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Book Review

By Sara G

Edited by Carol Cornwall Madsen and Cherry B. Silver for the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for LDS History
Published by Brigham Young University, 2005
Purchase price $19.95

A NEW PUBLICATION from the Smith Institute for LDS History chronicles the success of Latter Day Saint women in maintaining faithfulness to the gospel while responding to social changes from the progressive era to the present day. “In many ways,” writes scholar Thomas G. Alexander in one article, “Latter-day Saint women led out, especially in Utah, in addressing the problems of the age but also in adopting new technologies and techniques to solving those problems.”

In the first half of the century, women of Relief Society worked on such issues as social welfare, infant and childhood health, city reform, water and sewer systems, and protection of community and individual morals. These women did not see their efforts on behalf of the community as neglectful of their homes; rather, they saw them as “civic housekeeping,” as important to them as spring cleaning. Included articles detail the work of Amy Brown Lyman, Relief Society General President from 1940 to 1945, and Belle Spafford, president from 1945 to 1974, and examine the struggles these women faced in balancing civic and family responsibilities. The focus, fortitude, and selfless service these women brought to their work are inspiring examples.

Recognizing that Utah was the first state to give women the right to vote and that a Utah town was also first in electing a female mayor and an all female city council, this publication details how Mormons made great political strides while retaining strong traditional values. Kylie Nielson Turley’s article about Mary Chamberlain, the first female mayor of Kanab, details how Chamberlain fulfilled the suffragist prediction that, “The woman voter would not be the destroyer of home, family and society, but their protector.”

Despite the fact that Utah granted women more progressive rights than any other state or territory, suffragist movements around the country struggled to grasp the anomaly of Utah “keeping women back” with polygamy. Rebekah Ryan Clark’s “An Uncovered History: Mormons in the Women Suffrage Movement, 1896-1920,” explains that from a national perspective, “so bitter is the feeling against polygamy, which is all Utah represents to the average individual, that the suffrage leaders have been practically barred from citing this State as a satisfactory example.” She illustrates how the suffragists wrote Utah out of the histories.

Mormon women continued to maintain obedience to gospel principles while navigating the social changes of the 1960’s and 70’s. James B. Allen gives a preliminary analysis of the ways Mormon women, and the larger American culture, have influenced each other. Cheryl B. Preston goes on to explain that mainstream feminists did not believe liberation could come to women through adherence to religious principles. She then details how Mormon women have succeeded despite those predictions, and how modern Latter Day Saint women are continuing to progress as second-generation feminists.

Two articles explore the official female missionary program of the church, including the impact of changes in the age of departure for missions, and how, despite negative stereotyping about female missionaries, women continue to serve effective missions. Other articles explore the unofficial missionary efforts of women in the church.

New Scholarship on Latter-day Saint Women in the Twentieth Century is a welcome addition to my library. It provides engaging information about important events for women of the twentieth century in a faith-filled format.

This volume is available for purchase in the BYU Bookstore. It may also be ordered online from the publisher, BYU Studies.

About Sara G

Sara is a member of Segullah’s editorial board.

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