I want to tell you a little bit about Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt. She was born in New Hampshire as a Presbyterian. She had often read the Bible and subsequently began seeking a church similar to that that she found in the New Testament.
In the summer of 1837, a traveler loaned the Leavitts a copy of the Book of Mormon and of Parley P. Pratt’s Voice of Warning. She was converted and almost immediately wanted to share what she had found. She could hardly express the depth of her conviction after her baptism as a Latter-day Saint in the 1830s. “I had some [thing] of more importance that was shut up like fire in my bones.”
She shared her message in local taverns and spoke earnestly to anyone who would listen. She went to visit a sick neighbor, where a large group had gathered, and she said, “The Lord gave me great liberty of speech. I prayed with the spirit and with understanding. Also to Him be the glory.”
We know that Sarah spoke, and we know that she wrote about speaking of this fire in her bones, but we don’t have the actual words that she spoke. But I too stand before you and tell you that I have fire in my bones, that I am anxious and excited to talk about the stories of Mormon women. And to quote from C. S. Lewis in Shadowlands, I read Mormon women’s history to know that I am not alone.
I want to briefly give you a context of the world that Sarah lived in. From the beginning of Colonial America women expounded and exhorted. While they filled the majority of church membership, church leaders tended to follow the injunction given in the Bible that women should be silent in church. However, we have a lot of women who were not silent. We have Anne Hutchinson in the 1630s, who would gather people and teach them about seeking their own revelation. We have several others. Some of these women, because of the traditions of the time, were considered, as historian Susan Juster says, to be disorderly, because they were speaking out of order. Or as Kathleen Brown says when she discusses the women of the South, that they were either “good wives or nasty winches.”
Catherine Brekus teaches us, though, that several evangelical women, and when I say evangelical in that sense, I mean evangelical in the sense of wanting to share the gospel, having this “fire in their bones.” There were hundreds of them that would preach in the 18th and 19th centuries, so Sarah wasn’t alone. She said that “…several generations of women struggled to invent an enduring tradition of female religious leadership.” When she wrote her book Strangers and Pilgrims in 1998, there had been no social or cultural history of female preaching in early America. Part of the problem, then, is we have their records, but they are hidden, they are so deep, kind of like Sarah’s, which I found deep in the archives of the Church History Library. She said that oftentimes we don’t look at these women because they are considered to be too conservative by women’s rights advocates of today, or they are considered to be too radical by today’s evangelicals.
So we have this in-between space, but there is this great need to recover the stories of these women, to find the fire in our bones, and to read them, and to understand them, in order to know that we are not alone.
Catherine says that integrating women into history involves more than merely pasting their stories into previous grand narratives of political events. But we need to ask new questions and to create new paradigms to rethink our assumptions about the effects of cultural, political, and religious change.
So today I invite you to do that.
I have these three guiding points or guiding principles as i work to do women’s history for the Church.
The first one is that women have been and continue to be an important part of the Restoration, that women spoke and they testified and they exhorted, but often their records are hidden, and they are difficult to find. Also, these women include those whose names we may recognize and those whose names we don’t know. So we have both known and unknown women.
My second guiding principle is that women’s stories and experiences provide both scholarly information and devotional inspiration. We look at them from an institutional vantage point. Why is it important to hear female leaders in the institution speak? What does that give us? Why is it important to understand a history of our women’s organization? As we do so we learn how these women negotiated their place. They negotiated authority; they negotiated leadership; and they negotiated our understanding of priesthood and their place in the priesthood.
So we have this institutional history, but we also have this lived history, or lived religion. This is where we see religion holistically, to understand the beliefs, the practices, the everyday experiences. So, a lot of times this will involve the sociology and the religious studies, and the history in discovering what lived religion is. This reminds us of these unknown women. We see how these women enacted their religion and what they believed. This is a huge part of religious studies, thanks to scholars such as Robert Orsi and David Hall.
This leads to my third point, and I borrowed from Valerie Hudson, who uses the study of women in Countries of Conflict. She says that (and I am going to tie this to Mormon history) the well-being of women is crucial to the success of the LDS Church, including those of different generations or cultures or educational and socio-economic levels, and those who are questioning and those who are leaving. It is vital that we understand our women.
With that background, I want to introduce you to the Church Historian’s Press.
The Church Historian’s Press was started in 2008 with documentary editing projects, narrative histories, and topical studies. We publish accurate, transparent, and authoritative works of history about the LDS Church. We use scholarly standards from credentialed historians and documentary editors. So it is really important to us that we have a strong peer review team, that we have vigorous fact-checking, and that we rely on primary sources. Our audience consists of scholars and members of the LDS Church.
The first and biggest project, of course, most of you know, is the Joseph Smith Papers, which gathers all the extant documents of Joseph Smith and provides complete and accurate transcripts.
There are two significant women’s documents in the Joseph Smith Papers project that I want to highlight. The first one you see a picture of here is of Lucy Mack’s history, and the second one is the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes. So they both start here, and that is really great, I think, because it shows within an institutional format that these women’s stories are so important in formating who we are.
We also have the George Q. Cannon journals, which just came out, which are 52 physical volumes spanning five decades, incredible journals–not a lot of women’s perspective, but again we get this idea of the institution and where these women came from.
So I am going to spend most of today talking about two of those publications. One of them is The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History. This was published in 2016 and contains 78 documents exploring the Relief Society. So we start with the Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes and then just go through the next 50 years, talking about how these minutes influenced people, again, in their institutions and in their lived histories. We have meeting minutes; we have sermons by both men and women; we have annual reports from local Relief Societies. So we have the big Church and then the small church.
We have newspaper articles and editorials, political petitions and speeches, poetry, letters, journal entries, and reminiscences. And these all play a really important part to show this embodiment of the Nauvoo Relief Society along the Mormon corridor in the Mountain West and in areas as far away as Hawaii and England. So that is 1842 to 1892–fantastic resource book. It is all online. You can also buy the huge, big tome. I didn’t bring it with me, because I didn’t want to carry it, but I love it.
Next we have the book At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women. This was printed in 2017, just last year. This book contains 54 sermons, theologizing on tenets of faith. It is what we might consider a female Journal of Discourses, or at least it is a start on a female Journal of Discourses. We drew on women with inspirational and doctrinal understanding, and it demonstrates a history of women speaking. You can see that change over time, from the 19th century to the 21st century.
Two future projects that we have coming up, that have already been announced are: we will be publishing the Emmaline B. Wells diaries, which is huge and so exciting; and also an institutional narrative history of the Young Women’s organization. So you can see how all of these things help us to understand again, not only the institutional history, but the lived religion side of it.
So I want to start by talking about two women who are very significant in creating the salvation of Mormon women’s history. Interestingly enough they are related. We have Emma Smith and her mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith.
We are going to start with Emma. Emma was born in Harmony, Pennsylvania, the seventh of nine children. She was born into an affluent family, and she attended a local female seminary, where she developed excellent penmanship. But she was also a Methodist., and she was converted as a child. Her correspondence with Joseph Smith is found also on the Joseph Smith Papers project website.
After her baptism early in July 1830, Joseph received a revelation for her, which is the only known canonized revelation specifically given to a woman, addressed to a woman, known as Doctrine and Covenants Section 25. This talks about her position and responsibilities in the Church. She was called “an elect lady,” and she was to support her husband and collect hymns for a new hymnbook. But she was also told ”. . . to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.”
So I looked up in the 1828 dictionary what “expound” and “exhort” meant at that time. I think this is really interesting and helpful. “Expound” means “to explain, or to lay open the meaning, or to interpret.” And “exhort” means “to encourage, to embolden, to cheer, to advise, to excite, or give spirit, strength or courage.” This message was not just for Emma. The last verse of Section 25 says, “This is my voice unto all.” And so this is why we see people like Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt or a Lucy Mack Smith–Sarah, who had “fire in her bones,” and Lucy, who witnessed at every time possible this charge to exhort scripture and to expound the truth.
Now let us go back to a little bit of Emma’s background. She was raised Methodist, which was a church started by John Wesley as a more progressive religious reform movement. Early Methodism saw a lot of women preaching, but then they began to recognize the importance of a trained clergy. So while women could express their testimonies, or exhort, they wanted a clergy who was licensed, who could expound. Emma probably felt a little uncomfortable with this charge to expound scripture, to interpret. It wasn’t until twelve years later when the Nauvoo Relief Society was organized in March of 1842 where she really took this charge seriously to expound scripture and exhort the Church.
At the first meeting of the Nauvoo Relief Society Joseph Smith actually read Section 25. You can find Section 25 and a great interpretation and annotation to it in The First Fifty Years of Relief Society. But he taught the women in Nauvoo that Emma was an elect lady, that she was a mother in Israel, and that she needed to demonstrate this pattern of virtue, to preside and dignify her office.
She only met with the Relief Society twelve times in 1842 and four times in 1844, but her leadership was crucial to help others recognize this institutional authority and history. We took a collection of her words through different Nauvoo Relief Society minutes in what we called a “discourse,” one discourse in At the Pulpit. Here is one of the things that she said, “We are going to do something extraordinary.” I think that is exhorting, it’s encouraging, and cheering people.
“We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.” She also said, “We seek to relieve the distressed, that each member should be ambitious to do good.” “We should assist each other.” “We should walk straight and be determined to do good.” “God knows we have a work to do in this place. We have got to watch and pray and be careful.”
So at the same time that she is creating this institutional history, she is also creating a place where women could feel comfortable and live their religion and express their understanding about lived religion.
So women have been and continue to be a key part of the Restoration. Women’s stories and experiences are crucial for scholarly information and for devotional inspiration, and the well-being of women is crucial to the success of the LDS Church.
Next I want to talk about Lucy Mack Smith. These paintings are by Kathleen Peterson. Lucy grew up in a deeply religious family, with a generally absent father. Her mother ensured that the family was centered on scripture. So they believed in prophecies and visions. Her son William Smith remembered, “My mother was a very pious woman and much interested in the welfare of her children, both here and hereafter; made use of every means which her parental love could suggest to get us engaged in seeking for our souls’ salvation,” or as the term was “in getting religion.” And I love that.
Several months after the death of her sons Joseph, Hyrum, and Samuel Smith, she began writing her history. At age 69 she was in poor health, and she felt it “…a privilege, as well as my duty, to give my last testimony to a world from which I must soon take my departure.” She was assisted by Martha Coray and her husband, Howard, who had acted as a scribe and historian for Joseph Smith, and the Twelve Apostles actually encouraged her to write this history.
So, a couple of problems with this history. She is impaired by a fading memory; she is older when she writes this history, and she is also fueled by indignation and grief, with the death of her sons and her husband. So that figures into her writing of this history. She sometimes presents a confused chronology and incomplete information. She often turns the misfortunes of the Smith family into an exemplification of family character. She is really trying to make this a good story. Even with all of that, though, we get great insight into her personality and her attitude, her emotions, and her beliefs, and understanding of Joseph Smith’s role as a prophet.
Sherilyn Holcroft talks about how she provides details that we don’t find in any other primary document, such as about Joseph Smith’s painful leg surgery when he was a kid and the way the Smith family received Joseph Smith’s account of ancient inhabitants in the Book of Mormon.
Jan Shipps says that her history is “a very rare and valuable first-hand account provided by an observer closely connected to the primary participants in the early development of the Mormon movement.”
Her work really influenced the Journal History of the Church. It tells a sacred story, which is also our idea of lived religion. And her narrative really has informed the larger institutional history of Latter-day Saints.
Brigham Young’s assessment was a little bit different. He was a little bothered by Mother Smith’s history. Initially he promoted it and supported it, but then he suppressed it in the printing of 1865. That comes from a long-standing feud between him and Orson Pratt, and also probably between Brigham Young and Emma Smith and Lucy Mack Smith, who did not come West, and with William Smith, who was very problematic. So he concluded that the book was “a tissue of lies from the beginning to the end.” Luckily we have Leonard Arrington, who says that this is an informational and basically accurate account.
But more importantly, I want to talk about how she is a witness, how she too had fire in her bones. This is a picture depicting the first discourse we have in our book about when she was taking a group of Saints from New York to Ohio. They were stopped at Lake Erie, the Buffalo Harbour, because of ice. She encouraged the people in her company to raise their prayers and have faith in God, and at that very moment the ice broke, and only their boat was able to get through. We take that account from her history, from her reminiscence, but I love this picture because she does look like one of those early evangelical female exhorters. She was calling upon the power of God. She knew the scriptures, and she was teaching that.
She witnessed often in the Relief Society, our institutional history. She wept often and told the women that she was advanced in years and couldn’t stay long. On March 31 of 1842, she wanted to leave a testimony of the Book of Mormon: “It is a book of God. Joseph is a man of God, a prophet of the Lord set apart to lead the people.” In April of 1842 she spoke very pathetically of her lonely situation. So we see both sides of this. We see this institutional testament and testimony, but we also see this person who is living a real life and having a hard time of it.
She was the first woman to speak at General Conference, which she did on October 8, 1845, at the age of 73. That talk is also included in At the Pulpit. The Saints really worked hard to take care of her.
So now that we have established this history of Emma Smith and Lucy Mack Smith in writing their stories and giving an account of what they believed in, I want to talk about this idea of the well-being of women being crucial to the success of the LDS Church in four different ways.
First, the importance of seeking holiness.
Next, ministering with authority.
Third, unity in diversity.
And fourth, in building the kingdom.
I am going to talk about several stories from these two books on the churchhistorianspress.org that illustrate these things.
So, first of all, seeking holiness.
Here we have a picture of three of my favorite ladies. It’s not true. I have so many favorite ladies, but I really like these ladies. I want to tell you a little bit about Elizabeth Ann Whitney. This is actually the only picture I have ever been able to find of her. But here she is, with her compadres, her sisters, Emmeline Wells and Eliza R. Snow.
Elizabeth Ann Whitney had natural musical talent and very religious inclination. So she was very excited to hear about the Restoration of the Church, and she and her husband joined in Kirtland, Ohio. She attended a patriarchal blessing meeting. This happened when Joseph Smith, Sr., was the presiding patriarch of the Church. These meetings were often huge manifestations of the Spirit, and spiritual gifts abounded. She exemplifies in my mind this idea of women receiving spiritual gifts. She was blessed with the gift of singing in tongues. She was told that if she maintained that gift that she would have it throughout her life. Joseph Smith wrote about how she often was able to comfort him. So on September 14, 1835, when she received her patriarchal blessing, she immediately stood up and sang a song in tongues. Parley P. Pratt interpreted it and wrote down the words. And that is our second talk in our book At the Pulpit. It is a charismatic discourse, if you will, and it is called, Adam-ondi-Ahmen. It is a beautiful example of a gift that we don’t see often in these days, or a gift that we maybe see in different ways than we did at the beginning of the Church.
So these ideas of spiritual gifts are also apparent in the Nauvoo Relief Society, where these women were taught by Joseph Smith to seek holiness. One of my very favorite meetings (again, if you have to have a favorite, this definitely is my favorite), April 19, 1842. We have excerpts of that meeting in At the Pulpit, but also it is in First Fifty Years of Relief Society and on the Joseph Smith Papers website. This is a meeting to welcome Presendia Buell, who was the sister of Zina Young, who lived outside of Nauvoo, who wanted to become a member of the Nauvoo Relief Society.
So these women gathered and bore testimony and literally blessed each other, providing relief through the Spirit. Sarah Cleveland spoke of “the happiness that she felt in the present association of females, and made very appropriate remarks respecting the duties and prospects of the society, that it was organized after the order of heaven. . . .”
Presendia Buell “…rejoiced in the opportunity, that she considered it a great privilege. She felt the Spirit of the Lord with the society and rejoiced to become a member. . . .”
And then we have Eliza R. Snow who promised Presendia that “…inasmuch as she had become a member of this society, as the spirit of a person pervades every member of the body, so shall the Spirit of the Lord which pervades this society be with her. She [should] feel it and rejoice. She shall be blessed wherever she is, and the Lord shall open the way and she shall be instrumental in doing much [good]. Through her own exertions and … to the fund of the society….She shall warm up the hearts of those who are cold and dormant and shall be instrumental in doing much good.”
Wow! If we had Relief Society meetings like that today, if we could recognize our inherent value to do so much good, what a power we could be. Do you see how we need these words to help us create or embody the success of women in the Church?
Eliza R. Snow was the secretary of that meeting, and at the end she summarized it and said that the meeting was very interesting, nearly all spoke, and “the spirit of the Lord, like a purifying stream refreshed every heart.” I love that.
So Joseph Smith intended for the Relief Society to be a holy place, a place where the women’s hearts could be enlarged and expanded, that women would have the desire to repent, and their kindness and charity and love would increase others’ desires to repent.
Another story that I love is of Jane Neyman. I love that picture! Look at her! I don’t think she has teeth, but I don’t know. She actually was a very poor woman in Nauvoo. She applied for membership–that was the thing back in the day–and she was not given membership in the Nauvoo Relief Society. Her daughters had gotten caught up in the scandal with John Bennett and his cronies, and they believed that she had a house of ill repute. So she had a reputation, and there was a lot of gossip about her, but she didn’t become bitter. She stayed with the Church. With her daughters she came across the Plains. She even helped with the cholera epidemic, believing that if she gave her soul, that she would be saved. She became the first Relief Society President in Beaver, Utah. I love that. She goes from being cast out in Nauvoo to serving a really important position in Beaver, Utah. She taught her Relief Society about the importance of forbearing and forgiving, of refraining from scrutinizing the conduct of our neighbors, remembering always that we are human, and therefore must err. Charity covers a multitude of sins, puts to death or covers tattle and slander, buries all malice and envy which at any time has intruded upon our peace and harmony, and in their stead establishes truth and integrity, twin sisters of charity. I love that her lived experience, her lived religion, comes out in this very short talk, and yet we see this power of seeking holiness.
Next I want to talk about ministering with authority. This is part of this institutional and lived religion.
Emma Smith’s authority came from Section 25, when the Lord called her an “Elect Lady.”
Joseph Smith said to that first Relief Society, “I now turn the key to you.”
Eliza R. Snow recorded all of those words, carried the minute book with her to Utah, and that minute book gave her authority to minister. Brigham Young commissioned Eliza to assist the bishops in organizing branches of the Relief Society throughout Utah. Then he gave her another mission. He said, “I want you to instruct the sisters.”
She said, “Although my heart went pit-a-pat at the time being, I did not and could not form an adequate estimate of the magnitude of the work before me. To carry into effect the President’s requisition, I saw at once involved public meetings and public speaking; [That scared her to death, which we don’t often think about her, but she was a real person] also travel abroad as the branches of this society extended at the time through several counties in Utah, and ultimately all the valleys of the mountains.” So she taught with that authority. She was given that commission, first of all from Joseph Smith, but then from Brigham Young.
Next we have Sarah Kimball. She was involved with the Nauvoo Relief Society from the very beginning. It was her idea with her seamstress Margaret Cook to create this organization. She creates this institutional memory of Joseph Smith. Years later she talks about how Joseph said that he had something better for the Relief Society, and also that the Church was never fully organized until after the Relief Society was organized. So she saw that institutional part of it.
Joseph Smith told the Relief Society that they were organized after the pattern of the priesthood. So years later in Salt Lake City, when Sarah was president of the 15th Ward Relief Society, she and Eliza, in 1866, came up with this list of duties of the Relief Society, including deaconesses, and teachers, and presidentesses. She was using that pattern that Joseph had taught them. I love that, that she did that.
She later prepared a speech for the 1895 meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, her age prevented her from going, but her speech expressed the importance of what she called the “Sixth Sense,” or the Spirit. So she talked about the importance of listening to the whisperings of the Spirit, that “the Spirit educates and exalts and enlightens . . . and is a legitimate exercise of the spiritual power. . . .” That talk is also found in At the Pulpit.
Also we have in Ministering with Authority the example of Phoebe Angell. Phoebe Angell was the mother of Truman Angell. She was also a midwife and came from a broken home and an abusive husband. When they arrived in Salt Lake City, she employed her skill as a midwife to become the first president of the Female Council of Health. These are the only extant minutes of that meeting on August 14,1852, where she encourages these women to rely not only on their faith, but also on their study and their book-learning.
Next I want to talk about Unity in Diversity.
One of my favorite examples is Jane Wilkie Hooper Blood, or if you are from Utah it might be [pronounced] “Hupper,” I don’t know. She was just one of these unknown women, along with Phoebe Angell and some of these other women. She was in Kaysville and was the Relief Society secretary and counsellor and treasurer and the Primary president, I don’t think all at once, but you don’t know how these women did those things. She writes in her diary very valuable information about the function of the Church. She is also very involved in silk production.
She writes in her journal, and I think this is indicative of all of us, in May of 1883, ”I wish I could remember all they said, for it was good,” after a meeting. But then I wanted to highlight this line that she goes into in June of 1883: “I wish that my Council [her Primary Council] would attend more regular, for it is quite a task to attend alone. But I feel to try and do the best I can.” I read these women’s stories to know that I am not alone.
Next we have Zina Young and Rebecca Standring. Zina was known for having a “mother heart.” She had two sons with her first husband, a daughter with Brigham Young, and then she was asked to raise four children of a sister wife who passed away. She attended the Lehi Relief Society Annual Conference in October of 1869, and it seems like it was all on motherhood. So there was Brigham Young speaking; George A. Smith was speaking; and Eliza R. Snow all about the duties and responsibilities of mothers. She noticed that the Lehi Relief Society Presidency had a ton of kids. The President had eight, a counselor had fifteen, another had ten, another had eight. I mean, they were good Mormon families. But she also noticed the secretary, Rebecca Standring, who was there, who had been unable to have children. And I love that Zina recognized that diversity. She said this: “I would exhort you to be the faithful in the discharge of every duty, and to mothers I would say, ‘Fulfill your duties to your children, for they are blessings from God, entrusted to your care.’ And to you, my sisters, who may not have children, ‘Be comforted. We serve a just God, and if you are faithful to His cause, it will be no loss to you.’” I read these words to know that I am not alone.
We have a lot of diversity in At the Pulpit.
We have people from England and Scotland and Canada; from Hawaii. We have Eleanor Georgina Jones, who passed as white, but came from a multiracial family. We have Lucrecia Suárez de Juárez, who spoke in Mexico.
And then I want to talk briefly about one woman, standing here next to Kate Holbrook, on the left, Jutta Busche, from Germany. She moved from Germany to Utah. She was called as a Relief Society teacher. She was really overwhelmed with the perfection of the women in her Utah Relief Society, with their perfect hairdos, and their immaculate clothing, and they would get up early and study, and they would serve in the PTA, and they would grow gardens, and can, and be in the PTA, and everything else, and they bargain-shopped. You know, the Utah Mormon woman myth. And she really struggled fitting in to that. Her diversity stuck out. She said, “I finally learned that I should be myself. That is often not easy, however, because our desires to fit in, to compete and impress, or even simply to be approved of lead us to imitate others and devalue our own backgrounds, our own talents, and our own burden and challenges. I had to learn not to worry about the behavior of others and their code of rules. I had to learn to overcome my anxious feelings that if I didn’t conform, I simply did not measure up.” I read to know that I am not alone; that my diversity is important in the unity of this Relief Society.
We also have the stories of Gladys Sitati from Kenya and of Judy Brummer.
So next and quickly I want to talk about Building the Kingdom.
Here we have Mary Isabella Horne. Joseph Smith taught the Relief Society the importance of relieving the poor and saving souls, both the spiritual and temporal. And Brigham Young really expanded on this view. But really it was the women who led the way in this. Women organized Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations.The Retrenchment is what Brigham Young asked Mary Isabella Horne to lead. She was a member of the Nauvoo Relief Society. She was the president of the 14th Ward Relief Society, and in 1869 he gave her this mission. And I love the idea of this mission, to cooperate across ward boundaries, but also to teach women not to worry so much about setting a nice table, about cooking food, about dressing appropriately, but really to focus on the spiritual and intellectual advancement of women. So she talked about this, about carrying the principles of retrenchment, or pulling back the time and the strength and the means redeemed from useless labor, to be put to work gaining intelligence and spirituality.
My next example of Building the Kingdom is Judy Brummer.
She grew up in South Africa on a farm where she played with the children of the servants of her family. There she learned (I can’t ever say it right) the Xhosa language. Her mother taught her, homeschooled her, until she went off to boarding school. In the university she studied the Xhosa language again, and after she became a member of the Church and went on a mission, they realized she was the only missionary who could actually interpret and speak to these people. As a result she spent all of her time in this one area where they were. She also was able to translate selections from the Book of Mormon. So she used her background and her skills, her diversity, to bless the Church and to build the kingdom.
So let me reiterate my key guiding points in doing Mormon women’s history: that women have been and continue to be a key part of the Restoration; that women’s stories and experiences provide both scholarly information and devotional inspiration through institutional history and through lived religion; but most importantly, that the well-being of women is crucial to the success of the LDS Church; and these women’s stories of ministering with authority, of seeking holiness, of building the kingdom, and of the unity in their diversity encourage us and help us to remember that we are not alone.
My invitation for you is this: Will you include women in your scholarly work, in your talks, and in your lessons? Will you record women’s voices, both your own and other women’s? And will you encourage other women to do the same?
We do have fire in our bones, and we need to record that and remember that and teach that.
Q 1: For a cash-strapped audience member, which book to buy, Fifty Years or At the Pulpit?
A 1: I don’t get any royalties from this, because I am a staff member of the Church, but I would say that they are great books, that I refer to my hard copies all the time. I have even labeled my First Fifty Years of the Nauvoo Relief Society each day with little tabs, and I use them all the time. But the good news is, as Matt explained at the beginning, that At the Pulpit is on your Gospel Library app. It is under Church History. It is all there, which I think makes it an institutionally appropriate source for us to use in lessons and such. Also both of these books are online, the full editions. There are some bonus discourses in At the Pulpit, on the churchhistorianspress.org. I think The First Fifty Years is a great scholarly foundational piece. I think that At the Pulpit is a little more approachable. But both of these books are books that you don’t necessarily have to read from cover-to-cover, but you can pick up, or read through the index, or whatever. So that is a good question.
Q 2: Oh, this is an interesting one. Have you or anyone else from the Church History Department been able to find more information to corroborate Andrea Radke-Moss’s claim that Eliza R. Snow was gang-raped and could not have children as a result?
A 2: No. But she has done some interesting work, and I think that is another important aspect to realize that these women are real women, and that they suffer from real problems.
Q 3: Say more about what you mean by women’s sources being hidden or buried. Where are they?
A 3: That’s a good question. My colleague, Janiece Johnson, and I put together a book called Witness of Women. We did that because we felt like it’s so hard sometimes. These women’s stories are not often found in our curriculum or other materials. So we culled archives and found these women’s experiences in letters and correspondence, in journals and reminiscences, in newspapers. And we just took snippets of them, and organized them topically so that they were much easier to use. They are in those minute books. We also had to cull through those minute books and the Women’s Exponent and other places for At the Pulpit. But it takes a lot of digging. You can find a lot of them online for the 20th century and 21st century, but it takes a lot of work to really uncover them. They are in so many different places. I feel like with Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt, we know that she spoke, but we don’t know the words that she said. Unfortunately the technology has changed so much over time that that causes difficulty in finding those words.
Q 4: What advice or counsel would you give for writing our own histories to influence future generations?
A 4: Claudia Bushman is the one. If you ever talk to her she is going to make you walk away promising that you are going to record your history. I think there are a lot of different ways we can do that. And it all depends on your time and your energy and your ability. I am an avid journal-keeper. I know a lot of historians don’t like to keep journals because they don’t want them to record all, but I want the record of my life to be straight and accurate from me. In that way I am controlling my history. There are other ways that you can do it. I’ve also found that I like to write personal essays about a topic that happens over time. I love to talk to my grandmother and get little pieces of her life.
Q 5: You mentioned that Emma Smith held only a limited number of Relief Society meetings.
A 5: So what happened is that she was a busy mother. She had a lot of health problems, and her children had a lot of health problems. And so that was her first priority, as it should be always. Also we know that she had some struggles with plural marriage and with polygamy, and that was the last four meetings of the Nauvoo Relief Society. She used that to speak against plural marriage, and that eventually brought the downfall of the Nauvoo Relief Society.
So when she wasn’t at Relief Society, either her counselors stood in for that chain of authority as they had been taught by the institutional church, and I think there is just one meeting where there wasn’t any presidency member there, but the assistant secretary was in charge.
Q 6: What happened to the April 1842 blessings?
A 6: That’s a very good question. The great thing about First Fifty Years of Relief Society is that they provide these amazing introductory essays that talk about this change over time, and the documents themselves talk about how these charismatic spiritual gifts over time ended. So that is a study for that whole Fifty Years book. It’s a really interesting study. There are also some great scholars who have done good work on that, Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright.
Q 7: To what extent was the publication of At the Pulpit a reaction to the women who were protesting to have the priesthood?
A 7: There was no influence of that. We decided before that we really wanted to create, like I said, this female Journal of Discourses. And it is so interesting when you just look at history, you see these different women, and how they interpret the priesthood and how they recognize and understand the priesthood. That is just a part of recognizing who we are and what our authority is.
Q 8: Where can you learn more about deaconesses, teachers, and presidentesses?
A 8: That document is in First Fifty Years and it never really went into effect. It was such a cool idea, and this idea came from Joseph Smith in establishing the Relief Society as an order of the priesthood.
Q 9: And lastly, you mentioned Paul’s admonition for women to keep silent. How do you interpret that scripture? Have you heard somebody’s take on this?
A 9: You can hear all about it at four o’clock!