1977 Relief Society Activism (Under Priesthood Supervision, Of Course)

Posted by on March 8, 2013 in feminism, history | 12 comments

This twenty-minute video was recently released by KUED, a public television station in Utah to accompany Makers: Women Who Make America.  It outlines 1970s feminist history in Utah,  including the LDS church intervention that prevented passage of the ERA by the Utah legislature.  Disturbing footage of a Relief Society-sponsored mob at a 1977 feminist event in Salt Lake City was a shocking revelation for me.  Over 1,200 Relief Society sisters were assigned by the church to attend the gathering, gravely outnumbering the 300 other women in attendance.  The RS sisters were instructed to vote down almost all resolutions at the meeting, and they did so under the supervision of their male chaperones.  At one point, they stormed and dismantled the organizers’ podium.  (Fast forward about 12 minutes in if you just want to catch that part.) 

Watch Makers: Voices of Utah Women on PBS. See more from Utah History.

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12 Comments

  1. So disturbing. :(

  2. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Crazy utterly crazy…we’ve come a long way in many ways, yet we are still completely backwards in others. Sadly, sadly…

  4. This makes it sound like there was a plot by Church leadership, which if the detail given on the FMH post is correct, is completely incorrect. The GAs and RS both declared they would stay out of it, only encouracing women to attend – it was another group, the Conservative Caucus, that gave the orders under the guise of coming from Church authority.

  5. This is very disturbing, thanks for giving us access to it, April. Did it even make the news back then? Like you, I am anxious to hear from people who were there– no matter which side they were on.

    • Oh yes, it was in the news. My excuse for not catching it in the news when it actually happened is that I was an infant. After watching the video, I did a quick Internet search for old news reports, but I couldn’t find the full text to any of the articles online. Only references to titles. I should ask my parents if they remember this.

  6. My grandma has told me the story, but I need her to tell me again. If I remember correctly, the Eagle Forum used the Church to get the message and their agenda out and never clarified that it wasn’t officially Church-sponsored (and because some local Church leaders were both Church leaders AND Eagle Forum it was confusing).

    It’s an unfortunate example, but a helpful one that I use whenever I see ward members trying to advertise political events under the guise of Church beliefs.

  7. You all need to read Pedestals and Podiums by Martha Bradley. It is a long book, but so thoroughly researched and well-written that it is a riveting read. If anything, this video softens the church involvement. There is so much more to the story.
    I was a young mother living in Oregon during this time period. I don’t remember much about what happened in Utah, but I still have the copy of the gray anti-ERA pamphlet the Church published and which was passed out in Sacrament Meeting. It was very disturbing and confusing. The argumets against the ERA did not make sense to me, but I went along with it, because any other stance would have been seen as anti-Church.

  8. Also, if you watch closely in this video, in the footage from the Women’s Year conference, you will see a couple of shots of Barbara Smith, who was at that time the General President of the Relief Society.

  9. My sister and I went to the International Year of Women conference in Houston TX. I remember that women in our ward were having secret meetings from which I was excluded even though I was RS pres. because I was in favor of the ERA. The stake pres. announced that all that politicking was against church policy. The anti-ERA women were the ones allied with the Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schafly, etc.
    Judy Olson
    Huntsville TX

  10. catherinwo – is there a way you could scan your old ERA booklet and post it somewhere so we could see it? I was in Colorado at the time and vaguely remember. I had three kids under the age of 2 1/2 and my attention was not on current events! I’ve read a lot though and would love to see the booklet the church put out.

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