This is another document reflecting the rhetoric Mormons have used in past generations surrounding women and the priesthood, this time from 1943. Earlier documents have come from 1933 and `1937. I hope eventually to have a packet of documents that will help us know more clearly what has changed, how early present concerns were raised, and what principles are constant despite the evolving way of addressing them.
The Mormon Woman
Elder John A. Widtsoe
Without the wonderful work of the women, I realize that the Church would have been a failure.” So President Heber J. Grant has declared. (Gospel Standards, p. 150.) And, Paul the Apostle, speaking in an earlier day said that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 11:11.)
This notable statement implies that woman has done her work well; that she bears joint responsibility with the man in establishing the Kingdom of God; and, that the work will fail unless both do their duty.
In conformity with this doctrine, full equality has been provided in the Church between man and woman. They are equal in opportunity, privilege, and rights. They have a common destiny, which as free agents they may attain or lose through their own actions.
This makes individuals of man and woman – persons with the right of free agency, with the power of individual decision, with individual opportunity of everlasting joy – for whom all the ordinances of the Gospel are available alike, and whose own actions throughout the eternities, with the loving aid of the Father, will determine individual achievement. There can be no question in the Church about man’s rights versus woman’s rights. They have the same rights.
The restored Gospel has brushed aside the age-old controversy over woman’s rights. It has refused to fetter woman and make her, as in the past, little more than man’s goods and chattels. It has given her full rights of suffrage and property ownership. It recognizes her equal mental powers with those of man; and her right to use her inborn talents to the full. It has placed her by the side of man, not behind him, nor in front of him, thus certifying to her complete emancipation, without limitation, from unlawful subjection. She had been made to understand that the Lord loves his daughters as completely as His sons, and the promised blessings are the same for both.
This equality does not ignore the natural differences between man and woman. Woman is the child bearer and child rearer. To this glorious function she gives a large part of her life. The man is the provider of the necessities and comforts of the family. This does not reduce woman to a dependent. Freed from family and household cares, she could as well probably earn the living for the family. It is rather a cooperative enterprise based upon a divinely ordained division of labor for forming, maintaining, and protecting the unit of society, known as the family. Husband and wife who conform to natural law and beget and rear children are performing labors of equal importance. Each gains both freedom and power from such family life. One cannot look down upon the other. Both have the right as time and strength permit to exercise their talents as they may desire. Whenever these natural functions are set aside, frustration and defeat in life follow.
The wise recognition of the functional differences between husband and wife appears in the use of the Priesthood. The family must have organization. The man with his larger freedom to move about, is by divine decree the head or presiding officer or spokesman of the family. to him is committed the Priesthood, of fundamental need in Gospel life. But the benefits and blessings of the Priesthood thus conferred are shared by the wife and, as needed, by every member of the family. Indeed, Priesthood is first for the family, then for others if the man be called into official service. There is no lack of equality there; it is a manner of organization. The possession of the Priesthood does not indicate in any sense that man is superior to woman, but that he has a specific calling in Church government of which woman is relieved. In the ordinances of the Priesthood man and woman share alike. The temple doors are open to every faithful member of the Church. And, it is to be noted that the highest blessings therein available are only conferred upon a man and a woman, husband and wife, jointly. Neither can receive them alone. In the Church of Christ, woman is not an adjunct to, but an equal partner with man.
The men of the Church have understood and respected the appointed place of woman in the plan of human salvation. That is much to their credit. They who have been and are blinded by ancient traditions are few in number. In the Mormon community woman is free and honored. If she accepts gladly the glorious gift of motherhood, she may use whatever time and strength remain in the exercise of her talents as she may desire. She is placed under no limitations. Instead she is encouraged to use her available time in useful pursuits comporting with her natural gifts, her native endowment. The privilege of self-expression belongs to her as to all. She may enter industry, education, the professions, every worth-while pursuit, with the good will of all. And, because of her responsibilities as a rearer of the coming race, she should be carefully, widely, and wisely trained for this important part of her mission in life.
The women of Mormonism have shown themselves worthy of this equality. They have accepted the responsibilities as well as the joys of individual freedom. Side by side with their husbands they have built the Kingdom of God. It has been a joint, a cooperative effort. President Grant spoke truly in his praise of woman’s work in behalf of the restored Gospel.
In the toilsome building of the Church, in the face of unspeakable persecution and hardship, woman did not flinch. She met the required sacrifices with a courage born of sublime faith. She looked heavenward when the husband was bowed down in apparent defeat. She brought heaven down to earth, and the family went on with renewed assurance of victory. This she did though confined with children and household cares, without the exhilaration of man’s battle in the open field.
The story of the sacrifices of the Church is yet to be told. Perhaps it beggars the pen. But one thing may be said: Woman faced the tribulations without hesitation; and perhaps she accepted the heavier part. She met with high-flung disdain the horrors of the Missouri persecutions. She crossed the frozen Missouri towards the unknown wilderness without looking back at her happy Nauvoo home from which she had been driven. On the westward trail, sheltered thinly in a wagon box from the raging blizzard, she bore her children. She toiled undismayed across the dreary desert to find a hoped-for safe heaven in distant mountain valleys. With tearful eyes, but with an unquenchable faith in the unfolding of God’s eternal plan, she saw her child or husband laid away in a soon-to-be-obliterated grave by the desert trail. with uncomplaining fortitude she shouldered her part of the burden of conquering the wilderness, of making the desert blossom as the rose. It was she who planted flowers around the log or adobe hut, which as they blossomed, lifted the souls of a driven but unconquered people, to whom beauty was a part of their faith.
Nor was the pioneer woman the only one who sacrificed. Many a woman elsewhere recognized the sweet voice of the gospel, and because of her faith was driven from homes and loved ones. With a longing akin to agony in her faraway mountain home to which she had gathered, she awaited the word of love, which never came, from father and mother, brother and sister, who could not, or would not see the truth. But, in the midst of tribulation there was a singing within her heart, for she had found the truth.
The Mormon woman has not been content to keep the new-found Gospel to herself. She has wanted and wants the whole world to possess it. She has gone out by the thousands as a bearer of the good tidings. Or she has remained to care for home and family, often to provide the actual support, while her husband and sons were abroad, perhaps in foreign lands, as unpaid ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. She toiled, she went without, she loved truth so well that she was not afraid. The heroic story of the Mormon woman, when told, will be an epic of human devotion.
Such service has not ended. Men go on missions today, leaving their families for years. Nearly all the Priesthood bearers give liberally of their time in Church service. While they do so, their wives not only carry on the work of the households, but are deprived of the companionship of their husbands. The wives of the General Authorities … are excellent examples of this type of sacrifice. Almost every week end, and often for weeks at a time, their husbands are away on Church service, while the wives maintain lonely vigil in their homes. The same may be said of the wives of stake presidencies, high councilors, bishoprics, in fact of all officials of the Church. And, let it not be forgotten that the Mormon woman, by the tens of thousands, while bearing children and caring for their households, help carry forward the various auxiliary organizations of the Church.
The Mormon woman has not forgotten the dead. For them she does vicarious work in the temples. She has there set an example to the man. The available names of dead females are few, while hundreds of thousands of names of dead males are awaiting help from the bearers of the Priesthood. Such service is not forgotten on the other side; but appears in blessings among the living.
Thus, wherever we touch the life of the Mormon woman, she is found in service, giving unselfishly of herself for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. above all, however, is her service in keeping alive the flame of faith in the souls of her household. Divinely commissioned, in her keeping are the choice spirits who have come to earth to win an earthly body. In her hands lies the future of the race. The mother’s teachings outlast the storms of life. Her testimony is never forgotten. The current of faith and devotion and readiness to serve flows from her loving, courageous, unfaltering soul. “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind.” (Message of the First Presidency, October 1942.)
Certainly, woman shall walk by the side of the man, for they two together shall solve the problems of eternity; they shall carry forward, endlessly, the purposes of the almighty Father.