Rachel Hunt Steenblik posed a question that intrigued me, so I decided to look a bit further at women’s conference participation to specifically those years when a new Relief Society Presidency was called.
I am again relying on the appendix from At the Pulpit here.
After President Amy Brown Lyman asked to be released as Relief Society General President (RSGP), her second counselor Belle Spafford became RSGP in 1945. For an extended 28 years, President Spafford served. She consistently spoke in the welfare session of General Conference. In 1974, as Spafford finished her tenure she spoke in the welfare session of April conference. Her successor, RSGP Barbara B. Smith spoke that fall also in the welfare session of Conference.
Smith presided over the Relief Society for 9 years. At the end of her tenure, she spoke in a general session of 1984 conference as did her successor, RSGP Barbara Winder (as well as 2 other women, though women did not speak again in Conference for 4 years). In 1990, Barbara Winder (outgoing president) and Elaine Jack (incoming president) both spoke at the April conference (then there was a single female speaker in October conference).
As mentioned in the last post here, two women have spoken in sessions intended for all between 1994 and 2016–with an April 2002 exception when 3 women spoke. At the same time as a five-year term for the RSGPs normalized in 1997, a new pattern began with outgoing presidents speaking as they finished in the spring and the incoming presidents speaking in the fall. Conferences with ingoing and outgoing presidents in 1997, 2007, and 2012 followed. However, 2002 was a return to the earlier occurrence of both a concluding RSGP and a newly called RSGP speaking in April.
This April, President Linda Burton did speak in a session of general conference, but not in a session intended for all. Since the Women’s Session is now considered a General Conference session she did speak in a session of April General Conference as her term as General Relief Society President ended, though she spoke specifically to the women she served.
In the recent past, general officers of the church don’t usually speak at more than one session of Conference–unless a member of the First Presidency. (If a member of the 12 speaks in the Priesthood Session, then they don’t speak in the other sessions–with the First Presidency exception.) We haven’t had this conflict before because the Relief Society General Meeting (or whatever it happened to be called at the time) wasn’t counted as a session of Conference. President Burton could have chosen to specifically speak to the women for her last talk. Though disappointing for those looking for more participation from female leadership in sessions intended for all, this is not a complete departure from earlier patterns–perhaps a result of shifting categories of LDS General Conference. Within the basic outline of the last couple of decades, we would expect to hear from our new RSGP Jean Bingham in the fall.