"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
November 7, 2012
Two New Books Tackle Less-familiar LDS Women's History
by Laurie Williams Sowby

LDS women have something to shout about with the publication of two new books from Deseret Book, both of them delving into LDS women’s history in a way we haven’t seen on such grand scale.

The hefty Women of Faith in the Latter Days is the first volume in a planned series of seven volumes, themselves destined to make history (502 pages in hardcover, $34.99). A deceptively slim book, The Beginning of Better Days, expounds on “Divine Instruction to Women from the Prophet Joseph Smith” with personal insights from Sheri Dew and Virginia H. Pearce (140 pages in hardcover, $18.99).

Edited by assistant Church historian Richard E. Turley Jr. and Church History Department historian Brittany A. Chapman, Women of Faith is no glossy pictorial account intended to decorate the living room table. This is serious stuff, researched and written by serious authors and historians — to my delight, most of them women.

Volume I recounts experiences of women born between 1775 and 1820, first-generation Latter-day Saints who lived during the Church’s founding through pioneer years. Some were there when the Church was organized; others were immigrants who converted, sailed to America, and made the trek west years later. All have something to teach us in the way they met challenges and endured trials.

Entries move from brief biographical sketches to life experiences, detailing the characteristic challenges they faced in their day, including plural marriage. The most effective chapters consist mostly of a woman’s own words, quoted from extensive journal accounts and strung together with the author’s own sparing sentences. The less editorial interference, the more powerful their stories and the more authentic their voices.

There are perhaps a handful of subjects here whose names are recognized by Latter-day Saints — Emma Hale Smith, Eliza Roxcy Snow, Mary Fielding Smith — but most of the 35 women whose stories are told in Women of Faith were “ordinary” women who had a profound influence in their immediate sphere and on generations yet unborn.

As with all solidly researched history, Women of Faith in the Latter Days is documented with footnotes and features a solid index, along with brief background on each contributor. Several have researched the experiences of their own ancestors and shared them here.

Volume I will have a place of honor in my library, and I’ll be saving space on the same shelf for the next six. Women of Faith is a rare LDS book, to be studied and savored!

Joseph Smith’s instructions to the women of the early Relief Society (whose suggested name was The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society) make up only one-third of the The Beginning of Better Days.

These are actually the minutes from six meetings held by the women’s organization in Nauvoo in 1842; the Prophet’s admonitions and teachings were reported by its far-sighted secretary, Eliza R. Snow, in records that have recently become widely accessible through the Joseph Smith Papers project. (You can see photographs of the original pages alongside transcriptions at josephsmithpapers.org.)

Substantive, thoughtful essays by Sheri Dew and Virginia Hinckley Pearce preface the minutes, telling how their study of the sermons reported in these minutes has affected their own understanding of gospel principles and practices.

They also offer suggestions as to how the recorded words from this history may help modern-day women apply the “Divine Instruction from the Prophet Joseph Smith.” As the book’s preface states, this meaty little volume is one to study, examine, and treasure.

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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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