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More Than an M.R.S. Degree

January 15, 2008

by BiV

As I approached this topic, I wondered why education for ‘Mormon’ women should be any different than education for any other woman.  Are Latter-day Saints concerned that higher education might lure women into the workplace and away from traditional feminine responsibilities?

The following words promoting education for women were written by Daniel Defoe:

And herein it is that I take upon me to make such a bold assertion, That all the world are mistaken in their practice about women. For I cannot think that GOD Almighty ever made them so delicate, so glorious creatures; and furnished them with such charms, so agreeable and so delightful to mankind; with souls capable of the same accomplishments with men: and all, to be only Stewards of our Houses, Cooks, and Slaves.

And Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Christian theologian, said that woman was “created to be man’s helpmeet, but her unique role is in conception . . . since for other purposes men would be better assisted by other men.”

One might think that since Mormon women have been encouraged to stay at home, conceive many children and fulfil traditional roles, higher education for women would be discouraged among the Saints.  Thankfully, this is not the case!  Beginning in the very early days of the Church, education for women kept pace with and even outstripped opportunities for other women in the United States.  In October 1873 Brigham Young announced that women would be sent east to be educated and trained in the medical field with the objective of returning to Utah to serve as physicians. Accordingly, Romania Pratt enrolled in the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in the fall of 1874. The following year Margaret Curtis enrolled in the Philadelphia school but after a month returned to Utah and her family because of homesickness. (She later returned to complete her degree in 1883.) Ellis Shipp was chosen to take her sister-wife Margaret’s place and eagerly set out for Philadelphia on 10 November 1875. Though she left behind her three small children in the care of her three sister-wives, she graduated with honors and later established her own medical practice.  She remained an active and devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served on the general boards of the Relief Society and the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association.

Since that auspicious beginning, education has been valued among Latter-day Saint women.  Prominent women in the Church including the leaders of the Auxiliaries and the wives of Prophets and GA’s have long encouraged the education of the female mind.  Camilla Kimball was a strong advocate for higher education and often advised women to gain as much formal education as was available to them. 

…I received a letter from a sweet young girl from Colorado asking, “Sister Kimball, since the Church stresses so the importance of a woman’s role as wife and mother, do you think it is necessary to have a college education?” You may be sure that I sent her a very detailed letter of the importance of all the education that a woman can acquire. A well-rounded education will be a great help in a woman’s important role both as wife and mother.

Sister Kimball and other Church leaders have stressed that higher education is an appropriate and desirable goal for Latter-day Saint women.  The skills of child training, economics and management, nutrition and nursing can directly complement women who follow traditional feminine roles.  Beyond this, formal education plays a role in helping women develop their talents and interests. 

Barbara B. Smith, General Relief Society President said that Latter-day Saint women are taught from their youth to get an education to prepare for marriage and homemaking as well as for a vocation, noting that “LDS women also fulfill societal roles such as physicians, lawyers, professors, homemakers, administrators, teachers, writers, secretaries, artists, and businesswomen. Additionally, many serve in community, political, and volunteer capacities.” 

Gordon B. Hinckley, our current prophet, stated that “in revelation the Lord has mandated that this people get all the education they can.”  In fact, Latter-day Saint women have been so successful in their pursuit of educational programs that the Prophet is now concerned that young men are falling far behind.

Education for the Mormon female is plainly more than just an M.R.S. Degree.  However, it does not seem to me that higher education has impacted Latter-day Saint women in ways that would keep them from fulfilling their responsibilities to home and family.  For example, the educated woman of today is more likely to breast-feed her children.  She is more likely to have skills that allow her to work from home or creatively manage work time so as to spend more time with home and family.  What do you think?  In your opinion, is higher education for women more or less conducive to women being able to perform their Church-defined gender roles?

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5 comments

  1. Higher education is definitely in harmony with church defined gender roles. As you pointed out, not only is an educated mother more likely to parent her children better (i.e. breast feeding), a woman who has been educated is less likely to be manipulated by a domineering man who practices his priesthood unrighteously. An educated woman will be able to serve the Lord better in church callings by reciprocating her knowledge and wisdom to her fellow members of the church and neighbors. An educated woman will be able to contribute much better to the community around her and be involved with civic matters. An educated woman will be able to understand the political issues at stake, formulate an opinion, and make an informed decision. Also, although cliche, an educated woman will better be able to teach her own children.
    I remember when I was in college I read a paper about poverty. The study concluded that the quickest and best way to eliminate poverty and oppression in an area was to educate the women. Case in point: compare the progress in India and Pakistan in the recent decades since allowing women to be educated to the lack of progress in neighboring countries.


  2. Of course education is important to Mormons, however just look at the KINDS of education that are considered appropriate. My sister’s agricultural degree is looked at as strange, but my wife and her philosophy and history interests? God forbid…

    Mormons are stuck in a 1960’s, 1970’s view of women in the workforce, as secondary workers at best always one step away from the home.


  3. angrymormonliberal,
    The kinds of education that are considered appropriate? My sister’s undergrad in economics and Masters degrees in stats and in finance? My other sister’s impending law degree? My wife’s undergrad in dance and Masters in dance education? My friend’s Ivy law degree? The woman in our ward with a degree in construction management, or the one with a Ph.D. in something having to do with religious history? Seriously, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has objected to any of these degrees, or looked funny at them, in or out of the Church. Maybe there’s some sort of regional bias against certain degrees for women, but I’ve not seen it anywhere I’ve been.


  4. Cody, Your comment was well-put. Except I wondered as I read “a woman who has been educated is less likely to be manipulated by a domineering man who practices his priesthood unrighteously.” Do you think that a less educated woman might try harder to make a bad marriage work? She might be more motivated to stay in a marriage because she is less able to support herself or children. Just playing the devil’s advocate here.


  5. She might be more motivated to stay in a marriage because she is less able to support herself or children.

    I have seen this happen at least once, or at least suspect that that is what happened. It’s probably more complicated than that, but I do think that can create problems. Education provides more freedom, more options, for a variety of challenges that can come in life.



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