Think how often the scriptures describe Zion – the land and the people – in feminine terms: “For Zion must increase in beauty and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened,” “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord,” “And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night,” and “I say unto you that Zion shall flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her; and she shall be an ensign unto the people, and there shall come unto her out of every nation under heaven.”
Women have been actively involved in building Zion, and we have a wealth of published material telling us their stories. Much of that takes the form of biography, books and articles focused on the lives of individual women, or collected biography like Women of Faith or Mothers of the Prophets. We have histories of the Relief Society, like Women of Covenant and Daughters in My Kingdom. We have articles in our Church magazines, and papers in our scholarly conferences and journals. We have a growing collection of new stories, historical and contemporary, in the “Women of Conviction” series at history.lds.org.
What we don’t have is a history of the Church itself that incorporates the contributions of Latter-day Saint women to any significant extent. The active, achieving, contributions of women are largely reported as the history of women, segregated from the history of the Church itself.
It’s time to change that.
Very Popular with the Ladies
He: “You don’t appear to care much for music. Don’t you even like the popular airs?”
She: “No. The only popular air with me is the millionaire.”
The Shining Heart
By Sibyl Spande Bowen
CHARACTER DESCRIPTION AND RESUME—2ND INSTALLMENT
In the moldy decay of the Carey family mansion on Puget Sound lives
“MISS BRILL” CAREY, spinster of 55, who once had wealth but now earns a meager living as a seamstress for herself and her lovely niece, red-haired
NELL CAREY, who longs to be an artist, but lacks the money to study, and so has drifted into an engagement with
FRED NAGLE, successful, unromantic young chicken farmer, whose bank account is dearer to him than is Nell. He strenuously opposes Nell’s artistic ambitions.
We have looked at three different ways women often – but, of course, not always– appear in general Church histories. These portrayals are not satisfying to many of us, not because we don’t recognize the historical truth that some women have been less than praiseworthy; not because we don’t recognize that Mormon women have endured extraordinary hardship because of the peculiar history of our people; and not because we don’t value the love and loyalty and personal service for which we are sometimes inordinately and indiscriminately praised. Rather, we don’t find these stories satisfying because we sense they are incomplete, and they don’t adequately represent our own sense of ourselves, and don’t give us many women to cheer for. We don’t see ourselves in our own history very often. We sense that the women in our histories are valued for reasons that we don’t find especially inspiring, or we find that the qualities we most value in ourselves are not the ones that seem to be valued by those who tell the stories.
None of us aspires to be a Witch, to be destructive or cause others to stumble – or, if we have somehow found ourselves in that role for some reason, we know that we are more than our Witchiness, and we suspect the same is true about the Witches in our history.
We generally don’t aspire to be a Damsel in Distress, either. Trials and suffering, at times acute, come into our lives as a natural feature of mortality, some of them directly connected to our religious belief or practice. We don’t want to be celebrated for our suffering, or celebrate the suffering that women in our history have endured. What matters isn’t the suffering – what matters is the way someone faces that difficulty, and works to overcome it, and becomes a better, stronger woman because of it. History that emphasizes the trouble and neglects the triumph leaves us uneasy.
To Any Wife
By Rosannah Cannon
As long as you are speaking, I have found
Our minds converge upon a common ground;
The price of food, the way the ivy grows,
Familiar topics any stranger knows.
Then suddenly you cease to speak and lapse
Into a shrouded silence, whence perhaps
You later come a little less enthralled
Than you had been before the quiet called.
A little less irrevocably mine,
Though not by any outward sound or sign
Could I divine that restless hidden spring,
At once so fearful and disquieting.
Our life seems quite the same, yet I can sense
Your world is growing somehow more immense.
There is a part of you I never shared,
Where your soul wanders, mine has never fared.
Never am I to know what thoughts are yours,
Hidden from me beyond what unseen doors.
These are the secrets no man yet has known,
Too frail and fine, too utterly your own!
From 1928 —
“I suppose every Mormon woman has measured herself at one time or another against ‘the pioneers,’” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once wrote. “Am I as stalwart? As self-reliant? As devoted to the gospel? As willing to sacrifice? Could I crush my best china to add glitter to a temple, bid loving farewell to a missionary husband as I lay in a wagon bed with fever and chills, leave all that I possessed and walk across the plains to an arid wilderness?” She says that her “full pedigree of handcart-pushing, homesteading grandmothers” may have been the reason she said to her obstetrician as she was being wheeled into a state-of-the-art delivery room, “I never would have made a pioneer!”
I suppose a lot of us have this idea in the back of our minds that “I could never have been a pioneer.” Our mental image of the pioneer woman, able to meet confidently and competently every unimaginable hardship, with a song on her lips and a prayer in her heart as she tucked a stray wisp of hair under her clean, pressed, and starched sunbonnet, is one that has grown in our minds from our earliest Primary stories. In contrast to their stalwart example, we have trouble coping with toddlers and dinner and visiting teaching, and if we could even find the sunbonnet in the laundry basket, it most definitely wouldn’t be ironed and starched.
But of course our image of the pioneer woman isn’t an accurate one. That pioneer woman is more akin to the Princess in the Tower of fairy tale – the beautiful, perfect lady, aloof from the dirt and chores of real life, the ideal woman (with “idea-l” meaning she is an idea and not a reality) who alternately inspires and intimidates us. Too often, the women in our published Church histories are as aloof and unknowable as the Princess in the Tower.
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The Shining Heart
By Sibyl Spande Bowen
CHARACTER DESCRIPTION AND RESUME—1ST INSTALLMENT
In the moldy decay of the old family mansion on Puget Sound lives
“MISS BRILL” CAREY, spinster of 55, christened Brilliant Alaska in honor of her birthplace, and earning a sparse living as a seamstress. Her interest in life is centered in her niece, red-haired
NELL CAREY, who has ambition to be an artist. Lack of means to study and the opposition of her fiance are defeating the cause of art and hastening the day of her marriage to
FRED NAGLE, practical, unromantic young chicken farmer, who believes money should stay in the bank and a woman should stay in the home. He is determined to see that Nell finds her place in his home.
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