Review: Daughters in my Kingdom
The Church has put out a new book titled “Daughters in My Kingdom: The history and work of the Relief Society.” I got my hands on a copy of it yesterday (being married to the ward clerk helps) and got a chance to look it over pretty well this afternoon. The description from the news release :
The 208-page book is organized by themes such as family, sisterhood and charity. Each chapter includes stories of Latter-day Saint women throughout history and around the world today. President Beck said the book is designed to be user-friendly for readers with varying literacy levels. It is also visually inviting, with every page featuring colorful photographs and beautiful artwork.
I will say that the full color format of the book was a bit surprising to me. There are pictures on literally every page. It is paperback, and has the same feel as the current Gospel Essentials book. I will also agree that it is appropriate for readers with ‘varying literacy levels,’ and as it is a book for every member of the church I do think that is a good thing. Another interesting tidbit from the news release is this:
Daughters in My Kingdom is unique within the Church because it was written by an individual woman rather than a committee. The writer is former general Young Women president Susan W. Tanner, who is now serving a mission in Brazil with her husband.
Individually authored books published by the church seemed to have gone the way of the dodo with the rise of the correlation committee. This is a very interesting departure from that established pattern. The recurring question everyone has is: what is it for? The news release has this to say:
Copies of Daughters in My Kingdom will be distributed to women around the world to be used as a resource for personal study and for teaching in the Church and in the home.
And as far as I know that it is the entire answer. It will not be used for 3rd hour lessons next year- I’ve heard we’ll be using another Teachings of the Prophets book. I get the impression that local Relief Society presidencies can use it as material for their 1st Sunday lessons. But to be honest the book isn’t really laid out for teaching from. It reads almost like an extra long Ensign article.
Content wise it is full of women’s voices. There are 10 chapters. The first chapter highlights many (most? all?) the women that are mentioned in the New Testament. It also makes note of all the ways that the Savior was attuned to women; how He was considerate of, included and taught the women around Him. It also draws attention to the way that the women of the New Testament had ecclesiastical duties, and draws parallels between those duties and the current ways that women serve in the church through the Relief Society.
Chapters 2-7 move chronologically through the establishment of the Relief Society to the present day. These chapters and the ones following quote extensively from the minutes of the Relief Society and from various women’s journals- something that I really appreciate. Reading first hand accounts from women of that time is something the average member of the church rarely, if ever, gets to do. These chapters were absolutely wonderful, in my opinion.
It also goes over historical facts that I never learned about at church, seminary, or institute. While professional and amateur church historians may be underwhelmed with the history presented it is still a huge step forward as far as presenting women’s history in official church publications. There is a subchapter on plural marriage. There is also a subchapter on the Indian Student Placement program. In my opinion those subchapters have been whitewashed, but I think it is better that they are mentioned at all rather than largely omitted (as with the Wilford Woodruff manualon plural marriage).
Chapters 8-10 are mostly apologetics on the church’s teachings about women and women’s roles. These three chapters, about the Priesthood, Motherhood, and “living up to your privileges,” are the most disappointing part of the book. The best way I can think to describe it is that as the book progresses it becomes more and more constrained.
The chapter on the Priesthood is, well, it is. It quotes almost every talk in recent memory about how the blessings of the Priesthood are available to all. Though thankfully it omits the idea that motherhood is the parallel to Priesthood.
The chapter on motherhood, “Guardians of the Hearth,” was a tough read for me; especially following on the heels of the first chapters. The early chapters of the book paint an expansive vision of women working together with men to lead and change the world in every possible way, and the later chapters paint women into the corner of changing the world through homemaking.
The early chapters quote women extensively, by name, telling first hand accounts. The later chapters quote general authorities telling second hand stories about ‘a woman’ or ‘a mother’ that they met in their travels. The early chapters take pains to point out how teachings about the roles and duties of women apply to men as well. One example is on page 19
[Joseph Smith] counseleld the sisters:”Let this society teach how to act towards husbands, to treat them with mildness and affection.”
In the very next paragraph (page 20)
In other settings, the Prophet gave similar counsel to men, saying that a husband’s duty is to “love, cherish, and nourish his wife” and “regard her feelings with tenderness.”
This parallel structure is missing in the later chapters of the book where it counsels women to place home and family responsibilities first in their lives- to the exclusion of practically everything else. The early chapters describe women seeing needs in their communities, then gaining educations in order to be equipped to meet those needs (p 54-55). They describe women who were entrepreneurial, and how the Relief Society helped women gain self sufficiency- even serving as a way help women obtain paid employment (p 66-67) and how this blessed the women, their families and their communities. The later chapters describe President Amy Lyman who “encouraged women to do all they could to be at home and teach their children.” It also quotes Sister Beck describing a woman’s eternal role as being a nurturer, and going on to define nurturing as “cooking, washing clothes and dishes and keeping an orderly home. … Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth.” (p 166-167)
I have the impression that this book was made because many women in the church don’t have ‘the vision‘ when it comes to Relief Society. The hope was that by teaching the history of the Relief Society women would catch ‘the vision’ and gain a sense of the importance of their part in building the Kingdom of God and how Relief Society is the organization to help women do that. They would see what the women of the Relief Society used to do, and discover that we are a part of the same organization.
My thoughts are that modern women don’t see the scope and opportunity in Relief Society that previous generations saw, because the modern Relief Society is *not* the same organization it once was. The sphere of influence of the Relief Society has slowly yet steadily been in decline for generations. This book inadvertently does an excellent job of documenting that decline. However I don’t think this book, on it’s own, will do much to help make the modern Relief Society into the Relief Society of old.