The Religion & Culture Web Forum
"The Mother in Heaven and Eve: Models of Femaleness in Early Mormonism"
by Susanna Morrill
(Lewis & Clark College)
4 For more details of women's work in the Relief Society and within the Mormon community, see: Women of the Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society, edited by Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russel Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992).
9 Linda Wilcox, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,” Sunstone 22, no. 3-4 (June 1999): 79. Heeren, Lindsey, and Mason, using a more sociological approach, back up this interpretation: “In our view, then, it is the anthropomorphic conception of God which is central to explaining the appearance of the Mormon Mother in Heaven belief. This anthropomorphism is not only an essential feature of the Mormon viewpoint, but seems to differentiate Mormon belief from superficially similar beliefs of Shakers and others.” John Heeren, Donald B. Lindsey, and Marylee Mason, “The Mormon Concept of Mother in Heaven: A Sociological Account of Its Origins and Development,” Journal for the Sociological Study of Religion 23, no. 4 (Dec. 1984): 403.
10 Wilcox, for instance, notes: “A question to which there is as yet no definitive answer—but much speculation—is whether there is more than one Mother in Heaven. The Church's doctrinal commitment to plural marriage as well as the exigencies of producing at least billions of spirit children suggest the probability—some believe necessity—of more than one Mother in Heaven. Wilcox, “Mother in Heaven,” 83.
13 Aunt Ruth [Ruth May Fox?], “Woman's Sphere,” Woman's Exponent 16, no. 4 (July 15, 1887): 29. In a similar vein, S.W. Richards justifies the separate “sphere” of women as originating in the innately different beings of men and women. He writes: “Her acute sensitive temperament, her devotional nature, her noble qualities of heart and mind, are endowments which richly qualify her for the duties of several stations assigned. Though women is from and of the man [referring to the Genesis story of the creation of Eve from Adam's side], she is not the man, neither can she be. She is a separate and distinct creation, and has her sphere of action and duty, which requires both organization and powers the man does not possess. As a helpmate, she is not the slave of man. S.W. Richards, “Woman,” Woman's Exponent 17, no. 14 (Dec. 15, 1888): 109. This essentializing of the gender difference in the LDS belief system seems to have cemented and justified in an ultimate fashion, the common, Victorian assumption of a separate and proper “sphere” of action and behavior for women.
14 Wilcox, “Mother in Heaven,” 81. In the past decade of so, the leadership of the church has, in fact, banned the practice of public prayer or mention of the Mother(s) in Heaven on the grounds that it is too sacred and secret a doctrine to speak of openly or to non-believers. Excommunication has followed for those not heeding this directive. Jan Shipps, “Dangerous History: Laurel Ulrich and her Mormon Sisters,” Christian Century 110, no. 29 (Oct. 20, 1993): 1012-1015.
15 Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon F. Lund, “Editor's Table: The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era 13 (Nov. 1909): 78. Two pages later, the article states: “It [the doctrine] shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality.” Smith, et al, “The Origin of Man,” 80.
17 This feeling of reverence for Snow is demonstrated very clearly in a description of Snow's surprise entrance into the Salt Lake City 14th Ward Relief Society meeting not long before her death and after a long seclusion because of sickness. The meeting was instantly energized as the other women members apparently wept with joy at the sight of Snow: “...surprise and joy suddenly filled every heart and lighted up each countenance. This happy effect was occasioned by the entering, unannounced, of Zion's venerable, honored and beloved Priestess and Poetess, Sister Eliza R. Snow Smith.” The speaker immediately stopped her talk and all spontaneously began to sing Snow's hymn, “O, my Father,” many then testifying to the spiritual power and authority of this “prophetess.” L. G. R. [Lula Greene Richards?], “A Delightful Meeting,” Woman's Exponent 16, no. 9 (Oct. 1, 1887): 68.
18 George D.
Pyper, Stories of Latter-day Saint Hymns: Their Authors and
Composers (n.p.: George D. Pyper, 1939), 1. The first two verses
of the hymn develop the necessary accompanying idea of a preexistence
in which the Father and Mother Gods produced the spirit children
who would later need to find earthly tabernacles:
O my Father, Though that dwellest
In the high and glorious place!
When shall I regain Thy presence,
And again behold Thy face?
In Thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside;
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near Thy side?
For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth,
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You're a stranger here;”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.
Tis recorded in Your journal
How you stood by Fathers side,
When by power, zeal, eternal
Thou wast sealed a Goddess bride.
When through love, and truth, and virtue,
E're in time thou didst become,
In thine high, exalted station
Mother of the souls of men.
When of evil I've repented
And the work on earth is done,
Dearest Mother, Loving Father,
Pray forgive Thy erring one.
When my pilgrimage is ended,
And the victors crown is won,
Dearest Mother to your bosom,
Please welcome back this one.
Jane Kartchner Morris, journals and reminiscences 1916 Oct-1971 Feb., third volume, 148, Historical Department, Archives and Manuscripts Division, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
23 Two camps on Eve appear in the literature of LDS women. On the one hand, the revisionists seek to renovate the figure of Eve completely--see below. On the other hand, authors and poets use the traditional interpretation of the curse as a terrible fall, but they adapt it, so that both men and women share the blame equally. Emily Hill Woodmansee takes this tack when she argues that throughout time women have been unfairly targeted for initiating the curse, but that this unfair burden has also been the salvation of humanity. Emily Hill Woodmansee, “Behold the Dawn,” Woman's Exponent 9, no. 10 (Oct. 15, 1880): 73.
25 Hermita, “Familiarity Breeds Contempt,” Woman's Exponent 9, no. 16 (Jan. 15, 1881): 121. To further demonstrate the complexity and the shifting nature of the interpretation of Eve, later on in the essay, “Hermita” describes how Eve was tricked into eating the fruit by a wily Lucifer, using this as an example of why her readers should be careful about deceptive appearances and clearly here interpreting Eve's fall in a traditional, negative manner.
26 Mary Ann Pratt, “Give to Those Rights to Whom Rights Belong,” Woman's Exponent 8, no. 21 (April 1, 1880): 165. Hannah T. King reinforces this view of Eve as the one who set in motion the process of life and salvation. She writes: “Eve, the sovereign mother of all living. She stands in close proximity to God the Father, for she is the life giving spirit of the innumerable hosts that have figured upon this earth. The one grand, stupendous act of her life is all that is told of her in the Bible, and it is enough.” Hannah T. King, “Women of the Scriptures,” Woman's Exponent 32, no. 6 (Nov. 1903): 41.