To tell the tale: Preserving the lives of Mormon women

PROVO, Utah — A new exhibit in BYU's Harold B. Lee Library celebrates and preserves the lives of Latter-day Saint women and their experiences as sisters, mothers, Relief Society members, missionaries, artists, educators, politicians and writers — at home, in the community and abroad.

"To Tell the Tale: Preserving the Lives of Mormon Women" highlights documents and artifacts that provide insight into the faith, struggles, triumphs and daily living of LDS women since pioneer times.

Sponsored by the L. Tom Perry Special Collections and Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, the exhibition will be on display until June 4. It is free and the public is invited to attend.

"We tried to highlight both prominent and more ordinary people . . . and explain their lives through the things they preserved: diaries, oral histories, biographies, letters and photographs," said Connie Lamb, exhibit co-curator.

The display — which includes artifacts collected from Latter-day Saint women over the past 170 years — was intended to "bridge the gap between 19th and 20th century material," said Shaun McMurdie, Harold B. Library Exhibitions manager. It began as an effort to commemorate the 200th birthday of Eliza R. Snow, a prominent and influential 19th century Church member, added Jennifer Reeder, Smith Institute research historian and co-curator.

As a historian, she said, a good way to commemorate Eliza's life would be to highlight women's records, writings, and manuscripts.

"This exhibit represents the vast resources available to better understand our past, our LDS community and ourselves, and encourages all women to preserve their lives for future generations," she said.

Jill Mulvay Derr, Smith Institute director, spoke of Eliza R. Snow in a lecture before the exhibit's official ribbon cutting Jan. 21 — the early Church member's birthday.

Following the lecture, Sister Derr said Eliza R. Snow was unique because she made contributions on so many dimensions. The first, of course, was her poetry, she said.

Eliza R. Snow authored more than 500 poems, including nine hymn texts that appear in the Church's current hymnal. "Poems serve as snapshots of what is happening," said Sister Derr. "She captured a history or an event with her poetry."

Exhibit recounts history of Latter-day Saint women through the things they preserved: artifacts, diaries, oral histories, biographies, letters and photographs.
Exhibit recounts history of Latter-day Saint women through the things they preserved: artifacts, diaries, oral histories, biographies, letters and photographs. Credit: Photo by Dan Lund

Second, Sister Derr said, Eliza R. Snow is remembered for her organizational work, helping to re-establish Relief Society after the trek west, and establish the forerunners to what are today the Young Women and Primary organizations.

Third, Sister Derr said, was her spiritual leadership. Eliza R. Snow "was a great teacher of doctrine," who presided over women's work in the Endowment House and exercised spiritual gifts.

"The difficulty in talking about her," Sister Derr said, "is that she is really so much more than the sum of her parts."

Sister Derr said it was important to highlight the contributions of many women — both prominent and lesser-known women — in connection with a celebration of Eliza R. Snow because the contributions of LDS women is something "Eliza herself celebrated."

"We pay tribute to men and women in a variety of different ways," said Sister Derr, noting that the exhibit is not meant to remember women differently than men, but instead to feature a large portion of BYU's special collection holdings.

"We wanted to talk about the ways we preserve the stories of women's lives. . . . Women will get the idea of preserving their own lives and feel the great strength of sisters who have gone before."

BYU exhibit celebrates 200th birthday of Eliza R. Snow, an influential 19th century Church member.
BYU exhibit celebrates 200th birthday of Eliza R. Snow, an influential 19th century Church member. Credit: Photo courtesy Church Archives
Jacketta McCune Quealy family vacations in Oahu, Hawaii in 1949.
Jacketta McCune Quealy family vacations in Oahu, Hawaii in 1949. Credit: Photo courtesy BYU L. Tom Perry Special Collections
Credit: Photo by Dan Lund
Missionaries serving in Central States Mission in 1927.
Missionaries serving in Central States Mission in 1927. Credit: Photo courtesy BYU L. Tom Perry Special Collections
Curators hoped the exhibit will bridge the gap between 19th and 20th century material.
Curators hoped the exhibit will bridge the gap between 19th and 20th century material. Credit: Photo by Jaren Wilkey

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