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.

Comments

  1. Kristine says:

    I think some sort of response to the Arrington list is probably appropriate; we’ve learned a lot about historiography since 1969, and a list compiled now would look very different. As Matt Bowman pointed out in his response at the Des. News, 10 is not nearly a big enough list to give a reasonable sampling of Mormon intellectual life. There’s no doubt that, even with the criteria Arrington seems to have been using in his article, some women should have been included–indeed, he cites the Woman’s Exponent and the YWJ as sources, without naming their editors.

    Nonetheless, the list you’ve compiled here is so diffuse as to render the category “intellectual” essentially content-free. I’d really like to see WAVE undertake a thoughtful response to the question of what “counts” as intellectual work, and that response would surely mean widening the category to include some of the kinds of practical intelligence that characterize the women in your list above. However, as it currently stands, what you have is a list of every smart Mormon woman any Mormon blogger has heard of, and that is not the sort of rigorous response that would constitute an appropriate critique of the Des. News artice (or of Arrington’s article).

    And there are some simple errors of fact and egregious omissions: Lavina Anderson is not (and has never been) editor of Dialogue Perhaps you meant Mary Lythgoe Bradford?), and her edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s writings is critically important to list. Jan Shipps is not Mormon, and would probably not characterize herself as a Mormon intellectual. Karen Davidson’s work on the poetry of Eliza R. Snow is too important not to list. Esther Peterson’s titles were 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. Virginia Sorenson won the Newberry Medal for _Miracle at Maple Hill_ (although A Little Lower than the Angels is quite wonderful!). Emmeline Wells’ work as editor of Woman’s Exponent should be mentioned specifically (and it would make sense to also note the founding editor, Louisa Greene Richards). Etc.

    Sorry to be a grouch.

    • SC says:

      Kristine states, ” I’d really like to see WAVE undertake a thoughtful response to the question of what “counts” as intellectual work,”

      I’m genuinely interested in why this is important to you and what benefit is derived from it at the end of the day.

      And it would be really nice if my first post would be “moderated”.

  2. Kristine says:

    And also, Ardis Parshall, ferpetessake!!

  3. Thomas N. Thompson says:

    Thanks for providing this list, and I was grateful to see Margaret Toscano, Claire Middlemiss and Lavina Fielding Anderson included on it. In all honesty, I have some difficulty seeing Barbara B. Smith as any kind of “intellectual,” though I do of course believe her to have been highly influential on the culture of the LDS Church and the nation as a whole. As you note, it is impossible to publish a complete list of all LDS women intellectuals. One name that I think should not have been omitted is Marjorie Wight, the late professor of English at Brigham Young University. Her doctoral dissertation, “An Analysis of Selected British Novelists Between 1945 and 1966, and Their Critics (University of California 1968) was virtually the first comprehensive analysis of the works of Graham Greene and of Iris Murdoch, and it is simply an invaluable study of the works of those authors and several others as well. A number of other LDS women professors in various disciplines, only some of whom are at BYU, might also easily have been included. But I’m grateful for what you have given us here.

  4. Shari says:

    Hmmm. There are lots of Mormon female intellectuals on the BYU faculty (also UVU), but I don’t see any on your list . . .

    Kif Augustine Adams, associate dean of BYU’s Law School

    Diane Spangler, psychology professor, award-winning work on eating disorders, depression, etc.

    Valerie Hudson, political science professor, award-winning work on national security

    Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, former director of BYU’s Women’s Research Institute, path-breaking research on aggression in children

    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

    Karen Hyer, former BYU faculty, law/psychology/education, recently ran for US Congress

    Jini Roby, BYU (social work), award-winning research on international adoption and human trafficking

    Camille Fronk Olsen, first female chair (ever) of BYU’s Ancient Scripture department

    In the environs of Provo and Orem you have more female Mormon intellectuals than you can shake a stick at . . . why aren’t we–apparently LDS women as well as LDS men–able to “see” them?

  5. SC says:

    Is this supposed to be a Mormon women only list? I don’t know how many others aren’t LDS but Jan Shipps isn’t and I’m sure she’d be surprised to be included on this list for what you claim it to be.

  6. Kaimipono says:

    Hello SC,

    As I noted at the start of the post: 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.”

    Jan Shipps is not a member of the LDS church; she has spent many years writing about it. For at least some observers, Shipps’ contributions to LDS thought mean that she should be included on the list of Mormon women intellectuals.

  7. Kaimipono says:

    Thanks for your comments so far, everyone. The response has been great.

    Thanks so much for your feedback, Kristine. It’s absolutely true that the list is a work in progress. We felt that it was important to post a relatively quick response to the DesNews article, but yes, it’s absolutely true that the list could be improved through adding names and improving the descriptions. I put together the list from the original facebook discussion on the WAVE page and from the WAVE backlist discussion, but it is certainly not complete. In fact, if it’s okay, I’m going to add to it, using the comments from commenters here (including you), to make it better.

    And I’m in agreement that it would be very useful to have a lengthy sit-down discussion about what it means to be a Mormon woman intellectual. I’m going to see if we can get something set up in the near future at WAVE, and I hope that you’ll join us in the conversation.

    Now I’m off to make some edits to the post based on your comments. :)

  8. Kaimipono says:

    Thomas and Shari, your comments are very helpful. I’m going to edit the post to reflect your suggestions.

    And on a broader level, can I just say how cool it is that we can post a list of Mormon women intellectuals that is three dozen names long — and that folks immediately hop in with a dozen more suggestions (and counting). The fact that it is near impossible to list the universe of Mormon women intellectuals is really a happy problem.

  9. Kaimipono says:

    Other notes

    -I’m not sure why I listed Lavina as Dialogue editor. I know that one. I think that one was just a brain-freeze (maybe from the fact that she worked on edits for my Dialogue piece).

    -It’s also absolutely true, as Kristine notes (and as Matt Bowman notes in his excellent DesNews article) that ten is an awfully small number in which to try to capture an intellectual tradition.

    -I know that Jan Shipps isn’t LDS. However, her name came up repeatedly in discussions. Whether she’s a church member or not, Mormon women I talked with would like to include her as a Mormon intellectual.

    -I agree that the list is currently quite diffuse. This is related to other issues. Ultimately, it may be more helpful to create subcategories (relief society presidents, current academics, and so forth).

    -And Thomas, thanks for the excellent suggestion, please feel free to suggest more names. I read about Mormon women as much as I can, but I know that there are many whose contributions aren’t familiar to me.

  10. Shari says:

    One good place to start is Mormon Scholars Testify–in the alphabetical listing, the women’s names are easy to find.

    http://mormonscholarstestify.org/1177/alphabetical-list

  11. Linda Andrews says:

    Where is Judy Dushku? As a professor and human rights advocate, she certainly has earned her place on your list. Please add her name, as befitting.

    Why are not all of the “founding mothers” of “Exponent II”? Perhaps speaking out for women’s rights is not strictly an intellectual endeavor, but to have produced the periodical and to have kept it going is no small feat!

    I await your response.

  12. Kristine says:

    Kaimi–I actually disagree with the idea that “it was important to post a relatively quick response to the DesNews article.” The DesNews “article” was a reprinting of a 40-year-old list, without even the context provided by Arrington’s article. Responding to it in kind, with a list that doesn’t offer any context, is a mistake. Write a serious article that I can publish in Dialogue, instead of expending your energy on a list that, no matter how long, or categorized, or amended to reflect everyone’s favorite smart woman, simply can’t provide the kind of feminist critique that is needed here. The problem isn’t that Arrington didn’t know of any intelligent women in 1969, it’s that the category of “intellectual” at work in the Mormon imagination is inherently sexist (to say nothing of classist). A response that doesn’t _explicitly_ address that problem ends up just making it look like women can’t quite make the list without some sort of special advocacy, and leaves the category of “intellectual” intact so that it will continue to discriminate against intelligence manifest in artistic production, practical politics, skillful domestic work, applied psychology (as in childrearing), non-systematic theological elaboration, etc.

    As Shari’s comments point out, this list also does nothing to bridge the gulf between Dialogue-recognized “liberal” intellectuals and BYU/CES/FARMS intellectuals (to use a crude shorthand description that opened in the years between Arrington’s piece and Larson’s follow-up, and which, if Richard Bushman is to be believed (and one devoutly hopes he can be in this case!) is beginning to be less relevant to the discussion in 2011. It’s embarrassing and disheartening that bloggernacle feminist types (and I include myself in this condemnation) don’t have Valerie Hudson’s or Kif Augustine’s or Jini Roby’s names and work at the tip of their brains.

    All of which is to say, in Nibleyesque fashion, a pox on both your reductive lists! It is a mistake to respond on the terms set by the Deseret News.

  13. Kristine says:

    ugh–close paren after “description”. sigh.

  14. Kaimipono says:

    Hi Kris,

    I agree that this blog post, standing alone, would be an insufficient response. We’re working on a more in-depth, multi-prong response to the DesNews piece, and to the broader underlying perceptions about women in the church. This post is a small part of that response. It is important to engage the topic in depth, in a Dialogue article, absolutely. But it’s also important to respond quickly to a link which showed up on dozens of folks’ facebook feeds. Arrington’s article was a serious, twenty page discussion of the meaning of intellectual identity in the church. It has been read by maybe 200 people in the past year. The DesNews piece was a short top-ten list, and it was read by thousands.

    This blog post isn’t a response to Arrington; the blog format doesn’t lend itself to that. It’s a response to the DesNews piece, a foray into the popular discussion, hoping to remind people of the contributions that women have made. But yes, there is absolutely more to be done. As we indicated in our op-ed, the next step is a survey, somewhat like Arrington’s. And in addition, we would love to be part of a conversation that includes serious feminist critiques of the category (which, as you note, are certainly available).

  15. Mary Siever says:

    I love Sheri Dew, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Eliza R Snow, Carol Lynn Pearson, Emma Hale Smith (I know some already mentioned). I am glad this is happening :)

  16. WVS says:

    You missed maybe one of the the biggest brains (along with being one of kindest) in the church, who I’m very proud to say I helped hire at BYU: Jessica Purcell. Sloan Fellow (this year) and one of the strongest examples of Mormon women in science I know.

  17. John R. Marshall says:

    Assuming this definition of intellectual, “a person of superior intellect, a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms and fields of knowledge, as aesthetic or philosophical matters, especially on an abstract and general level, an extremely rational person; a person who relies on intellect rather than on emotions or feelings,” you have formulated an extremely narrow list.
    There appear to be NO women of medicine or science. I suggest that you consider these two for starters:
    1. Anne Osborn Poelman, MD. Author of the best selling radiology textbook of all time. Prolific scientific author; consult PubMed for specific publications or simply Google her name.
    2. Elaine Sorensen Marshall, R.N., Ph.D. Author of two books, Children’s Stress and Coping and Transformational Leadership in Nursing, former Dean of the College of Nursing at BYU, presently Endowed Chair Professor of Nursing at Georgia Southern University, author of 23 scholarly articles retrievable via PubMed. She has also been a frequent contributor to books published by Deseret Book. (She is also my wife so I will admit to some bias.)
    Good luck with your list. It has to be a very humble beginning. What about Law and all the other disciplines that you have failed to consider?
    Your position could be much stronger. There is much intellectual strength in Mormon women that you have not considered. .

  18. John R. Marshall says:

    Assuming this definition of intellectual, “a person of superior intellect, a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms and fields of knowledge, as aesthetic or philosophical matters, especially on an abstract and general level, an extremely rational person; a person who relies on intellect rather than on emotions or feelings,” you have formulated an extremely narrow list.
    There appear to be NO women of medicine or science. I suggest that you consider these two for starters:
    1. Anne Osborn Poelman, MD. Author of the best selling radiology textbook of all time. Prolific scientific author; consult PubMed for specific publications or simply Google her name.
    2. Elaine Sorensen Marshall, R.N., Ph.D. Author of two books, Children’s Stress and Coping and Transformational Leadership in Nursing, former Dean of the College of Nursing at BYU, presently Endowed Chair Professor of Nursing at Georgia Southern University, author of 23 scholarly articles retrievable via PubMed. She has also been a frequent contributor to books published by Deseret Book. (She is also my wife so I will admit to some bias.)
    Good luck with your list. It has to be a very humble beginning. What about Law and all the other disciplines that you have failed to consider?
    Your position could be much stronger. There is much intellectual strength in Mormon women that you have not considered. .

  19. Penny says:

    Helen Foster Snow, author of Inside Red China and also the book Red Dust (married for a time to Edgar Snow, author of Red Star Over China). Also taught journalism in China in the 1930s.

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