Archives for June 2011

Guest Post: Toxic Chemicals in Our Environment/Catherine W. Ockey

Catherine currently lives in Helana, Montana and works as a freelance writer and owner of a small publishing company specializing in outdoor guides to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Her passions are environmental advocacy, women’s history of the West, and grandchildren. She has four children. You’ll find her commenting frequently at Exponent and Feminist Mormon Housewives.

The prevalence of toxic chemicals in our environment is a hot topic in the news these days. Hardly a day goes by when there isn’t an article about one chemical or another, and its dangers, in a major newspaper or magazine, both in print and online. This information is of particular importance to women for several reasons: many chemicals accumulate in fat, and women generally have a higher percentage of fat tissue than men; many chemicals stored in a woman’s body are passed onto her child during pregnancy and breast-feeding; women have a higher exposure to toxic chemicals in household and commercial cleaners (at home and in the housekeeping industry) and home pesticide products which contain endocrine disrupting chemicals; women have a higher exposure to toxic chemicals in personal care products (hair, skin, make-up, and nail); women still have the primary care of infants and children in our society, and infants and children, because of their small, and still developing, bodies are at the greatest risk of chemical poisoning when exposed to toxins in the environment.


So, what are the chemicals and why should we be concerned?


Some of the most frightening are those that mimic natural hormones and are called endocrine disruptors. Most of us have heard of BPA, a petrochemical-based xenoestrogen that is found in plastics and the lining of canned foods. Xenoestrogens have been linked to early puberty (especially in girls), increased risk of cancers, weight gain, depression, tumors, and autoimmune deficiency.[1] In several studies, including one done at the University of Utah, exposure to air pollution from automobile traffic and industries that emit toxic chemicals and heavy metals has been linked to the increasing incidence of autism spectrum disorders.[2] Phthalates, fragrance carriers in glass cleaners, deodorizers, laundry products, and virtually anything that is scented, have been linked to adverse effects on boys, reduced sperm count in adult men, and increased allergies and asthma in children.[3] The list could go on and on.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that virtually everyone has these chemicals in their bodies.[4] They are everywhere in our environment—in the air we breath (from auto exhaust, industrial pollutants, your neighbor’s dryer vent, and the perfume you sprayed on this morning), the water we drink (from industrial waste, pharmaceuticals that are flushed down the toilet, and the residue of pesticides and herbicides you spray on your lawns and gardens), in the foods we eat (from pesticides, artificial colors and flavors, and preservatives) and in the walls and floors of our own homes (carpets and other building materials).


If you live in the modern world, you can’t entirely escape them. The best we can do to reduce the chemical load on our fragile immune systems is to reduce our exposure as much as possible and urge others to do likewise. How this is done is going to vary with individual and family circumstances, but here are some ideas that might help.


1) Use safer cleaning and personal care products. Eliminate synthetic fragrances by using products labeled fragrance free. Buy only those products that list the ingredients (which is not required by law) and avoid those containing sodium laureth sulfate (soaps, shampoos, thoothpaste), hydroquinone (skin lighteners), triclosan (antibacterial products and frangrances), PEG (soaps and shampoos). Make your own products (see link to WVE below).


2) Opt for fresh or frozen foods instead of canned. Use glass containers for food storage and reheating.


3) Use nail polishes and hardeners labeled “three-free” or “formaldehyde-free” and avoid chemical hair straighteners.


4) Use unscented laundry products and replace dryer sheets with the nubby dryer balls. (To avoid static, don’t overdry clothing.)


5) Eat and garden organically grown foods as much as possible, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables.


What we do personally is only part of the battle. Here are a few ideas for promoting a cleaner, safer environment for everyone:


1) Put your money where your mouth is and buy only from companies that clearly label their products. Send letters and email messages to those which don’t asking them to be more transparent. (Check out the websites below to help you find these companies, the good and the bad.)


2) Support federal regulations that set industry standards for clean air, water and soil, as well as safe manufacturing processes.


3) Encourage you state congressional representatives to pass legislation requiring companies to disclose all ingredients in household cleaners on product labels and to replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives.


4) Ask your representatives to support reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the means to enforce it.


5) Join groups that advocate for a healthy environment, like those listed below, or look for a local group in your area.


6) Help educate others, through your blog, Facebook, family reunions, and church activities.


Some useful websites with further information and opportunities for activism:

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families:

Environmental Working Group:

Toxie Awards:

Women’s Voices for the Earth:

Utah Clean Air Alliance:

Utah Moms for Clean Air:




[1] “Toxic Overload: 15 Percent of Girls Now Reach Puberty by Age 7,” .

[2] Heather May, “Utah researcher says autism-pollution link needs serious study,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 11, 2011.

[3] “What’s Under Your Sink: Potential Hazards of Home Cleaning Products,” Women’s Voices for the Earth Fact Sheet,

[4] “Toxic Chemicals: The Cost to Our Health,” Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, .


Women Intellectuals

Here at WAVE, we are concerned that a recent news article may have created the mistaken impression that Mormon women are not intellectuals. The article reprints a list of Mormon intellectuals from an important 1969 article by Leonard Arrington. Arrington’s list, while useful, reflected some of the problematic norms of the era. As Arrington noted, it contained no women, “probably due to the failure of historians to call attention to the contributions of women in Mormon history.”

The intervening decades have led to improved recognition of women’s roles, and today we recognize the contributions that many women have made to LDS thought. Of course, the definition of a term like “intellectual” is contested, as is the definition of the term “Mormon.” But whatever definitions one prefers, there are a variety of women who fit into the category of “Mormon intellectual.” A partial list (EDIT: NOW UPDATED to include reader suggestions from comments 1-5) — along with very abbreviated descriptions of a few of their accomplishments — would include:

Kif Augustine Adams – associate dean of BYU’s Law School
Lavina Fielding Anderson – editor of Lucy’s Book, co-editor of Sisters in Spirit, trustee of the Mormon Alliance
Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, former director of BYU’s Women’s Research Institute, path-breaking research on aggression in children
Maureen Ursenbach Beecher – author of The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow and co-editor of Sisters in Spirit
Susan Easton Black – historian and author of a variety of books on the life of Joseph Smith
Martha Sonntag Bradley – author of Four Zinas and From Podiums to Pedastals: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights
Fawn Brodie – author of No Man Knows My History
Juanita Brooks – author of Massacre at Mountain Meadows
Claudia Bushman – historian, co-founder of Exponent II and editor of Mormon Sisters
Karen Lynn Davidson – lyricist, author of Our Latter-Day Hymns, co-editor of Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry
Jill Mulvay Derr – co-editor of Women’s Voices and Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry and author of Women of the Covenant
Louie Felt – initial president of the Primary
Kathleen Flake – author of The Politics of American Religious Identity
Susa Young Gates – women’s rights advocate and founding editor of the Young Women’s Journal and Relief Society Magazine
Kristine Haglund – editor of Dialogue
Maxine Hanks – editor of Women and Authority
Valerie Hudson, political science professor, award-winning work on national security
Karen Hyer, former BYU faculty, law/psychology/education, recently ran for US Congress
Sonia Johnson – political activist and author of From Housewife to Heretic
Amy Brown Lyman – general Relief Society president and advocate of church welfare programs
Ann Nichollos Madsen – professor at BYU
Carol Cornwall Madsen – historian and author of An Advocate for Women and In Their Own Words
Susan Madsen (UVU), chaired professor of business, and author of the important UWEP research that has resulted in the formation of a Governor’s Task Force on Utah women and higher education
Clare Middlemiss – personal assistant to David O. McKay, her records have been invaluable
Linda King Newell – co-author of Mormon Enigma
Camille Fronk Olsen, first female chair (ever) of BYU’s Ancient Scripture department
LaVern Parmley – primary president who significantly revised the primary curriculum
Carol Lynn Pearson – playwright and author of Mother Wove the Morning and No More Goodbyes
Esther Peterson – Assistant Secretary of Labor and Director of the United States Women’s Bureau for President John F. Kennedy, Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter, Vice President for Consumer Affairs at Giant Food Corporation, and president of the National Consumers League.
Alice Louise Reynolds – women’s rights activist and professor at BYU
Louisa Greene Richards – writer and founding editor of the Women’s Exponent
Jini Roby, BYU (social work), award-winning research on international adoption and human trafficking
Jan Shipps – non-LDS author of Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition and Sojourner in the Promised Land
Barbara B. Smith – general Relief Society president who spearheaded ERA opposition
Emma Smith – founding president of the Relief Society and creator of the first LDS hymnbook
Ida Smith – creator of BYU’s Women’s research institute and member of the early LDS feminist group Gray Panthers
Eliza R. Snow – prolific poet and writer
Belle Spafford – long-serving general Relief Society president who oversaw major Relief Society growth worldwide
Diane Spangler, psychology professor, award-winning work on eating disorders, depression, and related topics.
Virginia Sorensen – author of A Little Lower than the Angels and Miracle at Maple Hill
Emma Lou Thayne – co-author of All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir
M. Catherine Thomas – author of books including Light in the Wilderness
Margaret Toscano – co-author of Strangers in Paradox
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – Pultizer prize winning historian and author of A Midwife’s Tale, Good Wives, and Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.
Emmeline B. Wells – writer, suffrage advocate, editor of the Women’s Exponent, and president of the Relief Society
Maurine Whipple – author of The Giant Joshua
Marjorie Wight – late professor of English at Brigham Young University, author of “An Analysis of Selected British Novelists Between 1945 and 1966, and Their Critics” (Dissertation, University of California 1968)
Terry Tempest Williams – author of Refuge and Red
Margaret Blair Young – co-author of Standing on the Promises and co-director of Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons

We are indebted to the suggestions from readers of our Facebook page who suggested some of these names. Others were suggested by members of the WAVE board. Of course, this list is incomplete – but even an incomplete list illustrates the vibrant contributions of women to Mormon intellectual life.

Who are your own favorite women who are Mormon intellectuals? Please weigh in in the comments.

Open Mormon Conference Features Service Opportunities

Next Saturday, some pioneers in Mormon feminism (including Joanna Brooks, Carol Lynn Pearson and John Dehlin) will be holding a conference in Salt Lake City where they will discuss how to navigate some of the challenges that face feminists in the church. Those challenges are not unique to feminism but also characteristic of the approach that many others take to viewing the culture and religion of Mormonism. The conference promises to offer some insights into feminism in the church and how one can remain faithful and hopeful.

In conjunction with the Mormon Stories Conference will be two service projects.

The welcoming session of the conference starts at noon. Prior to that at 9 am, conference attendees are invited to meet at the Utah Food Bank at 3150 South 900 West Salt Lake City, UT to volunteer for a couple of years until the conference kicks off. For more information see the agenda for the day’s events.

Also that morning is the 2nd Annual Salt Lake Run for Congo Women 5K Run/Walk organized by Utah for Congo. The run/walk will take place at Wheeler Farm in Murray, Utah at  6351 S. 900 E. Sign-in and registration starts at 8 am and the race begins at 9 am. Following the race will be followed by an awards ceremony, speakers, and entertainment. Then off to the Mormon Stories conference.

To pre-register for the Run for Congo Women, please visit:

Registration is free, and you will receive an e-mail with advice on fundraising and donations.

For those in the Utah area, this promises to be an exciting and beneficial event. Please come back and tell us here what your experience was!