Mormon Women’s Texts and the New RS History, “Daughters in My Kingdom”

The much-heralded Relief Society history Daughters in my Kingdom commissioned by General President Julie B. Beck is now available online and will soon be distributed to Relief Society sisters all over the world. My preliminary reading of the book got me thinking about religious texts for Mormon women: what they are, their effectiveness and usefulness to LDS females, and how this latest work compares with what has gone before. I’d like this to be an interactive post, as commenters may be able to reference texts I haven’t thought of, as well as provide uniquely personal ideas about the effects these texts have had upon their lives.

I define Mormon women’s texts as those works regarding and directed primarily to Mormon women. Those highlighted in this post have been widely distributed in written form to a majority of the general membership of the Relief Society and have had a great impact upon their religious instruction and understanding. Please use the few that I have mentioned as a springboard for discussing others in this genre of which you are aware.

Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

Recently, the Joseph Smith Papers project has made available the minutes of the first meetings of the Relief Society held in Nauvoo. Until this online representation, the Minutes were not generally available. However, I include this text because at the time of their creation, the minutes were read to each member of the Relief Society at their meetings. The Minute Book comprises the first text we have which was created for and by LDS women.

In 1842, several women in Nauvoo began to organize themselves into a charitable society to aid in the erection of the temple. After writing a constitution and bylaws, the Prophet Joseph was invited to review them. He said that they were “the best he had ever seen. ‘But,’ he said, ‘this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and he has something better for them than a written constitution. I invite them all to meet with me and a few of the brethren . . . next Thursday afternoon, and I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.’” The first pages of the minute book show the great influence that Joseph Smith and the priesthood brethren had over the Relief Society meetings. They suggested procedures, set apart officers, even proposed the name of the fledgling society.

Daughters in My Kingdom acknowledges the great influence that Joseph Smith had over the organization of the Relief Society, and recounts the above story. The new book is very similar to the Nauvoo minutes in that priesthood direction is recognized and welcomed. The frontspiece of the book is a “Message From the First Presidency,” unsigned, which states:

In grateful recognition of the blessing of Relief Society in the lives of Church members, we have directed the preparation of Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society.

An abundance of the quotations included in the book are from priesthood leaders. Of the 296 quotations, 145 are by women, and 151 are by men. The person quoted most prolifically is Joseph Smith, with 32 quotes, followed by Eliza R. Snow, with 23 quotes, then Brigham Young with 14, Spencer W. Kimball with 13, and Gordon B. Hinckley with 12. All quotations are applicable to the history of Relief Society, however it does show the great involvement that male leaders have had and continue to have in the women’s organization of the Church.

The Women’s Exponent

I consider the Women’s Exponent a wonderful source of Mormon Women’s spiritual texts.  This magazine was produced by Louisa Greene, the first editor; and then Emmeline B. Wells, General President of the Relief Society, who served as the publication’s editor for 37 years. It contained political news relating to LDS women, reports of ward activities, original poetry, essays, and exhortation. An example of a spiritual text found in the Exponent might be something like The Watchman’s Cry by W. East. This article is an exposition on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, giving direction on the use of spiritual gifts.

The Exponent was not an official publication of the Church, but like Daughters in My Kingdom, its purposes were to uplift and strengthen women of the LDS Church as well as educate non-members about the women of Mormonism. A description of the book on the Church’s official website explains:

The teachings, stories, and examples in this history book will guide you in establishing priorities and practices in your life that will help increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need…

You are encouraged to share the book with others. Church members of all ages may use the book as a reference in lessons, talks, council meetings, and at home.

Did the book go far enough in sharing the teachings of priesthood and women leaders about the purposes and meaning of women in the kingdom? Consider the following passage found in chapter 8:

In the Church today, faithful women and men all over the world continue to serve in the temple and find strength in the blessings that can be received only through temple ordinances. As President Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth President of the Church, stated, “It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses.”

Why was the quote left unfinished? In the original, President Smith went on to say,

“It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses, and I am sure if they have that power they have some power to rule and reign. Else why would they be priestesses?”

Would additions such as this make the book more, or less effective for today’s Latter-day Saint woman?

Relief Society Curriculum, 1913-1997

From its inception, the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published lessons for its female members on spiritual and educational topics. From 1913-1970, these lessons were written by women and included within the Relief Society Magazine. In the 1980s, RS lessons were given in five areas of study: Spiritual Living, Cultural Refinement, Mother Education, Compassionate Service, and Social Relations. (see a summary of one year’s lessons here.) Under the direction of Barbara W. Winder, a new format for Relief Society was announced for the 1987 lesson year. The manual was smaller in size and given a new name — Personal Study Guide. A second spiritual living lesson each month took the place of the cultural refinement lesson; mother education lessons were replaced by home and family education lessons; and the social relations and compassionate service lessons were combined. By 1988, all of the Sunday lessons for Relief Society became scripturally based and correlated with the gospel doctrine course of study. This was the beginning of correlation, and Relief Society began to relinquish control over their own teaching material.

In January of 1998, all of Relief Society curriculum was placed under correlation. No longer did women write their own material. Texts for Relief Society meetings were Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, and Teachings for our Time. These were used in both Priesthood and Relief Society classes, and can no longer be considered solely women’s texts.

I was a member of the Relief Society in the early 1980s when Relief Society curriculum was geared more to women and women’s issues that it is today. I found the lessons much more effective and apt to draw discussion than is my experience in the past 20 years of correlated materials. I also find the writings in the Women’s Exponent and even the Nauvoo Minute Book to be immediate and cogent to women’s issues of the time. In the Exponent are found discussions of difficult issues such as participation in suffrage and the defense of polygamy. These articles are written by Mormon women who were passionately and directly involved.

Like these earlier texts, Daughters in My Kingdom hearkens back to the days when materials for women were prepared by the women themselves. Though under the direction of the priesthood, this book had its origin in an unpublished history of the Relief Society prepared in 1996 by Lucile Tate and Elaine Harris. Susan W. Tanner wrote the final manuscript based on their research.

Although the new book, Daughters in My Kingdom is not the type of Relief Society history I would have written myself, I do applaud the General Relief Society presidency for spearheading the project and their efforts to make it meaningful to LDS women all over the world. It is an “inspirational history” which informs without being unsettling, and by the mere fact of its worldwide distribution, will surely take a place among Mormon women’s texts.

I eagerly solicit your reactions!


9 Replies to “Mormon Women’s Texts and the New RS History, “Daughters in My Kingdom””

  1. I do too.. as of now no one really knows exactly what we are supposed to do with this history. Apparently it will not be used as a lesson manual. On the website it is described as a “resource.” We are told it can strengthen our foundational identity and help us establish priorities. I do wonder how much this text will be used by RS sisters.

  2. BiV, I suppose my thoughts will differ from some on the ‘nacle, but I’ll share a few fwiw.

    First, I think how one engages this book might very well depend on how one views correlation. I tend to see correlation as a net positive. Why? I don’t think men and women’s efforts are supposed to be independent in a Zion model. The idea of ‘control’ or ‘independence’ to me doesn’t really fit in that model. Because of that, although I know it has its downsides, I think net-net, correlation points to the united and partnership-based purposes of priesthood quorums and the Relief Society and other auxiliaries. To me, this book reinforces that notion of partnership, inviting women to make sure they are fulfilling their part of that partnership. I think it reinforces that principle from our history as well.

    So while I understand the desire for ‘solely women’s texts’ I think there is great value in texts that bring men and women together under the same unifying principles, teachings, and keys. It’s with that lens that I’m engaging the new RS book.

    Again, fwiw….

  3. Michelle, thank you for your thoughts. I think “correlation” is sometimes used as a blanket term which comprises things as broad as control over members’ voting preferences! I’m guilty of that myself, and I can’t tell in your above comment exactly how you are using the term, since you link it with “united and partnership-based purposes of priesthood quorums and the RS and other auxiliaries.”

    I am in favor of the independence of women regarding their facilities, finances, and curriculum. I think this tends to better fulfill our specific needs as females. (We’ve all sat through lessons on the priesthood written specifically for men, and not applied to the female point of view!) However, I have benefited from correlation of lesson materials in that it is enjoyable to be able to discuss the lessons with my husband and children at home following the meetings.

    There are positives and negatives to “correlation” in the Church, whatever it encompasses. I’m a bit confused, though, that you see this book as embodying the principles of correlation. Is it because it was written “under the direction” of the First Presidency, or that it includes many quotes by male General Authorities? It seems to me that the book goes counter to correlation in that it was written by women and is a text that is about and wholly directed toward LDS women.

    If any of the materials we have produced so far in the Church can be identified as a “woman’s text,” this is it.

  4. I’ve read 5 chapters so far. The book misses no opportunities to say things like “the sisters did such-and-such WITH the full cooperation of the priesthood leaders.”

    I hope this book will be used by men as well.

  5. “The book misses no opportunities to say things like “the sisters did such-and-such WITH the full cooperation of the priesthood leaders.”

    BiV, that’s really what I was driving at. But you are right, this is a text for women, and I think that is cool.

    “It seems to me that the book goes counter to correlation in that it was written by women and is a text that is about and wholly directed toward LDS women.”

    This is a valid point, so I can see why my comment was confusing. In addition to the fact that its creation was under priesthood direction, I was thinking about content. I think the message of the book reiterates the notion of men and women working together, rather than just women dealing with women’s issues alone.

  6. After reading the new manual, more than twice, and reviewing the manual with several of my friends, we are trying to figure out, is THIS the best the Church can do for the women? We are being choked with the phrase, “under the Priesthood.” The historical stories in the book are incomplete, and the omissions leave the comments totally out of context. The topic of polygamy is brought up, and the comment made that the women “because of their faithfulness accepted this new doctrine,” is bologney. The women were NOT happy about it, but at the time, women were considered property, had no autonomy, could not own property, even when they brought the property into the marriage, and were not allowed to vote. Historical documents of polygamous relationships, written by women, expressed their feelings of impotence in changing it, and knowing that nothing they could do or say would stop it. Their feelings about it were similar as mine would have been, but now, in the 21st Century, I can safely say, that any woman that would reach out and touch my husband, would draw back a bloody stump!

    This manual insidiously approaches women with encouragements to return to life as it was 160 years ago and beyond. This manual does intelligent, well educated, and autonomous women a gross disservice. Most of the women in the Church in the U.S., if they sat around waiting for the Priesthood to accomplish anything, would still be waiting.

    One sister I know hasn’t seen a home teacher in a whopping 16 years! Where is the influence of priesthood in her home? Visiting Teaching in my own Ward is down to less than 30%! 53% of the work force in this country are women! Women in record numbers are supporting their families, ALONE! We run our homes, work, take care of our kids, pay the bills, and we are supposed to be submissive to a bunch of men that can’t put their shoes on the right feet without our instruction? PLEASE!

    If the current leadership thinks that this ridiculous book is going to raise numbers in attendance at our R.S. meetings, they need to think again. There is a HUGE group of women that are deciding right now, that if this manual is taught, this is one more lesson they will avoid! The Church needs to come to the realisation that like in the Old Testament times, God will call upon a woman, again, when there are no righteous men to call upon to be prophet. Remember Deborah! Now, THAT would be a great example of true womanhood! The Church MUST do better. Women will not stand to be treated as second class citizens in Western culture much longer. If the Church wants to reach women, they need to truly address the issues today’s women need support on. Get that 1950’s throwback out of the General R.S. presidency, and begin quoting President Hinckley again…”stand back and watch what women can accomplish”. Maybe the First Presidency should remember that.

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