Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints considered proselytizing missions to be the exclusive responsibility of male priesthood holders. This changed in 1898 when women were first called to serve full-time proselytizing missions, including the first single sister missionaries in the Church’s history. Inez Knight and Jennie Brimhall, who served in the British Mission, were the first two single women to be called by President Woodruff.
In the wake of Official Declaration I, the number of unmarried twenty-something women in the church began to grow. Calling women to missions was a pragmatic solution that served two purposes: first, engage young women eager to do vital work; and second, counter popular negative conceptions about the condition of Mormon women. Reports flowed in from local leaders and mission presidents describing how women helped potential converts overcome their misgivings and misperceptions about the treatment and status of Mormon women. Church leaders in California and England wrote to the First Presidency with requests that women be called as full-time missionaries.
During 1898, 29 women, including 5 single women, were set apart and issued certificates to serve in locations as diverse as Denver, Colorado and Apia, Samoa. The decision to begin calling women as full-time missionaries was controversial and during its first 25 years this policy was alternatively debated, derided, and praised. But it was hard to argue with results. Mission presidents quickly learned that the sisters were more than holding their own, commonly noting that “Lady missionaries are getting into homes where the Elders could not obtain access.”
By the mid-1920s, the radical decision of 1898 had become the next generation’s new norm.
In October 2015 Ordain Women Supporters created a living art display of these two inspirational sister missionaries just outside of temple square to both honor and represent the change in women’s roles throughout the history of the church. We look forward to more pioneering women being welcomed into new roles and responsibilities within the gospel.
Honoring our Past,
Envisioning our Future.
Cite: McBride, Matthew. “Do You Believe in Lady Missionaries?” Juvenile Instructor, June 5, 2014. http://juvenileinstructor.org/do-you-believe-lady-missionaries/
Mangum, Diana L. “The First Sister Missionaries,” Ensign, July 1980.
Photos from https://history.lds.org/article/inez-knight-missionary?lang=eng