A Visit to Seneca Falls

Standing in an open air chapel, with only two brick walls and remnants of a wood roof left as evidence of its existence, I had a profound feeling that I was on sacred ground. I was overcome with gratitude for the powerful women, who here, at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, started the women’s rights movement in the United States. Incidentally, Seneca Falls is not far from Palmyra. The beautiful green countryside is rich with a sense of history. Spectacular church buildings can be seen almost around every bend, each with a unique personality. I can picture more fully the boy Joseph Smith being caught up in the religious fervor of the time with so many churches everywhere. I’m sure at least some of the churches I see were built during his time. What would it have been like to be here in those seminal times? The LDS church was founded in 1830. Just under two decades later, in 1848, the Seneca Falls convention was held. Since that grand meeting of female minds, women have fought for and won the rights to vote, to own property, to hold government offices, to gain admittance to institutions of higher education, and more. In short, we have the same basic rights as men, at least in the secular world. In the religious world, however, some sentiments of these first wave feminists are still poignant and, for me, painful. Their list of grievances (from the Declaration of Sentiments) includes this:

“He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.” The declaration also states “He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.”

I was struck several times during my visit to the Women’s Rights Museum, that the rhetoric used then to keep women subordinate in all areas of life is the same used in church today. Women were told then that they had superior moral authority and “natural piety,” which was why they needed to stay at home and rear the children. In other words their moral authority was greatly needed in the “women’s sphere” of home and family. Early suffragists took this argument and turned it around, saying that if women had superior moral authority, this should be used in the public sphere. The moral authority argument for keeping women from participating in the public sphere is the same argument I have heard in church for keeping power and authority from women. “Women are more spiritual, so they don’t need the priesthood” is a justification I’ve heard countless times. Over a hundred and fifty years later, the same arguments are still in play.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered a speech to the House Judiciary Committee in 1892 titled “The Solitude of Self.” In it, she made the argument that woman is ultimately alone in the world and must have the tools, such as a right to education and to own property, to fend for herself. This statement of hers was particularly moving to me:

“The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition;from all crippling influence of fear—is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; [emphasis mine] equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and the professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birth-right to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.”

Cady Stanton fought for woman’s right to vote, but toward the end of her life became disillusioned with this fight. “For Stanton, women’s liberty depended on their freedom from social and political constraints in every realm of life: the family, the church, and the state. Losing her faith in the power of women’s vote as a vehicle for social change, she began to see women’s lack of political rights as symptomatic of a larger, more disturbing problem: the belief in women’s subordination rooted in the Bible and taught by the Christian church and clergy.” [from Mrs. Stanton’s Bible by Kathi Kern].

Mustn’t we as women — just as much as men– follow the counsel of Paul (and later Mormon) to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling?” [Philip. 2:12, Mormon 9:27]. While we are all part of a grand interconnected web, we are ultimately responsible for our own lives. If we are to give a portion of those lives to a religious institution, should not our voices be heard in that institution? I feel strongly that women’s subordination is not right. I have grown weary of the mental gymnastics and justifications that keep women subordinate and tell us we should think it’s okay. How much better could the church be if the full potential of the talents and gifts of its membership were tapped, rather than only half? How can we as women participate in an empowered way and have our voices be heard? Is it possible? I know these are oft-repeated and worn-out questions, but I still have no satisfactory answers.

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  1. jana says:

    You are so right, yet it is frustrating that we, as Mormon women, are powerless to insist on such changes.

    In the World History class that I’m teaching, we are studying Ghandi and passive resistance in India. In my mind’s eye I have been imagining the women of the church engaging in acts of civil disobedience to shake things up a bit. Can you imagine a boycott of women’s callings in every ward of the church for a few weeks in a row? Or women staging a sit-in in the doorways to General Conference? Or large numbers of LDS women accosting GAs by saying, “Quit Patriarchy!”?

    I know the church doesn’t work this way–change doesn’t happen by the members demanding it. But I wonder if women weren’t a bit less complacent and were a bit more insistent, if such change could occur.

    Perhaps the real sting of learning about early US suffragists/feminists is knowing that LDS women were moving right alongside them in the 19th century. This is _our_ heritage, too.

    Good post, Amy. 🙂

  2. Caroline says:

    This post rings so powerfully with me. I could have written every single paragraph.

    I love Stanton’s speech, The Solitude of Self. Last year I had my Mormon women reading group read that speech, along with Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”, a short story that also explores issues of women’s subordination. Both are profoundly meaningful to me…

    You ask good questions. I, like Jana, have also had visions of rallying like-minded women to make a stand in some way to bring these issues to the attention of the authorities. A huge part of me wants to act for change, to not just be passive and accept the status quo. After all, my mind reasons, if I do not protest injustice than I am perpetuating injustice.

    When I think of how i generally just go along with Church programs (with notable exceptions – I refuse to attend the temple because of the ways I feel women are subjugated there) my skin crawls a bit and I feel disturbed. But the question remains, what can we as women do to help promote change but that will not cause the average church leader and member to write us off as rabid feminists whose concerns are unworthy of their attention…? I am still searching for ways to do this.

    Disturbingly, one way I see myself promoting change is to support my husband (ugh – hate that phrase) in his climb to power within the church. He’s relatively progressive and sympathetic to feminist concerns, so he could do good in his position in a way, sadly, that I never will be able to. Sad that the one way I see myself promoting change is through supporting my husband. Just writing that sentence makes me a little ill. *I* want to be a direct agent for change.

    Sorry for the rambling thoughts.

  3. Kaimi says:

    Beautiful, Amy, as always.

    I don’t claim to have the answers any more than you do. I do think that there is something important gained by discussing the question. Any change will ultimately come when a critical mass of members start wondering about the same questions. As such, posts like yours can only help.

  4. Nate Oman says:

    I am so sorry, but I can’t seem to suppress my inner legal pedant:

    The momentum for the abolition of coventure in American law (ie for married women to have the right to own property) considerably predates Seneca Falls.

    The earliest American legal materials challenging the concept seems to be a case decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1837. The case involved a Cherokee woman who owned a black slave. She married a man, and later conveyed the slave to her daughter as a gift. One of her husband’s creditors saught to attach the slave to satisfy a debt, on the ground that Betsy Love (the Cherokee woman) could not convey her husband’s property to a third party. Love’s attorney defended on the grounds that Love was governed by Cherokee rather than common law, and that under Cherokee law a woman continued to own her property after marriage. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed. Two years later, in 1839, the Mississippi legislature passed the first married women’s property act, abolishing coventure in the state. The Mississippi legislature apparently passed the 1839 law at least in part because white legislators thought it a cryin’ shame that a white woman didn’t have the same rights as an injun’ — it is also not accidental that Mississippi was right next door to a civil law jurisdiction, ie Lousiana. Michigan and Maine passed similar laws in 1844. Texas passed its law in 1846, New York in 1848.

    Furthermore, in much of the American west coventure never really caught on. The reason is that due to the history of Spanish, French, and Mexican law, there was a strong civil law tradition that lurked below the surface of the common law system that was imposed — very imperfectly — after American purchase or conquest of the territory. The civil law, in turn, did not have the concept of coventure. Rather, under civil law a woman continued to personally own her pre-marriage property after marriage, and post-marriage property acquired by either spouse was community property, with ownership rights inhering in both spouses equally. Most western states continue to follow the civil law rules.

    In other words, the fall of coventure seemed to have as much to do with changing economic circumstances, racial politics, and the legacy of civilian influence and legal pluralism created by the westward march of Manifest Destiny as with the work of suffragists.

    That said, the suffragists were really cool.

  5. Seraphine says:

    Today we talked about first and second wave feminism in our women’s studies class (that I TA for). So this post fit in with the other events of my day. Anyway, I don’t have anything else to add to your thoughts and the other great comments, but I wanted to say thanks for making this post!

  6. AmyB says:

    Jana, I’ve had similar imaginings lately. Women refusing to do their callings until there is more equality- it would send a powerful message. Groups like Affirmation are protesting in peaceful ways- maybe women can follow their lead. Learning about the LDS history of women in the suffragist movement makes me feel simultaneously excited and depressed. It is our history too, but what happened? Why are we not still at the forefront of the movements for women’s rights? It’s discouraging to me to think of where we have been compared to where we are now.

    Caroline, interesting thoughts about supporting change through supporting your husband. I can see the validity there in a lot of ways. I’ve had similar thoughts, and then I feel angry that he can make change and I can’t. Sometimes I feel like the only vote I have is to vote with my feet and leave. I know this is a bit extreme, but at times I feel like resigning my membership and sending that message while continuing to participate in my local branch. In a way that would be a more comfortable answer for me.

    Kaimi, thanks for the link. 🙂

    Nate, interesting info.

    And thanks for your comment, Seraphine. Sounds like a fun class to TA for!

  7. Matt Thurston says:

    Wow! Great post Amy. Beautifully stated. This is a keeper. Thanks!

  8. Denise says:

    “Why are we not still at the forefront of the movements for women’s rights? “

    In general, I believe that it is because most LDS women believe that we have obtained what they sought.

    I do no think that proportionally, there are very many women in the Church that feel the way women do here. Walking out on callings would never work – there would be no support.

    In all of the great internet blogs – here, FMH, SunStone, All of the Blogernacle, etc – by my quick informal count, there are less than 50 women routinely post.

    The feeling that most women feel the way women do here just doesnt seem to be a reality. Women that are dying to lead like the men do in the church are simply a vast minority at this point.

  9. Coventry says:

    Ever hear of the silent majority? 50 posters may represent millions whose feelings tend the same way to varying degrees.

    Regardless, the attitude toward women in the church is gradually, ever so maddeningly slowly shifting. We’ve come a long way since Paul. Currently the majority of Americans find the old doctrine of “Separate but Equal” absurd and morally reprehensible. It’s not inconceivable that on our current trajectory someday the majority of Mormons will feel the same way about the practice of “Fully Integrated but Unequal”.

  10. AmyB says:

    Denise and Coventry, I think you both have interesting points. It is true that many women in the church do not feel the same way many of us who post on these blogs. There is a spectrum of belief even within Mormon women who blog. But as Coventry noted, for all of those who speak, there are many more who remain silent.

    I suspect those of us who see the current structure as prolblematic are in a minority, but I also think that the minority is growing and will eventually reach a tipping point.

  11. paula says:

    I wonder too how many women who are dissatisfied are just leaving. There were women 30 years ago who were staging protests at General Conference, and being more activist in other ways– on the surface it didn’t seem to change much, and the individual women were often treated very badly. I think that brought about a little change, but not much. In one instance, baby blessings, the rules were made more restrictive, rather than less. A lot of my friends were part of that wave of feminism have just plain given up on the church. There are too many other good things in life to bother with whether or not the bishop will let you hold your own child while it’s blessed– and a lot of women have just moved on to those other things.

  12. AmyB says:

    Paula, I wonder how many women are leaving as well. I personally know a few. When there are so many more opportunities for equal participation and other churches in which women are more empowered, sometimes the choice to stay doesn’t look so favorable, especially when in many cases it appears that there has been regression instead of progress on this front. It is a huge dilemma for me.

  13. Deborah says:

    Amy wrote: “The LDS church was founded in 1830. Just under two decades later, in 1848, the Seneca Falls convention was held.”

    Emmeline B. Wells — who was a friend and collegue of Stanton and Anthony — believed that this was no coincidence. She viewed the establishment of the Relief Society in 1942 (when Joseph Smith “turned the key” of God’s power to women) as the direct antecedent to Seneca Falls. She wrote in Exponent: “the bonds of female servitude began to loosen in 1842 and from that time on ‘men no longer held the same absolute sway.’” (from Madsen’s new biography of Wells).

    I find this idea of the Resotration — that women would be “restored” to their premortal equality — simply beautiful; apparently it was a common belief among our foremothers.

  14. paula says:

    AmyB, I haven’t even worked in the last five years, but I do volunteer a lot in my community, and the contrast at how I’m treated in those volunteer jobs and at church is amazing. No asking for permission from the male authority, no suddenly being told by the male in charge that everything I have planned is going to need to be changed. No massive surprise from the people in those jobs when they find that I have skills and education beyond traditional women’s skills. No being talked down to because I’m female, or also, at this point, less active. I’m the only person in my immediate family who is active, and more and more lately it just doesn’t seem worth the bother. I imagine that there are a lot of others who notice the same sort of behavior at church, and make the same conclusion and just quietly leave rather than trying to change anything. (And I’m going to preview this time so the grammar and punctuation are better.) I can’t see much real change in the way that women are treated by the institutional church, except perhaps the praying in sacrament meeting. There’s probably more lip service given to the concept that women are equal, or perhaps special, or something like that. But no real change.

  15. Dora says:

    Sad as I am to say it, I partially agree with Denise. I do not think that enough women are sufficiently aggravated about the status of women in the church to make organized civil disobedience effective. There are far too many women who feel that, “women have enough responsibility as it is, and why in the world would one ask for more?”

    That being said, I also think that the tides are changing, be they ever so slow. I don’t think that being insistent is the answer … but being convincing is. As cliche as it sounds, I think that a back door approach would work better in many instances than head on confrontation.

    Lastly (and I realize that I will catch flack from both sides), I sometimes wonder if the term feminism hasn’t gotten so negatively charged within the church that a new term is needed to bring in the moderates who actually would support the basic tenets of feminism. We’re currently bound by a patriarchal church community. Those who oppose feminism seem to see it as a push for matriarchy. Isn’t there a happy medium in the pendulum’s arc where we could promote a team approach that emphasizes partnership and unity, instead of privileging one side over the other?

  16. AmyB says:

    Dora, you have some interesting thoughts, and I’d love to hear more. What do you see as a “back door approach?” Any examples of what you mean by that?

    I agree with you that feminism has become a very charged word. Feminist or intellectual are a couple of the worst labels a person can get in the church. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about words needing to be healed. This may be one of those words that needs healing, or perhaps it’s time to change the language. I’ve never thought of feminism as a push for matriarchy- it’s interesting to me to hear the perspective.

    I guess what it comes down to for me is whether it’s worth staying around waiting and hoping for positive change, or whether I should go somewhere that has already made the changes and treats me with the full human dignity that I desire.

  17. EmilyCC says:

    Dora, I, too, wonder if “feminist” should be dropped altogether because it become so loaded (although I call myself one).

    I find it painful when a woman says something in Church like, “Well, I’m no feminist, but I think I’d go crazy if I was a stay-at-home mom.” “You know, I’m not one of those feminists, but I just preferred to keep my own last names.” Who do they think helped normalize those ideas?!

    I think we can thank those women 30 years ago who brought these issues up and discussed them. So, maybe we are making slow, slow progress?

  18. lois says:

    Thank you, Amy. I thought this was your post as soon as I had read the first few sentences. I had to scroll down to be certain, and I was not disappointed.

    Is it possible that, in spite of a very hopeful beginning, the present-day Mormon culture has no structures, models, or traditions that can fully support the self-experience, self-knowing, spiritual practice and yearnings of women who have begun to question the lack of opportunity within the church to speak and act powerfully from our own faith and experience without subjugating that voice and action to the practicing priesthood hierarchy? (Whew, I am out of breath after that sentence!!!)

    I think we do have a few models who, at the very least, provide a peek at what could lead to such expression and practice, but they are hidden from our view and our discourse unless we seek them out and speak of them. What about Miriam, the priestess, who led the women of Israel in music making and dance to thank God for their delivery from bondage (Exodus 15: 20-21)? I love to think of myself singing and dancing in my own spiritual practice and expressions of joy and gratitude, but unfortunately I actually do so very rarely.

    Seraphine spoke of the 1st and 2nd waves of feminism. I like the fact that the 3rd wave has not been fully defined and is constantly being shaped by women such as Amy, Caroline and others who speak so eloquently on these matters. Could it be that feminist spirituality could be a formidable force in redefining our role as Latter-day Saint women?

    I don’t like the feeling of being stuck, and not knowing how to take the next step. But even as I so blindly try to work out my own salvation as a woman (with fear and trembling) I know that some change within the church may not happen without our voice. Amy, in my opinion, you are a hero in this arena. Thanks for keeping us focused on this important vision.

  19. Dora says:

    By back door approach, I guess I mean anything that doesn’t approach the front door,especially when it’s being guarded by patriarchy-entrenched leaders. For example: Linda King Newell (“A Gift Given, A Gift Taken …”) pointed out that women in the church lost a lot of ground regarding administering to each other when they asked for forthright answers reguarding said practices. Frankly I think it is very sad that women’s administrations to each other were shut down at all, to say nothing of the manner in which it was done. Neither do I thnk that it should be the part of women to always tip toe around men and try to get things done by subterfuge. However, we live in an imperfect world, and sometimes we need to help our leaders do their job.

    Solutions? Maintaining respectful dialogue with those who disagree. Teaching family and friends about the benefits of feminism. Actively supporting those who can best advance feminism. Honey instead of vinegar. Even as I write these ideas, I am aware of the behind-the-scenes nature that has seemed to characterize historical feminine attempts to effect change.

    As for patriarchy versus feminism. I think that those who oppose feminism do so with a certain degree of fear … of change, of the unknown, of the privileging of women over men, of being labelled one of “them,” of excommunication. This fear prevents open communication. Hence the “I’m not a feminist, but …” statements I hear so often. And I wonder if a more neutral term was used, or if the world could be healed, how dialogue could be enhanced.

    My apologies that these ideas all seems so silly splayed out on the page. This is the first time I’ve tried to put them in written form, and I’m still working out the kinks.

  20. AmyB says:

    Lois, I really appreciated your thoughts. While reading your post it struck me that knowing and telling our own stories and those of other women has a lot of potential to help us connect to our feminine spirituality.

    Deborah, is there a good book about Emmeline Wells? You seem to really know the stories of strong LDS women, and I think there is some real power there.

    Dora, I don’t think your thoughts are silly at all. Everything you said resonated with me. You have some good thoughts on participating in a more empowered way, one of those being not asking permission for everything we do. Open, respectful dialogue is another great way. I wish I had more courage to speak my thoughts and dialogue with women in my local unit.

  21. Deborah says:

    “Deborah, is there a good book about Emmeline Wells? You seem to really know the stories of strong LDS women, and I think there is some real power there.”

    Yes! (Finally). The first of an expected two-part volume was recently released: An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells, by Carol Cornwall Madsen

    This volume deals almost strictly with her work as editor of Exponent, women’s rights activist, and suffrage leader.

  22. Kristy says:

    In the book, “Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective” by Beecher and Anderson, they quote Ruby Lamont who in the February 1889 edition of the Woman’s Exponent states:
    “Since the days of Eve her daughters have lived under the curse of social inferiority to her brother man. In this generation the irksomeness of this condition has been displayed by the woman’s movement for equal rights. This movement has met with slurs and opposition at every step, just as every truth has always been opposed by its adversary…”

    Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that an essay such as this was published in the late 1800’s in our official Church publication for women. It leaves me asking, “What has happened to Mormon women?” How did we go from this pro-ERA sentiment to being one of the most powerful opponents to the Equal Rights Amendment?

    So, how can we influence change within the Church? There are probably many ways, but I believe some are far more effective than others. Here are my ideas on what must be done:

    1)We have to “get the word out”. Most feminist women in the Church are out there feeling isolated and alone, having no idea that there are thousands just like them who want to see change. If one feels isolated and alone in their opinions, they are likely to remain silent or leave the Church because there is no hope for the change they desire.

    2) We must overcome our fear of being reprimanded or disciplined by Church authorities. This is a big one as we often weigh the risk of perceived “eternal and social suicide” with the desire to make real change for ourselves, our daughters, our granddaughters and all women of the Church (The Church has used ex-communication as an effective tool to cool off the feminist movement within the Church–i.e. Margaret Tuscano, Janice Allred, etc. We can’t let this scare us anymore–we have to move forward. In a Church that teaches absolute obedience to Priesthood Authority, this is a very scary leap for most women to make.)

    3) My belief is that the quickest way to attain change involves coordinating, standing and acting together. I have this pipe dream that if you could get just 3 women from every ward in the Church (I think this is a reasonable number) to send a form letter to their bishop/stake president/general authorities/prophet on the same day, in which we articulately and clearly outlined our concerns regarding gender inequality within the Church and demanded a “voice” and specific changes within the religion we have always supported, I think we would get the Church’s attention and I don’t think they would excommunicate thousands of women (safety in numbers). The trick would be addressing each of these items and coming up with a letter that all would support and endorse.

    However, Darron Smith, who edited “Black and Mormon”, recently stated that “there isn’t an activist bone in most Mormon’s bodies”. There may not be now, but there sure used to be as is evident by the women involved in the Suffrage movement here in Utah. So, I guess I hope that the time will ripen when women and men will rise up again and fight for the women they love. At some point, I believe we HAVE TO STICK OUR NECKS OUT.

  23. Jennifer says:

    Margaret Tuscano and Janice Allred wanted to teach a method of prayer contrary to that which was taught by the Savior. Thats what they were excommunicated for.

  24. Caroline says:

    Kristy, thanks for all your great ideas. I have very similar feelings. But I’m afraid I’m beginning to become a bit less hopeful that such things will come to pass. So many LDS seems all too happy to embrace and justify the status quo.

  25. Kristy says:

    I personally know both Margaret and Jancice and just to be clear, they were not excommunicated specifically for teachings related to praying to a Mother in Heaven.

    I do know the talk by President Hinckley (I assume you are making reference to) regarding that there isn’t any place in the scriptures where Christ prayed to a Heavenly Mother, and therefore, there is no precedence for doing so. However, I think it is interesting to note that there was nothing in the scriptures saying that black men should have the priesthood or that polygamy should be discontinued. Moreover, in these cases, there were scriptural references to uphold both policies/practices. However, prophets sought revelation (but only after much social pressure and, thus, they had a heightened awareness) and then we made bold changes, in spite of scriptural/doctrinal teachings of the past.

    In any case, I find a serious contradiction when we justify our refusal to change a practice due to scripture when we have changed many practices/policies in spite of scripture.

    We are a church of ongoing revelation. Are our leaders seeking revelation on the matter of a Mother in Heaven and the eternal roles of women or are they dismissing the issue altogether because there is no scriptural precedence?

    I don’t know the answer but I think change is possible, but there has to be some pressure in order for this to come about. Revelation is only given after it is sought for; Prophets will only seek for revelation after they are aware that there is a need; Prophets can’t be aware that there is a need until there is a wide-spread conversation taking place, which places awareness and pressure on their shoulders. I believe there is a chain-reaction and creating a large conversation is the first step that leads to revelation and change. We are responsible for creating the wide-spread conversation and that is why I love blogs like this.

  26. Kiskilili says:

    I’ve appreciated this post and conversation. A couple of months ago I attended a lecture by Ann Braude, a scholar at Harvard Divinity School who studies women in religion in America. She pointed out that in the 19th century, feminists often cited their religion as one of the driving forces behind their feminist activitism (she mentioned a woman who strongly believed God had called her to fight for women’s suffrage, a cause to which she devoted her entire life without seeing results).

    But in more recent times the assumption is often made that feminism and religion belong on different sides of the spectrum. (Braude wrote _Transforming the Faiths of Our Fathers_ in part to demonstrate empirically that there are many committed to both.) It’s interesting that in our own era, we typically perceive our feminist and our religious convictions as potential hindrances to one other.

    In any case, I love Kristy’s suggestions. Count me in on any letter-writing project; I’ve already sent a number of letters to Salt Lake (probably to no avail), and I’m happy to send more. I really don’t mind sticking my neck out.

  27. Tam says:

    AmyB, the quotes in your original post had a good and positive impact on me – thank you.

    Kristy, I very much appreciate your comments as well.

    I would like to be made of the firmer stuff that Kiskilili, Kristy, and numerous others that post here are made of. I am decidedly uncomfortable with sticking my neck out, and yet, I see that much good can come from it.

  28. Kristy says:

    Hey, since we’re talking about the suffrage movement, I started thinking about a closely related subject–The Equal Rights Amendment. Alice Paul, whose agressive tactics (being jailed with other suffragites and then going on hunger strikes while in jail)finally brought about the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, also wrote the Equal Rights Amendment. She saw the passage of the 19th Amendment as only the beginning of equality legislation for women–not the end. So, in 1923 she drafted the Equal Rights Amendment. She spent the rest of her life, along with thousands of other women (and I’m sure a few men) trying to get the Amendment passed. Although it was passed by Congress, after 60 years of trying to get the necessary state ratifications (I think they were only 3 states short), time ran out.

    As I’ve done more research on the Mormon Church’s opposition, including the involvement of a mormon federal judge who made a critical ruling against the amendment and the Church’s heavy, well-publicized opposition that greatly contributed to the amendment not gaining the necessary state ratifications, I’ve become more depressed about the Church’s view of women. In addition, I found myself apologizing (in my head) over and over to Alice Paul for my Church’s involvement in defeating an Amendment that she fought all of her life to try and get passed.

    How could we oppose an Amendment that simply strives to eliminate discrimination based upon gender? How could we, as Mormon women, fight against such an amendment? I find myself believing that the mature, mormon women of that generation (1970s and early 1980s) who participated in the public opposition or merely remained silent owe a grand apology to msyelf, my daughters, my granddaughters, my sisters, my girlfriends, and all future generations of women.

    How could we (Mormon women) have participated like we did? Can someone help me to find a little understanding? I don’t think I can find much peace over this, but maybe more understanding from someone who lived through this time (as an adult) would help.

    It does make me think of the parallel to the opposition of gay marriage. The same rationale was used in the opposition to the ERA that is now being used regarding gay marriage–that it endangers the natural family. I don’t know about any of you, but I believe the greatest danger to my two, beautiful daughters is that society and our religion still discriminates against them because of their gender–something that would be at least somewhat alleviated by the ERA.

    And, when thinking about the Church’s recent involvement for the Marriage Amendment, I begin to ask myself, “Will future generations look back to us and ask for an apology from those of us who participated in or merely remained silent to the anti-gay legislation our Church endorsed?”

    I know I’m a radical but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  29. AmyB says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. The ERA was before my time, and I have been saddened as I have learned more about it. I think it is interesting to note the parallels with the recent marriage ammendment fight. I wish I had more time to make a more detailed response, but am getting ready to head out the door to the Exponent Retreat.

    I have really appreciated what you have to say and would love to hear more from you. I think this is an important discussion to have- and will try to respond more when I get back.

  30. Arlene says:

    From one who was there for the disscussions, “An” ‘Equal Rights Ammendment’ was not exactly something that the Church was opposed to. “The” ‘Equal Rights Ammendment’ however was worded in such a way as to cause concern.

    The biggest problems were oddly still problems that face us today. If the ammendment had passed, it would have essentially legalized gay marriage and gay adoption – in the late 70s and early 80s there was quite a bit of resistance to this from all across the spectrum. The other major problem was that if passed, women would have to register for the draft – something still being done then – and would be required to go into combat as ground troups. Again, something still debated today.

    The Equal Rights Ammendment as written basically demanded total androgony. That is why it failed