Category: Women in the Church

A Female Journal of Discourses

“Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess.” This description of Eliza R. Snow and her titles was shared by Jenny Reeder in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the Eliza R. Snow discourses that have been published by the Church Historian’s Press. What follows here is a copost to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). In describing who Eliza R. Snow (Smith Young) was and why she is so notable, Jenny Reeder wrote: Eliza R. Snow was one of the most influential Latter-day Saint women of the nineteenth century. She was born in Beckett, Massachusetts; then moved to Mantua, Ohio, when she was 2; then joined the church and moved from Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess for her work on hymns we continue to use today, following Emma Smith’s role as general Relief Society president, and her work in the Endowment House and the St. George temple. Brigham Young assigned her to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies in their wards beginning in 1868. She worked with Mary Isabella Horne to organize retrenchment organizations and young ladies’ associations, and she helped Aurelia Spencer Rogers plan out her ideas for Primary. Reeder also shared a welcome President Snow received when she visited Kanab with her counselor wherein the women there stated that: We…

Voices of the Wives of Joseph Smith

Plural marriage in Nauvoo continues to be one of the thorniest issues when discussing the life and legacy of Joseph Smith.  One of the major works that helped shed greater light on the roots of plural marriage and the women who practice it with the Prophet is Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, published in 1997.  Not too long ago, a sequel or companion volume called In Sacred Loneliness: the Documents was published by Signature Books. Todd Compton recently discussed this latest volume in an interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk. In describing the original book, In Sacred Loneliness, Compton wrote that: For those who haven’t read the book, I should mention that it deals with Joseph Smith’s polygamy in Nauvoo. However, it mainly provides chapter-length biographies of his plural wives. The book takes them from birth, through the Latter-day Saint migrations, and into Utah (or California or other states, in a few cases). Their lives were mixed: sometimes very tragic, sometimes generally happy. The women often lived in large polygamous families in Utah, and experienced what I call “practical polygamy.” It could be difficult. It’s very powerful to understand the lives of some of the first women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to agree to practice plural marriage and what they went through. The effort to write a follow-up volume 20 years later came in connections with another writing project.  As Compton…

The Emmeline B. Wells Diaries

Emmeline B. Wells is a crucial figure in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was a leader in the Church as a Relief Society president, an advocate for women’s suffrage, a noted periodical editor, an early settler in Utah, etc. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Cherry Silver and Sheree Bench discussed the Emmeline B. Wells diaries that the Church Historian’s Press has published online. First off, the interview shares some information about who Wells was and why she was notable: Emmeline B. Wells was the most renowned Latter-day Saint woman of her generation. She was celebrated as an editor, public speaker, community activist, and defender of her faith. Born in Massachusetts in 1828, she emigrated first to Nauvoo and then from Winter Quarters to Utah in 1848. She edited the Woman’s Exponent from 1877 to 1914, was involved in local politics, and served on the boards of national women’s organizations. She led the Relief Society as its fifth general president between 1910 and 1921 and died in Salt Lake City in April 1921. Emmeline was married three times and had six children. A son with James Harris died in infancy in Nauvoo. Two daughters with Newel K. Whitney were born in Salt Lake City and became civic leaders. Of her three daughters with Daniel H. Wells, two died of illness as young adults. The third, Annie…

Documents and a House Full of Females

Primary sources like journals and diaries are the backbone of a lot of historic research.  In a recent interview with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Ulrich discussed some of the documents she used and how she used them while writing A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835–1870.  What follows here is a copost to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). Close readings and use of primary source material is central to Ulrich’s work.  As she noted in the interview, A House Full of Females is a bit like a quilt: Nineteenth-century quilts were often made by stitching together small fragments of fabric. My book is also built from fragments, day-by-day accounts found in diaries, letters, autograph albums, poems, and minutes of meetings. I privileged records created in the heat of events, not because I consider those records more truthful than later recollections but because I wanted to understand how people behaved when they had no idea how things were going to turn out. I treasured every scrap of women’s writing I could find, even using the dated squares on an actual quilt as one of my sources, but I also found important material in the diaries of several men, including Wilford Woodruff, whose consistent daily diaries provided a kind of sashing to hold my story squares together. In fact, it was one…

Imperial Zions

Latter-day Saints in the 19th century existed at a paradoxical intersection of American history.  When they fled to Alta California to settle the Great Basin, they were refugees fleeing from the United States.  Defiantly practicing plural marriage in the face of federal laws that opposed the principle, they came to face a heavy-handed effort by Americans to colonize their community of Deseret to match the broader American culture.  At the same time, they were colonizers in their own right, settling land claimed by other peoples for hundreds of years by dispossessing the Native Americans, while also launching a missionary effort into the Pacific Ocean.  In Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and Family in the American West and the Pacific, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto explores these paradoxes and how the Latter-day Saints (Euro-American, Native American, and Pacific Islander) navigated them. In many ways, Imperial Zions itself sits at the intersection of several landmark studies of Latter-day Saint history, synthesizing them together while building on that foundation.  I felt like it brought together W. Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color (Oxford University Press, 2015), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females (Knopf, 2017), Darren Parry’s The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History (BCC Press, 2019), and Hokulani Aikau’s A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) together in one place to have a conversation and work out how they all fit together in a larger…

Susa Young Gates and Joseph F. Smith’s Vision

The vision that we have printed as Section 138 was received by Joseph F. Smith in the last few months of his life.  Among the very first people he asked to have review the document was none other than his friend, Susa Young Gates.  In one of the excellent essays presented in the Revelations in Context book, Lisa Olsen Tait talked about Susa’s experience with the revelation.  More recently, Lisa Olsen Tait discussed more about Susa and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). Why was Susa one of the first people to read the vision?  Part of it has to do with her personal friendship with Joseph F. Smith.  As Tait described: Joseph F. Smith was over seventeen years older than Susa Young Gates. … They became friends in Hawai’i in 1885-87. Susa accompanied her husband, Jacob F. Gates, on a return mission to the Sandwich Islands, and their service overlapped with the time that Joseph F. Smith and his wife Julina were there, basically keeping a low profile during the anti-polygamy crusade. (Smith was a highly-wanted man due to his church leadership position and his knowledge of the records.) A few letters between them from that time survive, and, in my reading, evince a progression from friendly but formal acquaintances to deep…

Ann Madsen and Spencer W. Kimball

While Ann Madsen isn’t as well-known as her husband, Truman Madsen, she is a notable woman who has been described as “every bit the disciple-scholar” that her husband was.  In a recent interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Ann discussed some of the events in her life, focusing particularly on a few interactions with Truman Madsen and Spencer W. Kimball.  What follows here is a co-post (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). Ann Madsen notes in the interview that Spencer W. Kimball “was like a father” to her and her brother.  She explained that: “I grew up two houses away from President Spencer W. Kimball. Even though he was an apostle, I grew up calling him ‘Brother Kimball.’ My father and I would often come out of the house each morning just before President Kimball. He’d come out of his house and call down the street to my father, ‘Barnard, hold the bus!’”  She went on to share a story from her childhood: When I was about 10 years old, I was watching my 7-year-old brother when my parents went out. The last thing my mother said was: “Do not walk up to 21st East to get ice cream at Duffin’s. Do not do that.” As soon as they left, my brother said, “I think we can go up there. We’d be alright. We only need a nickel for ice cream cones and…

Mormon Women at the Crossroads

Caroline Kline’s Mormon Women at the Crossroads: Global Narratives and the Power of Connectedness (University of Illinois Press, 2022) is an important contribution to studies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 21st century. The book is based on a series of oral interviews that Kline did with women of color in Mexico, Botswana, and the United States, both presenting excerpts from those interviews as well as analysis.  The introduction begins by discussing how her initial lens of gender equality proved insufficient in understanding the stories, perspectives, and priorities of the women she interviewed.  Recognizing that overlapping identities of race, social class, sexual identity, etc. shape people in different ways, Kline strives to capture and represent the voices of these women through focusing on the stories they wanted to tell.  In her efforts to analyze the interviews through their lenses and priorities rather than strictly through her own lenses and priorities, Kline came to focus on the perspective of non-oppressive connectedness, a worldview that blends elements of female empowerment and liberation with a broader focus on fostering positive and productive relationships.  The first three chapters focus on the women interviewed in each of the three different regions (Mexico, Botswana, and the United States) while the fourth is an effort at bringing together and synthesizing theological reflections from the women who were interviewed, focused on a theology of abundance.  All told, the book is very rich with insight…

Women and the Priesthood with Lisa Olsen Tait

“Do women have the priesthood?”  You would think the answer would be a simple yes or no for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The reality, however, seems to say differently, with people arguing for a whole spectrum of answers while discussing this topic of perennial interest.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, Lisa Olsen Tait shared her historical perspective on how we arrived at the current state of women’s relationship to the priesthood in the Church, drawing on her research that was presented in an article in BYU Studies’ “Yet to Be Revealed” issue.  What follows here is a co-post, a shorter post presenting and discussing excerpts from the interview and related materials. In the original article, Lisa Olsen Tait divided the history into sections with inflection points between them, as follows: 1840s: “The Ancient Priesthood” 1850–1900: “In Connection with Their Husbands” 1900–1940: “The Blessings of the Priesthood” 1960s: “The Home Is the Basis” 1970–2000: Feminism and Responses Twenty-First Century: Priesthood “Power” and “Authority” In the interview, Tait explained some of the evolution through those eras, specifically related to the temple.  To quote in relation to the 1840s: The revelation commanding the Saints to build the temple (Section 124) repeatedly spoke of it in terms of priesthood. “Therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained,” it said. In the House of the Lord the “fulness of…

Daughter of Mormonism

Susa Young Gates was an interesting and important personality, and Romney Burke’s recently-published biography Susa Young Gates: Daughter of Mormonism (SLC: Signature Books, 2022) provides a well-researched glimpse into her life. Perhaps the best-known daughter of President Brigham Young, Susa led a life as a prominent figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She would go on to serve missions in Hawaii, write prolifically about the Church, serve prominently on the National Council of Women in the United States and also participate in the International Council of Women as a feminist advocate, serve in the general boards of both the Young Lady’s Mutual Improvement Association and the Relief Society and edit publications for both, teach courses at universities in Utah, and raise a family with children who would go on to make their own significant contributions in the Church.  She could also be outspoken, overbearing, and tactless in pursuing her goals, which could cause her trouble, but also showed herself to be very capable in getting things done and in rubbing shoulders with the powerful and famous. Burke’s biography follows her life chronologically at first, then shifts to addressing different aspects of her life and career topically by chapters, then returns to discussing the twilight of her lifetime at the end of the book in a more chronological fashion.  The book is meticulously researched, drawing on a treasure trove of documents that record her life, particularly from a…

Relief Society Records

Documents feel like treasures to me.  They give insight into the past and have to be mined to get everything you can out of them.  Because of that, it’s really exciting that the Church has begun to release minutes from the Relief Society General Board.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Kurt Manwaring interviewed Anne Berryhill about the minutes that have been released.  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview. In the interview, Anne Berryhill introduced the meeting minutes as follows: During the inaugural meeting of the Nauvoo Relief Society, on March 17, 1842, Joseph Smith said: “The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon—your Constitution and law.” (Minutes, 17 Mar. 1842) The Relief Society General Board Minutes contain records of the meetings and work of the Relief Society General Presidency and Board from its inception in Nauvoo in 1842 and can be seen as the constitution and law of Relief Society globally. The records represent efforts to organize and administer Relief Society both at a church-wide and local level. They reflect the work of women who sought to care for one another physically, morally, and spiritually. Early welfare efforts, home industry, discourses, and visits are documented. Collaborative work with national and international organizations is detailed within these records. They cover a wide range of topics and allow one to see how the work of Relief Society…

Susa Young Gates

When I was a child, I heard of Susan B. Anthony, Susa Young Gates, and John Sousa, but had trouble separating them out in my mind because of similarities in name.  The result was that I thought Brigham Young had this rockstar daughter who was featured on a silver dollar for her women’s rights activism and who wrote the “Stars and Stripes Forever” and other popular marches.  Well, obviously that’s not quite true to reality, though at the same time, aspects of it aren’t that far from the truth – Susa Young Gates was Brigham Young’s daughter, was highly involved in women’s rights activism, and was a musician.  In a recent From the Desk interview, Romney Burke (whose biography of Susa Young Gates was recently published) discussed more about this notable woman in Church history.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and commentary). In the interview, Romney Burke introduced who Susa Young Gates is and what she did: Susa Young Gates was a human dynamo. She served on the general boards of the Young Woman’s Mutual Improvement Association and the Relief Society. She started the journals for both organizations. She served as an officer in the National and International Councils of Women. Her work in genealogy really established the guidelines we still use today in family history. She knew virtually all the important figures in the women’s rights movement, including Susan B. Anthony. She met…

Considering Emma Hale Smith

Emma Smith isn’t just an elect lady, she’s a complicated one too.  Jenny Reeder, author of First: The Life and Faith of Emma Hale Smith, recently discussed reasons for why that is the case in an interview with From the Desk.  Alternatively vilified or considered an hero of the Restoration in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Reeder wanted people to know first and foremost that Emma was a real person, complete with flaws and a very complicated relationship with the Church. One of the more difficult aspects for members of the Church today to consider was Emma’s complicated relationship with plural marriage and her split from the Brighamite portion of the church.  When my wife and I were doing the readings for the “Emma Smith is an Elect Lady” section of Come Follow Me (D&C 25) last year, we decided to read the section of the At the Pulpit that shared thoughts from Emma Smith.  When we read her statement that Relief Society members needed “unite to expose iniquity, to search it out and put it away,” I laughed a little because, as I read it, she was targeting polygamy that was being practiced in secret by her husband and other Latter Day Saints.  Apparently Jenny Reeder was involved in compiling that section of At the Pulpit and had some concerns about that very issue: I knew we had to include something from Emma Smith, but unfortunately that meant cobbling together some…

What is the Church?

I recently finished a review of the April 2022 general conference, and one of the talks that stood out to me most was Reyna Aburto’s talk, “We Are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”.  I love the vision she articulates of feeling more ownership within the Church—that it isn’t just the institution—with its hierarchy of leaders and physical buildings—but mostly the members who are the Church. In the talk, she explains this as follows: From the beginning, God has sought to gather and organize His children “to bring to pass [our] immortality and eternal life.” With that purpose in mind, He has instructed us to build places of worship where we receive knowledge and the ordinances of salvation and exaltation; make and keep covenants that bind us to Jesus Christ; are endowed with “the power of godliness”; and gather together often to remember Jesus and strengthen each other in Him. The Church organization and its buildings exist for our spiritual benefit. “The Church … is the scaffolding with which we build eternal families.” While talking to a friend going through a difficult time, I asked how he was surviving financially. In tears, he replied that his bishop was helping him using fast-offering funds. He added, “I don’t know where my family and I would be if it wasn’t for the Church.” I replied, “The Church is the members. They are the ones who willingly and joyfully give fast offerings to help those of us in need.…

Women of the Hebrew Bible

In a culture that is often male-centric, it can sometimes be easy to overlook women in the scriptures. While very few are mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants, the Bible has many women who are mentioned by name and featured in the stories therein. In a recent From the Desk interview, Camille Fronk Olson discussed some of what she has learned about the women of the Old Testament over years of studying, teaching, and writing about them. What follows here is a copost (a shorter post with done excerpts and commentary). I learned a fair amount from reading what Camille Fronk Olson said in the interview. One interesting point had to do with Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Olson stated that: The Dead Sea Scrolls contributed to my appreciation and understanding of Hannah (I Samuel 1-2). In the King James version of the Bible, Hannah’s husband Elkanah tells her, “only the Lord establish his word” (1 Sam. 1:23), indicating an understanding that Hannah was free to make daily decisions as she deemed best, except when they violated a promise to the Lord. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, Elkanah tells Hannah, “May the Lord establish that which cometh out of thy mouth” (4QSama), showing that Elkanah believed that Hannah spoke the words of God—and that God was working through her. This same wording also appears in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.…

A Mother There: The Quotes Behind the Essay

I mentioned in my post last week that the BYU Studies article “A Mother There” by David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido had more quotes than I could put into that post.  Here is the follow-up with as many of the quotes cited in that article as I could find (excluding the ones presented last week).  It’s not everything cited, but it’s the vast majority.   Heavenly Wife and Parent   First Presidency (1916): Jesus Christ is not the Father of the spirits who have taken or yet shall take bodies upon this earth, for He is one of them. He is The Son, as they are sons or daughters of Elohim. So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring. Only such exalted souls have reached maturity in the appointed course of eternal life; and the spirits born to them in the eternal worlds will pass in due sequence through the several stages or estates by which the glorified parents have attained exaltation.[1]   Orson Pratt (1853): As God the Father begat the fleshly body of Jesus, so He, before the world began, begat his spirit. As the body required an earthly Mother, so his spirit required a heavenly Mother. As God associated in the capacity of a husband with the earthly mother, so likewise He associated…

Mother in Heaven: The Quotes Behind the Essay

On the Saturday evening session of General conference, Elder Renlund stated that: “Very little has been revealed about mother in heaven but what we do know is summarized in a Gospel Topic found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject.” While there were cautions he offered that have raised concerns in some sectors of the Church, there is also a strong affirmation for the Gospel Topics essay on the subject. In that light, I felt that it was appropriate to collect and present all of the quotes about Heavenly Mother that were referenced in that article to make them more easily accessible. (With the caveat that the Paulson and Pulido BYU article that is referenced is extensive enough that the quotes referenced in that essay will be presented in a separate post.)   Susa Gates on a Zina D. Young recollection from 1839: An interesting sidelight is given to this time through a possible glimpse of the thought-kernel which grew into such fragrant bloom in the full-voiced poem of Sister Snow [“O My Father”].  It was told by Aunt Zina D. Young to the writer [Susa Young Gates] as to many others during her life.  Father Huntington lost his wife under the most trying circumstances.  Her children were left desolate.  One day, when her daughter Zina was speaking with the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the…

Better to Use No Rationales Than Faulty Ones

You would think that at some point we would learn from past experiences with priesthood bans.  Concerning the priesthood and temple ban against people with black African ancestry, President Dallin H. Oaks noted that: Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here, and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.  There is a lesson in that. … I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon … by others.  The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. … Let’s don’t make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation.  The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent.[1] While I think it’s apparent from my previous post that I don’t agree with President Oaks’s conclusions about the nature of the ban and its relationship to those rationales, I do agree with his point that it is better to use no rationales than it is to use faulty rationales. Now, our other priesthood ban is the one against women holding the priesthood.  While it’s not entirely analogous (women haven’t been ordained to priesthood offices in the modern Church and there have been no indications given by Church leaders that this will change in the future), I feel like this idea is still relevant. One of the main rationales I’ve heard is that men are innately less righteous…

Studying the Words of The Relief Society Presidency

If the 5-year cycle for Relief Society General Presidencies that has been followed for 20 years holds true, the current Relief Society Presidency is likely to be released at this upcoming general conference.  With that in mind, I recently decided to go through and read all of the general conference talks given by members of the current presidency.  It was a depressingly short exercise, especially given the quality of materials presented.  These talks proved to be very meaningful to me, and after reviewing them, I wish that the full Relief Society General Presidency had been allowed to speak at every general conference.  That would have allowed them to each share 10 messages rather than the 3-4 that they have been able to share during their tenure so far.  In any case, I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes and stories from each of the members of the presidency. Jean B. Bingham President Bingham gave a number of hard-hitting statements in her talks, addressing unity, ministering, finding joy, and family relationships.  Her talk on ministering was given in the same meeting as the revamped program was announced and provided, for me, the clearest direction as to what fulfilling that program looked like.  For, me, though, the most meaningful quote came her talk that dealt with seeking unity between the sexes in the Church and in the home: Today, “we need women who have the courage and vision of our…

Brian and Laura Hales on Polygamy

‘Tis the season … to talk about polygamy, apparently.  Kurt Manwaring recently sat down with Brian and Laura Hales for a question and answer session about polygamy.  They have spent decades researching and writing about plural marriage (past and present), approaching the subject as faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It’s a very interesting interview to read through, so I recommend hopping on over to read it here.  What follows on this page is a co-post to the one over at Kurt Manwaring’s site, with excerpts and some discussion on the subject. One topic they discussed early on was the “Latter-day Saint Perspectives” podcast that they run.  Laura discussed the origin of the podcast, stating that: The idea for the podcast arose from a conversation I had with a Swedish member of the Church. In 2016, Brian and I gave a presentation in Gottingen, Sweden, on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. After the conference, an attendee approached me about the need for better resources on Church history for members living outside the United States. At the time, these members only had easy access to information that presented polar views. My new friend reinforced the point that struggling members lose trust in resources produced by the institutional Church, only leaving antagonistic sources as a place to reach out for answers to their questions about Church history and doctrine. More books were not the solution because of…