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.