50 Minutes: An Introduction to Mormon Women’s History

Just recently I was asked to do a fifty minute presentation on LDS Women’s History at an upcoming Relief Society Enrichment Day.

I’m thinking of picking five women and spending ten minutes on each of them, hopefully using their lives as a lens through which we can learn about the major themes of Mormon women’s history. Who would you pick? Why?


  1. One should be, not an individual leader or heroic figure, but the Mormon everywoman.

  2. Emmeline Wells!

  3. Costanza says:

    Ellis Reynolds Shipp
    One of the first women physicians in Utah (lots of other reason, but no time now).

  4. Patty Bartlett Sessions
    Martha Hughes Cannon
    Annie Mount Tanner (is that her name?)
    ANY of the RS Presidents in that cooking article I haven’t read in Meridian. Especially Amy Brown Lyman; write about her here, too, because Kristine has me all curious.

    I second Emmeline B. Wells
    I second “everywoman.” You might want to e-mail Ardis Parshall at T&S for some stories; I sto^H^H^Hused her stories about Ora Johnson Dalton and Geertruida Zippro as sources for a talk I gave today.

  5. I still think Zina. She has a wonderful Nauvoo diary that is accessible and had such a fascinating experience within Mormonism.
    Is Emma too complicated?

  6. Depending on how you feel about the assignment, you could always go with Margaret Toscano, Juanita Brooks, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Fawn Brodie, Sonya Johnson, and Sandra Tanner.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist, given my mood today. [Plus, I couldn’t very well make this joke over at M*, now could I?]

  7. molly bennion says:

    Good ideas so far. I esp. like Emmeline Wells, Zina Young, Martha Hughes Cannon and Ellis Shipp, though, since you only get 5, 2 doctors might be 1 too many. All 4 of those women would give you good examples of the challenges of polygamy. Emma can’t be too complicated because she is arguably too important to ignore and the Presidency of Elaine Jack (all 3 of them as an excellent unit) would be a good choice. Eliza R. Snow and Susa Young Gates would be interesting too. Juanita Brooks would be a great choice. Sad we know so much more about the early women than we do the more recent.

  8. jothegrill says:

    I second Amy Brown Lyman. I want to know more about her.

  9. Molly is right-on. I would do Emma or Patty Sessions, Zina, Ellis Shipp (or Martha Cannon), Emmeline Wells, and Amy Brown Lyman.

  10. All good. I’m also trying to think of someone who could add some intercultural flavor…

  11. Jane Manning James.

  12. I think you’d have better success and be more accessable the more current you can get. The Elaine Jack presidency sounds good, and it wouldn’t hurt RS morale to end on something more current like Sister Hinckley, Sheri Dew, or even Bonnie D. Parkin.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Zina or bust.

  14. Sorry to be a grinch, but is it possible to find someone not from north America?

  15. For Ronan, Mary Fielding.

  16. J. Daniel Crawford says:

    Wait? There are Mormons outside the USA? Even in Canada?

  17. John Mansfield,
    Oh come on. Mary Fielding may have been born in England, but she became North American. If you prefer: non-“Anglo” history.

    No, I’m thinking of Mormon women’s history that does not have the American Zion as its goal. I realise that that’s a deficiency in Mormon history in general. Still, note that when the church made that “Faith in Every Footsteps” video, it featured African, Latin American, and Asian “pioneers” (albeit all men, IIRC).

  18. Sorry, Ronan, I didn’t mean to offend; I misunderstood “from”. (She did live 33 of her 51 years in England, but that was before she entered church history.) More in keeping with your wish, one that comes to mind is Jesucita Mera de Monroy and her daughters Natalina, Jovita, and Guadalupe.

    One stalwart single sister of the early days was Vienna Jacques. Coming into the church, she consecrated $1,500 that she had saved as a teacher in Boston. In 1838, at age 51, she married, but it only lasted a year. She drove her own wagon to Utah in 1847 (at 60), and into her nineties was a strong, active woman.

  19. Hey, Ronan, I know she’s still anglo, but she ain’t American, and she’s very topical. Carol Gray who founded the Starlight UK Foundation. I would totally include her because it’s all spunk, none of it related to high and holy callings, and she has done great good in the world in the name of the Gospel. Kris, my wife knows her and has had her to a few different things. I suspect she would have some relevant material if you couldn’t find it.
    On the same note, I think Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is one of our great lights. She has a new book coming out soon.

  20. In my rule, you can be Anglo as long as your end destination is not 19th century America! (And before anyone kills me, I have nothing against the magnificent Anglo women who trod the hallowed paths of Zion; but sometimes, you just need to take a quick glance to the peripheries otherwise you’ll miss many similarly interesting people.)

    Carol Gray is a real heroine. Perhaps Mrs MB can get her to tell us more about her work.

  21. Ronan’s suggestion is excellent and I thought immediately of Carol Gray, so any help that Sam and Kate could give would be appreciated. I would love to include women from other countries/varying ethnicities but sources could be a problem. Other than the Ensign/Liahona where I can find short vignettes on women probably, what are my other sources?

    I might have to re-style this thing and include more people — perhaps a few shorter sections if I have limited material but I think it would be worth it for greater diversity.

    I’m thinking Minerva Teichert should be on the list too …

  22. Kris, for Jesucita Mera de Monroy, you could read Mark L. Grover, “Execution in Mexico: The Deaths of Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales,” BYU Studies 35, no. 3 (1995–96): 6–28. (link)

    Going back to pioneers in Zion, you may find interest in Audrey M. Godfrey, “Colonizing the Muddy River Valley: A New Perspective,” Journal of Mormon History 22, no. 2 (1996-1997): 121-142. (link) Godfrey wrote with an eye to the role of women in pioneering. For many plural wives, building up new settlements was entirely their burden.

  23. Something wrong with that second link. Trying again: Journal of Mormon History

  24. Who was the Mormon Miss America? Depending on the audience, you might throw that one in. [I’m not just goofing here. There is a generation of Mormon Women who got the message in YW a generation ago that you could be Mormon *and* modest *and* sexy. For my sister and friends and others, that was an important moment, which is sad, in a way.]

    If you’re going to go with 5, I’d take one person from the pioneer days (Louis Sargeant Harris is a favorite of mine), one from the late 1800s, WWII-era, 60s era, and one from today. Go with the lesser-known who have skins on the wall.

    Zina is great, but if you’re trying to go highbrow (is that really the focus)? Plus, it’s hard for the average RS sister to relate to Zina.

    It all comes down to whether or not you want serious Mormon Women’s history or if you want Mormon Women and Pop Culture. Frankly, for your audience, the latter might have some value. Figure out who your audience really will be, and what they want to hear, and then you can pick the people.

  25. Emmeline B. Wells is my hero–I gave my WHM sacrament meeting talk about her yesterday. I definitely think she should be part of your presentation.

    As far as other recommendations go–in the tenor of Ronan’s diversity comment #14 above–how about being sure to include a single woman or divorcee on the list?

  26. Kristine says:

    A divorcee? How about Susa Young Gates! :)

  27. Julie M. Smith says:

    Has anyone mentioned Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?

  28. Julie, SamMB mentioned her in #19.

    The hard part is going to be picking just five, I guess.

  29. Naismith says:

    Elizabeth Ann Whitney is one of my favorites, because of her humility and sidekick status. She did an amazing lot of good work in the early days of the church, sharing the temporal blessings that her storekeeper husband made possible. And yet it was Emma Smith who was called as RS president. Sister Whitney showed her true character by continuting to be gracious and serving as a faithful counselor to Emma, and she later served as RS president out in Utah.

    Also, Augusta Kuhlmann Lippelt, a German emmigrant to Brazil, who was instrumental in bringing the gospel to Brazil and organized the first Primary there.

  30. Cathy Stokes
    Chieko Okazaki
    Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
    Ellis Reynolds Shipp or Martha Hughes Cannon
    Annie Clark Tanner

  31. Indian Dr says:

    Perhaps the most widely exhibited Mormon artist is Fannie Nampeyo. Her work is in museums around the world.

  32. All such great ideas — now I am thoroughly confused

    And c’mon queuno, that’s got to be a joke! Can you imagine doing a history of Mormon men and including Steve Young but not Joseph Smith because he was too highbrow! :) I have confidence that the women in my stake want spiritual meat instead of pop culture.

  33. You know, amri, I’ve heard that the editors at Meridian sacrifice children on the dark altars of their temples.

    Surely we should somehow work that into LDS women’s history.

  34. I’m sure it’s on their site somewhere HP. I’d do a search but every time I try I get distracted at the opportunity to buy modest swimwear and then go on a Mormon cruise. Do you think you’d get kicked off a Mormon cruise if you wore a bikini? If not, I think Steve’s all set to go.
    Or is it J. Stapley? Which of you told me you like to wear bikinis? I forget.

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