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Woman as Mother, Teacher, and Compassionate Servant : The View from 1958

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 01, 2012

Three Realms in Which Woman’s Influence Should Ever Be Paramount

By President David O. McKay

Address Delivered at the General Session, Relief Society General Conference,
Wednesday, October 8, 1958

[President McKay had recently dedicated the temple in London; we enter his talk at the point where he is describing the changes since his last visit to England, such as improvements in transportation and an increase in the number of automobiles.]

… Another thing, I was surprised to see a lady policeman – women policemen. Sixty years before that, even thirty years so far as I was concerned, we hadn’t thought that was a field for women to enter. And I learned, while I was in London, of the efficiency of women as women policemen.

In 1930, there were over eight million women workers gainfully employed. Today, as we have learned, there are twenty-eight million. There has been a vast increase in women workers during the last twenty-five years in various occupations in which, formerly, only men participated. And this great increase is particularly among married women.

Now I don’t know that there is any objection to women entering the fields of literature, science, art, social economy, study and progress, and all kinds of learning, or participation in any and all things which contribute to the fulness of her womanhood and increase her upbuilding influence in the world; but I do know that there are three areas or realms in which women’s influence should always be felt. No matter what changes take place, these three realms should be dominated always by the beauty, the virtue, and intelligence of womankind.

I should like to refer to those three. The first has been covered impressively by Sister Spafford, and that is the realm of home building. Next to that is the realm of teaching, and the third, which has already been emphasized, the realm of compassionate service. “Someday,” writes one of our leading columnists, “when women realize that the object of their emancipation is not to make them more like men, but more powerfully womanly, and therefore of greater use to men and themselves, and society, this implicit demand and need of women for a world based, not on mechanical but on human principles, may break through as the most important influence upon history, and bring with it a renaissance of liberalism and humanism.”

Nor is it necessary to convince us of the potency of home influence in shaping character. There are certain truths to which it is only necessary to call attention and minds instinctively assent to them. Some of these truths are that the home sentiment is second only to religion in influencing the human mind, and all else may be forgotten, but the experiences of childhood will remain undimmed on the walls of memory. Napoleon understood well the nature of home and its influence, when he said, “The great need of France is mothers.”

In democratic countries like the United States and Canada, where the fate of the nation is in the hands of the people, the future of the nation is in the hands of the children. They must be fitted for their high responsibilities by the influences of home. These countries should fear the disloyalty and contention of the fireside more than nefarious plots of scheming politicians. If boys wrangle and contend at home, if they cannot discuss with dignity the little questions that arise in their daily intercourse with one another, be sure they will not honor the Nation when they take their places in Senate, Parliament, or Congress to discuss the great problems that confront the civilization of the twentieth century.

Now, if home may be so powerful an influence for good, how important becomes the cultivation of the home sentiment. To be destitute of this sentiment is almost as great a misfortune as to be destitute of the religious sentiment. Indeed, we believe that one cannot possess a true exalted love of home while there is wanting in his character that which unawakened may yield the fruit of a godly life. (And I cannot think of a member of this Church, particularly one who holds a prominent position, being cruel to his wife, especially before children. I think he is not a good member of the Church; he is not a good Christian. And for a man to strike a woman, as I have heard recently, is just beastly.) What a mighty responsibility rests upon him who essays to make a home, for the founding of a home is as sacred a work as the founding of a Church. Indeed, every home should be a temple dedicated to divine worship, where human beings through life should worship God through the service of mutual love, – the highest tribute man can pay to God.

One of the greatest needs in the world today is intelligent, conscientious motherhood. It is to the home that we must look for the inculcation of the fundamental virtues which contribute to human welfare and happiness.

Womanhood should be intelligent and pure, because it is the living, life-fountain from which flows the stream of humanity. She who would pollute that stream by smoking tobacco, using poisonous drugs or by germs that would shackle the unborn, is untrue to her sex, and an enemy to the strength and perpetuity of the race.

The laws of life and the revealed word of God combine in placing upon motherhood and fatherhood the responsibility of giving to children, not only a pure, unshackled birth, but also a training in faith and righteousness. They ought to be taught “to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the son of the living god, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old.” to those who neglect this in precept and example, the Doctrine and Covenants says, “the sin be upon the heads of the parents” (D&C 68:85).

There seems to be sweeping over the nations of the earth at the present time a wave of disbelief in God, of disregard for agreements, of dishonesty in personal as well as in civil and international affairs. There is a reversion to the rule and law of the jungle in which might makes right. David Harum’s silver rule, “Do unto the other fellow what the other fellow wants to do to you, and do it first,” too often supplants the Golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Political poison is being administered to the youth of America by advocates of communism professedly interested in fostering liberty, peace, and democracy, but who insidiously attempt to influence youth associated with what they call the national Youth Administration, or American Student Union, and various other organizations, as some other poison being administered, secretly, as we have learned recently, even in the mission field by cultists who do not hesitate to lie and misrepresent supposed principles of the gospel.

In an article recently printed in a current magazine appears this statement: “There are a great many more young Communists in universities in this country than most of the adult population even dares to realize. That is because,” continues the quotation, “parents do not bother to ask their children what their beliefs are.”

There is one effective source which can counteract such teaching, and that is the teaching of an intelligent, Christian mother. The times cry for more true religion in the home.

Now I should like to say a word about teaching. Every mother is a teacher, she cannot help it. Either good or bad, the mother’s image is the first that stamps itself on the unwritten page of the young child’s mind. It is her caress that first awakens a sense of security; her kiss the first realization of affection; her sympathy and tenderness, the first assurance that there is love in the world. Her influence, either good or bad, implanted during the first years of his childhood, lingers with him and permeates his thoughts and memory as distinctively as perfume clings to each flower. In her office as mother, she holds the key to the soul, and she determines his character.

But mother is not the only one who exerts an influence as teacher. Often it is a maiden aunt who many times exerts a greater influence than the mother; yet her labors, “gleaming hopes, and obscure sacrifices, her solitary broodings and vicarious ambitions, have seldom received attention from the historian or the biographer. As a molder and shaper of the umpromising material of nephews and nieces, she has been allowed to live, toil, and die unpraised.”

Thus writes Phillips Russell as he comments upon the influence of Mary Moody Emerson upon Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson reflects her influence upon him when he comments as follows:

“She is no statute-book of practical commandments, nor orderly digest of any system of philosophy, divine or human, but she is a Bible, miscellaneous in its parts, but one in spirit, wherein are sentences of condemnation, promises, and covenants of love that make foolish the wisdom of the world!”

Read Emerson’s life and see how his aunt’s influence shaped his course and made a sickly boy one who is recognized as the greatest thinker in America.

And now I should like to say a word about the young girls as teachers. If we can make our girls think that they are living in a realm where they have power to shape the destiny of teen-agers, it would be a wonderful thing in society. I do not know whether we can, but I shall give a hint. One of the greatest safeguards for a teen-age girl is a consciousness that by her words and acts, she contributes to the betterment or degradation of society – that in protecting or defending herself from the questionable advances of a scheming young man, she honors herself and womankind by resistance rather than by indulgence. She can do this by answering his flattering words of pretended love by saying in her own words, “No man will injure one he loves.” Thus, in her early career, she becomes not an enticer but a teacher, her natural and noble calling.

Next to motherhood and teaching, woman attains her highest glory in the realm of compassionate service. One of the most impressive instances in the bible is the history told by one or of one to whom I apply the title, “a Relief Society sister of the Ancient Church” whose life was full of “good works and almsdeeds which she did.” Her name was Tabitha, “which by interpretation is called Dorcas” (which means gazelle, beautiful).

This story is told by Luke:

“And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.

“And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.” (One of the interesting experiences of tourists today is to visit that old town.)

“Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.

“But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.

“And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive” (Acts 9:36-41).

What a story is told in those few words! This scene implies the kind, helpful service rendered by the women in the Ancient Church.

The desire to render service to the wounded, sick, and dying gave to the world one of the most potent organizations among nations today. I refer to the International Red Cross Association. Its beneficent tree, which now sheds its fruit on all lands, sprang from the seed of love and compassion in the heart of Florence Nightingale.

I hope I am not – will not be considered as boasting when I say that the most beautiful and, undoubtedly, the most efficient organization in the realm of service is the Relief Society of the Church. Through this channel, your myriad deeds of service sparkle like gems in a crown –

To chase the clouds of life’s tempestuous hours,
To strew its short but weary way with flow’rs,
New hopes to raise, new feelings to impart;
And pour celestial balsam on the heart;
for this to man was lovely woman giv’n,
The last, best work, the noblest gift of heav’n.

(–T.L. Peacock,
“The Vision of Love,” I, 1)

Let me emphasize, dear sisters, that woman’s realm is not man’s realm, though equally important and extensive, and you excel, undoubtedly, I know you do, man in many vocations, which years gone by were considered man’s activity alone. The greatest harmony and happiness in life will be found when womankind is helped and honored in the sphere in which God and nature destined her most effectively to serve and bless mankind. I have named three of those. There are many more, but the more that men honor her in those realms, the happier will be men and women and children throughout the world. In the words of Tennyson:

For woman is not undevelopt man,
But diverse. Could we make her as the man,
Sweet Love were slain; his dearest bond is this,
Not like to like but like in difference.
Yet in the long years liker must they grow;
The man be more of woman, she of man;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind;
Till at the last she set herself to man,
Like perfect music unto noble words:
And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,
Sit side by side, full summ’d in all their powers,
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,
Self-reverent each and reverencing each,
Distinct in individualities,
But like each other ev’n as those who love.
Then comes the statelier Eden back to men:
Then reign the world’s great bridals, chaste and calm.
Then springs the crowning race of human kind.
May these things be!

(– Alfred Lord Tennyson,
“The Princess,” VII, lines 259-281)

God bless you mothers – home builders, angels of mercy.

May your influence continue to spread, and your sweet, tender services bring comfort and consolation to those in need, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.



6 Comments »

  1. Well, I messed up something so that instead of this posting this morning as planned, it showed up as if I’d posted it last March. So here it is, for what it’s worth …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 1, 2012 @ 10:16 am

  2. I found the phrase “She who would pollute that stream by smoking tobacco, using poisonous drugs or by germs that would shackle the unborn, is untrue to her sex, and an enemy to the strength and perpetuity of the race.” to be quite interesting.

    What are germs that would shackle the unborn?

    Comment by Téa — October 1, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  3. Germs that would shackle the unborn? Try congenital syphilis.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 1, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  4. I suspect Mark is spot on, Téa. Earlier in the century, there are many explicit references to syphilis and other diseases that disqualified (or should have disqualified) someone from marrying or having children.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 1, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  5. Bad mothering = communist children? More guilt to go around…

    Comment by kevinf — October 1, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

  6. Very interesting. Thanks for clearing that up for me =)

    Comment by Téa — October 1, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

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