LDS women historians discuss research for ‘At the Pulpit’ publication
To celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released a collection of speeches and minutes of meetings from women through the decades in book form called “At the Pulpit.”
Kate Holbrook and Jenny Reeder lead a team of researchers to bring together this series to highlight contributions of women in the church.
Reeder is a 19th century women’s history specialist at the LDS Church History Department, and Holbrook is the managing historian of women’s history at the LDS Church History Department.
The Daily Herald asked the two researchers to respond to a few questions in reference to the “At the Pulpit” project.
Daily Herald: Knowing that women have contributed to church meetings, discussions and outside events for decades, what specifically were you looking for, historically, from LDS women through the years to enlighten sisters today and in the future?
Holbrook: To find the discourses in “At the Pulpit,” Jenny Reeder and I had to look in a lot of nooks and crannies. In fact, we had a team of terrific volunteers and research assistants. Together we tried to find and read every talk we could that had been written by a Latter-day Saint woman, although we were limited to those talks that had been recorded. When we found talks that we thought were promising, we brought them to team meetings and read and talked about them there. We voted. We looked for talks that were rooted in church doctrine, beautifully written, and inspiring.
Reeder: Kate liked to quote Emily Dickinson, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” We wanted to find talks that we immediately wanted to share with others — friends, family, office mates — because they were so insightful and thought-provoking. We love that women were the instigators of such experience and teaching.
Daily Herald: What if anything were the unexpected “hidden treasures or nuggets” that were found concerning women in the Relief Society in doing research and preparing for the 175th birthday?
Holbrook: One of my favorite discoveries was that when men and women were called to oversee missions, the woman was called “Relief Society Mission President.” This practice started around 1916 and lasted until at least 1973.
Relief Society mission presidents organized Relief Society conferences, visited individual units of the Relief Society, oversaw record-keeping, coordinated Relief Society activity with missionary work, communicated and established Relief Society policy, reported to church headquarters, and often oversaw the work of the Young Women and Primary organizations as well.
Reeder: I loved discovering women I had never heard of — women who were run-of-the-mill members in far-flung settlements who had distinct personal experiences that they shared and taught with others.
Women like Jane Neyman in Beaver, Utah, or Drusilla Hendricks in Smithfield, Utah; or Eliza R. Snow speaking in Kanab, Utah, and Zina D.H. Young in Lehi, Utah.
The women knew their audiences because they lived together and served one another on a local level. They joined in this charge given to Emma Smith in 1830 to expound scripture and exhort the church, a charge given unto all members of the Relief Society by Joseph Smith on March 17, 1842, in Nauvoo.
Daily Herald: What venues do you suggest women use who want to connect with their fellow sisters of the past? What can the Church History Library provide?
Holbrook: Whole new worlds open up for church members who read “The First Fifty Years” and “At the Pulpit.” If you know or find out who your ancestors are through FamilySearch, you can also look in the Church History Library catalogue to see what resources we might have about them. You can click a button to request that those resources be digitized. Look to see whether we have a minute book from the Relief Society your great-great grandmother was in. You can also look to see whether you have an ancestor mentioned in documents from early Relief Society (https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/the-first-fifty-years-of-relief-society/people). Or come in to the library to look through a Church scrapbook from a particular year in Church history.
Reeder: Our latest web project involves digitizing and indexing these Relief Society minute books and linking them to Family Search. We are really excited to launch this project and hope to utilize women all over the world to participate in crowdsourcing the work and discovering their own heritage.
Daily Herald: Can you suggest other sources about the history of Relief Society?
Holbrook: You might be interested in the article I wrote about the highlights of 175 years of Relief Society history. https://history.lds.org/article/relief-society-175-years?lang=eng