In Claudia Bushman’s 2010 article for Dialogue, “Should Mormon Women Speak Out?” 41 (1): 171-184 – and by the way, the answer is yes – she writes,
I grew up in the Church but knew nothing of LDS women?s history. I did not know that the Relief Society operated cooperative stores, spun and wove silk fabric (including hatching the silkworms from eggs and feeding them on mulberry leaves that they gathered by hand), gleaned the fields to save grain for bad times, and trained as midwives and doctors. I didn?t know that they were the first women in the United States to vote, even though Wyoming?s women were first to receive the right to vote. I didn?t know that they edited their own excellent newspaper or that they had large meetings when they spoke up for their rights and beliefs as citizens and as Mormons. Finding all this out was part of our Boston women?s study [in the 1970s]. One of our women discovered bound volumes of the Woman?s Exponent, the newspaper edited by Lula Greene Richards and Emmeline B. Wells (1872?1914) in the Harvard library. She copied out sections; and we found in our foremothers who spoke out the models we were searching for in our own lives.
What strikes me about this observation is how true it STILL is, even in 2011. I daresay there are not nearly enough Mormons who are even dimly aware of the stories Claudia has sketched out here. Too few of these nuggets make it into LDS lessons, General Conference talks, Primary sharing times, visiting teaching messages, church magazine articles, camp or youth conference devotionals, Seminary manuals, or Sunday School curricula. Little of this finds its way into secular US history survey courses and textbooks (Mormon women, if they show up at all, vanish after the 19th century in such works). I know this is a crowd skewed towards the incredibly knowledgeable, but I’m talking here about general knowledge. Is it too much of a generalization to say that the vast majority of Mormons, and in particular Mormon women, draw a blank on their own foremothers’ history? If not, I would love to be proven wrong. But if so, I am curious why this lacuna persists, a full generation and more after the social history turn and the outstanding scholarship of many dedicated historians.
What think ye? Is this amnesia or willful forgetting? Androcentrism or correlative imperative or just a reflection of the low priority for the sacralization of the history of ordinary members regardless of their gender? Would the Church be different if these were all well-told tales, and if so – how could we get there from here?