Bicycling in the Women’s Exponent

This week, I started reading Our Bodies, Our Bikes and found a quote from 1885 I hadn’t seen before, though it must be somewhat well-known as it’s quoted in the April 1985 Friend magazine in an article on the history of the bicycle.

The mere act of riding a bicycle is not in itself sinful and if it is the only means of reaching the church on a Sunday, it may be excusable.

This made me wonder if the bicycle was a hot topic in Mormonism, so I checked if it was mentioned in the original Women’s Exponent. And it was. Four times.

Chronologically, the first time “bicycle” was mentioned was in the June 15, 1892 issue, in an article written by someone with the initials “AWC.” She had gone on a trip to Heidelberg and wrote an article titled “A Day in Heidelberg” describing her experience. Her bicycle quote:

The city streets are narrow and crooked, the buildings tall and old and dark, and so shading the streets that it is positive relief to enter the principal promenade, the Anlage where the walks and drives are broader, and there among the border shrubs and trees are pretty rustic seats where one can watch the fashionable ladies ,the children with their nurses, the pretty girls with their staid chaperones, and the gaily attired students strolling, riding, bicycle riding.

The next time “bicycle” is mentioned is in the July 15, 1894 issue, in an article titled Saltair: A Famous Pleasure Resort about an “Old Folks Day” event held there. The editor states, “The Bicycle drill was a genuine amusement, and everybody enjoyed it immensely, judging from the vociferous applause.” I’m not sure what a “Bicycle Drill” consisted of. I’m guessing it’s some sort of race, but if anyone knows better, please share!

Also, that year, the “Miscellaneous” section of the September 1 issue, mentioned the bicycle. The “Miscellaneous” articles in each issue shared current news. This time the section included this:

Miss WILLARD and Miss Gordon returned to “The Eagle’s Nest” chalet, in the Catskill Mountains, July 27, where they will have two stenographers, and continue their work for the W. C. T. U. Miss Willard is to complete her “Handbook of History and Methods,” her booklet on “How I Learned the Bicycle, with reflections by the Way,” and, besides preparing her annual address, she will send out leaflets and articles for the press, and will write an editorial each week for the Union Signal, the organ of the White Ribbon movement.

Here, the Miss Willard is Frances Willard, a suffragist who founded the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W. C. T. U., above), which was symbolized by a white ribbon. Her friend, secretary, and biographer, Anna Adams Gordon later became the president of the WCTU.

The final mention of the bicycle in the Women’s Exponent comes from Elsie Ada Faust’s address from the Alumni Banquet at the University of Utah. Her speech was published in the February 15, 1897 issue of the Women’s Exponent and was titled, “The New Woman.” In it, she outlined what “the New Woman” is like and addressing the concerns that women were becoming “too independent” with treasures such as,

Writers and speakers have been so busy separating the sexes and theoretically endowing each with separate elements of character that they have not had time to see (and the misunderstanding of this subject depends largely on the lack of seeing) that there is no difference, for if we look well we will find that all the vanities and faults supposed to be wholly feminine may be found just as often in man as in woman; and all the noble traits and attributes of which men have assumed a monopoly appear just as often in woman.

I really want to share the whole address, but you can find it in the link above. She uses the bicycle as a metaphor in the next section:

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

The new woman, or rather woman in her new light, does not look down on her fellow man as is commonly supposed; not at all, for she knows however short he may fall below the ideal, she may not do any better. And you will find, though bicycle mounted, with her voluminous sleeves set to the breezes, she will not take more than her half of the road. All she asks is equal start and privileges down the race of life.

Victorian opinions on bicycles varied greatly, but it seems that Victorian Mormonism looked on bicycling positively. If you are interested in a great book on the intersection of first wave feminism and advent of the bicycle, check out Wheels of Change.


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Where None shall Come to Hurt or Make Afraid

Last month, my family was in Nauvoo for a family reunion. One night we watched the Nauvoo pageant. As Joseph Smith is headed to Carthage, we are told that he goes there on “trumped up” and “false” charges. This was not entirely true; he was there for his connection to the Nauvoo Council’s decision to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor’s printing press. The few days we were in Nauvoo, we also went to Carthage and heard the story of the martyrdom multiple times at various historical sites. And I looked at my kids and thought, “Please, please, please, do not absorb the Mormon persecution complex. Please, please, pStatue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Nauvoo Illinois lease.” I know what it does and it is not good.

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Honoring Scriptural Villains


By Jenny

Sitting around a campfire with other Mormon feminists until the early hours of the morning this last weekend, I realized how deep the conversation gets late at night when the embers glow crimson.  It reminded me of testimony meetings around the campfire at girl’s camp.  Late at night we would share deeply of our stories and listen to each other, crying with love and understanding.  A powerful bond is created through the telling of stories.  I used to feel that bond with the heroes in the scriptures as I read their stories.  But lately, especially as I have thought more about scriptural villains, I have found a lack of depth to the scriptures.  I write my post today in honor of scriptural villains who did not get the chance to tell their own stories.

First up are two of the most familiar villains known to our Mormon family:  Laman and Lemuel.  We know them as the murmuring older brothers to the ever-faithful, ever-perfect Nephi.  They were riotess, godless men who abused their younger brother, gave their parents grey hair, and created an entire civilization of wicked people who fought against the civilization created by Nephi and his righteous brothers.  That is their story…or at least the story we know, written from the perspective of a younger brother.  I wonder what kind of story my brothers would write about me.  What kind of story would my enemies write about me?  Would it align with my own story about myself?  I can answer that with an emphatic “NO!”

Add to the mix the fact that Nephi was painstakingly engraving this story on plates.  If I was going to that much effort to tell my story, with the intent that it would be around for future generations everywhere to read, I would make every effort possible to make myself look good, even if that meant making my enemies look worse than they really were.  In effect, I as an imperfect human would not have the capacity to tell another person’s story accurately.  It would only be my story from my perspective.  So what we have is not so much Laman and Lemuel’s story, but Nephi’s story about them.  And for over a century, we as members of the church have condemned these complex human beings based on a simple story that is missing millions of pieces of information, as well as multiple perspectives.

I spent my life condemning these characters that I barely know.  But now I honor them for their humanness.  I have compassion for them and I know that I can’t judge them based on the little information I have.  They may not have had the faith (nor the arrogance) of the hero Nephi.  But they had the courage to live their own story instead of living within Nephi’s story of them.  They broke away from family and tribe to live authentically according to the dictates of their own consciences.  They had the courage to be the villains in Nephi’s story of them.  I know how hard that is.  I have also had to become okay with being the villain in other people’s stories and not to let that affect my own story about myself.  I know people talk about me.  I know they are still perpetuating a story about me as an apostate who needs to be avoided because my ideas are dangerous.  That is their story and I can’t do anything about it, but live my own story that doesn’t involve apostasy or dangerous ideas.

The other scriptural villain that I love is the lesser-known Noadiah, the false prophetess.  One of the reasons she is my favorite is because this is all we know about her:  “My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Nehemiah 6:14.  After reading that a few years ago, I closed my eyes and wondered, if only one line was written about me and my life, what would it be?  It would depend on who wrote that one line of course.  If it were my current bishop, I imagine that he would write, “Jenny was a strong and faithful member of the Church until she got into things she shouldn’t have online and fell down the slippery slope to apostasy.”  And just like that, in one line, I would go down in history as a villain, an enemy to God.  I crave more information about Noadiah.  Nehemiah wrote his memoir as if he was doing the work of God in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  We don’t know many details about how or why Noadiah tried to thwart him.  We only know that from Nehemiah’s point of view, he was right and she was wrong.  He was with God and she was against God.  And in the span of history, he had the power because he had the pen.  So now people of our generation, taking the Bible to be the word of God, caste Noadiah as a false prophetess.

I wonder if Noadiah was fighting for something that was beyond her lifetime.  Did Nehemiah’s anger come from a power struggle because of his status and authority?  Was Noadiah a threat because she knew she was not inferior to men and she refused to be subjugated by their authority?  Ultimately, I think Nehemiah’s issue with Noadiah could probably be boiled down to the fact that he wasn’t willing to listen to a difference of opinion.  He thought he knew God’s way and that was all he needed.  Anyone who opposed that was an enemy.  Not much has really changed in human nature since then.

I wish I could sit up late, watching the glowing embers of a fire, feeling the night breeze on my face, as Noadiah and I discuss her life and what she fought for.  I want to understand her disagreement with Nehemiah on a deeper level.  I don’t even care if I would disagree with her.  I just want to hear her story of herself.  I want to know what made her a false prophetess.  I want my people to stop seeing the world in black and white.  I want us to stop making flat characters of complex human beings.  I want the Mormon church to be like those late evening testimony meetings at girl’s camp, as we shared our stories and discovered the depths of each other’s souls.  We condemn the villains in our scriptures, we condemn the villains in our present church.  But if we could sit down and talk to all villains past and present, we might discover that the only real villain is our condemnation of people before we truly and deeply know them.

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Filmmaker Tells Little Known Story from the Life of Anne Frank

By Sally Meyer, Writer/Director of Hanneli and Anne

Hanneli_and_Anne_to_editI’m writing to introduce a film project that I am working on. Hanneli and Anne tells a true story between two childhood friends. It is not a widely known story about Anne Frank and her meeting with her friend Hannah (Hanneli) Pick-Goslar. Best friends since kindergarten, they were suddenly separated when Anne went into hiding with her family in 1942.

Hanneli was eventually transported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she found out in 1945 that her friend Anne was on the other side of a barbed wire fence. By a miracle, they were able to find each other amongst the thousands of prisoners, and because they were so desperate to meet, they both made their way to the fence, in hopes of giving and receiving comfort to each other. Because the fence was piled high with straw, they never actually saw each other. But they were able to communicate by voice and through love.

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From the Balcony

Women's Equality Day August 26, 2014 Tweet and post with the hashtag #equalinfaith to support gender justice in religion.June 12, 1840

After crossing the ocean to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and all other women were not permitted to participate. Instead, they were offered seats in the balcony behind a curtain. They could listen to the proceedings from where they sat, silenced and hidden from the men who were welcomed to the meeting, but their exclusion ignited a “burning indignation” in young Stanton.  Later that day, Mott and Stanton “agreed to hold a woman’s rights convention on their return to America. …Thus a missionary work for the emancipation of woman…was then and there inaugurated.” Reference A, Reference B

Today, modern women in many societies enjoy the fruits of the labors of Stanton, Mott and others, who acted on their belief that women should be more than silent, hidden spectators when men convene about subjects of equal concern to men and women.

And yet…

April 5, 2014

“Since these subjects are of equal concern to men and to women,

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It’s Not All About Money

It’s Not All About Money

There are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. -Gordon B. Hinckley, 1996 Reference A

My daughter knows me well.

My daughter knows me well.

Statements like this one by former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley belie an assumption that paid employment for women is only about money:

  1. Financially secure women who work outside the home are assumed to be doing so because of a greedy desire for more money.
  2. The only good reason for a woman to work outside the home is a dire need for money.

This dichotomy neglects the many other reasons a woman may be employed.

In 1959, Frederick Herzberg, in the book, The Motivation to Work, introduced Motivation-Hygiene Theory (also known as Two-Factor Theory). His findings showed that money was not a primary motivator in the workplace. Instead, employees were motivated by enjoyment of the work itself and by the advancement, recognition, achievement, and growth opportunities the work brings. Reference B

Personally, I feel motivated to work outside the home because I love the work and the contributions I can make to my community at large. While motherhood is rewarding in its own way, many of my strongest skills are not exercised by motherhood. In my paid employment, I work in fields that I have chosen to study because they interest me and align with my personal talents. In contrast, I spend a great deal of my at-home time cleaning up spills and searching for lost shoes, tasks that never interested me at all.

Housework is so intrinsically unenjoyable to me that it is hard for me to imagine how it could be that in 1963, when The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published, the idea that a lifetime of uninterrupted housework wouldn’t fulfill a woman was groundbreaking.

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