss with them the Church’s anti-ERA policy. We have written letters, asked for interviews, invited members of the First Presidency to speak to groups and have met with little or no success. While ignoring the pro-ERA members’ requests, the leaders have continued to encourage the membership to energetically work against ratification of the ERA. We have seized our one opportunity to voice our conscience to the First Presidency, the occasion of the sustaining vote on church leaders, in order to demonstrate our deep indignation over the church’s anti-ERA policy. We wish to make it clearly understood that we, as active members of the church, support and sustain Spencer Kimball as church president and religious leader. We also emphatically state that we cannot, do not, and will not accept him as our unelected political leader …

We entered the Tabernacle and took our places in the balcony and waited forever for the meeting to begin. Time dragged and raced by all at the same time. We were about to do the unthinkable in the Mormon culture: look the patriarchy in

the eye and vote NO. As I [118] waited for the meeting to begin, I could feel my face alternately flush and drain with blood. My palms grew moist and my heart felt as though it would leap from my bosom … I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I did know that as we stood, we would represent not only ourselves and our convictions, but the convictions of thousands across the nation who oppose the Church’s anti-ERA policy … afterwards, I thought with satisfaction: At last, woman’s voice has been heard within the tabernacle.

Era Supporters Demonstrate at
Mormon Temple; 2 in Chains

Bellevue—Chanting, singing and waving banners, about 25 persons who support the equal-rights amendment began demonstrating at noon yesterday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ just-completed Seattle Temple in the Eastgate area. Two women chained themselves to the iron gates which had been locked to keep non-Mormons from the grounds … [and] said they would remain chained to the gates, unless they were physically removed by police, for at least 24 hours or until they were granted a hearing with Spencer W. Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Arthur Kay, temple president. Kimball will be here this week to dedicate the temple.

Letter to Teddie Wood

… The very belligerent tone of Sister Johnson’s remarks will do little to win the favor of the Brethren or the Lord. He who made them made them both Male and Female and there is a difference. The female has the greatest influence on the children of our Heavenly Father, because she prepares their earthly body and then nurtures them during the most formative period of their life. Therefore there is no power on earth as strong as mother love and mother influence.

In order to attempt to get the male somewhere near heaven the Heavenly Father gave him the Priesthood or directing authority for the Church and home. Without this bequeath the male would be so far below the female in power and influence that there would be little [119] or no purpose for his existence in fact would probably be eaten by the female as is the case with the black widow Spider.

Therefore the Lord has made plain by revelations both ancient and modern that the male rules over the female but always with love and great respect … —HARTMAN RECTOR, JR., Mission President, California San Diego Mission, August 29, 1978

Mormons on a Continuum: Where Do You Fit?

Individual beliefs can be described as ranging on a continuum of positive/negative feelings. Unfortunately the Church often creates a false polarization of any “moral issue” … Mormons for ERA range along the Continuum of ERA-ism from tentative questioning to the gray shades of confronting the Church’s policies about woman’s “place” … Where would YOU place yourself? Your relatives? Your friends? —Mar. 1981

Radical Right

Well Sonia, keep up your spirits. I know you are wondering how you are ever going to get off this little merry-go-round you are on and get your life in order … you have found your life is falling apart ever since you were excommunicated. We all know why. I am sure the light has gone from your eyes too. I am very concerned for your well-being. Contact the LDS Social Services before it gets too late. —Washington

The ERA strives to legalize abortion and homosexual marriages. The Church upholds and promotes the family; the ERA does not! … The Church is not involved in politics. This is a moral issue … It’s either got to be the Lord and his ways or ERA. I would hope that you can see the wrong that you have committed yourself to. —Illinois

I know that women need equal pay for equal work and the same job opportunities as men, but that is as far as it goes. I don’t want [120] to be a man, and I don’t want a man to be a woman. I enjoy the respectful treatment I get, I enjoy a man’s joy at fixing my flat tire and never would I let him know that I can repair any part of my car that needs fixing … I know many Mormon women who believe as I do and never could we support you or the women who fight for ERA, you have lost your femininity and beauty as a lady. To me you are now a unisex symbol … I am a happy fulfilled woman and I don’t want my lifestyle destroyed by you and your kind. —Utah

I know what the Church’s position in ERA has been. I know that no one has ever said that we as women must support anti-ERA movements. They did suggest we work against it—it was never stated as revelation from God. I have tried to become familiar with the issues involved, and I feel that I can support the Church’s stand against the ERA … Mrs. Johnson, I cannot understand your motives, but please, if you want to work for the ERA, proceed, but leave Mormon women out of it. —Texas

I’m wondering if this next paragraph will sound contradictory to you. I received your Newsletter. You must put a LOT of time into it. I read it cover to cover. I don’t like the role that Mormon women are supposed to play, and cringe when I read some of the statements made by people within the Church. But I couldn’t grapple with this problem daily as you do and still remain married to my husband, and perhaps even remain a “Mormon in good standing.” It makes me too angry. I see much of that which you ridicule in the Newsletter in my husband and his family. I want to remain married and remain within the structure of the Mormon Church. —Utah

I want to be of help to the MFERA. But I cannot honestly say to you that my help will be unconditional … I do this because I am [121] for women’s rights, not because I am against the church, Prophet, priesthood, etc. … I reiterate that while Phyllis Schafley, Ronald Regan, and others are on my shit list, the church is not. Even so, if there’s anything I can do for ERA without hurting the church, I will do it … That’s the best I can do. —Georgia

I am 32 years old and a junior at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, Florida. My major is Women’s Studies … I need desperately to hear your views and beliefs on women and the Church … I feel guilty—I feel sad—I feel very confused. I need to hear from some of you sisters who also have questioned the patriarchal tenets of the LDS Church. I love the Church—but my goodness—there are sooo awfully many questions that no one can—or will—answer. —Florida

I believe Mormon women working within the Church is most important in trying to educate the members on the ERA. Outsiders are just labeled anti-Mormon. So many good things and bad things have been done in the name of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is up to the little people to make sure the good things continue and the bad—well, at least they are exposed to the public … I feel good, proud, and happy that I have taken a stand. —Ohio

I’ve been and always will be an ERA supporter. So you can see I’ve been on the bishop’s “S—-” list for a long time. They never refuse to take my tithing, missionary fund, or funds to maintain the Church, however. Everytime I put my envelope in the bishop’s office, I write across it—“an ardent supporter of ERA!” —California

I have the “Another Mormon for ERA” sticker on my car and for the first time in 15 months attended Sacrament meeting. I left [122] my car positioned so that everyone coming out of church would see it. Am already getting some heat in terms of an uncomfortable undercurrent from those who have seen it. I was also asked by our hometeacher why I decided to come back to church at this time … I am verbal enough and open enough for others to seek me out. I am presenting myself as an advocate for Mormons for ERA and have been informed that I would come under the “Sons of Perdition” (?) doctrine if I followed your teaching, etc., etc. —California

I was married in the St. George temple and now my husband of 18 years has divorced me. I was born a Mormon. My ancestors came across the plains. I feel as though I have lost my family because of my belief in the equality of women. —California

I left the Church for many of the same reasons you have been excommunicated for. I still love the gospel principles, but have found that I cannot live a full life under those conditions. I understand how much you must have suffered. Sometimes even Mormons can be cruel—generally worse than the general public … May God bless you with endurance.—West Virginia

I wrote letters to Kimball and your stake president. It did not seem enough. In good conscience I could not belong to an organization I so thoroughly disagree with. I have just written the Church headquarters requesting my name be removed from the rolls of the LDS Church. I have considered it for a long time. Now it’s done. I enjoy receiving the Newsletter so much. —California

Radical Left

Many of us in Salt Lake were stunned when Sonia was excommunicated, and ready to sign up ourselves to get out of the Church. We felt a paid ad on a General Conference weekend, listing our [123] names as asking or having asked for our names to be removed in support of the ERA, was the strongest statement we could make. We didn’t get the money together in time for the October Conference, so the ad has been postponed until April Conference … Those wishing to sign or donate may write to Ex-Mormons for ERA … —Salt Lake City

Let us take as our motto the graffiti sprayed on an overpass near the Washington D.C. temple (which bears an uncanny resemblance to the palace in “The Wizard of Oz”): FREE DOROTHY!! There are lots of Dorothys in Utah. Perhaps we can help to free them—and ourselves. —LINDA EARDLEY HOLLIS, June 1981

We’re So Exalted

I have concluded that there is No mysterious hidden evil in the ERA that I can’t comprehend but that the all-seeing brethren can (so I should believe them, not my own mind—the old specter of blind obedience again) … No one can definitively prove to me that I will be equal in my Heavenly Parent’s home, that I will hold the priesthood and reign myself equal with Ralph. What a nebulous carrot anyway, to hold out for in exchange for putting up with all the flying you-know-what in this life! I feel so cheated, like John Denver’s song, “You done stomped on my heart, and you smashed that sucker flat. You just sorta stomped on my aorta.” —Tiagard, Oregon

Bay Area Mormons March for Era!

“If you had told me a few years ago that a group of Mormons would be leading a march for women’s rights I would not have believed you,” was the comment from the Mormon woman who was marching next to me at the International Women’s Day march held in San Francisco on Mar. 7, 1981. There we were, carrying a banner which read BAY AREA MORMONS FOR ERA, marching up and down the San Francisco hills, leading the parade of thousands. It [124] was a thrill to march to the top of the hills and look back on the long line of marchers, women and men who support the equal rights of all Americans. —NADINE HANSEN, Cupertino, California, Aug. 1981

… The most current Mormon threat to ERA ratification is the possibility that two or three Mormon men in high secular positions could make decisions opposing it. Judge Marion Callister of Boise, Idaho, until last year a Regional Representative of the Mormon Church, is the district judge in a lawsuit that will determine whether extension and/or rescission is legal. —HAZEL RIGBY, Virginia

Double Talk, Double Messages, & Double Binds:
Beverly Campbell Advises Women

When Beverly Campbell walked past our ERA picket line at the LDS Women’s Conference (March 14) in Bellevue, WA, she didn’t look as demure as the newspaper photos showed, as she told us to “Go to Hell!” If looks could kill, I’d be writing this posthumously. —MARY WHITMORE, Washington

Letters to the Editor

… If it hasn’t sunk in yet, Mormons for ERA are not working just for the passage of the ERA, we are feminists who are trying to change male chauvinist attitudes within the Church. The only way to do this is within the Church … —ELAINE ENTREKIN, Georgia

We’re So Exalted That

We had a chauvinist Mormon Elder and his pregnant wife with their fifth child in eight years look at our house for sale. She loved [125] the 5 bedrooms (better than 3!) and really wants to move in, especially before Nature has its way; but he refused because I belong to Mormons for ERA (he saw my ANOTHER MORMON FOR ERA button on the kitchen counter). Better to buy from a non-Mormon or an atheist than a heretic like me (and never mind that my husband is neutral)! After all, after I’VE lived in the house, it may be contaminated and catching—HIS wife might get uppity! —Oregon, Jan. 1982

I knew that the atmosphere would be different in Utah—I expected more hostility than at home—but the restrictions were a surprise. I felt that I was in a police state. The police surveillance was overwhelming. They were on top of us the minute we got out of the car—on all sides as well as back of the car. They were always close to us during the marches, some in uniform and some in plain clothes. When I bought a button from another marcher, she yelled “DONATION!” for the police to hear. The transaction was filmed from an unmarked police truck. The unexpected happened to me at the airport as I was leaving. I had ERA buttons in a bag and they set the detector off … As I reached out, the guard across the table grabbed my arms and held them all the time hollering for the other guards to join her. I was so shocked I never said a word. After the other guards joined her, she released me. —KAREN BEARD, Washington, Apr. 1982

The Vote Was Finally Called in the Fourth Session

Twelve Mormon women and men went to the tabernacle on Temple Square … to vote no in sustaining church leaders because of their anti-ERA politics … However, the traditional Saturday morning vote was not taken. Most of the group returned Saturday afternoon. Again no vote was taken. By Sunday morning a few of the numbers had dwindled, but the vote was not taken again. However, by Sunday afternoon, three persons were still in the balcony of the tabernacle. The vote was finally taken. Cheryl was [126] able to stand and vote no. Another managed to raise her hand and vote no, and the third was prevented from moving because a security man fell across her lap to keep her silent. There were two no votes and one squashed no vote. —Oct. 1982

Meetings Changed to Avoid Protest

Women protesting the Mormon Church policy against ERA and their work against it chained themselves to an LDS meeting house in San Diego, CA, on Sunday, June 6 …

Approximately 500 women, men and children took part in ERA activities April 2 and 3 in Salt Lake City during general conference … The Mormons for ERA tow plane with the banner “Zion: Citadel of Savage Misogyny” was unable to fly because of very heavy cloud cover. —Oct. 1982

Mormons for ERA in Camarillo, CA picket the meetinghouse every Sunday. On Conference weekend, they supported the conference tow plane with their own demonstration outside the Camarillo Stake Center … —Dec. 1982

Dear Friends,

In January 1978 I became the first President of a new and embattled little group named Mormons for ERA. That was four years and twelve hundred members ago. Much has happened since then—in the church, to me, to you, and to the fight for the ERA … The organization will continue under Alice [Pottmeyer’s] direction to represent those Mormons who support passage of the ERA, and who care deeply about social justice issues that most affect women. I am confident that Mormons for ERA will continue to be in the forefront of the women’s movement and as useful and influential in the future as we have been in the past—unless, of course, the Mormon church decides not only to stop fighting against justice for women, but to do something positive for them. In which case we will have no more need to exist and can jubilantly disband … Your [127] Sister, Sonia Johnson, Sterling, Virginia, Feb. 1983

V. Feminist Issues at Brigham Young University

Women’s issues probably first became visible through the work of Alice Louise Reynolds, an English professor and one of the first female faculty at BYU in 1911. Women’s studies courses began to emerge in the mid-1970s, and feminist perspectives and theory have been taught in sociology, history, and literature classes for many years. Progress made by many including Jan Tyler, Reba Keele, Karen Lynn, Carolyn Rasmus, Marilyn Arnold, Elouise Bell, Meg Hoopes, Margie McEntire, Vicki Burgess, Ida Smith, Kate Kirkham, Maren Mouritsen, Ruth Brasher, Maureen Beecher, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Jill Mulvey Derr, Sally Barlow, Mary Stovall Richards, Donna Lee Bowen, Meg Wheatley, Marie Cornwall, Gloria Cronin, Susan Howe, Martha S. Bradley, Camille Williams, Cecilia Konchar Farr, Tomi Ann Roberts, and many other feminist faculty, teachers, and students—utilized liberal, cultural, socialist, psychoanalytic, existentialist, radical and post-modern feminist theories to inform and benefit countless Mormon women. The following excerpts recount some of the feminist efforts at BYU.

Elouise Bell:
When people asked me what I was going to talk about, I told them, and they said, “You mean they’re going to have a real feminist talk at BYU?” I am not sure how to answer that question because I am not sure what those people mean when they say a “real feminist.” East 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. Within the boundaries of this state I think I might be considered only too real a feminist for some people’s taste … My intention is not to persuade anyone to my set of views on the matter of feminism but hopefully to convince anyone to consider this important matter …

What is a feminist? What are we talking about? What does it mean to say that Elouise Bell is a feminist or that President Oaks is a feminist? … In my understanding a feminist is a person, whether man or woman, who believes that historically there have been inequities in the education and treatment of women in several or [128] many spheres of society and who is interested in correcting those inequities as he or she sees them. That is as far as I am prepared to go with a definition that will cover the views of the many different people I know who are concerned about feminism. To be more specific is to start to branch off into different aspects of feminism about which agreement varies …

Let me then now pose a second question. What is a feminist at BYU concerned about? … First, that women have equal opportunities for scholarships and admissions … The president’s scholarship, named after the current president of the church, is now, for the very first year, available to women. The feminist is also concerned that when women come to college, they are counseled wisely; they are told about a full range of options for career choices; they are not channeled into two or three traditional majors … The feminist is concerned also that at a university a woman have many strong and positive female role models. That is to say, she 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.

Another aspect which has been neglected has to do with the presentation of knowledge. Nearly all of the disciplines—history, art, economics, agriculture, medicine, literature—have been organized by men, developed by men, the textbooks written by men, and they are by and large about men. Many feminists are calling for a reexamination of the information basis of various disciplines … It is only logical to assume that a great many inventions, discoveries, and processes … were developed by women … Many scholars now say if we look at history from the perspective of the other half of the human race—women—we might make very different divisions, we might ask different questions, and we might gain entire new insights …

Let me mention two more concerns. The first has to do with what is called life-planning … We should help our young women gain competence and skill and college training on which they could build. I hope that we would encourage every young woman to plan for her life beyond child rearing … I wonder in some cases if the women are receiving educations of a different character than the young men. It has to do with an attitude that I think many women [129] come with and some faculty may foster. Sometimes I worry that our young women pursue less rigorous courses than our young men … A bright young man at BYU usually realizes that there is a certain amount of knowledge and a number of ideas he must get into before he is equipped to go out into the world. Sometimes the bright young woman takes a more passive attitude …

Now let me ask a third question which may be of concern to anyone talking about feminism: “Don’t the objectives of feminism threaten the family as an institution? Isn’t feminism at its heart inimical to many of the principles of the gospel, especially the principles of home and family?” … It is true that a central thrust of feminism is a reexamination of society’s institutions: the family, the school, the church. But reevaluation does not necessarily mean rejection. Many feminists are not only spending more time with their children but urging and helping their husbands to find time to be with their children, to do things together, to work together, play together.

A question I am often asked is: “Can a person be a devoted Latter-day Saint and a feminist at the same time?” Our pioneer foremothers … were in touch with the great feminist leaders of America such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They not only corresponded with them but had them out here to Utah, talked with them, stumped with them from meeting to meeting … They worked vigorously for women’s causes, and at the same time they went about their work in building up the kingdom … So there is great precedent for Mormon feminism … Just how important is feminism anyway? I believe that the issues of feminism are crucial. There is no way we can escape the influence of this movement. I think history will show the feminist movement of the last part of the twentieth century to have as great an impact on the world as the Russian revolution, perhaps even as great an influence as the Industrial Revolution … I truly believe that the righteous goals of feminism will help us prepare a generation of women more fit than ever before to bear their joint responsibility in establishing the kingdom of God.

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 [130] 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. —from “The Implications of Feminism for Brigham Young University,” BYU Forum address, 1975, in Brigham Young University Studies 16 (Summer 1976)

BYU Women’s Research Institute
Ida Smith, Director, 1978-83:

How did the Women’s Research Institute get started? I was hired in 1978 as the founding director of the WRI. This was a volatile time—many Mormon women had split into different “camps” and a lot of healing needed to be done. The church wanted visible evidence that it cared about women, and they wanted someone who was “neutral” to create the institute. I was able to talk to quite a wide range of women, from very liberal to very conservative. I made the institute visible and opened up dialogue. I lectured around the country and I attended the first National Women’s Studies Association in 1978. I interviewed women, bishops, stake presidents, and Relief Society presidents to write and speak about the needs of Mormon women. I amassed files of library research—topics ranging from abortion to working women. There was no money to do empirical research, in fact, I was prohibited from doing empirical research. But the WRI was a catalyst for positive changes. A lot of people came to us to talk about issues.

The WRI raised consciousness about women’s concerns on campus. We were in a second wave of feminism on campus; the first wave of any movement really gets bloodied, while the next wave reaps the benefits. We stood on the shoulders of women like Jan Tyler, Reba Keele and others who were pushing for change, awareness and an organization on campus. They were considered radicals, really suspect, and they paid a price. I wasn’t seen as radical. We owe them a great deal because they were willing to stand up and have their [131] heads knocked off. Today, young women feel like they can speak out on anything, and it’s wonderful to see that.

People asked me then: “how can you say the things you’re saying and get away with it?” I lectured on economic and psychosocial needs of women, and the need for education; I had an overwhelming positive response. I never had anyone tell me to tone myself down. The only backlash I got was from conservative women in the church who sent letters to church leaders demanding my release from BYU, but those didn’t have an impact. There was anger and resentment from some LDS women who had done what they thought they were supposed to do, and saw other women doing different things and getting satisfaction, or ending up in a better situation. I told women, “do what you need to do.”

Did you identify yourself as feminist? I didn’t utilize the label, so I could reach more women, but I defined it as anyone, male or female, who is concerned about the status of women in this world. Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith would have to be considered feminists. —Interview, 1992

Mary Stovall Richards, Director, 1983-88:

What work did you do with the WRI? I was hired in September 1983, half-time as history faculty and half-time as director of the WRI. The administration was reconfiguring the Institute and interested in starting-up research.

We had a very small budget and office; I was a new faculty member with four classes. We wanted to find a way to support research, so we created some student research grants, and then we got a little more money, for some faculty research grants, including non-social science areas, such as fine arts. We sponsored an academic conference on LDS women’s history and then I was made chair of the BYU Women’s Conference. That became our major thrust. We also started brown bag lunch discussions and I spoke quite a bit on campus. I was on the university women’s concerns committee, which discussed things like hiring and promotion of women. I was impressed most by the hiring done by Dean Martin Hickman, who really tried to make things better for women at BYU and hired strong women into the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. Carol Madsen was WRI associate director for a [132] couple of years; she and I edited women conference talks and Carol started an American women’s history class. We started a fund for an annual newsletter and endowed chair.

How did students respond to the WRI? If anybody wanted to talk about women, women’s issues, or frustrations, they came to our office. For example, after President Benson’s talk to mothers in 1987, people were lined up outside the office. We gave grants to students in our college, as well as other areas, such as English; Cecilia Farr received a grant from us for work on her master’s thesis.

Did you identify yourself as feminist? Some faculty had advised me not to use the term publicly, because of negative reactions; but with students, in classes, I discussed feminism and worked through perceptions. I’ve been repeatedly surprised at how conservative and reactionary students were then, and now, about feminism; but attitudes are improving. —Interview 1992

Marie Cornwall, Director, 1989-Present:

When did you start at WRI, and what was the situation? In January of 1989, I became the director. My focus was to get the Institute engaged in research. The WRI had been responsible for sponsoring the BYU women’s conferences, and provided some grants for faculty and student research. But the energy was going into the women’s conferences, which the university felt was an important focus. When I took over, the work of the WRI was split into two areas: Carol Lee Hawkins took over the women’s conferences; and I took over research as the university began committing more resources for research.

What is the current status of the WRI’s work and programs? Our mandate was to encourage scholarship about women and women’s lives; our goal was to network faculty who were doing research on women. We scheduled brown bag lectures on research and scholarly discussion. We began to sponsor scholarly conferences: our first was on Gender and the Family in February 1991, where we had 50 or 60 participating scholars come from all over the world; our second, on October 23rd is a conference on LDS Relief Society and Mormon women, featuring scholars from various disciplines.

We also created a women’s studies minor in 1991-1992, mod[133]eling our program after Stanford and Wisconsin. We created new courses in psychology, sociology and english, adding them to existing history courses to establish a core program. In June 1992 we had our first women studies faculty retreat. The minor has taken-off, our classes are full.

As for the research we’re undertaking, we have several different projects: women’s experience of sexual abuse and the role of religion and healing process; oral histories of the IWY; editing the Journal of Family Perspective (research on gender and the family); research on adolescent faith development and difference in boys and girls development.

When we first started we had a secretary, a graduate assistant and Kate Kirkam was my associate director. Now we’ve really expanded, which gives more students opportunities to do research. We’ve received additional research funds, and we’ve been able to fund some faculty and student grants for research in social, historical, and scientific areas. Donna Lee Bowen is associate director, Kay Sawyer—full-time administrator, Marilyn Arnold has joined us as a research associate; we have five graduate and four undergraduate students assisting on research projects.

What are your goals for the future? I think we’ve gotten the institute up to speed. We’ll maintain our current programs and try to get more outside funding. We will continue to establish ourselves as a reputable research institute. —Interview 1992

Gloria Cronin:
How would you define yourself as a feminist? As a feminist I am concerned with advocacy and encouragement of equal rights and opportunities for women … My primary professional concerns are feminist literary theory and women writers at BYU … One of my chief concerns as a Graduate Coordinator of the English M.A. program is to empower talented women to pursue Ph.D. programs and other careers … [and] help men in the program understand the increasing assertive “voice” of women … feminist studies, minority literary traditions, cultural criticism, and gender theory …

[134] How do you feel about the way feminism is perceived on campus? Perhaps by not calling themselves “feminist” many people hide from political responsibility for doing something about those issues. Others cling to the old stereotypes of angry … bra-burning radical feminists. I have never met such a person and neither have they … you can hide indefinitely from the profound philosophical, ethical, moral and political concerns of feminism. You can also use this specter as an excuse for refusing to share power in institutions such as universities, marriages, churches and governments. We fear feminist anger in this culture … Even superficial study of women’s issues causes the most sedate of women and men to become angry … they tell the truth in startling ways.

What are some problems you see in administrative attitudes? Too often, the model invoked is the LDS ecclesiastical model rather than a truly egalitarian professional one. It is hard for male faculty members to friendship and mentor incoming female professionals. When serious grievances occur they are often invisible to administrators … [who] are often slow to understand what constitutes sexist behavior. We all need more education …

Has your feminism caused you any problems with the administration? The BYU Administration is clearly open to addressing the concerns of women on this campus but they don’t have the time to become professionally educated on the issues … it[‘s] harder for them to share power, responsibility, and friendship with women. When I visited with Elder de Jager last year he told me that the Twelve … have made women’s concerns the object of much study and prayer recently. He concluded that so far there are more questions than clear answers …

What are some needed changes here at BYU? I have a wish list … a more powerfully supported Women’s Studies Program … an ethnic studies program … more gender conferences … a grievance committee for faculty women … faculty seminars addressing feminist concerns … non-sexist language policy … Masculinity and Power as compulsory reading … more female hires … more female rank advancement and tenuring … We will never be authentically human, Mormon or Christian until we have passed through feminist awareness. As Mormons we should feel ashamed not to call our[135]selves feminists. —“BYU Through the Eyes of Feminist Faculty,” Student Review, 20 Mar. 1991

Cecilia Konchar Farr:
Mormonism and feminism for me simply are … They are my philosophical foundation my political choice, my spiritual roots and my life’s work—they are me and I’m in them … Though I’ve spent nearly 25 years naming myself “Mormon,” I just came by the term “feminist” a few years ago. But it was Mormonism that made feminism resonate for me. The contention of early feminists that women have a natural right to equality with men appealed to me … Now, I find the contemporary, more radical feminist attention to diversity and difference the most moral philosophy available to me as a citizen of a global community … Feminist philosophy provided answers that patriarchal Christian philosophy has failed to develop …

In feminist literary criticism, and later in feminist pedagogy, philosophy and politics, I found thinkers … whose work was dedicated to ending oppression, who wanted to hear the silenced speak, see the hungry fed … In this sense, I find that feminism lives “postmodernism” more courageously than does any other philosophical system. James E. Faulconer explained … that postmodernism critiques the claim to authority as “a claim to the right to suppress undesirable difference.” Feminists, of course are famous for questioning authority, an admirable quality … but feminists are also daringly aware of difference, dedicated to living through it and with it, even if it costs us the only unity we have …

My feminism keeps my Mormonism honest … Feminism respects women and allows women to claim respect. I think feminism will eventually allow women to claim the eternal progression that our religion promised for us, but in many ways fails to encourage … Feminism allowed me to challenge misdirected priesthood authority and claim my right to personal inspiration … This alone has given me a richer Mormonism … when my Mormonism and my feminism work together, I can imagine that self-confidence, that strong relationship with God. Without feminism, I think Mormonism fails many women here. I have yet to go to a women’s conference that doesn’t have at least one session on depression or self-esteem.

I know there are places where Mormonism and feminism refuse [136] to join. But I can also say honestly that these are few. My feminism resists Mormon concepts of an exclusively male priesthood, of polygamy, of the silent and absent Mother-God … Feminism in Mormonism needs much more support right now than it needs critique … the marriage of Mormonism and feminism works. Mormons make excellent feminists because we are trained all our lives to be missionaries—if we are convinced something is true, we should tell everyone about it! To be a Mormon feminist means to stop waiting and start doing.

We’ve tested this. Last fall our BYU feminist group VOICE proposed a curfew for men [in response to advice that women should never walk alone]. We wanted to educate our campus community to stop blaming the victim for rape … But the reverberations shook Provo’s moral Richter scale … The accusation most often levelled against us was that we just weren’t nice. Our tactics were not appropriate for Mormon women or for … “The Lord’s University.” … Mormons who are truly Christian, with all that means in our theology, should be found on the front lines of politics confronting oppression and injustice wherever it exists. When we are silent, we give our tacit approval to the world as it is … I can honestly argue that being Mormon requires us to be feminist! We have also spoken out as Mormons who are pro-choice. There are many more of us, though most are silent because of fear … I want to say, loud and clear, to our legislators and leaders: I am Mormon, and I am for choice.

As feminists, we need continually to cross these lines. We’re all in this together … When I was a kid I learned a game one summer from my cousin Scott. He drew a line in the dirt and challenged me: “I dare you to step across that line.” I stared him down, then stepped brazenly across, fists clenched. He threw his arm around me and said, “Great! Now you’re on my side!” Let’s find our lines, step across them and work together, side by side. —“On Being Mormon and Feminist,” Student Review, 20 Mar. 1991; “Crossing Lines: Whose Side Are We on?” NOW speech, Mar. 1992; and Network, Sept. 1992

Committee to Promote the Status of Women
—Voice Notice

Due to the increase in violence against women on BYU campus, [137] a new curfew has been instated. Beginning Wednesday, November 20, men will no longer be allowed to walk alone or in all-male groups from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Those men who must travel on or through campus during curfew hours must be accompanied by two women in order to demonstrate that they are not threatening.

Provisions have been made for men who need to be escorted home. Contact your BYU ward Relief Society Presidencies any time.

VI. Mormon Women’s Forum Newsletter

In 1988 when Karen Erickson Case asked permission to participate in the blessing of her only daughter, her stake president contacted the LDS church offices for an answer. He was told that Karen’s request was against church policy, and that the church had “been receiving hundreds of such requests” which indicated some kind of “organized movement.” Karen knew of no such “movement” but thought it was a good idea. She and a friend, Kelli Frame, planned a public lecture where women’s issues could be discussed. The Mormon Women’s Forum was founded in 1988 (the 10th anniversary of both the Alice Louise Reynolds Forum and the Mormons for ERA) to encourage public discussion of Mormon women’s issues. The newsletter exhibits an array of liberal/cultural, socialist, radical and post-modern feminist views.

From the Editor
Working in the Forum has been alternatively immensely rewarding and abysmally thankless. I’ll never get used to the hateful letters and calls. But underscoring it all has been the profound sense that I am finally doing something that matters … I felt I must, above all else, stick close to the Church and work for a better world from the inside … [In Relief Society] we sang a closing song. As we sang I replaced the male pronouns with female; that’s one of the ways I’ve learned to worship Her at church: “A mighty fortress is our God … Her might and power are great, She all things did create, and She shall reign for evermore.”

As I tried to get a picture of Her in my mind, my body was filled with a sense of my Mother God; with her power to create, her [138] strength, her womanness … Isaiah’s familiar pentad suddenly seemed inadequate to name Her: Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Mother, The Queen of Peace.

Her divine image has stayed with me. I have learned to see Her everywhere. I think of Her, pray to Her, worship Her in ways I never thought to worship God the Father. No one need believe that worshipping God the Mother takes anything away from God the Father; the act is complete and complementary; as natural as loving both of our parents. I don’t know what peace I will ultimately make with the Church, but it will not be at Her nor my sisters’ expense. I look for the day when women and men can freely worship the Divine Female in a Mormon chapel. It is in this spirit that the work of the Mormon Women’s Forum continues. —KELLI FRAME, Vol. 1 (Oct. 1989), No. 1

Readers’ Forum

It is frustrating to obey priesthood laws and ordinances and then be denied the powers thereof for the female disciples. Where can we use our initiative? … More power to your efforts to be heard in all the world! —SANDY WOMAN

I applaud you for your courage, your esteem for women, and for your spirituality. I have had a hard time finding women role models in the Church. I can relate to you and am proud of you. —BYU WOMAN

I’ve been a Mormon all my life. I’m glad to see you’re starting this group. I can’t be involved because my husband is a bishop and it would cause problems. But I’ll be watching with interest as you grow. —SALT LAKE WOMAN

Why Don’t Women Hold the Priesthood?:
A Brief but Insightful Intervi

On a June morning in 1988, I was cooking pancakes for my [140] eleven-year-old son and his friends after a sleep-over. Twelve-year-old David had recently been ordained to the priesthood and the other boys were asking how many times he’d passed the sacrament. While slapping a few more pancakes on their plates, I asked, “Why don’t women hold the priesthood?” Their answers were as follows:

Mormon Women's ForumDAVID: (age 12) “Men have better looks.”

ROBERT: (age 13) “Some women have their priorities wrong and men are more distinguished.”

STRYDER: (age 11) “My sister’s Sunday School teacher said giving women the priesthood would be like giving them an open-ended credit card.”

RICKY: (age 11) “My grandpa says maybe they’ll get it in heaven.”

ROBERT: “Women aren’t strong enough because it would fatigue them like when Jesus blessed people he would get weak.”

DAVID: “Yeah, if women had the priesthood they might beat the men up.”

ROBERT: “And women have their times when they aren’t cooperative and I give you my permission to quote me.” (He’s a lawyer’s son.)

ERIC: (age 8—interrupting impatiently) “Hey, you guys, let’s go play Power Lords.”

RICKY: (Hurriedly stuffing the last bit of pancake into his mouth) “Well, I think (long pause with a shake of his head) I don’t know why.”

End of pancakes. End of interview. Exit Power Lords. —BETINA LINDSEY

Speaking Out

Dear Elder Nelson:
Your recent conference talk, “Woman—Of Infinite Worth,” moved me to write this letter to you. I’m a mother of five children and I have never worked outside the home, though I received a degree from Brigham Young University. I have been active in the Church all my life, and have served faithfully in the auxiliaries of the Church.

As I listened to your talk, I said to myself, “This brother lays roses at our feet but has no understanding of women … Let me [141] propose to you that were you to wake up tomorrow morning as a woman, you would see how infinite your worth really is.

You would no longer be an apostle, nor even an elder; possibly you would not even be a physician. You could no longer interpret doctrine or make policy. If you tried, you would lack credibility because you weren’t a priesthood holder. You would sit voiceless outside most Church councils and blessing circles. If you stayed inside the home to nurture and raise your children, you would always be dependent (like your little girl who had to ask for money for ice cream) on your husband’s earning powers, as well as his priesthood power. If you worked outside the home you would find your wages cut to 60 cents to the dollar, and would have the added guilt that you are Satan’s tool because your children are in daycare. How quickly you would find your infinite worth in a man’s world and a man’s religion!

Women are in pain, physician. It shows in the statistics of depression, drug abuse, broken families, and a hundred other ways. I know you love and are concerned for women in the Church, or you would not have undertaken to speak to us. I give you points on that account … But you put us on a pedestal because you don’t know what else to do with us. When women are allowed to stand as equals in the holy circles (outside the temple) … when you encourage sons and daughters to emulate feminine divinity as well as male … then we will know that we have infinite worth …

I wish I had the courage to sign my name, but my friend said, “They’ll think you’re Sonja Johnson and will give your name to the Stake President.” What kind of church is this where women fear to sign their names? Where women become unwilling victims of depression rather than express their frustration and anger …

I know Zion will never come until women and men can link arms together in priesthood blessing and healing circles … It will take the courage of Joshua, but the ages-old wall of gender bias must come down. Seize the day, brethren! My prayers are with you. —A SISTER WAITING FOR ZION, Vol. 1 (Mar. 1990), No. 2

Readers’ Forum

Your first issue was moving. I sympathize with your anger [142] and hurt over these issues. I too am a Mormon feminist, and choose to work from within [the church]. It shames me that my church basically ignores women, allowing only a token few into the decision-making councils or onto the Tabernacle pulpit. On the other hand, I believe the Gospel is true because it works. I have been touched by the Spirit, have known inner healing, and felt the joy of service.

So I will continue my balancing act: to try quietly to raise the consciousness of my sisters and brothers in the ward … I believe that persistent pushing causes change …

If you choose to publish this, I expect you’d better sign me “a Southern woman,” since I am the only feminist in [my town] besides my daughter, and she’s a bishop’s wife. I fear that you are marked as troublemakers, or worse, and are on the proverbial list. —A SOUTHERN WOMAN, Vol. 1 (Aug. 1990), No. 3

I just finished reading my second issue of your newsletter and I wish I could tell you how wonderful I feel. When I read these words that others have written it is as if I have found a way to express my own thoughts and feelings. My eyes are full of tears and I feel truth and joy. When I read the letters from people who say this is darkness—how ironic—that is the feeling their thoughts give me. I want to shout, “The Glory of God is Intelligence.” It’s all right to question, to think. I just wish I could hug you and say thanks. —LYNDA FORD, Arkansas

Readers’ Forum

I had an “interesting” experience Sunday. The bishop, two of my daughters, and I were discussing the seven-year-old’s upcoming baptism, and the bishop wanted to make sure we would have proper witnesses. “Oh, we’ll all be there,” said one daughter, not realizing that he meant priesthood holders. He at least had the grace to fumble for words and then to blush when she finally caught on and said, “Oh, I keep forgetting we aren’t people at church.” —LINDA JONES, Utah, Vol. 1 (Fall 1990), No. 4

Off the Record:
Telling the Rest of the Truth

[143] At the August 1990 Sunstone Symposium, Mormon Women’s Forum co-founder Kelli Frame said, “Sonia Johnson was excommunicated so that the rest of us would not be.” As Kelli spoke those words I realized I was hearing, ten years after the fact, the truth … If little has changed for women nationally since 1980, even less has changed in Utah where the higher echelons of government, education, the judiciary, the arts, religion, and business are overwhelmingly occupied by men, certainly bishops and stake presidents, Mormon Church leaders …

I still had files ten and twelve years old from writing my baptism-by-fire story on the 1977 International Women’s Year meeting at the Salt Palace … Did I still expect someone to knock on my door and ask to see … the newsletter of the Arlington Stake announcing that President Spencer W. Kimball had enlisted the membership to fight the ERA? Or copies of Sonia Johnson’s speeches to be sure she never asked for priesthood nor applied the term “savage misogyny” to Mormon Church leaders? Who would ask to see evidence that funds raised by Virginia bishops were laundered by a pseudo-account called FACT, that wardhouses and Church meetings were used in Florida to lobby legislators, that Church Boy Scout troops passed out anti-ERA literature to ward members in Arizona, that anti-ERA leaders were set apart in Missouri where Relief Society sisters were bused (wearing dresses and carrying sack lunches, as instructed) from stake centers to the state legislature? Who would want evidence that the national LDS anti-ERA movement was run by top Church leaders through the Special Affairs committee in Salt Lake City?

I wrote all this information in articles published in Utah Holiday and Sunstone magazines in 1979 and 1980 … Let me tell a bit of the story behind the story.

… Sonia was ward organist and taught in Relief Society; she had four children, a temple recommend, a two-year supply of food in her basement. Sonia was nothing if not committed; a devout if questioning Mormon, a staunch Republican, and a new convert to the Equal Rights Amendment, which she had first heard about at an anti-ERA meeting in church …

[144] Sonia Johnson had mobilized Mormon women, and many men, throughout the country, for their own reasons both personal and political. The list of women attending one meeting in Salt Lake City reads like a who’s who of accomplished Utah women …

In Sonia’s mind though the battle lines were drawn. The Church was fighting the ERA covertly and effectively; she knew it, she had exposed it. The Church could simply admit it was fighting the ERA just as the Catholics fought abortion, lobby openly, and Mormons for ERA might deflate. But the Church wouldn’t. And could Sonia be deterred? No. Did she know what she was doing? Yes. Was she angry—yes, mostly outraged. Was she crazy? No. Was she out of control? Yes, men’s control. Was she a radical? Not yet.

Sonia Johnson did not do the things she was excommunicated for—saying Church leaders were savage misogynists, disrupting Church programs including food storage and family home evening, telling people not to obey the prophet. But she did far worse. She and her Mormons for ERA exposed, via the media, the highly-organized anti-ERA campaign which the Church claimed was only the independent effort of concerned citizens who happened to be Mormon …

Sonia Johnson didn’t break the rules in the Church handbook so much as the unspoken taboos. She wasn’t nice. She did not conform. She didn’t obey. She laundered the Church’s dirty linen in public. By all rights Sonia Johnson should have died simply from taboo-breaking, but she wouldn’t, and so they held a witchburning. And then the witch, like some uppity phoenix, rose from the flames as Sonia broke the last taboo—the rule of martyrdom.

In reporting the Church’s anti-ERA politics, I had broken many taboos, too, and the person I was had been dying … I was exhausted. Every relationship in my life had been wrenched. I had flashbacks of the candle-bearing priests, women clergy, legislators, government officials including Congresswoman Pat Schoeder and Utah’s own Esther Peterson (a member of President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet), Sonia’s children, and ordinary people who had gathered around an unlit, guarded stake center one frigid night in Virginia. I had flashbacks of Sonia Johnson at the organ the morning after her trial, pumping confident strains into a room ugly with tension …

What happened to Sonia Johnson echoed in individual excom[145]munications, disfellowshipments, releases from church jobs, revoked temple recommends, voiced fear, hurt, and despair of scores of Mormon women, one of whom took her own life. Within months, the burgeoning Mormons for ERA split in Virginia and splintered in Utah as fear and frustration ran rampant within the groups that could not affect the institution and could only self-destruct. Individuals and groups turned inward, seeking solace and healing, not revolution. But Sonia didn’t even have the decency to stay dead.

Sonia was not a good martyr. Thus, the culture had to kill her again and again with rumors of the worst possible curse—she had gained 60 pounds, all her sons were gay, and she was bitter and miserable. “How is Sonia now?” people would ask me months later, years later. “She’s great,” I would say and watch their faces fall. Not only did she keep living, but she changed and kept changing, moving through causes on her own radical trajectory as we fought to maintain our status; she became more outrageous as we became more cautious …

Late in 1980 … While Sonia Johnson nearly starved to death in Illinois as the legislature considered the ERA … The Church’s campaigns in critical states and the ruling by (Mormon) Judge Marion Callister, defeat[ed] the ERA in a victory the Church didn’t dare claim …

During the years of the Equal Rights Amendment, a number of women had tried earnestly to reach President Kimball, believing he would support their cause if only he could hear their viewpoint. They were rebuffed by male secretaries. After Sonia’s excommunication, I learned that President Kimball wept, watching Sonia on the Donahue program. I also knew that he was firmly against the Equal Rights Amendment. Whatever the reason, he would not hear women as he had loved Indians or prayed in behalf of black men. He would not act and no one more sympathetic waited in the wings …

Writing the excommunication story … displaced my spiritual center from activity in the Church to the silent sense of a caring God who was indifferent to guilt, fertility, and hangups, but who occasionally let me glimpse the silver thread weaving through the fabric of my life. —LINDA SILLITOE.


[146] I worship a goddess. I have led a life as devoted to her as to the church I grew up in. She has more followers than any religion in the country and affects their lives as much as any God …

She is the goddess of Perfect Beauty, the image of female perfection against which all women are measured. She comes replete with standard works, general conferences, sacraments, and doctrines …

Though I have never seen her, I know what she looks like in every detail. I have ruthlessly compared every inch of my body to the deeply carved image in my mind … She is the quintessence of youth, happiness, and beauty. This is the goddess I worship and despise.

I grew up believing that personal worth came from achieving her likeness … Women are taught that they must change their natural bodies in order to be beautiful …

In worshiping her, we have hated ourselves. The female body, in itself, is considered contemptuous. We have demonstrated our self-hatred with a legacy of pain and disfigurement … We have starved, cut, poisoned, suctioned, and implanted the bodies we see as imperfect. We have bound and suppressed our life energy as we have strived to be beautiful and loved. This is no less than human sacrifice to a goddess who offers no salvation … We cannot claim to love women while we reject the representation of femaleness, our natural bodies … —SYLVIA NIBLEY, Vol. 2 (Mar. 1991), No. 1


Recently I was in the kitchen with two of my sons … David, age 9, spoke up.

“I had a dream that women got the priesthood!” he said. Now I must interject that I have not attempted to teach or explain anything relating to women and the priesthood to my children, so his dream was not related to anything he’d heard. In his dream he saw a woman being ordained in a “big church like where we used to live” (we now attend a small branch; we previously attended a large ward). He then [147] saw an article in the Church News about the first woman being ordained to the priesthood. Well, I could hardly contain my interest; he thought I was making too big a deal about a dream, but I found it so profound that a little boy would independently dream something so seemingly unrelated to his own life. “And it will come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) If the concept that women have priesthood power given to them in the endowment and also have claim to priesthood office is correct, then hopefully in my son’s generation the Church will be ready for such a thing to come to pass. —CHARLENE ECKLUND, Viroqua, Wisconsin