Ep 102 – Mother’s Day, The Virtues of Our Legacy

On this episode, we take the opportunity of Mother’s Day to examine the life and struggles of some of the most prominent mothers throughout Mormon history. From Lucy Mack Smith caring for her children in ill health, to Mother Elizabeth Ann Whitney providing a home for Joseph and Emma when they first arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, and well beyond to the women who provided the caretaking, medicine, midwifery, and social structure to build each of the Mormon kingdoms. The actors may get the awards, but everybody else actually making the show run on the back end are often relegated to the footnotes section. Let’s bring them to life again. After that, we have on J.R. Becker with his new children’s book about the skeptical side of death. How do we have these tough conversations with our children when they inevitably arise? J.R. shares some of his personal experience and inspiration which led to his writing the Annabelle & Aiden series.


D. Michael Quinn Newel K. Whitney Family

Carol Cornwall Madsen Mormon Women and the Struggle for Definition

Elizabeth Ann Whitney

Timeline of Joseph and Emma Smith

Annabelle & Aiden

Show Links:

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Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
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Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/

Preshow segment

Lucid or trippy music.

“I thought that I stood in a large and beautiful meadow, which lay a short distance from the house in which we lived, and that everything around me wore an aspect of peculiar pleasantness. The first thing that attracted my special attention in this magnificent meadow, was a very pure and clear stream of water, which ran through the midst of it; and as I traced this stream, I discovered two trees standing upon its margin, both of which were on the same side of the stream. These trees were very beautiful, they were well proportioned, and towered with majestic beauty to a great height. Their branches, which added to their symmetry and glory, commenced near the top, and spread themselves in luxurious grandeur around. I gazed upon them with wonder and admiration; and after beholding them a short time, I saw one of them was surrounded with a bright belt, that shone like burnished gold, but far more brilliantly. Presently, a gentle breeze passed by, and the tree encircled with this golden zone, bent gracefully before the wind, and waved its beautiful branches in the light air. As the wind increased, this tree assumed the most lively and animated appearance, and seemed to express in its motions the utmost joy and happiness. If it had been an intelligent creature, it could not have conveyed, by the power of language, the idea of joy and gratitude so perfectly as it did; and even the stream that rolled beneath it, shared, apparently, every sensation felt by the tree, for, as the branches danced over the stream, it would swell gently, then recede again with a motion as soft as the breathing of an infant, but as lively as the dancing of a sunbeam. The belt also partook of the same influence, and as it moved in unison with the motion of the stream and of the tree, it increased continually in refulgence and magnitude, until it became exceedingly glorious.

I turned my eyes upon its fellow, which stood opposite; but it was not surrounded with the belt of light as the former, and it stood erect and fixed as a pillar of marble. No matter how strong the wind blew over it, not a leaf was stirred, not a bough was bent; but obstinately stiff it stood, scorning alike the zephyr’s breath, or the power of the mighty storm.

I wondered at what I saw, and said in my heart, What can be the meaning of all this? And the interpretation given me was, that these personated my husband and his oldest brother ,Jesse Smith; that the stubborn and unyielding tree was like Jesse; that the other, more pliant and flexible, was like Joseph, my husband; that the breath of heaven, which passed over them, was the pure and undefiled Gospel of the Son of God, which Gospel Jess would always resist, but which Joseph, when he was more advanced in life, would hear and receive with his whole heart, and rejoice therein; and unto him would be added intelligence, happiness, glory, and everlasting life.”

-Lucy Mack Smith


I love you Mom. Sometimes we don’t say these words enough to the people to whom they matter the most.

Mormon Congregations everywhere will be celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend. What is it we’re celebrating when we thank our Mothers on this day? I got a facebook message from Shaun who’s giving a talk in Sacrament meeting this weekend about mothers and the ensuing conversation made me think about the Mothers of Mormonism. They weren’t just broodmares with massive families, they were caretakers and drivers of society in so many respects. Today, we’re going to hear the stories of some of the most prominent mothers in Zion, Lucy Mack Smith, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, and a number of other prominent figures who seemed to capture everything it was to be a true Mother of Zion. They were caretakers, they were loving and loved, they accomplished incredible feats when all the odds were against them. What lessons can we take from their incredible stories?

Gender roles in the Church and its history are clearly rooted in the culture and world from whence the religion sprang, so maybe it’s worth taking a step back to appreciate the ways that everybody contributed to building the Mormon kingdom, as opposed to simplistically viewing the history of a patriarchal religion through the eyes of the men who recorded their own influence on its history and origin. Let’s take this Mother’s Day as an opportunity to talk about the Mothers of Mormonism, using mostly church-approved sources.

Immediately we run into a bit of a blind spot when it comes to studying the Mothers of Mormonism. Mormon history has largely been recorded by men in leadership positions who had little reason to include the role of the women in their lives who impacted the history in less-direct ways. Much of our examination today will surrounding the women whose role was often that of supporting the men in the early church. This isn’t a weakness of the examination but rather a weakness in how the history itself was initially recorded. The roles of women and mothers within the Church seem dictated by society at large which had their respective roles structured to support the men by whom these women were surrounded. It’s tough to examine Mormonism apart from the founding father, Joseph Smith. Today, we’re going to examine the support structure various Mothers provided the founding prophet in order to enable him to create Mormonism.

You only see the actors on the stage, but the stage crew, producers, writers, musicians, lighting crew, sound engineers are the people who make the actors shine. Let’s talk about the people who truly kept Mormonism running on the back end; those who never get the awards, never get their own revelations, and so often have their role simply reduced to the husbands they married or the children they bore; and we mustn’t lose sight of the importance of mothers’ role in any historical narrative.

Let’s start at the beginning. If not for Mother Lucy Mack Smith, the Smith family physically and spiritually never would have survived, much less been in a place to allow Mormonism to evolve out of the world in which the Smith family lived.

From a very young age, Lucy was brought up in a family with a father, Solomon Mack, who was constantly occupied in providing for the entire Mack family. A revolutionary war veteran and member of the various militia forces fighting off the natives throughout the earliest foundational decades prior to the Declaration of Independence. Lydia Gates and Solomon Mack met sometime in 1759 and were married shortly after. Lydia Gates Mack bore Lucy Mack on July 8, 1776. Lydia provided the necessary education to her sons and daughters in the fields of farming, homemaking, and religion.

When Lucy Mack was a mere 8 years old, her mother fell deathly ill.

From the history of Joseph Smith the Prophet by his mother beginning page 36:

“When I arrived at the age of eight years, my mother had a severe fit of sickness. She was so low that she, as well as her friends, entirely despaired of her recovery. During this sickness she called her children around her bed, and, after exhorting them always to remember the instructions which she had given them—to fear God and walk uprightly before Him, she gave me to my brother Stephen, requesting him to take care of me, and bring me up as his own child, then bade each of us farewell.”

It was luckily a false alarm, Lucy Mack continues:

“This my brother promised to do; but, as my mother shortly recovered, it was not necessary, and I consequently remained at my father’s house until my sister Lovisa was married.”

In her religious upbringing, it seems Mother Lucy was taught to revere and fear God, yet be beholden to no specific religion. She experienced spiritual turmoil throughout her teenage and young adult years. Finally, when toiling over the death of her sister, Lovina, Lucy Mack was racked with torment concerning which of all the religions was the one true religion. She was so concerned with every religion and what they would say hinging upon her decision to join one or the other. This eventually led to an epiphany that maybe none of them are the true Church of Christ. Her mindset was similar to many restorationists of her day.

“For I was pensive and melancholy, and often in my reflections I thought that life was not worth possessing.

In the midst of this anxiety of mind, I determined to obtain that which I had heard spoken of so much from the pulpit—a change of heart.

To accomplish this, I spent much of my time in reading the Bible, and praying; but, notwithstanding my great anxiety to experience a change of heart, another matter would always interpose in all my meditations—If I remain a member of no church, all religious people will say I am of the world; and if I join some one of the different denominations, all the rest will say I am in error. No church will admit that I am right, except the one with which I am associated. This makes them witnesses against each other; and how can I decide in such a case as this, seeing they are all unlike the Church of Christ, as it existed in former days!”

Soon after this, Lucy Mack met Joseph Smith Sr.

“While I remained at Tunbridge, I became acquainted with a young man by the name of Joseph Smith, to whom I was subsequently married.”

Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith married in January of 1796 and Lucy’s brother, Stephen Mack, provided the young couple a wedding gift of $1,000. This money was subsequently lost by Joseph Sr. in his ginseng business deal which went awry, leaving Lucy Mack and the rest of the Smith family to be incredibly resourceful throughout 1800-1830 to make ends meet. Nothing went to waste. Every family member contributed anything they could to keep the house going and everybody had to pull their own weight. While Joseph Sr. was off with his friends hunting buried treasure, digging wells, and getting hammer-smashed drunk, Lucy Mack was left home with the 10 kids raising them, giving them spiritual guidance, and teaching them the skills they would need to be citizens contributing to society in positive ways.

Her acumen as mother was tested constantly through trial and tribulation. Sickness ravaged the Smith family. One child would fall ill and it wasn’t long before unsanitary conditions and lacking medical care left the rest of the children sick. A person only has so much energy and mental faculties to devote to any given task. Once reaching greater than 3 to 4 children, it becomes a system where the older children raise the younger children and Mom is so frazzled and overworked with no sleep and less than sufficient nutrition to be the best mother she could be. The Smith family relied so heavily on Mother Lucy during the best and worst of times to keep the family afloat. Seemingly, against all odds, Lucy and Joseph Sr. somehow provided for the entire Smith family of 13 at this time when young Joseph Jr. was but a we little lad.

“As our children had, in a great measure, been debarred from the privilege of schools, we began to make every arrangement to attend to this important duty. We established our second son Hyrum in an academy at Hanover; and the rest, that were of sufficient age, we were sending to a common school that was quite convenient. Meanwhile, myself and companion were doing all that our abilities would admit of for the future welfare and advantage of the family, and were greatly blessed in our labours.”

When the typhus fever hit the family, Lucy was dragged to the absolute end of her wits in caring for the children.

“But this state of things did not long continue. The typhus fever came into Lebanon, and raged tremendously. Among the number seized with this complaint were, first, Sophronia; next Hyrum, who was taken while at school, and came home sick; then Alvin; in short, one after another was taken down, till all of the family, with the exception of myself and husband, were prostrated upon a bed of sickness.”

As a mother and caretaker of 11 children with a husband who has a very hard time holding his liquor, Lucy Mack truly was an incredible human being. Not an incredible woman…. An incredible human being. No matter how we try, we can’t even begin to imagine what this must have been like to live through for everybody in the family.

Sophronia was the most-ill of the children when the fever first struck the family. She was bedridden for upwards of 3 months with Lucy caring for her, cleaning her, administering medicine, and weeping by Sophronia’s bedside when the doctor condemned her to death, saying “she was so far gone, it was not for her to receive any benefit from medicine, and for this cause he discontinued his attendance upon her.”

When Sophronia finally clawed back from the edge of the abyss, this was the scene.

“The ensuing night, she lay altogether motionless, with her eyes wide open, and with that peculiar aspect which bespeaks the near approach of death. As she thus lay, I gazed upon her as a mother looks upon the last shade of life in a darling child. IN this moment of distraction, my husband and myself clasped our hands, fell upon our knees by the bedside, and poured out our grief to God, in prayer and supplication, beseeching him to spare our child yet a little longer…

When we first arose from prayer, our child had, to all appearance, ceased breathing. I caught a blanket, threw it around her, then, taking her in my arms, commenced pacing the floor. Those present remonstrated against my doing as I did, saying, “Mrs. Smith, it is all of no use; you are certainly crazy, your child is dead.” Notwithstanding, I would not, for a moment, relinquish the hope of again seeing her breathe and live.

This recital, doubtless, will be uninteresting to some; but those who have experienced in life something of this kind are susceptible of feeling, and can sympathize with me. Are you a mother who has been bereft of a child? Feel for your heart-strings, and then tell me how I felt with my expiring child pressed to my bosom! Would you at this trying moment feel to deny that God had “power to save to the uttermost all who call on Him”! I did not then, neither do I now.

At length she sobbed. I still pressed her against my breast, and continued to walk the floor. She sobbed again, then looked up into my face, and commenced breathing quite freely. My soul was satisfied, but my strength was gone. I laid my daughter on the bed, and sunk by her side, completely overpowered by the intensity of my feelings.

From this time forward Sophronia continued mending, until she entirely recovered.”

When the typhus struck young Jo, among all of Lucy’s other obligations, now she was forced to carry the 8-year-old child in her arms because the infection had spread to his leg making him unable to walk.

“His leg soon began to swell, and he continued to suffer the greatest agony for the space of two weeks longer. During this period, I carried him much of the time in my arms, in order to mitigate his suffering as much as possible; in consequence of which, I was taken very ill myself. The anxiety of mind that I experienced, together with physical overexertion, was too much for my constitution, and my nature sunk under it.”

With the weight of the world, 10 sick children slowly getting better, and a worsening Joseph Jr., Lucy was understandably stressed and anxious to the point of a psychological break. A few weeks later, young Jo underwent the dreaded leg-bone scraping surgery which must have caused his mother caretaker immeasurable amounts of anguish and emotional turmoil knowing the leg and life of her son was completely out of her control, ceded to doctors trying an experimental procedure to save the young boy’s leg.

“They [the doctors] being seated, I addressed them thus: “Gentlemen, what can you do to save my boy’s leg?” They answered, “We can do nothing; we have cut it open to the bone, and find it so affected that we consider his leg incurable, and that amputation is absolutely necessary in order to save his life.”

With so much stress already, being told by doctors that they’re about to cripple your son for the rest of his life in a day and age where the mentally or physically handicapped were relegated to vagabond status for their entire lives must have simply crushed Lucy’s spirit. She fought back.

“This was like a thunder bolt to me. I appealed to the principal surgeon, saying, “Dr. Stone, can you not make another trial? Can you not, by cutting around the bone, take out the diseased part, and perhaps that which is sound will heal over, and by this means you will save his leg? You will not, you must not, take off his leg, until you try once more. I will not consent to let you enter his room until you make me this promise.”

Lucy’s version of this story is obviously dramatized, but that says nothing to take away from the reality and horror of the situation. Lucy was understandably in a fragile state and desired nothing more than to be in control of the situation. Unfortunately, disease is no respecter of persons and doesn’t care what you think of it. Lucy was sent out of the room and Joseph Sr. stayed to hold his son down on the operating table. The cries of her son in agony were too much for Lucy to bear.

“When the third piece was taken away, I burst into the room again—and oh, my God! What a spectacle for a mother’s eye! The wound torn open, the blood still gushing from it, and the bed literally covered with blood. Joseph was as pale as a corpse, and large drops of sweat were rolling down his face, whilst upon every feature was depicted the utmost agony!

I was immediately forced from the room, and detained until the operation was completed; but when the act was accomplished, Joseph put upon a clean bed, the room cleared of every appearance of blood, and the instruments which were used in the operation removed, I was permitted again to enter.”

A scene like that stays with a parent forever. The screams of her son, the bed soaked in his blood, the open wound on his leg, and the powerlessness Lucy must have felt knowing she could do nothing to bring the suffering to an end; all this while in an already strained mental and emotional state. The scenario for young Joseph would fade from memory, the horrors of that day would stay with Lucy for the rest of her days.

Lucy was a prominent mother throughout the entirety of Mormon history. She was likely in attendance at the commencement of the church, she was there during parts of the translation process, she was there when Jo brought home his new wife, Emma, after they’d eloped. Lucy was a mother worth proper veneration and reverence when we consider how much she contributed and sacrificed for her family. From the simplest tasks of caretaking, to the utmost extremities which pushed her mothering to the breaking point, Lucy was truly an incredible human being.

When the Church of Christ experienced its first mass exodus, a revelation was delivered through Jo commanding the Mormons to leave their possessions behind and get thee to the Ohio. The first acquaintance Jo and Emma made upon their arrival was Newel K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitney.

The Whitney family was the first family the young couple, Joseph and Emma Smith, lived with when they first arrived in Kirtland, less than a year after the Book of Mormon was published and the Church had been established. The Whitneys were hospitable and accommodating enough to offer a room on the top floor of their home for the young Smith family to move in to. Emma was about 5 months pregnant with twins at the time and the young couple had not a dime to their name. The Smith’s quickly became attached to the Whitneys. Newel Whitney was called as a Bishop after consecrating much of his property to building up the kingdom which we’ll discuss momentarily. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, however, became the primary caretaker of the prophet and his pregnant wife and thus earned the endearing nickname of “Mother Whitney”.

Elizabeth Ann and Newel were married in October 1822 in Kirtland where Newel was beginning to build his business empire. She was truly beloved by every person who knew her and earned her spot as a prominent and powerful individual throughout all of Mormon history. Her spirit of hospitality and caring made her nickname of Mother Whitney extend beyond just the Prophet referring to her as such, all the Mormons knew her as Mother Whitney, especially in Utah given her status and career.

There’s a wonderful article on lds.org about the Whitney family written in 1978 by D. Michael Quinn titled the Newel K. Whitney Family. You’ll find a link in the show notes. Quinn describes Mother Whitney with passing depth, but captures her role in the Mormon community in a properly concise manner. He describes how she was shouldered with heavier parenting duties upon the Church’s arrival when Newel was given elite status in the Mormon hierarchy.

In Elizabeth Ann, Newel’s wife, we see another pattern—that of the devoted, spiritual woman who strengthens her family and associates, performing in her home and ward the same kind of function that her husband was performing for the Church as a whole. When she was nearly twenty-two years old and Newel K. Whitney was twenty-seven, they married at Kirtland on 20 October 1822. “Ours was strictly a marriage of affection. Our tastes, our feelings were congenial, and we were really a happy couple, with bright prospects in store.”5 She bore eleven children during the next twenty-four years and adopted several homeless children.

After her husband’s call as bishop over the Church in the Ohio area, she found that many of Newel’s hours at home with the family were now sacrificed to Church assignments. “During all these absences and separations from my husband, I never felt to murmur, or complain in the least … yet I was more than satisfied to have him give all, time, talents, and ability into the service of the Kingdom of God; and the changes in our circumstances and associations which were consequent upon our embracing the Gospel, never caused me a moment’s sorrow.”6 

Now for a thought exercise. I’m going to read from earlier in the article where it speaks of Newel’s incredulous brother, Samuel. Samuel wasn’t enchanted by the prophet as his brother and sister-in-law, Newell and Elizabeth were. For this thought exercise, I’m going to switch out Samuel’s name with that of Elizabeth, Newel’s wife, to see what it may look like if she didn’t agree with Newel’s devotion to the prophet. What could she do? She didn’t have legal right to own property or vote, she probably wouldn’t be getting half of Newel’s businesses in a divorce; so let’s work with a hypothetical that maybe she was skeptical of the prophet, but locked in a marriage with so many children that she had no other options than to go along with her husband’s decisions.

Once again from Quinn, with the brother Samuel exchanged for wife Elizabeth:

“When Newel demonstrated his devotion by consecrating his prosperous business at Kirtland to the service of the Church, Samuel(Elizabeth) concluded that his brother had been defrauded. Samuel could not comprehend the faith that enabled Newel to forsake his Kirtland properties when the Church left in 1838, nor could he be comforted when Newel lost his property to Missouri mobs that same year. When Samuel visited his elder brother in Nauvoo in the 1840s, he saw only the contrast between the poverty of the Saints and the magnificence of the temple they sacrificed to build. Samuel managed Newel’s financial affairs in Kirtland, but he frequently urged Newel to forsake the Mormons. The brothers continued to love and respect each other, but Samuel never stopped grieving over Newel’s choice, just as Newel mourned Samuel’s rejection of the restored gospel.”

Who knows where Elizabeth Ann Whitney was in her belief system. Given her actions throughout her entire timeline within Mormonism, one would be at pains to claim she wasn’t a sincere believer and honest in her dealings with her fellow Saints. Elizabeth was one of the elite women of Mormonism. Her status as Mother Whitney elevated her among the small group of women in Nauvoo and Utah who would forever be the most well-treated and prominent female members of society. Elizabeth Ann Whitney ran in circles with Zina Huntington, Eliza Snow, and Presindia Lathrop Huntington. Particularly in Utah, but in Nauvoo as well, these women were absolutely integral to the survival of the Mormons.

One of the primary roles of women in the Relief Society was the physical and spiritual relief of the Saints. When it came to blessing and anointing the sick, a priesthood holding man would often pop in, provide a priesthood blessing, and then immediately leave to go about his other business or Church obligations. More often than not, the women of the Relief Society were the people sticking around and administering medicine to those with ailments. Women in labor particularly relied upon the women to deliver the child and provide medicinal and spiritual support during the painful and often deadly ordeal. Eliza Snow said as much in the 1884 Woman’s Exponent in Utah when discussing the priesthood rights and privileges of the Relief Society, and I’m quoting this from Carol Cornwall Madsen’s article in the Dialogue Journal titled Mormon Women and the Struggle for Definition. You’ll find a link in the show notes.

“…The Relief Society did not consider itself just a ladies' auxiliary.

Through it the women of the Church had been given a vehicle by which their voices could be heard, their capabilities utilized, their contributions valued.

In the process of organizing the women into the structure of the Church, Joseph opened other significant avenues of participation. At the 28 April 1842 meeting, he affirmed their right to use spiritual gifts, which were freely exercised in the early days of the Church. The gift of tongues had rested on many of the sisters of the Church since its beginning, and others had testified to receiving the power to rebuke evil spirits and to prophesy. At issue at this particular meeting in Nauvoo was the right of women to lay on hands for the purpose of healing. Some were ordained for this purpose, Joseph explained to the Relief Society women, but, he assured them, anybody could do it who had the faith or if the sick had the faith to be healed by that administration.13 These were gifts of the spirit, he told them, designated to follow all believers. They were gifts of faith given to the faithful, irrespective of gender or age. One member of the General Retrenchment Association described her own healing at the hands of her young son whose "perfect and pure faith in the power and mercies of God had claimed for her the blessings which he asked in childish simplicity and trust."14

Again, Eliza was to lead as the practice of blessing one another through laying on of hands and washing and anointing developed among the sisters. She not only encouraged the use of these spiritual activities but taught women the proper procedure. In a directive to the Relief Society in 1884 she reminded the sisters that no special setting apart was necessary for these administrations. "Any and all sisters," she said, who honor their holy covenants, not only have the right, but should feel it a duty, whenever called upon, to administer to our sisters in these ordinances; and we testify that when administered and received in faith and humility they are accompanied with almighty power.15”

Madsen goes on to describe the crucial role the women of the Relief Society played in the childbirth process.

“Minutes of the women’s organizations (Relief Society, YWMIA, and Primary), personal diaries and letters attest to the efficacy of these spiritual activites of the women, not only in healing the sick and bringing comfort and solace to women in childbirth but in strengthening the spiritual fibre of all who participated in them. Relief Society testimony meetings were punctuated with demonstrations of the gift of tongues and accounts of healings by the administration of sisters. Washing and anointing a woman about to be confined for childbirth became one of the most significant of these rituals, encouraged by their leaders and sought after by the sisters themselves. At a time when women continually faced the crushing burden of infant death as they gave birth year after year—or even their own death—such administrations by those who knew precisely the pangs of that burden had a deep and personal meaning. The women must have experienced a unique transmittal of energizing spiritual strength and support as they felt the knowing and comforting hands of kindred souls placed upon them. These religious practices became a source of spiritual bonding among the sisters of the Church.”

There’s no other way of saying it. Without the women of the Relief Society and the root and witching herb medical and maternity care they provided, the Mormons in Nauvoo and Utah simply never would have survived. If we’re using the words Mother and Caretaker for our purposes today, the caretaking these women provided for the ailing Saints was the only way these people could survive given their circumstances.

Another aspect contributing to women being in these caretaker roles in Nauvoo and Utah was simply the structure of society. Women’s inability to legally run a business or own property unless it was due to the incapacity of their husband, nor could they sign contracts, negotiate wages, and most other legal protections that men enjoyed, women couldn’t take part in. This legal and social structure inevitably resulted in the number and types of jobs that women could fill being significantly limited.

Eliza Snow recounts these medicinal and herbal remedies being used as her own health was waning in 1886 in a letter she sent to Zina Diantha Huntington.

From Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness pg 339:

“Sister Thomas comes as regularly as the morning—does my marketing and whatever I require. I think it was Tuesday after my arrival, Dr. Pratt called. I described the condition of my lungs, and the next day she came and brought not an apothecary shop, but a variety of medicines, which I took as she directed, & they were truly {blest} to my healing. I am now quite comfortable—rest pretty well nights—can now eat, not only fresh vegetables, but a moderate quantity of bread. Have rode out a few times—Sister Susan brings me a piece of Sacrament bread on Sundays, which is a great comfort to me.”

Patty Sessions left behind another letter swearing by the curative powers of the oil the women of the Relief Society were administering through blessing and anointing to heal the Mormons in Utah. While nearly on her deathbed she wrote the following:

“…The lord has blessed me and Prospered me in all I have done for which I feel very thankful, hoping he will continue to bless me while I live both Spiritually and temporally, with all that shall be for my good and [h]is Glory to give unto me I am now Almost eighty two years old February next the 4th I drink no tea nor coffee nor spirutous liquors I don’t smoke nor take snuff nor any poisonous medicine. I use consecrated oil for my complaints. Now I say to you do as I have done and as much better as you can and the Lord will bless you as he has me. -Patty Sessions”

These religious practices to which Madsen was referring are small gatherings of women in a secluded room partaking of their sacrament or using anointing oil and chanting or speaking in tongues. Of these meetings, Madsen quotes Emmeline B. Wells describing the joy she felt when these women would congregate to worship, even speaking of Mother Whitney when doing so.

“Looking back on a lifetime of sharing such experiences with other women, Emmeline Wells recalled the “beautiful little meetings” which the sisters often held in her home. She remembered [“]the glorious testimonies born by Sister Isabella Horne and Eliza Snow… and the wonderful singing of Mother Elizabeth Ann Whitney [in tongues] with its beautiful interpretation by Aunt Zina.” These were women, she told a new generation of Mormon sisters, “whom I loved as much as if bound by kindred ties, closer, perhaps, because our faith and work were so in tune with our everyday life.” Access to this kind of spiritual power and union by both women and men gave meaning to the concept of building a community of Saints.”

Building a community of Saints. The actors get all the credit, the supporting staff, writers, stage crew et al are relegated to the footnotes. Joseph Smith built Nauvoo out of a swampland, Brigham Young built the Utah Basin out of an arid desert wasteland. Too often the people truly responsible for all the work which actually goes into these massive ventures get lost somewhere in the narrative and eventually lost to history.

The truth of the matter is, everybody played their part in building the Mormon theocracies somehow, someway, sometime. Every person, regardless of how small a slice of the work pie they chewed on, each and every one of the Saints devoted everything they had to build the Mormon Mecca du jour. By this time, millions of people working endlessly, neglecting their families, turning down that promotion at work because it means they’d have to work on Sundays or it would interfere with their duties as Relief Society president or Bishop, putting off that family vacation until next year because they can’t afford to pay tithing AND go on holiday, all of these sacrifices, why? For those ever-crucial 6 words: to build a community of saints.

These are merely modern sacrifices. During the religion’s infancy, the Saints sacrificed their lives. They signed over property, business, and all worldly possessions to the kingdom. They didn’t have money to feed their families through the winter, yet they still paid money to building a temple used for nothing other than magic ordinances. They forewent education and career opportunities in order to fulfill both needs with empty promises from clergy who didn’t truly have their best interest in mind. Sacrifice was a never-ending drain on these people, but the underlying safety net always came down to a constant force for guardianship and hospitality… Mom.

But is women’s role in society best utilized when it stops at Mother and caretaker? Mormon culture has a body of strong opinions concerning this. We won’t look back to Brigham Young or Heber C. Kimball for social commentary, let’s keep it within the realm of the last half-century. These quotes aren’t so much causal of Mormon culture as they’re indicative as a metric of Mormon culture.

"Too many mothers work away from home to furnish sweaters and music lessons and trips and fun for their children. Too many women spend their time in socializing, in politicking, in public services when they should be home to teach and train and receive and love their children into security" (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 319).

"[Women], you are to become a career woman in the greatest career on earth--that of homemaker, wife, and mother. It was never intended by the Lord that married women should compete with men in employment. They have a far greater and more important service to render." (Ensign, June 1975, & From Faith Precedes the Miracle)

"Numerous divorces can be traced directly to the day when the wife left the home and went out into the world into employment. Two incomes raise the standard of living beyond its norm. Two spouses working prevent the complete and proper home life, break into the family prayers, create an independence which is not cooperative, causes distortion, limits the family, and frustrates the children already born" (Spencer W. Kimball, San Antonio Fireside, Dec. 3, 1977, pp. 9-10 ).

" In the beginning, Adam--not Eve--was instructed to earn the bread by the sweat of his brow. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a mother's calling is in the home, not in the market place."
(Ezra Taft Benson, To the Mothers in Zion, 1987)

Gordon B Hinckley, October 2006 Priesthood Session:
"...young women are exceeding young men in pursuing educational programs. And so I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities. Do you wish to marry a girl whose education has been far superior to your own?"

Gordon B. Hinckley, closing remarks, April 2007 GC
"Husbands, love and treasure your wives. They are your most precious possessions."

Elaine S Dalton, Jan 15, 2013
"Young women you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. ... You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights."

2 months after this quote was made its way into the public lexicon, Ordain Women was organized by Kate Kelly.

One thing I think most of us will find agreeable is that Mormonism is a product of its time and the culture by which it’s surrounded. Whether that’s the early Mormonism we discuss in this show or the more modern iterations, it developed from a world-wide culture where women have historically been less empowered than men make accomplishments, generally speaking of course. That’s not to say women are somehow less capable of making those accomplishments by design or anything, that’s patently absurd, it’s merely to point out that it seems only recently have women begun getting many of the rights and privileges most often relegated to men throughout the majority of human history. This country has been a sovereign nation for more than 300 years and for less than 1/3rd of that women have been able to vote. New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote nationwide and that was in 1893. The last person to be born in the 1800s just died last year. In many countries today, women still don’t hold any political power, closer resembling America 150 years ago in more respects than just suffrage.

Historians have indisputable proof of empires rising and falling from over 4000 years ago beginning with the Akkadians. The first governmental system we can call democracy was the Athenians around the 5th-century B.C.E. Are we to truly believe that women have had nothing of substance to contribute to the political realm until the most recent 5% of history that democracies have been a viable system of government? And even this metric is flawed because the right to vote doesn’t automatically mean complete gender equality.

I’m not trying to say anything about the way things ought to be, this is a history podcast, not social commentary or politics, I’m merely speaking to how things are and have been. But there’s a reason one of my favorite podcasts is My History Can Beat Up Your Politics because history has an incredible way of putting, not just politics, but everything into perspective.

We’ve made a lot of progress towards objective equality worldwide in the past century. If you think we’re done and everybody is truly equal regardless of race, gender, gender identity, or sexuality, then the conversation is over, right? We’re done here. Mission accomplished, perfect equality was achieved during the Civil Rights Movement and the end of Apartheid was the cherry on top. The ways of our ancestors will endure and we’ll follow what our fathers taught us, just like their fathers before them. Men will continue to be absentee breadwinners and women the full-time homemaker and caregiver. It’ll be the perfect 1950s white picket-fence home, only without all the racism and sexism this time around.

But, if you think there are some issues with society which could be solved, or even somewhat mitigated, with a never-ending pursuit towards greater equality, then we can begin having conversations about what equality should look like. What is the best way to go about achieving our collective goals of greater equality? Where do the most egregious inequalities live in our respective societies? How can we cause social change without leaving any minority behind? What does a truly equal utopia look like and how do we all work towards achieving such an abstract concept?

How do we progress? What does progress look like? Progress is prospective, and we can only make it by understanding our legacy in retrospect. Most importantly, we can’t allow the progress people seek to be mired in the virtues and dictates of our legacy.

Interview intro

Interview w/J.R. Becker

Annabelle & Aiden peek outside

through their small window.

Through the trees, they see a bird

flying far too low.

The wind blows hard behind its wings.

It’s going way too fast!

It tries to fly over the house,

but bangs into the glass!

They run outside to find the bird.

They see its crooked bill.

Its eyes closed, its belly up.

Its body silent still.

“Oh my gosh! What should we do?

Do you think that it’s dead?

Let’s find our friends to help us out,”

young Aiden quickly said.

All the friends were gathered

and stood around that bird.

Even Tom was deep in thought,

and not a sound was heard.

Annabelle asked, “What happens

when we have to say goodbye?

What happens when we leave this life?

What happens when we die?”


Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 05/10/2018"