Goodbye, Emma Lou

The summer after my freshman year of college, I somehow landed a job working at A Woman’s Place, Salt Lake City’s only (and long since former) feminist bookstore. I’m not quite sure who recommended me for the job in the first place, though I suspect my neighbor Marilyn, who’d supplied me with a steady diet of girl-power literature since I was ten, may have been my benefactor. The shop was an oasis, a safe place, a wonderful experience for an angsty feminist eighteen-year-old girl who’d had Sonia Johnson’s From Housewife to Heretic and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own roiling in her head for the past four years. Regulars described the bookstore as “the only place where you’ll find Emma Lou Thayne on the shelf next to lesbian fiction.”

I’d never read either; that summer I binged on both.

I never met Emma Lou, but she’s part of my life experience, part of my Mormon feminist brain. How Much for the Earth? echoed my Cold War childhood fears. Her poems spoke to me from the pages of Sunstone and, remarkably, from the LDS hymnbook; I realized that summer that she was the author of the hymn I sang to myself when I was most overwhelmed and upset. My copy of All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir is missing from my bookshelf as I write this, doubtless lent to someone who needed to read it as badly as I once did; her essays there are among the reasons I’m still at church on Sundays.

Early this morning, to use some Mormon vernacular, Emma Lou Warner Thayne went home to her Heavenly Parents. I cling fiercely to my hope for that joyous Mormon vision of the afterlife–the one where “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there”–so that I can one day tell her how much she meant to me.



On prolonged sabbatical from her career in arts administration, Libby is a seamstress, editor, entrepreneur, and community volunteer. She has a husband and three children.

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8 Responses

  1. Melody says:

    Thank you, Libby. This is beautiful. I met her earlier this year for the first time. She is remarkably personable, common-sensical, full of wit and wisdom. A bright soul. We were so lucky to inhabit the planet while she was here. Surely, somewhere in heaven there is a feminist reunion going on. God bless her on her journey.

  2. Deborah says:

    i heard the news last night but did not cry till I read this, because she was a critical voice in my journey, too.

  3. Caroline says:

    I first came to know Emma Lou Thayne’s writings in the wonderful book, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir. That book was transformative for me. It gave me hope that I could walk my path if I had women like Emma Lou and Laurel to look towards as models. We have lost a remarkable soul.

  4. MargaretOH says:

    Thank you, Libby. This is perfect. I also think of her writings as one of the reasons I am at church every week. I am so grateful for her wisdom.

  5. Corrina says:


  6. Corrina says:

    The first time I heard Emma Lou speak was on A thoughtful Faith podcast (

    She inspired me, and I marveled at the stories she told. What an amazing woman.

    Libby, your post excites me to read more of Emma Lou’s writings. Thank you!

  1. December 7, 2014

    […] Libby at Exponent II, “Goodbye, Emma Lou” […]

  2. December 30, 2014

    […] magazine- our 40th anniversary! Our speaker series started off in Provo, UT, with Emma Lou Thayne, whom we will miss, and hit Washington DC with Claudia Bushman, Berkeley, CA with Carol Lynn Pearson, and […]

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