Among the silent builders

Women did not cut or lift stones with their own hands to build the Salt Lake Temple, but they were among the silent builders who sacrificed to help complete the temple in 1893, said Marjorie D. Conder, curator at the Museum of Church History and Art.

Unfortunately, she explained, the contributions of women are not as well documented as the contributions made by men who were stone masons, carpenters or painters."We don't hear about women and their work because their contribution to building the temple doesn't remain in a tangible sense," she continued.

"The things they made - veils, temple clothing, altar cloths, rag rugs for the baptistry and initiatory areas - were expendable items. The granite remains, but nothing remains from these women because it wore out."

While there may be nothing of substance remaining, the temple could not have been raised without the women's contributions of maintaining the infrastructure in the home - that of stirring the pot, nurturing the children and doing the laundry, Sister Conder added.

Take Betsy Elizabeth Nicoll for instance. Her husband, John Nicoll, worked for two years cutting stone for the foundation of the Salt Lake Temple. All the pay he got was food for his family, so it was necessary to find a way to get clothing for the family. Sister Nicoll began making buckskin gloves and work clothes for the men who were cutting the stone. She also had two good cows and made butter and cheese and sold it to the Church. (Our Pioneer Heritage, p. 125.)

Brigham Young, as recorded in the History of the Relief Society, 1842-1966 (p. 101), instructed the women as to their part in the building of the temples when the saints began constructing temples in the West:

"We call upon the sisters to render what assistance they can in this matter. They can do a great deal by encouraging their husbands and sons, and also by making clothing of various kinds for them."

The History of Relief Society continues: "In obedience to this counsel, Relief Society women have ever sought to `encourage their husbands and sons' and have given of their best, according to their circumstances and conditions, toward the building, furnishing and beautifying of temples."

Sister Conder commented: "For those committed to the Kingdom, women and men, every resource which could be spared, even at great personal sacrifice, was plowed into the completion of the temple.

"This meant that in a time of expanding inventions and modernization, many women continued to perform daily tasks in old-fashioned and more difficult ways because family resources which could have made their lives easier were often diverted to finishing the temple. Thus for some women, every batch of laundry done in a more physically demanding way instead of with a washing machine was a consecrated sacrifice offered to the completion of the temple."

Temple project wages were modest and many workmen donated their time, she added. Skilled artisans were critically needed to complete the temple, but there was also work at much higher wages for these same artisans elsewhere in the territory.

"How many husbands and wives decided together to make the physical and financial sacrifices to finish the temple?" Sister Conder asked. "The women may not have been down at the temple site, but the fact that they were willing to have their husbands there showed personal sacrifice and commitment.

"These sacrifices are largely unknown and unvalued. It's not the kind of sacrifice that makes a story, but it's the sacrifice that made a temple," she remarked. "It was sacrifice that was unseen and unvalued even perhaps by those who had witnessed it or were giving it. Yet it was known to God and accepted of God as a sacrifice. . . .

"Seeing the larger picture and being willing to sacrifice in practical everyday ways for a larger cause, even if none but God could see and understand, is intuitive and central to women's spiritual lives," Sister Conder concluded.

Not only was the sacrifice of building the temple intuitive to women's spiritual lives, but completion of the temple has since brought women even more opportunities to grow as they have served in the sacred edifice through the years.

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