More like Mattie

Last night our feminist book club discussed Pioneer, Polygamist, Politician: The Life of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon. Here is a great summary article of the book if you care to learn more about this incredible woman.   Also, there is a documentary about her life being broadcast in Utah on July 11th and 22nd. It’s a shame that we don’t learn about Mattie in church, especially in Relief Society where examples of strong women are so rare.

Briefly, Mattie was born poor, but became acquainted with Emmeline Wells and Eliza Snow who encouraged her to go to medical school. When she became a doctor, she was the first resident at Deseret Hospital (started by the Relief Society).

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Guest Post: 1912’s All Woman Kanab City Council

Guest Post: 1912’s All Woman Kanab City Council

When we drive from Arizona to Utah, our favorite stop is Kanab, Utah. They have the loveliest city park and Three Bears Creamery Cottage with a variety of delicious sandwiches complete with homemade bread. By the time we’re done eating and playing in the park, we feel ready to tackle the next six hours of driving ahead of us.

This year over the Memorial Day weekend, Nate picked up the local Kanab tourist newspaper, and we enjoyed this article. (Thank you to Barbara Pyles for letting us reprint it here.)

And, you’ll note that this is a political piece…don’t you want to submit something for Exponent II’s Fall Political issue? The deadline has been extended to July 1st.

By Barb Pyles

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Kanab electing the first all-woman town council. Kanab’s population in 1911 was about 900 people and they had just elected the first all-woman town council. Several men thought it a joke at first, until the citizens voted for the all-woman ticket. Since there was no other ticket on election day, the women won!

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Confessing and Forsaking Institutional Sins

Confessing and Forsaking Institutional Sins

By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
-Doctrine and Covenants 58:43

I believe this scripture applies to women as well as men. I also believe it applies to institutions. After all, some of the greatest sins of all time were committed by groups of people acting together through institutional power.



A great institutional sin committed against the members of my faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), occurred in the state of Missouri in 1838, when Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs ordered that “…the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace…” Boggs was certainly accountable for this atrocious misuse of power but he was not acting alone. He came into power through election by Missouri citizens, many of whom supported this unjust act.

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The Irreconcilable Voices in D&C 132

D&C 132 stands as one of Mormonism’s greatest conundrums. In this one section, we have the soul expanding notion of eternal marriage and eternal progression, coupled later with the soul crushing commandment to practice polygamy. Embedded within the text of this section are various ideas and notions that seem simply irreconcilable, many of which surround the issue of gender.

In the first half of 132, equality between the sexes is emphasized. “And again, verily I say unto you that if a man marry a wife… by the new and everlasting covenant….they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue. Then they shall be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power…” (19-20).

Note how equitable this language is between the sexes. The inclusive pronoun ‘they’ is emphasized time and time again. There is no hierarchy between the man and woman, no patriarchy. A man and a woman journey into eternity side by side, equal partners as they both guide and shape and wield their godly power.

In the second part of the section, however, the voice changes. As soon as the topic of polygamy takes precedence, mutuality and equality between man and woman are no longer emphasized. In fact, woman is reduced to a possession.

Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him.” (37)

“And if… I reveal it unto you, my servant Joseph, then you shall have power… to take her and give her unto him who hath not committed adultery…for he shall be made ruler over many.” (44)

Alongside all the possessive language of giving and taking women, man alone now has the privilege of ruling. Woman has lost her agency. She is now the passive object, given to and taken by men. She has now become an accoutrement. She is no longer central, standing side by side with man.

Verses 53 and 54 then go on to address Emma, telling her that God has appointed Joseph ruler over many things, and that her duty is to “abide and cleave” unto Joseph, and that if she won’t obey this commandment (polygamy), she will be destroyed. These verses are difficult to read. The promise of mutuality and equality implied in the earlier verses is lost as man acquires a plurality of wives and becomes the lone ruler, and as Emma is placed in an untenable position: accept a principle that violates her conscience, or face damnation.

What can we do with these two vastly different voices and different visions presented in this one section? Is there a way to reconcile them? Can women be gods alongside their husbands, and also their husbands’ possessions at the same time? As my title suggests, I have personally not been able to reconcile the two voices. All I have is question after question, as I wonder if female subordination necessarily results when polygyny enters the equation.

I will end on this less depressing note, however. I think it’s a testament to the breadth and robustness and expansiveness of the Mormon tradition that it can encompass both these conceptions. As it paradoxically affirms in one breath that males preside, it asserts in the other that men and women are equal partners. At various points in our history, one or the other of these visions has taken precedence. I can only hope that as time continues to pass the scales will weigh more and more in favor of equal partnership.

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Will There Be Polygamy In the Next Life? I Think Not

Heart of God by Gary Rowell

This has been a question I’ve grappled with for over 10 years. When I was younger, my answer was not only a yes, there will be polygamy, but also a belief (fear) that God preferred this type of marital arrangement to monogamy, and that God would ask us to enter into this in the next life.  This resulted in quite a few tearful conversations with my husband.

Now, my question no longer revolves around whether God will honor my monogamous marriage. I believe God will. Now my question is whether God will honor polygamous marriages. I am inclined to believe God won’t. Or at the very least, that polygamy is not the most preferred arrangement.

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