Yesterday I attended a luncheon hosted by the Church History Department in Salt Lake City as a guest of a friend. It was the book launch of At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women. This book is decidedly different from its predecessor, The First 50 Years of Relief Society: Key Documents. While that book’s role could more easily fit into being used by researchers and the curriculum department, this book was written for a wide audience. We need members from every level to read and hear the voices of women, and often. I just wanted to share a short summary of notes I took from the afternoon’s speakers.
Elder Snow, director of the Church History Department, opened the discussion by sharing his first response after reading the book, “Where have I been,” he questioned, “that I had not heard these before?” He said the spirit confirmed to him they were doing the right thing by publishing and spreading the voices of women, a goal that Elder Jensen had at the CHD and that Elder Snow was glad to make progress on.
Next there was a video from Jenny Reeder, one of the books editors, who was unable to make it due to health concerns. She shared she loved seeing confirmed that women have spoken up and out from the very beginning. She mentioned some of the first RS meetings were in the form of discussion, but Jenny watched first hand as women’s discourse developed and they became *less* careful as they spoke. I thought that was fascinating. The book is organized chronologically so I hope to notice the same thing as I read. Jenny closed with her testimony that the commandment to expound and exhort was extended to us all, and she learned through this experience that she also has things to exhort, and a responsibility to speak up and out.
Kate Holbrook next spoke about the process of writing, there was a team of editors and researchers and volunteers that attempted to find and read every talk ever given by an LDS woman. A group would then get together and present the ones they found were very powerful and then narrow it down from there. She mentioned that Emma was ordained to expound scriptures and exhort the church, and that it doesn’t say just to children or other women. She then quoted Franklin D. Richards about when men limit the women they work with they are opposing themselves, and if they would stop, it would multiply blessings upon their heads.
Lastly, Sister Burton spoke about the book. She said if we could get members (and even nonmembers) to read this book there would be a more complete understanding of who we are and why we do what we do. She mentioned that she found that some women felt reluctant in speaking publicly, even Eliza R. Snow (but she obviously developed her abilities and confidence). Later in her ministry Eliza asked Emily Richards if she had something to say during a meeting. Emily declined, and later Eliza told her one-on-one, “The next time you’re asked to speak, try to have something to say.” Emily recorded that from then on she made sure she always was prepared. It was powerful to hear Sis. Burton share these stories standing in front of the portraits of past RS presidents in the RS Building. She testified that this book will strengthen gospel commitment, help us better understand our responsibilities and how we are, have a deeper understanding of the doctrine. She called it a sacred work.
They turned the time over for Q&A.
The first brave soul stood up and said “Since this is a counterpart to the Journal of Discourses, will we be getting additional volumes?” The answer was that the next CHD project is actually a history of the Young Women Program. Next someone asked Kate to share surprises they found as they worked on the project. One was that from 1916-1973 wives of mission presidents did have their own titles, assignments, and stewardship. They were called RS Mission Presidents and they coordinated work between RS & missionaries and oversaw local auxiliary programs. She also mentioned while they were doing biographical work for Ellenor G. Jones’ “The Power of Prayer,” for her introduction, they found very little records of her life. Which wasn’t surprising since she was born in 1832, but it turns out there was another reason. After much digging, they found that she was of mixed race decent and born during the height of slavery and raised in the South. She was able to pass as white in Utah and California, and she even attended the temple and had work done. A member of an auxiliary presidency asked about the genesis of the book? Kate mentioned before Jill Mulvay Derr went on a mission she was talking to Kate and said, “wouldn’t it be great if we had a women’s Journal of Discourses?” Well, now we do.
I hope that we use it and allow it to change us. One of the things I’ve personally noticed is that when interacting with local women in leadership, if they’d been put in a position to speak to the stake or take a visible leadership role at an event, most of them have expressed to me their discomfort with having their bodies and voices in visible spaces. They expressed a preference for no one to see of hear them as they serve. Silent service is great, but I hope we’re experiencing a renaissance of women “speaking up and out.” I hope this volume will help.