Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism
Utah women today might be surprised to learn their grandmothers' views on feminist issues, according to Maxine Hanks. LDS Relief Society co-founder Sarah Kimball referred to herself as "a woman's rights woman, " while Bathsheba Smith was called on Relief Society mission in 1870 to preach equal rights for women.
The society editorialized that females belonged not only "in the nursery" but also "in the library, the laboratory, the observatory." Sisters sent east to study medicine were assured that "when men see that women can exist without them, it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them." Temple officiators were called "priestesses, " Eliza R. Snow the "prophetess, " and women were discouraged from confessing to bishops on grounds that personal matters "should be referred to the Relief Society president and her counselors." Women were set apart as healers "with power to rebuke diseases."
In addition, Mormon theology spoke reassuringly of a Mother God of the divinity of Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Eve. No wonder Relief Society president Emmeline B. Wells could write with confidence: "Let woman speak for herself; she has the right of freedom of speech. Women are too slow in moving forward, afraid of criticism, of being called unwomanly, of being thought masculine."
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Instead, he said that women should "send for the Elders of the Church to come
and administer to the sick and afflicted.' 2 Thus a century of Mormon women's
sacred ordinances no longer had the approval of the church's hierarchy. An era
There are two ways in which the LDS church gives formal authority for males to
exercise the priesthood they receive by ordination ... For LDS women
Melchizedek priesthood does not come in stages of ordination but in the temple
See discussion of key(s) in Madsen, "Mormon Women and the Temple," 97, 99.
59. April 1921 Conference Report, 24-25. 60. October 1 903 Conference Report,
87. 61. Grethe Ballif Peterson, "Priesthood and LDS Women: Six Contemporary ...
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