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Finding, Selecting, and Presenting the Discourses

This volume presents transcripts of fifty-four discourses given by Latter-day Saint women from 1831 to 2016. In selecting addresses for this volume, the editors took a broad view of the idea of discourse. The discourses included here encompass everything from discussions at early Relief Society meetings to formal remarks at Latter-day Saint general conferences. While many types of “pulpits” exist in Latter-day Saint culture, the discourses in this volume were delivered primarily in institutional church settings, and many of the talks were reprinted in church magazines and conference reports. With their selections, the editors tried to represent many of the varied ways that Mormon women have addressed public audiences.

Even within institutional settings, the formats in which Latter-day Saint women speak have changed over time, and those changes are reflected in the discourses that were selected for this volume. In the early years of the church, Mormon women’s public speaking was sometimes tied to the exercise of spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues and administering blessings of health or comfort.1 For instance, Elizabeth Ann Whitney’s discourse in chapter 2 is a song she sang by the gift of tongues in the partially constructed temple in Kirtland, Ohio. Early Mormon women also recited poetry, read personal essays, and offered public prayers. Chapter 20 demonstrates one of these forms of public expression with Elvira S. Barney’s 1889 invocation at a meeting of the Utah Woman Suffrage Association, which reads like a detailed sermon. Women’s speeches changed as their meetings and public gatherings became more formal. Members of early Relief Societies most often spoke through discussion, but regular meetings gave rise to extemporaneous speeches, which in turn gave way to increasingly formal and polished discourses, as evident in the latter part of this volume.

Finding the Discourses

Locating discourses delivered in such varied venues and formats over 185 years requires a historian’s proclivity to excavate old sources. While women’s discourses can be found throughout the Latter-day Saint historical record, these sources are often difficult to access. Some of the earliest talks by Latter-day Saint women were preserved in personal reminiscences, like those of Lucy Mack Smith. Minute books of women’s organizations are a particularly valuable source for women’s discourses. Female secretaries typically kept minutes of meetings, but the accuracy of these minutes depended on the individual secretaries. Some took meticulous notes, while others provided only summaries, and many female secretaries recorded the discourses of men in more detail than they did the speeches of women. Around 1915, church organizations replaced handwritten minute books with standardized forms, which recorded the names of speakers but little else.2 As a result, the historical record lost many spontaneous utterances of everyday members in their regular meetings.

Newspapers and magazines often distributed speeches to a wider readership, though women’s words were typically summarized rather than reproduced in full, especially in the nineteenth century. The Woman’s Exponent (1872–1914) was written, edited, printed, and distributed by women and included reports of women’s meetings, often submitted by local organizations’ secretaries. Women’s speeches also appeared in the Millennial Star (1840–1970) and the Young Woman’s Journal (1889–1929). In the twentieth century, the Relief Society Magazine (1915–1970) published women’s discourses, as did Relief Society, Mutual Improvement Association, and Young Women conference reports. General conference reports and transcripts of Brigham Young University (BYU) devotionals—especially in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries—provide a rich collection of discourses given by women. Talks from the BYU Women’s Conference are available in published collections, the first of which was released in 1980.3 By the close of the twentieth century, Mormon women’s discourses were available in the Ensign and Liahona, in printed books, on television broadcasts, and on the Internet.

The advent of recording technology vastly increased the number of women’s discourses that were preserved, and as a result, the editors of this volume had far more speeches to choose from in the later decades of church history than they did in the early years. Later talks were captured with more detail and precision, and the average length of recorded discourses increased over time. Most of the later talks come from published sources, while most of the early talks were found in newspapers or minute books.

The available sources are heavily weighted toward discourses given in Utah, and the selection in this book does not adequately represent non-American voices. Nevertheless, the voices of international women do appear in this book. They include a nineteenth-century address given in England by Elicia A. Grist and several discourses by English and Scottish immigrants who converted to the church and joined the Latter-day Saints in Utah. Church growth in international areas accelerated rapidly in the second half of the twentieth century, and discourses by women from Germany, Russia, South Africa, Mexico, and Kenya represent in some small degree the international composition of the modern church. Non-American voices are found in 1970s Area Conference Reports, including the speech of Lucrecia Suárez de Juárez, a Mexican Latter-day Saint. When Carol Lee Hawkins coordinated the BYU Women’s Conference during the early 1990s, she made a point of inviting speakers who lived their formative years outside of the United States, and her efforts yielded a number of talks, including that of Jutta B. Busche in this volume.4 More work remains to be done by both scholars and church members in preserving the spoken insights of Latter-day Saint women outside the United States.

Selecting the Discourses

After collecting and reviewing hundreds of discourses, the editors chose engaging talks that focused on doctrinal themes, rather than talks that recounted or represented historically significant moments. The editors prioritized speeches that were well written, that contained theological analysis, and that illustrated women’s faith throughout the years since the church’s founding in 1830. Some women featured in this volume were well known in their day, and some of them are known to today’s readers. Others were, until now, obscure and largely forgotten. The discourses are arranged in chronological order by creation date, with two exceptions: Lucy Mack Smith’s discourse in chapter 1 and Elizabeth Ann Whitney’s song in chapter 2 are placed at the time those discourses were originally delivered, though they were recorded or printed years after the fact.

The editors have usually selected the earliest known extant version of a given discourse for inclusion in this volume. Generally the entire speech is reproduced, but on occasion material not relevant to the main topic of the address has been omitted. Where this occurs at the beginning of a speech, the material has been omitted silently; where the omission is made within the text of the talk, the deletion is marked with ellipses. A source note at the end of each transcript provides information on the source used and the repository where the source material is held.

Presenting the Discourses

Rules of Transcription

To ensure accuracy in representing the texts, transcripts were verified three times against either the original documents or digital images, each time by a different reader or pair of readers.

Most of the earlier talks were found in reminiscences or minute books and did not receive the benefit of professional editing. To provide a more uniform reading experience across the chapters, the editors of this volume corrected errors of spelling and punctuation. Quotations included in the chapter introductions or the endnotes were corrected in the same manner. Most of the later talks came from published sources and did not require such corrections. Editors also standardized capitalization, paragraphing, and indention. These changes were made silently, without the use of editorial brackets or sic. Two different readers reviewed these corrections. In rare instances, the editors have added words to enhance clarity; such additions are enclosed in brackets.

Discourse Titles

The original records of these discourses did not always provide formal titles. If the original address had a title, that same title was used in the volume. If the original did not have a title or had a title that was simply a label (for example, “Address of Mrs. Mattie Horne Tingey”), the editors created a title that reflected the content of the discourse. Where the editors supplied titles, that fact is noted in the source note at the end of the discourse.

Annotation Conventions

The editors have included introductions and endnotes to provide background and context for these discourses. The introduction to each chapter describes aspects of the speaker’s life experiences that most relate to the content of her discourse, as well as the place and time in which she spoke. This context helps readers more accurately interpret speakers’ assertions and interpretations. The speaker’s full name—including maiden name and all subsequent surnames—appears at the beginning of the introduction. The byline for each chapter gives the name the speaker was known by at the time she delivered her discourse.

Common initialisms are used throughout the text. The first time organizations are listed in chapter introductions, their names are fully spelled out, followed by the initialism. Common initialisms include the following: Mutual Improvement Association (MIA), Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA), Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA), Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA), and Brigham Young University (BYU).

Many terms with specialized meaning appear in the texts and annotation. While some of the terms may be explained or defined in this volume, a working familiarity with much of the terminology has been assumed. Researchers seeking additional information on Mormon terminology can consult the glossary on and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, online at

Many individual names appear in these documents. Biographical information is included in the annotation for some of these people, but no attempt has been made to be exhaustive. Many names from the earlier period appear in the biographical directory for The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, online at, or in the biographical sketches on


  1. [1]Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), xxi–xxv.

  2. [2]Handbook of Instructions of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: General Board of Relief Society, 1931), 75.

  3. [3]Maren M. Mouritsen, ed., Blueprints for Living: Perspectives for Latter-day Saint Women (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1980).

  4. [4]Carol Lee Hawkins, Mary Stovall Richards, and Maren Mouritsen, interview by Kate Holbrook, Oct. 27, 2015, 30, CHL.