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The Emancipation of Women: The View from 1935

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 20, 2013

The Emancipation of Women

The View of the Church and the Auxiliary Organizations

By Olga Kupse, of the Geneva (Switzerland) Conference

It is but a few years ago since woman was considered an inferior being from the intellectual and physical standpoint. And under this simple pretext she was deprived of developing herself; man, her lord and master, found it was right and just that she exist only to serve him. In our day her condition is not much better. If she has the time to earn her bread she is terribly exploited, and has not the right to make laws for her defense, in spite of the fact that she is not forgotten when it comes to paying taxes. From the moral viewpoint her condition is even worse for there are two standards of measurement. Society demands everything from a woman or she is an outcast but excuses the man with an indulgent smile. The laws which govern a married woman are deplorable and in spite of our civilization, we are very much behind in this regard, for a country that wishes to progress must work for the emancipation of woman and for her education, for women’s influence dominates the nation.

The Church of Christ recognizes the liberty of woman in all fields and works for her emancipation. The Mormon woman is recognized as the equal of man. From the religious point of view, she feels the same obligation as he to work for the Church and in the Church. She is recognized equal to man from the moral viewpoint and it is not that she must abandon her principles of purity and honesty but because man must rise to her level. She enjoys civic equality which permits her to express herself and be a personality as real as her husband or brother. The Church has elevated woman in emancipating her and has brought out her true nature. The Mormon woman is educated to the same degree as the man in the sciences, in art, and in sports. She is therefore prepared for her career first in the home and after in society, for it is a great mistake to believe that the education of woman destroys the home. Thanks to her high principles of morality, the Mormon woman aspires above all else to create a home and to rear beautiful and healthy children but further she feels the need of sharing her talent with those less privileged and less gifted.

The Church, wishing to interest woman in her own spiritual and intellectual development, gives her the opportunity of opening her heart and doing good, by establishing the auxiliary organizations. The greatest of these organizations is the Relief Society. The Mormon women meet for study, at the same time, working for the well being of those less favored. They organize bazaars for charity and make visits to the sick and poor.

The Church has foreseen also, that all work must be followed not only by rest, but also by recreation, and has organized the Mutual Improvement Association, which is divided into two departments, one for the young men, and one for the young women. There the youth have the opportunity for amusement in a healthy and interesting manner, either in music, the drama, the dance or sports, at the same time studying the principles of the gospel. It is in the Mutual Improvement Association meetings that we come to know and love one another, that the true fraternal feeling is developed.

The development of the auxiliary organizations should call forth all our efforts for there one may sow the best grain. Let us not forget to organize a class for children so that we may give a little love, instruction and joy to the poor little ones who sometimes suffer for the lack of sympathetic care. This is the first duty of woman and very important for the future of the branch. Though Mormon women may be called to be missionaries in the world, their first duty is to work within the Church at home to train the hearts and minds of the little ones, to guide the youth and help the poor and sick.

We have need of all the sisters and all the brethren to pilot the work of the Lord to a good harbor. Let us all resolve to wake up and say, “Here I am – I am ready.”

Here is the thought which I wish to leave with you in conclusion – serving my neighbor is serving God – loving my neighbor is fulfilling the highest commandment. Let us work, my friends, and I ask that God will help us and bless us with His Spirit.



8 Comments »

  1. For putting the first paragraph in context, it is helpful to remember that women’s suffrage phased in in Swiss cantons between 1959 and 1990 (not a typo). At the federal level, women could not vote until 1971.

    Comment by Last Lemming — February 20, 2013 @ 8:17 am

  2. Interesting. Where was this originally published?

    Comment by Mark B. — February 20, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  3. Relief Society Magazine. It was published for the women of the entire Church, not merely a local unit.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 20, 2013 @ 9:00 am

  4. Interesting find! And so fascinating that it was published in the Relief Society Magazine.

    So, I wondered about something: Kupse’s piece starts off with an almost activist tone, with her bold discussion of emancipation, inequality, and the law. But then her conclusions end up very close to home, very traditional: follow Christ, participate in Relief Society, and pay attention to a woman’s “first duty” raising children, in the home.

    Anybody else notice that?

    Comment by David Y. — February 20, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  5. I’ve just finished reading When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins, and I’ve been trying to piece together why her stark accounts of the inequities suffered by women through those decades don’treally match my experiences living through them myself, or watching my mother. David’s comment brings one thing to mind: my college-educated mother never considered the duty of raising her children to be a bondage imposed on her sex, but rather, a privilege made possible for her by my dad’s ability to earn a family wage. She felt sympathetic towards friends who “had to go to work” to help support their families, and rejoiced that she was completely in charge of her own time, unlike her working friends. I, on the other hand, often felt apologetic when I tried to explain to similarly-educated-to-me women why I was a “stay at home mom.” The Gail Collins book, though celebratory in tone, left me feeling that I’d only heard part of the story; that there have been losses for women along with the gains. I appreciate the gospel for giving me the great security while I was growing up of knowing that my parents were a team, that both of them thought that our family was the most important thing in their lives.

    Comment by Marilyn O. — February 20, 2013 @ 10:49 am

  6. David, I think it appears that way because we live in 2013, where participating in Relief Society is a routine thing and doesn’t meant much more to most of us than a place to sit on Sunday morning. (Really, despite Sister Beck’s emphasis that Relief Society is more than a Sunday religion class, do many women really experience it as more than that?)

    In 1935, though, it was more than that. It was voluntary, not routine, and the women actively worked with their hands to produce tangible results, as well as listening to spiritual messages. MIA likewise was a full-bodied program, not whatever YM/YW is today. And even when she is speaking of caring for children, she isn’t talking about mothers “in the home” but about women teaching children in the ward community “at home” (in contrast to going out into the mission field).

    In other words, in 1935 service in the auxiliaries really was rather revolutionary in a lot of senses. Few women worked outside the home, so auxiliary service was a community service opportunity, and one that developed executive and performance skills that few women outside the well-to-do society class otherwise had opportunities to use.

    It would be nice if we thought of our auxiliaries today in the same sense … but I doh’t think we do.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 20, 2013 @ 11:00 am

  7. Marilyn, we cross-posted. My comment to David doesn’t contradict yours, but emphasizes a different facet of women’s opportunities.I don’t doubt that most LDS women of 1935 took it for granted that their first responsibility and privilege was in the home, just as you describe. I think church auxiliary service was the big “outside the home” opportunity, one that didn’t conflict with their home duties the way your mother saw regular wage-earning employment as conflicting.

    When a woman’s world was entirely centered in her home and family, performing service in the auxiliaries was kind of a big deal.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 20, 2013 @ 11:04 am

  8. Thanks for that wonderful explanation, Ardis. You’ve helped me understand what appeared to be a disconnect.

    Comment by David Y. — February 20, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

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