As a pre-cursor to the March 17 celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church has released a volume of discourses by women over the past 185 years titled, “At the Pulpit.”
Authored by LDS Church Historians Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook, “At the Pulpit” features more than 50 speeches given by Mormon women since the founding of the church.
“We have selected a couple of talks from every decade from 1831 to 2016,” Reeder elaborated in a church press release. “As early as Emma Smith, as early as Lucy Mack Smith as she led the Saints from Colesville, New York, to Kirtland, Ohio, to Elizabeth Ann Whitney in Kirtland, to Eliza R. Snow traveling throughout the Utah Territory. These women had something to say.”
Many of the speeches had never been published, particularly those from the early years of LDS Church history.
“The 54 discourses in this book show us a lot of the combined wisdom through the decades of Church history that comes from our strongest female voices, their great theological thinking, their insights,” said Holbrook in the press release. “It was so important for us to bring in international voices.”
The book also feautres talks from women around the world, from Judy Brummer in South Africa and from Gladys Sitati from West Africa.
“It wasn’t until March of 1842 when the Relief Society was organized in Nauvoo, Illinois, giving women a location where they could expound and exhort not only each other but all members of the Church,” Reeder said.
Holbrook said they found every talk they could from every decade of women’s talks that had been recorded.
“We found every talk we could for every decade of women’s talks that had been recorded,” Holbrook said. “We really prayed for direction about which talks belonged in the book.”
Those familiar with Mormon women leaders will recognize talks given in recent decades by contemporary leaders such as Belle S. Spafford, Ardeth G. Kapp, Elaine L. Jack, Chieko N. Okazaki, Julie B. Beck, Bonnie D. Parkin, Sheri L. Dew, Virginia H. Pearce and current general Relief Society president Linda K. Burton.
“We dug through old, dusty Relief Society minute books; we read through old newspapers and magazines and journals,” Reader said. “We read through conference reports and BYU Women’s Conference, and we searched online. We left no stone unturned finding talks by Mormon women [historians] had never heard of before.”
Holbrook said that important contributions in this book include an increased visibility, the value and the voice of Mormon women.
Holbrook and Reeder gives the examples of powerful discourse from women like Elvira Barney who spoke at the Utah Women’s Suffrage Association in 1889.
“I think my favorite story is the discovery of Eleanor Georgianna Jones,” Reeder said. “She gave a talk in the Salt Lake City 11th Ward Young Women, which was then published in the Women’s Exponent.”
The two women searched through census records to find out more about her, as well as all those featured in the book. The online companion to the book offers a timeline of events and speeches over the past 185 years as well as photos and videos.
“Church history is not complete without these histories of how women have contributed to building the kingdom of God and living the gospel,” Holbrook said.
Previous publications of the Church Historian’s Press include volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers and a collection of documents chronicling the history of the Relief Society in the 19th century, which is now available online at no cost.