Guest post by Emily Geddes and Lauren Ard, who have created an awesome new resource called General Conference Sisters. Crossposted with Feminist Mormon Housewives.
What is General Conference Sisters?
General Conference Sisters is a website where you can find quotes from female General Conference speakers, all organized by topic. We have also included a few quotes from talks by men when they were quoting women or sharing insights about specific women in Church history or the scriptures. We only used quotes from talks found on LDS.org (which includes every talk given by a woman in General Conference except for a small handful of testimonies given back in 1929 and 1930, see our Brief History page for more information on that), and we include a link back to the original talk with every quote. To minimize any reluctance to use these quotes in talks or lessons at Church, we wanted it to be clear that these talks come from General Conference since that is the most official, accepted source for modern Mormon teachings.
What inspired you to create this site?
(Lauren) I was working on my Activity Days website (mormonactivitydays.com), and wanted to add some quotes from LDS women to some of the activities. I felt that these primary girls would benefit from hearing the wise words of women, since this isn’t included in the Sunday curriculum.
But, when I went to find some General Conference quotes from women, I found the task very difficult. I would sometimes have to search through a few dozen talks before finding one that was given by a woman, only to discover that the talk wasn’t as relevant as I had hoped. I wanted to create an easier way to find relevant quotes from the General Conference talks given by women, so that I could use them on my website and in my calling.
(Emily) My experience was similar to Lauren’s. I’ve served in the Young Women organization several times, and while I much prefer the new “Come, Follow Me” youth curriculum to the previous manuals, I was disappointed by how few talks by women Church leaders were included in the outlines. I believe it’s important for young women to hear women speaking confidently and authoritatively on gospel topics, so I’d always try to find quotes by women to include, but the search engine on lds.org does not make it easy!
When Lauren posted in a facebook group that she was looking for help pulling quotes from women’s talks, it lit a fire under me and I signed up to read through dozens and dozens of talks. Finally, Lauren asked if I’d like to play a larger role and partner with her on the website and I jumped at the chance. I was released as YW president last month, but I used several quotes I found through working on GC Sisters in a sacrament meeting talk I gave this summer and I’m hopeful that this website will be a resource for anyone – male or female – who wants to include wise, uplifting teachings in their lessons and talks, or just be personally inspired by these amazing women.
What do you hope people will get out of this website?
(Lauren) I would love to see more quotes from women used in Sunday School, sacrament talks, weekly meetings, even in sacrament programs! I have also used it when I’m not feeling connected to a particular Relief Society lesson – I will use my phone to look and see what quotes are on General Conference Sisters regarding the topic at hand. I often end up sharing these quotes with the rest of the class so they can appreciate the inspiring words too. So, regardless of whether you are a teacher or a class member, I think this site can be really useful in adding more spiritual insights from women.
(Emily) I dislike the stereotype that when women speak at General Conference it’s time for a snack break or quick nap. I hope that people can come to this website and see the breadth and depth of wisdom and spiritual power that has been shared by the women leaders of the Church. I hope we get to the point that no lesson or talk in the Church will feel complete without the addition of women’s voices and I hope that this website makes those voices easier to find and include.
Did you discover anything surprising when reading and organizing all these quotes?
(Lauren) The only thing I’d ever read by Sheri Dew was Women and the Priesthood. And while I’m not a member of Ordain Women, I still found that book to be really shoddy, without even one argument that holds water. So, I really wasn’t looking forward to reading her talks! But I was pleasantly surprised to find that her talks were filled with wisdom about the Atonement and the power of women. My favorite quote from her October 1998 talk “We Are Not Alone“:
“There is no group of women anywhere whom the Lord is relying on more than us—women who can hear, and who will heed, the voice of the Lord. The Lord loves the women of this Church! And He is counting on the women of this Church, all over the world, to make the difference that only we can make.”
(Emily) I was surprised by how many talks women have given – more than 300 talks given by more than 70 women since Barbara B. Smith, the Relief Society president at the time, first spoke in a General Welfare Session in 1975! – and how many I’d never heard before.
I was also surprised by how many recent “landmark” talks given by men were presaged by wonderful talks by women that may not have gotten as much attention. For example, I thought it was powerful and stigma-breaking when Elder Hollandrevealed he had suffered from depression as a young father. I didn’t realize that Kathleen Hughes of the Relief Society General Presidency mentioned her personal struggles with depression in a general session of General Conference a decade earlier. In a general session in April 2000, Mary Ellen Smoot gave a beautifully moving talk called “We Are Creators” that predated President Uchtdorf’s stirring and oft-quoted comments on creation in “Happiness, Your Heritage” eight years later. Of course, many talks over the years are on similar topics, but I wish some of these enlightening and uplifting talks given by women were enshrined as classics alongside those given by their brethren.
Is there anything about this project that bothered you?
(Lauren) Soooooo many talks about children! Way, way too many talks about children! Now, at first I thought, well, one-third of the women speaking are the General Primary Presidency, of course they would talk on children. But none of the other auxiliaries (male or female) seem restricted to only covering their calling in their talk (for instance, the Young Women General President doesn’t only give talks on young women). In any case, women (both in and out of the Primary presidency) give a crazy amount of talks about children. Yes, children are important, and yes, that may be the area of expertise for many of these women, but now that soooo many talks have been on children, I would like to declare that topic good and covered.
The topic of education, on the other hand, is seldom covered by women speakers. And, when it is covered, too many times the message is, “your education is important because it will benefit your family/future family.” So, in essence, quotes about education are still actually quotes about children!
(Emily) I was disheartened by how few women of color have spoken in General Conference. Of course, Chieko Okazaki is a powerful speaker and perennial favorite, and I enjoyed the words of Vicki Matsumori of the Primary General Presidency and Silvia Allred of the Relief Society General Presidency, too; but those three are the only women of color who have served in general auxiliary presidencies. Two young women of color were invited to speak during the General Young Women Meeting in the spring of 1997 including Latina Alejandra Hernandez and Samoan Fono Latafai (who bore her testimony in her native language as part of her talk).
There have also only been a few single adult sisters who have served in auxiliary presidencies, notably Sheri L. Dew and Barbara Thompson. Back in 1980 a single sister who was a member of the Relief Society General Board spoke in a General Relief Society Meeting. And President Janette C. Hales Beckham was called as Young Women General President a few years after being widowed, though she remarried during her tenure.
Did you have a favorite talk that you came across?
(Lauren) My favorite was Barbara B. Smith’s talk, “In the Time of Old Age.” I liked it because it was such a unique topic. Smith discusses both how to serve the elderly and how to allow the elderly to serve. This topic wasn’t immediately relevant to me, but it brought something new to the table (I haven’t seen the subject repeated in any other talk), and it taught me that everyone has a place and purpose in the Kingdom of God, no matter what their age is.
(Emily) I really enjoyed Mary Ellen Smoot’s “We Are Creators” that I mentioned before, but one that really stuck in my mind was by Betty Jo N. Jepsen, the First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency from 1988 to 1994. In her talk “By Way of Invitation” she used the Christmas story as a framework for personally evaluating how we each respond to the Savior’s invitation to “Come unto me.” Because Conference is in April and October, we don’t often get to hear Christmas messages, and Sister Jepsen drew parallels to our everyday lives beautifully. I love this insight that she shared:
“Likely most of you want to feel secure, safe, and quietly live within boundaries which are familiar and comfortable. However, without the risk of new experiences and challenging calls to serve, we fail to grow, and are not as useful in the work of building the Lord’s kingdom as we need to be. Just as the shepherds left familiar terrain in dark of night for a new experience, we are called to leave secure and comfortable settings to serve and to gain experience.”
Now that you’ve seen the range of talks given by women in the past, what topics would you like to hear them cover in the future?
(Lauren) I’d love to see more talks that have a world focus. Rather than talks about ways to be charitable to those in your ward, how about some talks about charity towards others halfway across the world? Rather than talks about raising children in the Church, how about a talk about helping those children of the world who are suffering so much that church attendance is the least of their concerns? We love to tout our status as a “worldwide church,” but I don’t yet see this status adequately reflected in our conference talks.
(Emily) Like Lauren, I’d love more of a global focus, and I’d love that worldwide focus to come directly from the sisters who are from various countries, ethnicities, and life situations. I would love to see the members of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary General Boards – several of whom are from different countries and cultures around the world – be used more extensively.
How did this project affect your faith?
(Lauren) I recently emerged from a major faith crisis and found myself still an active member of the Church, but no longer strongly believing in most of the doctrine. This project had a strong impact on me, because it immersed me in the wisdom and encouragement and purpose that these women have. There’s so much that even an unbeliever can gain from these words of wisdom. It definitely helped me to feel that there’s still a place in the Church for me, even if I never regain my testimony.
(Emily) I’ve been active my whole life. In spite of the questions and concerns I’ve had for years, I truly feel that this Church is where God wants me, so I try to focus on following the Spirit, serving those around me, and, as I feel prompted to, sharing my thoughts in ways that will possibly broaden minds and add to the discussion and Spirit rather than detract from it. Lately, it’s become more difficult for me to feel that I belong at church, that there’s room for me and my different way of looking at the gospel. Reading such powerful words of wisdom and truth from so many women speaking from their personal and varied experiences was exactly the shot in the arm I needed to keep going, to keep serving, to keep sharing my perspective and trust that I’m where God wants me.