LDS Women Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Editors Jenny Reeder and Kate Holbrook, respectively 19th- and 20th-century women’s historians, discuss their multi-year project to bring LDS women’s speeches together in At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women in this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast.

This is the second book to come out of the Church Historian’s Press in as many years with the goal of making LDS women’s experiences, history, and discourses available to the mainstream membership.

Before the reader even opens the book, the nostalgic cover art of At the Pulpit brings to mind its two opposing themes: change and familiarity. One glance at the over-sized corsage adorning Belle Spafford’s tailored dress may spawn a flood of memories. When was it that they stopped having women wear corsages at conference anyway? The scene is as familiar and comforting as it is foreign.

Because women didn’t typically speak in conference settings before the mid-20th century, the definition of “discourse” is stretched a bit for this anthology. To Reeder and Holbrook’s credit, this makes the book seem less like a collection of discourses than treasured glimpses into the relationship LDS women have had to their God over the last 185 years.

It is less a collection of talks than a creative medium for teaching about how attitudes toward the roles of women at home and in the LDS Church have changed and in some ways remained the same.

Many may find the introductions to each discourse the most enjoyable portions of the book. In these brief overviews, readers not only receive context for the discourse but also context for the time in which it is given.

Overall this is a welcome addition to the fine work coming out of the Church History Department and to the library of anyone wishing to entertain a more nuanced view on the amplitude of women’s voices in LDS discourse over the years.

2 thoughts on “LDS Women Speaking Up and Speaking Out

  1. What a delightful interview. I look forward to reading this book.

    I was reminded of a time over a decade ago when I read a resolution a local Relief Society had composed and voted on, to express to a widower their deep appreciation for his recently deceased wife, and formallyas an organization extending their condolences for his loss when a fire killed not only his wife, their valued colleague, but several of the couple’s children. At the time I was unaware of the political activism for which Relief Society had been used, knowing only the Relief Society of my own experience.

    I also was illuminated by Jane Nyman’s speech, echoing Emma Smith’s discussion of a time when charity had covered a multitude of sins. Jane would not have been present when Emma spoke, suggesting personal ministry from the sisters brought this message to Jane during a time when her heart would have been torn by public exposure of her daughters’ participation in illicit intercourse.

    I echo Laura’s suggestion that the index of General Conference addresses by women have subject added.

    Bravo to Jenny Reeder and Kate Holbrook!

  2. I forgot to add that the corsages may have persisted as late as the 1980s. I recall that long formal dresses were used for “Sunday Dress” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the fun things I remember from my freshman year at BYU in 1980/81 was a group of us girls getting together to try on each others long formal dresses. It would be entirely consistent in that age for an event as significant as presenting at General Conference to warrant a loved one presenting a corsage to the “lucky” female.

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