Mormon feminism

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Mormon feminism is a feminist movement concerned with the role of women within Mormonism. Mormon feminists advocate for a more significant recognition of Heavenly Mother, the ordination of women, gender equality, and social justice grounded in Mormon theology and history. The modern form of the movement has roots that go back to the founding of Mormonism, including the largely independent operation of the female Relief Society, priesthood blessings by women in early church history, and the women's suffrage movement in the western United States.


The first wave of Mormon feminism embraced many of the ideas of liberal feminism that were a product of the Enlightenment, i.e., "the authority of individual reason, equality of the sexes, [and] rational/legal concerns such as the right to vote." [1] In the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), early feminist assertions surfaced in the 1840s with the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Illinois, with Emma Hale Smith as its first president. Eliza R. Snow promoted the idea of a Heavenly Mother[2] and equal status for women. Women were first included in Mormon prayer circles on September 28, 1843.[3] The Woman's Exponent was a periodical published from 1872 until 1914 in Salt Lake City whose purpose was to uplift and strengthen women of the LDS Church[4] and to educate those not of the Mormon faith about the women of Mormonism. With some help from the Relief Society, the Utah Territory was at the forefront of women's suffrage; in 1870, it became one of the first states or territories in the Union to grant women the vote,[5] though the federal government removed the franchise from women in 1887 via the Edmunds–Tucker Act.

After the consolidation of the Relief Society Magazine into the Ensign in 1970, an independent publication calling itself Exponent II was started in 1974 by several Cambridge, Massachusetts-area women, including Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Claudia Bushman. The magazine focused on the experiences of Mormon women from a feminist perspective.[6] However, in the 1970s, the LDS Church came out against the Equal Rights Amendment. Sonia Johnson[7] fought against the church in support of the ERA and was excommunicated; a December 1979 excommunication letter claimed that Johnson was charged with a variety of misdeeds, including hindering the worldwide missionary program, damaging internal Mormon social programs, and teaching false doctrine.[8]

In 1993, Maxine Hanks, Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, and Lavina Fielding Anderson spoke out for women's rights and were excommunicated from the LDS Church as a part of the "September Six".[9] Two other prominent feminist writers, Janice Merrill Allred and her sister Margaret Toscano, were also involved in courts at the time, but not excommunicated until 1995 and 2000 respectively.[10][11] Joanna Brooks left the church because of this event, but later came back and spoke out for women's rights. The Feminist Mormon Housewives group blog was started during the 2004 presidential election by Lisa Butterworth and four of her friends as a place to discuss liberal, feminist views.[12][13] Neylan McBaine founded and is the editor-in-chief of The Mormon Women Project[14][15] which supports feminist views from a more orthodox and believing framework. In 2013, Jean A. Stevens became the first woman to pray in an LDS Church general conference session.[16][17][18] In 2013, Kate Kelly started the Ordain Women website to host profiles of individuals calling for the ordination of Mormon women;[19] she was excommunicated in June 2014.[20] Specifically, on June 23, 2014, Kelly's bishop informed her that she had been excommunicated in absentia.[20] The letter states that Kelly's excommunication was due not to her personal beliefs, but her “aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to [her] point of view and that [her] course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others,” including “Six Discussions” aimed at other church members.[21][22] In 2015, the LDS Church appointed women to its executive councils for the first time. The church appointed Linda K. Burton, president of the Relief Society, Rosemary Wixom, president of the Primary, and Bonnie L. Oscarson, president of the Young Women’s organization, to three high-level church councils (one woman to each).[23][24]

In 2015, an official essay was published on the church's website which surveyed 171 years of statements about a Mother in Heaven and confirmed that it was part of church doctrine.[25] An accompanying essay stated that while neither Joseph Smith nor any other church leader ordained women to the priesthood, women do exercise priesthood authority without ordination.[26]

Further reading

See also


  1. Hanks, Maxine. "Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism". Signature Books. Retrieved March 8, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Wilcox, Linda (1992), "The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven", Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Michael, Quinn, D. (Fall 1978). Tate, Jr., Charles D, ed. Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles (PDF). 19. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies. pp. 84 & 105. Retrieved May 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Sherilyn Cox Bennion, "The Woman's Exponent: Forty-two Years of Speaking for Women," Utah Historical Quarterly 44:3 (Summer 1976): 226
  5. Bradley, Martha Sonntag (2005), Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights, Signature Books<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Barlow, Rich, "A Feminist Look at the Mormon Faith", Boston Globe, 2006-06-17; accessed on 2008-03-27.
  7. Young, Niel. "Equal Rights, Gay Rights and the Mormon Church". New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Sillitoe, Linda, "Church Politics and Sonia Johnson: The Central Conundrum", Sunstone Magazine, Issue No: 19, January–February, 1980.
  9. Stromberg, Lorie Winder (2015). "The Birth of Ordain Women". In Shepherd, Gordon; Anderson, Lavina Fielding; Shepherd, Gary. Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books. pp. 6, 441. ISBN 978-1-58958-758-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Stack, Peggy Fletcher (2013-05-16). "A Mormon mystery returns: Who is Heavenly Mother?". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2015-09-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Toscano, Margaret. "The Mormons, Interviews". Retrieved 1 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Riley, Duncan (March 28, 2005). "Feminist Mormon uses blog to spread message". The Blog Herald. Retrieved 2009-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Stack, Peggy Fletcher (October 6, 2007). "LDS Web site offers 'a safe place to be feminist and faithful'". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2009-04-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. McBaine, Neylan. "About Neylan". Retrieved April 29, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Stack, Peggy Fletcher (September 28, 2010). "Mormon feminism: It's back". Salt Lake Tribune.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Peggy Fletcher Stack, "First prayer by woman offered at Mormon conference", The Salt Lake Tribune, 2013-04-06.
  17. David Kelly, "In rare event, woman leads prayer at major Mormon conference", Los Angeles Times, 2013-04-06.
  18. Doug Barry, "Woman Leads Mormons in Prayer for the First Time in Forever", Jezebel, 2013-04-06.
  19. Welker, Holly (March 16, 2014), "Ordain Women Transforms Mormon Feminism", Religion Dispatches<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Walsh, Tad (June 23, 2014), "LDS bishop excommunicates Ordain Women founder", Deseret News<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Letter to Kate Kelly - The Washington Post". 2014-06-30. Retrieved 2015-08-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Fletcher, Peggy. "Utah Local News - Salt Lake City News, Sports, Archive - The Salt Lake Tribune". Retrieved 2015-08-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Associated Press (August 19, 2015). "Mormon church makes first ever appointments of women to councils | World news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-08-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Walch, Tad (18 August 2015). "In a significant move, women to join key, leading LDS Church councils". Deseret News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  25. Tad Walch. "LDS Church releases new essays about women and the priesthood and Heavenly Mother". Deseret News. Retrieved 2015-11-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Tad Walch. "LDS Church releases new essays about women and the priesthood and Heavenly Mother". Deseret News. Retrieved 2015-11-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links