Several years ago, my publisher asked me to take on a project to write a book finding female ancestors. As I researched, I realized the reason they can be so hard to find is because they lack a voice of their own.
There was a time when a woman could live her entire life without being identified by her own name. As the “hidden woman” slowly began to be found in property records, membership rolls, even licensing a dog, it occurred to be just how far behind the times we remain as Latter-day Saint women. For generations, the source of a woman’s identity was usually under that of her husband, a feme covert (literally meaning “covered woman”) and that was how she was permitted to interact with various jurisdictions of government. Here are just a few random examples of how slowly the law changed to uncover the sisters who came before us. 1895 of 46 states: in 14 states a wife’s wages still belong to her husband; in 37 states a woman has no legal right over her children; and only four states or territories allow a woman to vote in general state and federal elections. 1907 the Expatriation Act states that a female US citizen who marries an alien takes in the nationality of her husband (34 Stat. 1228 s 3). This is repealed in 1922, but citizenship is not restored until 1936. 1920 The 19th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving women the right to vote. 1950 Virginia becomes the last state to allow women to sit on juries.
If we are equal in the eyes of the law, are we not equal in the eyes of God? The course of centuries reveals how, bit by bit, women were allowed to own separate property, have rights to their children, witness a deed, execute an estate, and other privileges men enjoyed under the law. Every state was different, but a parity in most areas was achieved by the mid-20th century. Yet LDS women remain trapped in the 19th century, their voice unequally yoked without ordination to the priesthood. Things that seem so simple and natural are beyond our grasp: Witnessing a baptism or temple sealing Blessing our own children Consecrating sacred oil Passing the sacrament We know men are fallible and God and His Son are perfect. We know prophets have made mistakes, most recently noting the century plus it took to get the priesthood restored to African-American men. Those who objectively read the history know that this was because of the open bigotry on the part of Brigham Young and other leaders. If you will, please entertain the thought that the reason women have second class status is due to years of ingrained prejudice–in the name of lack of revelation–among our male counterparts. If you have not considered this before, I ask you to do so now. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” — Galatians 3:28 Do our Heavenly Parents love us any less? The answer is no. Do they want us to be anxiously engaged in service? Of course. Should we have all the tools our brethren posses to serve and bless others? I know what I believe to be the right answer. How about you?
Honoring our past.
Envisioning our future.
Christina K Schaefer, the author of this post, is a nationally published author and speaker. Her books have won numerous awards including being placed in the Authors’ Room in The Library of Virginia. She is a member of Newport News VA Stake and serves on Ordain Women’s Social Media Committee.