Below is my take on 2nd Wave Mormon feminism, much of it based on Hanks’ volume Women and Authority. If you have more to contribute, or anything to amend, please do!
After women received the vote in 1919, first wave Mormon feminism dissipated. Slowly but inexorably, privileges and rights that women had taken for granted a generation before were shifted more to male priesthood holders. Whereas before LDS women had freely laid hands on one another and blessed, new edicts came from Presidents like Joseph F. Smith that such actions were inappropriate.
In this era of mid 20th century, Mormonism began to assimilate with the U.S. culture at large. And just as all women of the 1950’s were encouraged to embrace traditional concepts of femininity, so Mormon women were as well. But out of the turmoil of the 60’s came the Women’s Movement, and several Mormon women began asking the same questions women all around the country exploring. And out of these questions sprang some important milestones in the study of 2nd Wave Mormon feminism.
After male Church leaders forced the retirement of The Relief Society Magazine in the 60’s, Mormon women were left without an official publication that specifically was produced for and by them. However, in the early 1970’s, a group of women in Boston founded the non-Church sponsored Exponent II newspaper, after discovering the fiery and feisty writings of female leaders in the original Women’s Exponent. In thoughtful personal essays, this newspaper gently led women towards feminism as it explored the tough issues of feminism, mothers working, being single in a married church, even occasionally abortion and gay/lesbian issues. At about the same time, publications like Dialogue were gaining an audience and also explored women’s issues.
International Women’s Year
In 1977, an International Women’s Year Convention convened in Utah. Church leaders, uncomfortable with the political purpose of this convention, organized thousands of Mormon women to go to this convention to defeat all the proposals. Instead of the 3000 women that were expected, 10,000 showed up and hysterically shouted down every proposal, including an item agenda about promoting equal pay for equal work. The convention organizers were left “dazed, feeling betrayed, ashamed at the action of their sisters, and offended at the level of hysteria in the meeting.” (From Hanks’ Women and Authority)
Mormons For ERA
In 1978, a group of LDS women formed Mormons for ERA. Sonia Johnson was president and she guided this group as it worked for the passage of the amendment as well as to expose the Church’s organized but surreptitious efforts to defeat it. This organization’s tactics were offensive to many Church members. They chained themselves to temple gates, hired airplanes to fly banners supporting ERA over major Mormon gatherings, and voted no to sustaining Church leaders. With the defeat of the ERA, this group disbanded, with its members either quieting their voices or leaving the Church, or continuing to agitate to improve women’s position in the Church. Sonia Johnson was ultimately excommunicated.
Mother in Heaven
The 1980’s saw an increase in interest in the LDS doctrine of Heavenly Mother. The 1980 Relief Society Eliza R. Snow Poetry contest brought numerous submissions that dealt with the feminine divine. Dialogue, Exponent II, Mormon Women’s Forum, and Sunstone published poems and articles about Mother in Heaven. In the late 80’s, Carol Lynn Pearson wrote a play detailing several different women’s relationships with the Mother God. The backlash came in 1991 when Faust and Hinckley warned women to not stray towards “the beginnings of apostasy” by praying to Heavenly Mother.
My next post will deal with 3rd wave Mormon feminism.
Ideas to consider:
- Are there any other important events that should be added to this outline of 2nd Wave Mormon feminism?
- Why do you think there was such a backlash against these Mormon feminists, whereas 1st wave Mormon feminists were embraced and admired by the Mormon population as a whole?
- What is your reaction to the tactics and strategies of some of these 2nd wave Mormon feminists? And what is your reaction to the Church’s organized opposition to them and to the ERA?