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22

Our Sixth Sense, or the Sense of Spiritual Understanding

National Council of Women

Metzerott’s Music Hall, Washington DC

February 21, 1895


Sarah M. Kimball

Sarah M. Kimball. Circa 1890s. In her role as secretary for the Relief Society general board, Kimball coordinated a collection of autobiographical records of men and women in 1880. This time capsule effort celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the church and was retrieved in 1930. The artifacts were distributed to the oldest living female descendants of the original authors. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball (1818–1898) spent her life promoting women’s public activity and private “spiritual understanding,” as she explained in this 1895 speech delivered at the National Council of Women. Born in Phelps, New York, she and her family were baptized after her father read the Book of Mormon shortly following its publication.1 As a young woman, Kimball attended both the School of the Prophets and the Hebrew School in Kirtland, Ohio, at least once.2 After she and her husband migrated to Utah, Kimball supported her husband, Hiram, and their children by teaching school.3 Her contemporary Emmeline B. Wells said Kimball “had a good faculty for teaching [and] could simplify lessons and adapt them to the understanding of those whom she instructed.”4 These educational endeavors from her youth and early adulthood laid the foundation for her intellectual inquiry later in life.

A natural organizer, Kimball became a noteworthy leader among Mormon women. She coordinated a ladies’ sewing society in the spring of 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, which led to the formal organization of the Female Relief Society.5 Fifteen years later, she became the president of the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward Relief Society when it was first organized.6 As ward Relief Society president, she influenced Relief Societies throughout the church by helping define roles of leaders and supervising the construction of the first Relief Society hall.7 Kimball also served as the secretary of the Relief Society general board from 1880 to her death, during which time she kept records and encouraged the creation of women’s historical accounts.8 Throughout her life, Kimball advocated for the equality and rights of women, including promoting women’s suffrage in the 1870s and 1880s in Utah.9

Kimball participated in meetings of the National Council of Women, which coordinated efforts of various women’s rights organizations.10 The council’s second triennial session was held in Washington DC from February 17 to March 2, 1895. Representatives of women’s organizations from throughout the United States gathered to discuss topics such as religion, temperance, philanthropy, suffrage, industry, and education.11 Elmina S. Taylor headed the Utah delegation, which also included Ellis R. Shipp, Emmeline B. Wells, Aurelia Spencer Rogers, Marilla Daniels, Minnie J. Snow, and Susa Young Gates. The Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA) and the Relief Society both conducted sessions, and representatives attended business meetings and lectures.12

A polished public speaker, Kimball was well known outside Utah for her representation of Mormon women.13 Perhaps because of her age, Kimball did not attend the Washington DC conference. But she did prepare the address featured here, which was read by Marilla Daniels during an evening session of the conference; her speech explored philosophical ideas of spiritual enlightenment and eternal progress.14 Susa Gates considered this paper “the best paper of our session … although so spiritual that it was not perhaps thoroughly appreciated by all.” Although Gates described the warm welcome given to the women from Utah, she also noted that some in the audience expressed concern with distinct Mormon practices and beliefs.15 Kimball’s speech was printed in the Woman’s Exponent and distributed widely among Latter-day Saint women.

Come Holy Spirit, heavenly dove,

With all thy quickening powers,

Kindle a flame of sacred love,

In these cold hearts of ours.16

It is proper on occasions like this to consider such topics as shall be of the highest benefit to womankind; and to my mind, it is fitting to discuss here that capacity of mind in which woman is preeminently fitted to excel. The contemplation of the sense of spiritual understanding first gives me a sense of my littleness and inability, then encourages me in the attempt to express a few thoughts on this absorbing theme.

This faculty, like our physical sense, is susceptible of cultivation. Its possibilities are limitless; it is the cause least understood; it is the divine of our nature; it brings to our understanding things not seen with the natural eye or discerned by mortal mind; it extends our correspondences. With the eyes and senses of our physical self, we are in correspondence with our physical surroundings; with our spiritual eyes and senses awakened and cultivated, we come into communion with infinitude.

The sixth sense links mortal with immortal existence; it testifies in unmistakable language of the immortality of the soul.17 It educates, exalts, and refines those that heed its whisperings and follow its guiding influence. This sense leads to blissful heights of superior understanding; teaches the secrets of ever-existent life—our relationship to the past, present, and future—and brings us into harmony with the infinite fountain of life and intelligence.18 It illumines the soul that cultivates it, purifies thoughts and actions, enlarges the sphere of comprehension, and exalts the aspirations. Its continued exercise brings its possessor nearer and nearer to the throne of the Almighty.

Those who answer the whisperings of this sense are sympathetically drawn toward each other, as exemplified in the Religious Congress held in Chicago in 1893, where religious pilgrims and would-be reformers from all lands, and of all creeds, met and harmonized in a bond of love. This was notably true of the woman’s department of the memorable congress.19

The light of this sense has been foreshadowed in various ages of the world’s history. In the nineteenth century, the searchlight of religion, philosophy, and science have united in exploring an untrodden pathway toward the haven of light which is unextinguishable.

The legitimate exercise of spiritual power obtained through the operations of this sense puts the individual in possession of keys of knowledge and clothes him with additional responsibility relating to the enlightenment and elevation of the human family.

They that seek, by faith and earnest prayer, find the light that leads to the golden gate.20 They that knock with study and faith’s assurance have the narrow way opened to them21 and are received into communion with the Infinite Father and Mother,22 are permitted to enter hallowed mansions, to attend the school of the prophets,23 and by advancing steps, to reach the school of the gods, where they learn the processes by which worlds are organized by the combining of eternal, intelligent, obedient elements; the uses for which worlds are called into existence; the manner in which they are controlled; and the laws of progression by which all beings and animate things are perfected and glorified in their respective spheres.24

Students of this sense become, some more, some less, familiar with the state of that portion of the human family whose varied conditions are typified by the stars. They contemplate the intelligence, the glory, and the peace typified by the moon; and in progressive order this sense educates, disciplines, enlightens, and brings its possessor in harmony with the effulgence of celestial light and glory as typified by the sun.25 All that enter this higher glory are heirs with Jesus Christ, our elder brother, in the preexistent state, to all the knowledge, power, exaltation, and glory possessed by the Father.26

When through our spiritual nature we are in communion with God, we are drawing nearer and nearer to each other, and our words and works will blend more and more harmoniously, until earth’s dutiful children, recognizing universal spiritual kinship, hail the peaceful millennial dawn and participate in the triumphant reign of our God and his Christ.

Of the advanced thinkers and diligent workers who compose the Woman’s Triennial Council much is expected.27 Your labors of preparation have been arduous; the whisperings of this sense have disarmed opposition and brought you to a large measure of victory. The thought wave of many a prayer is wafted to you as inspiration; and in reciprocal order, the highest expression of your combined wisdom must radiate and inspire receptive souls in all the world, stimulating them to higher hopes and stronger activities in the cause of more enlightened civilization and a more perfect understanding of divine science, as revealed through our sixth sense, or the sense of spiritual understanding.

In closing, the writer, in loving sympathy, asks that increased spiritual light may illume the pathway of the various lines of good work represented in the Triennial Council.

Footnotes

  1. [1]Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent 12, no. 7 (Sept. 1, 1883): 51.

  2. [2]Fifteenth Ward, Salt Lake Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, vol. 5, 1874–1894, Apr. 11, 1894, and vol. 8, 1893–1899, Nov. 25, 1896, 140, CHL; “President Sarah M. Kimball,” Woman’s Exponent 27, no. 14 (Dec. 15, 1898): 77. The School of the Prophets in Kirtland was initially organized to train missionaries. Meetings occasionally included women. The Hebrew School was an educational program instituted by Joseph Smith in Kirtland in January 1836 for the study of the Hebrew language. (Matthew C. Godfrey, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley, eds., Documents, Volume 2: July 1831–January 1833, vol. 2 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013], 378–380; “Hebrew School,” accessed Feb. 9, 2016, josephsmithpapers.org.)

  3. [3]Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” 51.

  4. [4]Emmeline B. Wells, “L.D.S. Women of the Past: Personal Impressions,” Woman’s Exponent 37, no. 1 (June 1908): 1.

  5. [5]Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” 51; 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), 24.

  6. [6]Salt Lake Stake Relief Society Record, 1880–1892, 69, CHL. Kimball served as ward Relief Society president from 1857 until her death. (“President Sarah M. Kimball,” 77.)

  7. [7]Sarah M. Kimball, “Duty of Officers of FR Society,” ca. May 1868, in Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 285–289; see also Jennifer Reeder, “‘To Do Something Extraordinary’: Mormon Women and the Creation of a Usable Past,” PhD dissertation, George Mason University, 2013.)

  8. [8]Salt Lake Stake Relief Society Record, 1880–1892, 7, 52–54. When the Relief Society was legally incorporated in October 1892, Kimball was elected one of the vice presidents, a position she also held until her death. (“President Sarah M. Kimball,” 77.)

  9. [9]In January 1870, Kimball was elected president of a ladies’ mass meeting held in protest of federal antipolygamy legislation. She also worked with Susan B. Anthony and others as president of the Utah Suffrage Association. (Fifteenth Ward, Salt Lake Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, vol. 1, 1868–1873, Jan. 6, 1870, 139; see also Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 305, 310; “President Sarah M. Kimball,” 77; and Wells, “L.D.S. Women of the Past,” 1.)

  10. [10]Louise Barnum Robbins, ed., History and Minutes of the National Council of Women of the United States, Organized in Washington, D.C., March 31, 1888 (Boston: E. B. Stillings, 1898), 1–6.

  11. [11]“Woman’s Council: Topics to Be Discussed at the Coming Gathering,” Evening Star (Washington DC), Feb. 9, 1895.

  12. [12]Susa Young Gates, “Utah Women at the National Council of Women,” Young Woman’s Journal 6, no. 9 (June 1895): 391, 397, 417. Elmina S. Taylor was the first general president of the YLMIA, from 1880–1904. Ellis R. Shipp, one of the first female doctors in Utah, was involved in the Relief Society and YLMIA. Emmeline B. Wells was the editor of the Woman’s Exponent from 1877 to 1914 and was appointed the general secretary of the Relief Society in 1892. Aurelia Spencer Rogers founded the Primary organization in 1878. Marilla Daniels was the first counselor in the Utah County Stake Relief Society. Minnie J. Snow was president of the Box Elder Stake YLMIA from 1879 to 1894 and also served on the general board starting in 1892. Susa Young Gates founded the Young Woman’s Journal and was appointed to the YLMIA general board in 1888.

  13. [13]“President Sarah M. Kimball,” 77. According to Wells, Kimball “was a very good public speaker, concise in language and expression, used as few words as possible to convey her meaning, and invariably handled her subjects well.” In 1891, Kimball represented the Utah Woman Suffrage Association in Washington DC, at the National Woman Suffrage Association meetings. (Wells, “L.D.S. Women of the Past,” 2; Jill Mulvay Derr, Sarah M. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1976], 2.)

  14. [14]Emmeline B. Wells presided over the evening session, and she presented a paper after Kimball’s entitled “Forty Years in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.” She was followed by Alleseba Bliss, president of the Girls’ Industrial School in Adrian, Michigan. Marilla Daniels had been a delegate of the Utah Woman Suffrage Association a few weeks earlier at the National Woman Suffrage Association meetings in Atlanta. (“Women and the Flag: Patriotism Made the Subject of Today’s Addresses,” Evening Star [Washington DC], Feb. 22, 1895; “Notable Utah Women: Mrs. Marilla Daniels,” Deseret Evening News, Nov. 24, 1900.)

  15. [15]Gates, “Utah Women at the National Council of Women,” 416–417.

  16. [16]This hymn was written by Isaac Watts in 1707 and published in several hymnals of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the 1840 Manchester hymnal, the 1841 Nauvoo hymnal, and various editions of the Liverpool hymnal. (John Julian, ed., A Dictionary of Hymnology: Setting Forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of All Ages and Nations, 2 vols. [New York: Dover Publications, 1907], 1:247; Emma Smith, ed., A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Nauvoo, IL: E. Robinson, 1841], 47–48; Shane J. Chism, comp., A Selection of Early Mormon Hymnbooks, 1832–1872: Hymnbooks and Broadsides from the First 40 Years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Tucson, AZ: printed by the author, 2011], 310–311.)

  17. [17]Kimball was not the first person to consider the idea of a sixth sense. Eighteenth-century theologian Jonathan Edwards spoke of a sense of the heart, in addition to the five regular senses, whereby one could sense the holiness of God. Additionally, Eliza R. Snow discussed the concept of a “sixth sense” in a poem presented at the Polysophical Society on February 27, 1855: “The sixth, the spirit-sense will lead / If to its dictates we give constant heed; / And its refining process will prepare / Us for a full and free reception there.” The concept of a sixth spiritual sense was also discussed by Emmeline B. Wells, Lucy Clark, and Lula Greene Richards at a Utah Women’s Press Club meeting in 1893. (See William Dean, American Religious Empiricism [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986], 22, 83; Eliza R. Snow, “Nationality,” in Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry, ed. Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press; Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2009], 486–490; and Ella W. Hyde, “U.W.P. Club,” Woman’s Exponent 21, no. 19 [Apr. 1, 1893]: 150.)

  18. [18]See Doctrine and Covenants 93:29, 36.

  19. [19]The 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago included a World’s Congress of Representative Women that focused in part on religion. Delegates came from several countries and represented 126 organizations engaged in civil, political, and moral reform; religion; charity and philanthropy; and education. The National Council of Women helped coordinate this conference. Kimball offered the invocation at the Relief Society session. (May Wright Sewall, ed., The World’s Congress of Representative Women: A Historical Résumé for Popular Circulation [Chicago: Rand McNally, 1894], 5; Reid L. Neilson, Exhibiting Mormonism: The Latter-day Saints and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair [New York: Oxford University Press, 2011], 92–102; see also chapter 21 herein.)

  20. [20]See Doctrine and Covenants 109:7; 103:36.

  21. [21]See Matthew 7:7.

  22. [22]For more on the Latter-day Saint doctrine of a Mother in Heaven, see “Mother in Heaven,” Gospel Topics, accessed May 9, 2016, lds.org; and David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50, no. 1 (2011): 70–97.

  23. [23]Historically, early American Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches employed “schools of the prophets” to prepare clergy for ministerial service. Kimball is probably using the term more generally in the sense of divine training and preparation. (Joseph F. Darowski, “Schools of the Prophets: An Early American Tradition,” Mormon Historical Studies 9, no. 1 [Spring 2008]: 1–13.)

  24. [24]See Doctrine and Covenants 101:32–34.

  25. [25]See 1 Corinthians 15:40–41.

  26. [26]Romans 8:17.

  27. [27]The National Council of Women was founded in 1888, and its first triennial session was held in Washington DC in 1891. The World’s Congress of Representative Women held in conjunction with the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 was held in lieu of the National Council of Women triennial session; therefore, the second triennial was this meeting held in Washington DC in 1895, two years later. (Robbins, History and Minutes of the National Council of Women, 161.)