The Church Historian's Press


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.

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Our Sixth Sense, or the Sense of Spiritual Understanding, At the Pulpit, accessed July 18, 2024