Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Childless Woman: Some Correlation Needed

The Childless Woman: Some Correlation Needed

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 12, 2009

Correlation has a bad name among Bloggernacle participants, I think. We seem to have the impression that the Correlation Department is a pale gray, shadowy bureaucracy, endlessly sanitizing our history and purging our lesson manuals of anything remotely interesting but not suitable for and accessible to the youngest child or the newest convert in the remotest corner of the world.

Personally, I have a far higher opinion of the work they do to vet materials going out with the church’s official imprimatur (and that’s only one part of their work, I realize). My appreciation for this work grows the more I spend time with old lesson manuals and magazines. Much of that early-to-mid-20th century material is wonderful and holds up well under the passage of time. Some of it is fine of itself, but because it is essentially secular doesn’t fit well into our current ideas of the best use of church printing presses. Some of it is dated because of the growth of our understanding, a change in church emphasis, and even because of revelation that has come in the intervening years.

Some of the published material strikes us as bad today – and, I believe, would have been recognized as bad at the time of publication had there been a correlation review that considered whether an idea really was gospel truth, or at least whether it had been adequately thought out.

Example: Here is a poem that appeared in an issue of the Improvement Era in 1921.

The childless woman! Ah, pity her
As her graces fall from her one by one
Like the petals sweet from a rare, rare rose,
Under the heat of the noon-day sun.
No one to care for; just herself,
Nothing to live for, only pelf.

The childless woman! Oh, God, forgive
That pitiful person with heart of clay!
A loveless life, a life unlived;
A useless strife at the close of day.
No childish lips to renew her youth,
Her faith in God and her love of truth.

Poor childless woman who never knew
The welcome note of a babe’s first cry,
Who never bent o’er a little bed
With terror rent – would he live or die?
And no one to leave when her life is done,
Poor childless woman, not anyone!

– Mrs. A.J. Reid

I expect that most of us, with our 21st century awareness of infertility and other issues, cringed from beginning to end. Yet with the exercise of a little charity, most of us can probably see that Mrs. Reid intended to praise motherhood in a backhanded sort of way by condemning selfish childlessness … but in seeming ignorance that selfishness is not always a factor in childlessness.

Correlation almost certainly would have caught that problem.

In this particular case, an unknown person (probably a woman, and possibly a staff member, published an unsigned challenge to the poem in the Young Woman’s Journal), in 1923:

Pity the childless woman?

Yes, either kind.

Let that pity be so broad that the judgment will indeed be merciful and well seasoned with justice, for no one can be sure just why she is childless. Too many times the judgments are cruel and unjust, often conclusions are drawn from deceiving appearances, and many heart aches result.

Did the reader ever consider this from the standpoint of that little woman who goes through life with an intense longing for motherhood?

Do you know that every day she misses the love of little children because observation has taught her what it would mean to her?

I know that she even considers what it means to her never to be grandma.

Do you know that she is willing to go to the very gate of death just to hear “the welcome note of a babe’s first cry”? Yea, even though it be the last time she ever hears the cry.

It may never occur to you that she has even been jealous of that mother who

Bent o’er a little bed
With terror rent, would he live or die!

She has been jealous of the hours of patience; the hours of endurance; the hours of toil and care a mother spends for her children.

She realizes the power of character building there is in true motherhood.

A young mother once said, “I wish I had never married. I wanted a career.”

I said, “Well, to me, there is no career equal to that of a good homemaker, a true wife, and a successful mother.”

Often the childless woman is told to adopt children. She is truly blest when she can, but perhaps the very causes depriving her of having children of her own may deprive her of taking others to raise.

Let us then be careful in our judgment and if we err let it be on the side of mercy.

Without correlation, I can see our publications becoming increasingly filled with such thoughtless pieces, followed by ever-more contentious corrections, especially as the church grows less and less homogenous with members drawn from ever more dissimilar backgrounds.

Correlation helps to keep our church publications from resembling, well … internet Mormonism.



  1. Hah, Touche!

    Comment by Tatiana — August 12, 2009 @ 6:34 am

  2. Here’s my “ha,” too! That was good – top to bottom. Thanks.

    Comment by Hunter — August 12, 2009 @ 8:00 am

  3. Yes, but where else would one encounter the word “pelf?”

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 12, 2009 @ 8:02 am

  4. Correlation helps to keep our church publications from resembling, well … internet Mormonism

    This from the queen of internet Mormonism…

    Comment by Matt W. — August 12, 2009 @ 8:06 am

  5. Ha! to you, too!

    I likes my internet to stay on the internet (except when I meet y’all in real life), and I likes my church to stay church.

    /s/ Her Majesty

    Last Lemming, as long as there are poets needing a rhyme for “self,” I’m afraid “pelf” will remain in the language.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 12, 2009 @ 8:10 am

  6. sometimes I wish I had some pelf…

    Comment by Matt W. — August 12, 2009 @ 8:55 am

  7. Even Walter Scott had to resort to “pelf” as a rhyme for “self” —

    Breathes there the man with soul so dead
    Who never to himself hath said,
    This is my own, my native land!
    Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
    As home his footsteps he hath turned
    From wandering on a foreign strand!
    If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
    For him no minstrel raptures swell;
    High though his titles, proud his name,
    Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
    Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
    The wretch, concentred all in self,
    Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
    And, doubly dying, shall go down
    To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
    Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 12, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  8. I love your allusion to the uncorrelated “internet Mormonism.” I just had to smile at that one.

    Yes, I think Correlation gets a bad rap in some “internet Mormonism,” when ironically it could use a shot of it.

    Actually, I appreciate that internet Mormonism is largely unregulated (except by readers’ comments). However, I do find myself wishing that there were less scatterbrained posts in the Bloggernacle. Unfortunately, I probably contribute to some of it.

    Comment by S.Faux — August 12, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  9. Ah, if only correlation would go one step further, not only preventing poetry the relays bad messages from reaching church publications, but would prevent bad poetry from ever assaulting us.

    (And no, I’m not kidding. Well, not entirely, anyway.)

    Comment by Sam B. — August 12, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  10. Warning: Threadjack coming!)

    After wincing through that first poem, the second (was that really Sir Walter Scott?) brought a whole flood of memories.

    Back in the Cold War days when I was in school, we saw repeatedly the movie The Man Without a Country in which the Scott poem figures prominently. All I remember 45 or more years on is the title character reading a few lines from the poem, and then hurling the book into the sea.

    It’d be harder to toss my desktop computer out the window–and more expensive, especially if I made a habit of it.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 12, 2009 @ 11:59 am

  11. […] new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!Keepapitchinin: “Correlation helps to keep our church publications from resembling, well … internet Mormonism.” Amen and […]

    Pingback by Correlation and the Bloggernacle | A Soft Answer — August 12, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  12. I wonder if anyone has done any kind of history of the correlation process in the church, and how much of it was due to the influence, possibly, of Pres. Hinckley in his role of working with the church’s media presence starting after his mission? I’d agree, that we have a more unified and less cringe-worthy message post-correlation, than in the past. Not that we don’t still have missteps from time to time. It is also interesting to note that in a post-correlation world, we have a recognition of the uncorrelated internet, and encouragement from the church in the form of Elder Ballard’s BYU-H address and subsequent Ensign article.

    However, I do still think they are a pale gray, shadowy bureaucracy, just a more benign one. :)

    Comment by kevinf — August 12, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  13. IMNSHO, the demonization of Correlation is one of the seven deadly heresies of the Bloggernacle.

    I’ll accept nominations for things that should be included among the other deadly heresies.

    Naturally, all nominations will go through a correlating committee. 😉

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 12, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

  14. kevinf, Internet Mormonism has plausible deniability. Which the various auxiliaries’ pre-correlation publications did not have.

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 12, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  15. Must there be seven? We might need to promulgate a few more just to round out the number… hmmm…

    Comment by Tatiana — August 12, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

  16. I thought J. Max Wilson’s blog aggregator, served as correlation. And no matter how much of a queen of the Bloggernacle Ardis has become, she still passes correlation there (I actually was refered to this post by it).

    Comment by psychochemiker — August 12, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  17. This poem is so very, very bad that I almost can’t believe it was actually published. It shouldn’t take a correlation committee to put the kibosh on something like this!

    Comment by E — August 12, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

  18. I can’t believe you think it’s bad.
    Your censure makes me feel sad
    Because I’m sure that Sister Reid
    Felt inspiration’s touch, indeed.
    It must be hard for an editor
    To say “No thanks,” even tho’ he’s sure
    That the poet’s Muse is deaf and dumb
    And isn’t worth a moldy crumb
    Because poets always feel inspired
    Even when their rhymes are weak and tired
    And they never know just when to quit
    Like me, with this crazy piece of … wit.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 12, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

  19. Maybe I should have used a pen name for that …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 12, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  20. Bwa ha ha ha!

    Comment by E — August 12, 2009 @ 10:45 pm

  21. Ardis FTW! (Or is that R. Diss Partial?)

    Comment by Hunter — August 12, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

  22. My brother married one year before I did. I tried, and cried, for five years before I had a baby. By that time,my brother and his wife had five babies. Let me tell you from my experience that the poem is hurtful. I can’t believe it was published in a Mormon publication. But Ardis has shown us other poems that make us shudder.

    Comment by Maurine — August 13, 2009 @ 1:39 am

  23. pelf  /pɛlf/ –noun money or wealth, esp. when regarded with contempt or acquired by reprehensible means.
    (Thought I’d save some unlearned soul like myself from having to look it up.

    Regardng the 1923 reply, interesting that it took two years to publish a correction. Would anyone by then remember the original piece, or was the uproar so long and loud that it was still reverberating? My favorite line is “Too many times…conclusions are drawn from deceiving appearances, and many heart aches result.” I find that still happens far too often, (and I’m the one drawing conclusions. Yikes!)

    Regarding the Scott poem, my favorite is the version that goes:
    Lives there a man with soul so dead
    Who never to himself has said
    To heck with it all, I’ll stay in bed! :-)

    Comment by Clark — August 13, 2009 @ 9:21 am

  24. How many dictionaries do you have to look at to get to Pelf…

    Self = poetic nightmare.

    I for one think conflicting letters to the editor section would make the Ensign more interesting. Who needs all that uplift and spirituality when you get some good old fashion conflict.

    Of course I am kidding, thankfully we do not have to worry about that kind of thing.

    Comment by JonW — August 13, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  25. JonW, you have me envisioning the online Ensign with an open comments policy akin to the one at the Salt Lake Tribune

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 13, 2009 @ 10:44 am

  26. Ardis, this was a great post.

    I appreciate the appreciation of Correlation. I have a deeper appreciation for it after being able to see a little more how much care and concern and counseling and prayer goes into the process (I have a couple of friends on the committee). They would be the first to admit they are not perfect, but there is much good done, and the Spirit is not a stranger to what they do.

    And I don’t envy their job. It’s a hard, hard job.

    p.s. Maybe your poem (18) should be nominated for a Niblet. :)

    Comment by m&m — August 13, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  27. Arthur Hough Clough, “Spectator ab extra”

    As I sat at the Café I said to myself,
    They may talk as they please about what they call pelf,
    They may sneer as they like about eating and drinking,
    But help it I cannot, I cannot help thinking
    How pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho!
    How pleasant it is to have money.

    Comment by graham48 — August 14, 2009 @ 1:27 am

  28. Ha! Thanks for that, graham48; another “pelf” sighting, and what do you know … the poet dragged it out to rhyme with “self” again …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 14, 2009 @ 6:54 am

  29. I have to live with my pelf, and so . . .

    Guest actually uses the word this way:
    “But here in this struggle for fame and pelf,
    I want to be able to like myself.”

    Comment by Keith — August 14, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  30. If poets like Guest and Clough and Scott can’t do better, who are we to struggle?

    But are there no Canadian poets who could write

    She wandered along all by herself
    Until she reached the town of Guelph

    or lonely, whiny people who could moan

    No one loves me, I’m by myself,
    I feel as though I’ve been put on the shelf

    or even a Mormon who could write

    Enough of your Nephi! He talks of himself!
    I’d much rather dream of the silent man Zelph!

    Must “pelf” forever be the only accepted rhyme for “self”? I guess that’s why we keep it hanging around in our vocabulary.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 14, 2009 @ 11:42 am

  31. You calling E. A. Guest a poet??? :-)

    Comment by Mark B. — August 14, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

  32. Elf! Why not elf? It may not be in line with LDS Theology, but not any more nor less than pelf. And like most things that talk about the self positively it all ends up a mess.

    What gratitude I hold within myself
    That I was born a man and not an elf

    Comment by Keith — August 16, 2009 @ 1:20 am

  33. “Zelph, the non-elf from Guelph,” by Keith. Now there’s a bad pome waiting to be written — where’s Guest when you need him?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 16, 2009 @ 7:19 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI