Alt Sunday School — Teachings of the Prophet Brigham Young, Part 1By: Stephen Marsh
A series of alternate Sunday School lessons should include, for the year on the Doctrine and Covenants, some of the more significant teachings of Brigham Young.
I thought of that as I was listening to a friend of mine who was serving on the board of a JRCLS chapter. She came into a meeting of the board. A man entered, sat down at the table, said some trite, hostile and demeaning things about women, belched, stood up and left. The chair apologized for the boorish behavior, but the female attorney found that thereafter she really did not feel welcome. I’ve known other professional women who have had similar feelings about their reception at Church.
My thought was that the people acting that way would do well to be acquainted with the teachings of the prophet Brigham Young. Since he was so complex, and his significant teachings were more than a single topic, I’d like to propose several alternative Sunday School lessons, of which this is one.
After all, Brigham Young had a good deal to say on ecology, stewardship over natural resources, and, of course, egalitarianism.
It is easy to think of that when reviewing that he encouraged a group of women to send women to Paris to study art, and another group to send a member to the East Coast to be trained as a medical doctor. However, it was more than just art or the healing sciences, he was much more broadly egalitarian than that.
“As I have often told my sisters in the Female Relief Societies, we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large (DBY, 216–17).
(Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young.)
In that context, it should be remembered that the first female state senator in the United States was a woman in Utah who ran for office against her own husband and won. She was Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon who trained as a medical doctor at Michigan. Of course she was a Democrat and her husband was a Republican.
With Brigham Young’s support, Utah granted full voting rights to women in 1870, 26 years before becoming a state (and about seven years before his death on August 29, 1877). The federal government took those rights away, though they were reinstated in 1896.
Brigham Young preached a number of sermons and wrote on the subject of the equality of women and their ability to do anything a man could do. He felt that “The sisters in our Female Relief Societies have done great good. Can you tell the amount of good that the mothers and daughters in Israel are capable of doing? No, it is impossible. And the good they do will follow them to all eternity.” (DBY, 216) And he did not limit that to the typical “mother’s day” women on a pedestal, doing good by raising children who will have an impact. He preached it in concrete, practical terms.
While in most states at the time, women were not considered fit to be educated, vote or practice law, Brigham Young felt that women should be educated, they should have the vote and that they should be able to practice law. While there is no record of his thoughts, I also suspect he would have considered women capable of knitting (at one time knitting was considered to be damaging to women’s brains as too difficult).
He was also egalitarian as to manual labor, not considering himself to be above it or that those who did manual labor were entitled to anything other than respect.
It would be well for the next time that we study the modern church if we could have a lesson that focused on egalitarian principles. On women being equal to men in a very real sense, that manual labor is worthy of attention, respect and detail, that all are alike unto God.
Do you feel that the modern Church remembers and honors Brigham Young’s teachings? How would you raise and teach a lesson on egalitarian principles? What can we do to educate the boorish, the insensitive and those blinded by the traditions of men so that they can overcome the glaring lack of manners, education and doctrinal understanding that some display? What else do you think we need to be reminded of that Brigham Young taught?