“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? . . . When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in the1978 General Conference shortly before President Spencer W. Kimball dedicated the Monument to Women Memorial Garden in Nauvoo.
This memorial to women was designed to portray to the world the role of women as Latter-day Saints understood it and to honor the founding of the Relief Society in Nauvoo in 1842 where the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The Church was never fully organized until the women were thus organized.”
Forty-five years before this memorial was conceived, another monument reminded visitors to Nauvoo of the organization of the Relief Society.
The First Relief Society Monument
In the midst of the Great Depression, Apostle George Albert Smith suggested that a monument be placed in Nauvoo in memory of the Relief Society. He and General Relief Society President Louise Robison asked Frederick Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) and grandson of Joseph and Emma, for permission to place the monument on RLDS property where Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store once stood. Frederick Smith approved, and the dedication took place on July 26, 1933.
This Relief Society monument was carved from Tennessee quartzite, and a bronze plaque on the front had an image of the Red Brick Store and a description of Relief Society.
In 1952, this monument was moved from the Red Brick Store grounds to the LDS Church-owned Nauvoo Temple site. Then in 1988, it found a permanent home in the Monument to Women Memorial Garden next to the Historic Nauvoo Visitors Center.
Plans for Monument to Women Memorial Garden
In the 1970s, a proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution generated intense discussion and feelings both within and outside the LDS Church. The First Presidency endorsed equal rights for women but opposed an amendment that could undermine the status of women and impact the traditional family. Within the Church, however, a vocal minority disagreed with the Church’s stand and demonstrated at general conferences.
General Relief Society President Barbara B. Smith encouraged LDS women to become active in learning about and defeating the amendment. As Stake Relief Society President in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I recorded a few of the happenings in our area. Heeding Sister Smith’s advice, sixty LDS women attended the 1977 International Women’s Year meetings In Des Moines. We attempted to nominate two delegates to Washington, D.C., but were outvoted by ERA advocates. Disturbed by an outcome that was pro-ERA and abortion and against traditional families, we communicated with congressmen and newspapers and formed a Concerned Citizens against ERA group with both LDS and non-LDS members. Six women from Cedar Rapids Stake went to Des Moines to testify against the ERA in Iowa during a public hearing before the Senate. Those who could not speak left written statements for senators to read. A day of fasting and prayer also took place. Although the Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass, attention continued to focus on the role of women, with articles in national publications degrading traditional homemaking.
As women’s roles were scrutinized and questioned, the Church moved forward with a beautiful Monument to Women Memorial Garden in Nauvoo. Barbara B. Smith said, “We sought earnestly for an artist’s conception . . . and we accepted the plan of Dennis Smith. In his plan he suggested thirteen sensitively sculpted figures, representing the gospel concept of women and their relationship to the world, to be placed in a lovely garden setting” (BYU Devotional, Feb. 9, 1978). President Spencer W. Kimball requested that women of the Church contribute funds to pay for the memorial, and he invited each Relief Society sister to make a donation—even if only one dollar.
Monument to Women Dedication
On June 1, 1978, President Kimball received the revelation that extended the priesthood to worthy males of all races. Church membership at that time was over four million with 1.2 million Relief Society members. Less than a month later, President Kimball dedicated the Monument to Women in Nauvoo on June 28-30 in three dedicatory sessions. L. Tom Perry, Bruce R. McConkie, and President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve and Barbara B. Smith and her counselors Janath Cannon and Marian Boyer also spoke. Sister Cannon counseled those who attended, “As you walk through the garden here at Nauvoo and contemplate the bronze figures that portray the many opportunities available to women, be grateful for the decisions made in Eden and Gethsemane that made these opportunities possible.”
More than 20,000 people came to Nauvoo–with a population of 1,000 and few motels or restaurants– for the dedicatory events. Women arrived from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Samoa. Many traveled in buses and stayed in dormitories and other housing several hours away. During the day, they purchased food and drinks from food carts set up around Historic Nauvoo to accommodate so many visitors. In the evening they watched Because of Elizabeth, an outdoor pageant performed by members of the Champaign Illinois Stake.
Belva Ashton of the General Relief Society Board chaired the dedicatory events. For several months I drove to Nauvoo to meet with Sister Ashton and other stake Relief Society presidents to prepare for this event. The Cedar Rapids Stake received the assignment of ushering at the dedication, preparing and selling food at food carts, and assisting with first aid.
Several days before the dedication, oppressive heat and humidity settled over Nauvoo. On the morning of the first dedicatory service, a downpour replaced the humidity. I wrote that “mud was all over, and I chased in the mud to cover things up” and protect the food carts and food. The dedication took place under a giant tent, and rain pounded on the roof until President Kimball spoke. Then the storm subsided and the sun appeared. Later that day, however, a cloudburst forced the outdoor production of Because of Elizabeth to be cancelled.
That evening I went home to Cedar Rapids to bring my mother to Nauvoo to attendBecause of Elizabeth and the monument dedication. My father had passed away in January after years of my mother’s care, and she came from Utah to spend a few months with our family. My mother was deeply touched by the statues, the dedication, and the pageant with its music and words such as these: “Faith into love, hope in tomorrow, Charity for those in need, Lifting hearts of those who sorrow.” My mother represented the “Compassionate Woman” and “Fulfillment” statues with her life of dedicated service and handmade quilts until she stepped through the veil in 1991.
Monument to Women Memorial Garden
The Monument to Women Memorial Garden is located behind the Historic Nauvoo Visitors Center. At the entrance to the garden, visitors can view the 1933 Relief Society monument. Just inside the garden is a statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith presenting his wife Emma a $5 gold piece for the new organization. “This is a charitable Society, and according to your natures,” Joseph Smith said. “If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates (HC 4:605).
The landscaped memorial garden with its brick walks and circles consists of one heroic and eleven life-size bronze sculptures representing a woman’s life and her circles of influence. Florence Hansen created the Joseph and Emma and “Teaching with Love” statues. Dennis Smith sculpted the other eleven figures. Durell Nelson designed the two-acre garden park, and he has served as its caretaker as horticulturist with Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., since 1978.
The Monument to Women is titled “Circles of a Woman’s Life.” Each statue has its own title and inscription. “Woman,” the central figure of the monument, portrays a young woman “stepping forward into a subtle breeze, her long hair and the folds of her dress gently brushed back, creating a feeling of gentle confidence,” said sculptor Dennis V. Smith. “I have tried to use clothing that is not dated by a particular period,” as the monument symbolizes women of the past, present, and future.
“I hope every woman that looks at that central figure sculpted in bronze will see herself stepping forward into the future, confidently, with her head held high, knowing that there is within her the capacity for eternal progression, the strength to meet whatever situations life has to offer, and the right to choose the direction of her life,” Barbara B. Smith said.
Around the central statue in the same circle are four life-sized figures depicting a woman reading, a woman in prayer, a woman sculpting, and a woman reaching out to help others. “The four supporting statues in this first circle represent four great root systems upon which a woman’s life should grow if it is to have a place in the plan of the Lord,” Sister Smith said.
Next, along the walkway are statues of a young couple preparing for eternal marriage and a young family raising children in righteousness. “Marriage is a sacrament entered into by two people and it is designed by the Lord to be eternal in nature,” Sister Smith said. “With that kind of a marriage foundation, the family unit is born; and into the family come the spirit children of God, clothed in mortality by earthly parents.”
In the center of another circle is a young woman playing with three children, her own or someone else’s children, and savoring a joyful moment. Righteous women who do not marry in this life can bless and serve others and, as Sister Smith said, “They will be judged, as we all will be, according to their worthiness. They will be given all that they have earned, even a celestial mate if they have not found one in mortality.”
Around this circle are statues of a mother sharing her talents with her daughter, a mother preparing her adolescent son for life’s responsibilities, and a mother holding a baby while a daughter walks behind her in her footsteps.
The final figure depicts an older woman binding a double wedding ring quilt, the circles again symbolizing the theme of the Monument to Women. She is finding fulfillment in the patterns of her life and circles of influence. This statue is placed above the others, perhaps to suggest she is moving closer to the veil.
“Woman and Her Talents” portrays an artist sculpting the head of an older woman much like the woman binding the quilt in the “Fulfillment” statue. The artist appears to be molding her masterpiece–the woman she wants to become. Each thought, word, and deed leaves a mark, just as the artist’s fingers shape the clay, and determines the patterns of a woman’s life and the circles of her influence.
The Nauvoo Monument to Women Memorial Garden has made deep impressions on me since its inception. Before the monument dedication, women in the Cedar Rapids Iowa Stake wrote poems for each statue and prepared a booklet for sisters in our stake. At that time my daughter was a toddler and my mother was my example of teaching with love and showing unconditional love. I chose to write this poem for “Teaching with Love”:
Intangible moments we share As together we discover new symphonies. Awkward at first you touch Those sensitive strings Until in coordinated rhythm You master the dynamics Of one instrument. With joyful anticipation I impart Love And key chords That you may wield other strings And compose new symphonies Without a director.
Rosemary Palmer, 1978
During our family’s many trips to Nauvoo over the years, we have wandered through the Women’s Garden to observe the growth and changes in foliage, to ponder the meaning of each statue, and to take pictures. We watched our children grow as we compared photos we took of our son standing beside the “Preparing Her Son” statue and our daughter next to “Teaching with Love.”
When our first grandchild was a baby, our daughter’s family came with us to Nauvoo. I took second-generation photos of our granddaughter next to the “Teaching with Love” statue. Later, this granddaughter and her brother made family photo memories as they stood by the same statues as our children had done. I also photographed my mother in her senior years beside the “Fulfillment” statue. When I became a grandmother, my daughter photographed me by that statue. “The Circles of a Woman’s Life” progress from one generation to another. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said at the monument dedication, “Eve, as the mother of all living, set the pattern for all future mothers with reference to bringing up their children in light and truth. She received all the blessings of the gospel, enjoyed the gifts of the Spirit, and sought to prepare her posterity for like blessings.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ provides a clear and eternal pattern of the woman’s role in society. The Nauvoo Monument to Women presents a visual reminder of that eternal pattern. “The circle of a woman’s reach will far outlast the time. . . . A daughter first, a woman next, a wife and mother too. We have so many gifts to give so many things to do. We know the way, and when in time our circle is complete, With our husband and loved ones we’ll go hand in hand, to our Father and Mother where circles began” (Deborah F. Hamilton, “The Circle of a Woman’s Reach,”1977).
Rosemary Palmer is Nauvoo, Illinois, correspondent for Meridian Magazine.