“We shall now call on some of our sisters”: LDS Women and General Conference Participation Part 2

By April 3, 2017

In March of 2013, I began to create a history of women speaking in General Conference here, though that effort was only a start. Recently, At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, edited by JI’s own Jenny Reeder with Kate Holbrook offers an almost exhaustive appendix—“Latter-day Saint Women Speakers in General Conference.” Charlotte Hansen Terry’s extensive labors produced the appendix. My colleague John Thomas offered one correction to that appendix which did not make the imprint (or the online version as of yet): In October 1902 Mrs. Lucy Smith spoke in the outdoor overflow meeting as recorded here.

Between 1994 and 2016, two women spoke in sessions intended for all at every LDS General Conference. However, beginning in October 2014 the newly minted “general women’s session” began to be counted as a session of General Conference. Though the change was somewhat unclear during conference weekend, the change was later confirmed. (See here and here.) Beginning in April 2015 the online layout of General Conference talks changed with the general women’s session placed first–reflecting its now proper chronological order.[1] The five subsequent conferences included five female speakers—two in the general sessions intended for all as they had before and three in the general women’s session. Not including this last conference, 187 women have spoken in sessions of General Conference.

Last weekend, three women spoke at the general women’s session–the opening session of the 187th Annual General Conference–as has been the pattern since 2014. However, this weekend as the conference continued only one woman spoke in a regular session–Primary General President Joy D. Jones on Sunday morning.

In the last paragraph of the 2013 post, I wrote:

Though almost twenty years is plenty of time to establish a pattern, within a church that subscribes to the possibility of change it could just as easily be time for another shift. Perhaps a prophet will yet say, “We shall now call on some [more] of our sisters.”[2]

As Latter-day Saints expanded how we define conference sessions, we are now hearing from more of our sisters in sessions of Conference than ever before. Yet, not in sessions intended for all in April 2017. Perhaps this is one more reminder that history never progresses in a strictly linear fashion. Fits and starts, two steps forward, and one step back are all standard to the flow of history.

I am hopeful a prophet will yet again say, “We shall now call on some [more] of our sisters.” In the meantime, I’m going to continue reading At the Pulpit and work on better knowing what 191 women have had to say in General Conference so far.

 

 


[1] The women’s general session was previously listed last as it was before being included as a General Conference session.

[2] Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, 5 October 1929, 84. My insertion.

 

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. I believe the pattern of having two women speak in general sessions of General Conference began in 1994, not 1995.

    In April 1994, Elaine L. Jack, the Relief Society general president, spoke in the Saturday morning session and Ruth Wright, the second counselor in the Primary general presidency, spoke in the Sunday afternoon session. In October 1994, Michaelene P. Grassli, recently released Primary general president, spoke Saturday morning and Patricia P. Pinegar, the newly called Primary general president, spoke Sunday afternoon. Their addresses are all available on lds.org.

    At the risk of crass self-promotion, I’ll mention that a friend of mine and I created a website that compiles quotes from all of the women’s talks in General Conference since 1971 (we wanted to be able to link to the full text of the talk so readers had easy access to the source and could peruse the entire sermon). We hope some find it helpful: https://gcsisters.wordpress.com/

    I too am hopeful that we will hear from “some [more] of our sisters” someday soon.

    Comment by Emily Geddes — April 3, 2017 @ 8:13 am

  2. Wait! Suddenly I get it! The Church wants the number of women who have spoken in General Conference to match the number of annual conferences as closely as possible. 187 women have spoken before conference started and it was the 187th Annual General Conference? Coincidence? I think not.

    Comment by Hannah — April 3, 2017 @ 9:28 am

  3. Thanks, Emily. I’ve changed the text to correctly reflect that.

    Hannah–I thought about including the average, but it is now 1.02.

    Comment by JJohnson — April 3, 2017 @ 9:41 am

  4. I was sorely disappointed in the lack of female faces this weekend at the pulpit. Why not have more praying, at least? I think it’s important to have a female speak in each session. This Saturday was six hours of Priesthood session to me.

    Comment by acw — April 3, 2017 @ 9:54 am

  5. Also to Emily, that is a great resource. Thanks.

    acw- There was a single prayer by a woman, right? Was that Sunday morning?

    Comment by JJohnson — April 3, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

  6. On the Comment Consent website several comments criticized the lack of women speakers at General Conference. There were a few, very few, who sought not to criticize — one who expressed her views as follows:

    “…I’m not looking at gender, I’m looking for content, and I very much found it. So this time we had one woman speake and in October we will have 5. I don’t have time to keep track of this,because I am too busy trying to become better from what I have learned from the Lord’s annointed. Perhaps your time would be better served listening, rather then keeping tabs of who’s talking. My frustrations aren’t directed at you in particular persay, but a general “nitpicking” attitude within the membership of the church. I haven’t got time for that myself. Too many of my own weaknesses to address.”

    Of course she was criticized for her comments. I don’t know why the the LDS Church leaders do not have more women speak at Conference or why women can’t serve as Bisihops etc. I do know however that there was so much good and wisdom given by the Conference speakers, including those at the Women’s session.

    Pres. Uchtdorf told how he felt slighted by not being invited to a Temple dedication. He then realized that Temple dedications were not about who is invited to attend, but a dedication of the another House of the Lord with its saving ordinances. I sustain those with the keys, I choose not to publicly or privately criticize them.

    Comment by Robert60 — April 3, 2017 @ 10:44 pm

  7. Well, that’s great for you, Robert60. Many men and women would like to see more women speak at GC. Being “nitpicky” is a great way of dismissing people’s concerns by speaking in vague terms about things that don’t bother you.

    Comment by Brother X — April 4, 2017 @ 8:14 am

  8. If I had a nickel for every time Ive heard the Brethern say they love and respect the sisters in this church I’d have a fair amount of money. But what I’d like to see is for them to put their money where their mouths are and have every other speaker be a woman! Why is that such a radical thought? Why couldn’t a woman give as good a talk as the 15+? The answer is that it is not a radical thought and a sister in this church could speak as well as or even better than the brethren. Maybe that’s the problem…..might take too much glory from the men! And I’m not even a feminist, to tell you the truth. I’m just sick of seeing these old men up there pontificating when we could actually hear some other viewpoints from the female persuasion and not just the 9+ women in the auxilliary presidencies, please!

    Comment by Kjc — April 4, 2017 @ 2:33 pm


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