The Facebook of the 19th Century

If you check the sidebar, you will see links to the Exponent II group on flickr, a photo sharing group, and on Facebook, a social networking site. If you use either of these applications, I hope you will join our groups. While I believe that blogging is still the best way for us to interact online, I want us to continue to expand our influence through various new forums. I’ve observed that most younger folks are more active on Facebook than on the blogs, so I want to make sure that we have a presence in both places.

This weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about the history of Exponent–both in its earliest incarnation in the 19th century and as it was revived by Boston women a few decades ago. The Exponent has ridden the front waves of many significant social movements, and it’s my hope that it will continue to do so–that it can adapt in form and content to continue its relevance with contemporary Mormon women.

I recently came across this passage about the original Exponent:*

“First published in 1872, the Woman’s Exponent was truly the voice of Mormon women, linking them to other women nationwide. Purporting to offer an ‘almost complete history of woman’s work in Utah and matters pertaining thereunto’ the Exponent also connected the efforts of Utah women in the areas of suffrage, for example, with those of their sisters in other parts of the United States. The newspaper itself was a symbol of the independence and productiveness of Mormon women; in 1893 an article on women journalists in the Exponent claimed that it was one of only three papers west of the Mississippi River that was ‘edited and published entirely by women,’ including women typesetters.”

Reading about the early publication’s significance made me feel a surge of pride in keeping the Exponent moving forward into the 21st century. At the same time, though, I reflected on how small a corner of the Mormon world we touch through this blog and I wish our impact could be greater. I’d like the ExponentBlog to represent and reflect the experience of a far larger swath of LDS women. From the passage above it seems that the original Woman’s Exponent was the Facebook for LDS women in the nineteenth century. Perhaps as our organization continues to expand into new forums we will continue to draw a larger net of Mormon women into our community.

*From Margaret Brady’s book Mormon healer and folk poet: Mary Susannah Fowler’s life of ‘unselfish usefulness’

Do you have any thoughts on the historical significance of the Exponent? How did you first encounter the publication? In what ways does the ExponentBlog reflect your experience as an LDS woman? Do you have any suggestions for ways we could reach out to more Mormon women?

Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is


  1. First of all, let me state that this post is just my opinion.

    “…the Woman’s Exponent was truly the voice of Mormon women”

    I think this was probably the case. I do not think however that this blog or the current encarnation of the Exponent are a good representation of how most Mormon women feel.

    Your desire – “I wish our impact could be greater” will not be realized until the Exponent is closer to a real slice of how most Mormon women feel.

  2. Beth – I agree that the Exponent II blog and the written publication are not representative of how most Mormon women feel. But, this is the reason I like it. I don’t feel/share opinions of many Mormon woman, and sometimes I yearn for a little solidarity. I am glad for this avenue that helps me feel connected to the church, and in many ways, has kept me active.

  3. I subscribed to the Exponent II paper when I was a newlywed BYU student in 1992/3. I had a lot of confusion about the September Six, constant brouhaha in the BYU English Department, etc. It was interesting and constructive to have an alternative, feminine “voice” to read. Alas, I ran out of money and lost touch with the publication for many years, until I happened on the blog through FMH.

  4. Those are great questions, Jana.

    I only really found out about Exponent from you. I wish there was a way we could reach out more to women who maybe don’t feel like they fit the Mormon woman ideal perfectly.

    I’m not sure how to do that. I kind of have visions of starting with the college age women. But I’m unclear how to do this. Would it be possible to put an add in a BYU paper or something?

  5. Beth (and others):
    I am sure it would be impossible to totally represent what “most Mormon women feel,” but I wonder if it would be possible to have a wide spectrum of POVs, so that it would appeal to many Mormon women? To have old and young, conservative and liberal, married and not, educated and down-to-earth, etc.

    I’m curious Beth, what you think could be added to the Blog or the print mag to make it more reflective of your experience or POV?

    Of course the biggest difference between our blog and the original Exponent is that the original was a product of the RS, at the time when the organization was given autonomy to have their own mag. And it would also be very difficult for a blog to represent the voices of those who don’t have the resources to be online and/or read English (which has got to be a huge chunk of the church). So I guess I’m aiming at a particularly North American/European middle class audience…

    Janna: I know nothing about the Student Review–does anyone else?

  6. As I recall, Student Review closed up around 2000…2001. I don’t know if anything else appeared to take its place. I’d love to know, though.

  7. So sad about the Student Review! It was an underground newspaper supervised by Eugene England, at least during the 4 years that I was on the production staff.

  8. “I’m curious Beth, what you think could be added to the Blog or the print mag to make it more reflective of your experience or POV?”

    The very apparent bias against conservation ideas is what keeps me away from here most the time. I (as well as most other women I know who have visited here – both liberal and conservation) see this site as a having a profoundly liberal agenda. Not a women’s agenda

  9. Beth:
    What would be some examples of the “profoundly liberal agenda”? I scrolled thru the recent posts and I saw thoughtful discussions of marriage, body image, interfaith experience, women’s history, poetry, etc. Nothing jumped out at me as “profoundly liberal.”

    And what “conservative” topics, specifically, would you like to see addressed? If you would like to write a guest post about an issue that’s important to you, please drop me a line: phddillyATyahooDAWTcom.

    And perhaps you can also note any X2blog posts that you’ve found satisfying?

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