In Their own Words
Some books affect you deeply. They change how you see the world, what you believe, what you aspire to do. You return to them again and again. To remember. That is how Mormon Women has been for me.
Months ago I sat in the bookstore with a friend. Good reads scattered the table where we shared thoughts and hot chocolate. She read several paragraphs from Mormon Women and I knew I wanted a copy. I also knew I wanted to review this book.
When my copy arrived, I surveyed the photos of each woman interviewed. I studied their faces then began to read about their lives. Accomplished Latter-day Saint women of every culture and background. Converts mixed with pioneer stock. Some single. Some married. Each telling her own story in her own voice.
Kent Miles claims they are “ordinary women.” Maybe at first glance. But when opportunity came knocking, they opened the door and made extraordinary things happen. Mormon Women is a compilation of life sketches featuring female voices with amazing messages of strength and service. Each woman chose her unique life path. Each courageously expresses her personal gifts. Each has been graceful, even in the face of opposition. Each has marvelously blessed her family and the world.
Mormon Women was my favorite read for 2009.
When my husband noticed it sitting on the kitchen counter, he laughed. “Mormon Women? It’s written by two guys!” Very astute. What did two guys have to say about Mormon women that Mormon women would want to hear?
Kent Miles explains,
Kimball and Miles decided their role would be as documentarians. They would base the project on something done all too rarely: women conversing about women’s lives. They would “get the women talking and they would listen” (ix).
They wanted to focus on women who inspired them, who were “doing their best to live the gospel while negotiating the deep waters of modern-day life.” They were interested in women notable for their own accomplishments, rather than who they were married to. They felt women of high position in the Church already had plenty of official visibility. They wanted to dispel the stereotypes about Mormon women held by some and reinforced by popular media. They chose to interview women of courage, valor and compassion. Women, they described as, “not unlike our own mothers and wives, sisters and daughters” (x).
Where to begin?
Miles and Kimball started with friends and asked them for referrals. “There was no shortage” writes Miles. “Everyone knew a woman who should be included.” They started in Utah but soon found themselves traveling the globe. Los Angeles, Boston, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia. They year was 1996.
Eventually they interviewed over thirty women. Miles writes,
In late 2003, Jim Kimball was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He passed away the next spring. He made it clear he wanted the project finished but Miles found it difficult to continue without Jim. Mormon Women was put on the back burner for a time.
Friends of Jim’s family approached Kent about finishing the project. Upon examination, the existing manuscript, surprisingly, was not outdated but had increased in relevance and timeliness. The women they spoke with had “tapped into a wellspring of wisdom and human experience” (xii) said Miles.
With the help of talented, invested individuals and Handcart Books, the book was published in 2009. It includes fourteen of the interviews Kimball and Miles conducted, along with portraits that Miles, who is a professional photographer, took at the time of each interview.
Listen to their Voices
Every woman I know, wrestles with the idea of balance. The women in this book speak about that struggle and the unique way they have come to their own solutions. Miles describes them as courageous – “never allowing themselves to become enslaved by external expectations” (xi).
What worked for them might not work for you, and what will work for you might not have worked for them. But their stories remind us that with assistance from our Heavenly Father, we can achieve our desires, even our dreams.
It was nearly impossible for me to choose which excerpts to include. Each interview was so different. Every woman had such a remarkable story that brightened and broadened my perspective. Their words made me look at roles, careers and accomplishments differently. Picking out a few gems of wisdom was like trying to snatch a fish out of fresh water and keep it breathing. The quotes below live, thrive, and are best appreciated in the entirety of their context.
That said, I hope the smattering of paragraphs I include, will give you a sense for the worth of this unprecedented book. It is rich with a take on life that is uncommon for the LDS culture, but not amiss. It is the product of retrospect, wise understanding, and commitment to God.
Carol Gray’s story is breathtaking. Literally. Gray is a British homemaker who has become a recognized humanitarian leader in Europe and Africa. She began by organizing relief aid for victims of the Balkan War. Four years later she had personally delivered over two dozen truck convoys of food, clothing, and medical supplies to Bosnia.
After gathering 38 tons of aid for Bosnians (stacked in every corner of her church building), the local charity Gray was working with ran out of money and couldn’t deliver the supplies. She and her daughter decided they would drive the aid themselves.
Catherine Stokes is a professional nurse who retired after 34 years of service in the Illinois Department of Public Health and now resides in Salt Lake City. She was born in rural Mississippi to a sharecropping family, but was raised by her great-aunt in Chicago. Chicago was racially segregated at the time and Stokes was one of a “sprinkling of blacks” in her high school. Her family had very little.
Her story is astonishing – where she has come from and who she has become. I admire her selflessness and pragmatism. Here she talks about her conversion.
I love her perspective on living a single life.
Tsobinar Tadevosyan was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. She spent five years in Stalin’s Gulag during the 1950’s. Her crime? Having a brother who protested the forced relocation of native Armenians. He was arrested and shot by the KGB. Tosbinar and her family were sent to Siberia, where they experienced unimaginable trials and terrors. At the time of her interview she was visiting Salt Lake City to be baptized. She passed away in 2006.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a professor of history at Harvard. In 1991 she received the Pulitzer Prize in history for A Midwive’s Tale, which examines life for ordinary women in the early American republic. She coined the phrase, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” which has become ubiquitous, making its way onto T-shirts, greeting cards, mugs and bumper stickers. I underlined entire pages of her interview. Here are a few highlights.
Emma Lou Thayne
Emma Lou Thayne is a published author, poet and mother of five. She taught English and coached tennis at the University of Utah for several years. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Madeline Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts and Humanities and the David O. McKay Humanities Award from BYU.
Thayne’s entire interview was poetry. I hung on every word. Here is a small snippet.
And this about her biannual trips to Sun Valley, alone, to write poetry.
Other women interviewed were Angela Cummings – much sought-after Jewelry Designer – Salt Lake City, Maria Consuelo Dimaya – former Guerilla Medic – Philippines, Lea Rosser – Auburn City Manager – Australia, Victoria Fong Kesler – Homemaker and Mother of Twelve – Colorado, Anne Perry – Novelist – Scotland, Kiyo Tanaka – News Anchor for the Deaf – Japan, Cecile Pelous – Fashion Designer – France, Raquel Ribeiro – Teacher – Brazil, and Christine Durham – Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court – Salt Lake City.
Mormon Women should be read by every Mormon woman. It is also a perfect read for friends of other faiths who may express concern about the status of women within the LDS Church.
Miles wrote in the introduction that there are “still many stories to tell.” I hope another volume is forthcoming. Surely there are more conversations to be had. More “ordinary” women to celebrate.