Feminist mag turns 40 during ‘Mormon women’s moment’
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 21 2014 01:10PM
You could call this the "Mormon women’s moment."
Feminist issues in the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have made headlines lately — from the effort by Ordain Women to secure tickets to the all-male LDS general priesthood meeting to women praying for the first time at Mormon General Conferences and the dramatic surge of young women serving full-time missions.
But one publication has been exploring the roles and experiences of Mormon women for four decades: Exponent II.
The idea for the magazine began to take hold in the 1970s in Boston, where some LDS women were researching their history and discovered the Woman’s Exponent, a women’s newspaper published in Utah from 1872 to 1914. Mormon female powerhouses Lulu Greene Richards and Emmeline B. Wells edited the paper and longtime General Relief Society President Eliza R. Snow was on its advisory board.
This Boston-based group decided to honor that heritage with its own publishing endeavor, and, in the summer of 1974, Exponent II was born. The magazine immediately attracted attention from LDS women. Historian Claudia Bushman was its first editor, while many Mormon women helped put it out.
It published fiction, articles, essays, poetry and art by and about Mormon women, spreading nationwide. In 2009, the leadership passed to a younger generation, who used conference calls and Internet tools to create a staff from across the country.
From the beginning, Exponent II’s mission has been to "provide a forum for Mormon women to share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance," editor Aimee Evans Hickman says from Baltimore, "believing that demonstrating such diversity is in itself a feminist statement."
It has never been an "activist" organization, Hickman writes in an email.
"Like the debate about the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] in the 1970s and ’80s, Exponent II strives to share the thoughts and experiences women are having as they engage in big questions about their role in a patriarchal structure," she writes, "rather than advocate a particular position."
The writers and editors take varying positions on the question of women’s ordination, for instance, but are taking up the topic in the spring issue.
"Like the summer 2013 issue, which explored the diverse experiences and feelings women have about the temple," Hickman says, "the ordination issue will explore a broad spectrum of belief on the question of women’s ordination, from those who are ‘all in’ on Ordain Women, to those who are ambivalent about or in opposition to those efforts."
For many LDS women, Exponent II has been a bridge, says managing editor Emily Clyde Curtis, who lives in Phoenix, "between their faith and their feminism."
The magazine also is sponsoring a series of lectures in celebration of its 40th anniversary. The first one is Saturday and will feature Emma Lou Thayne, a respected Mormon poet and writer, essayist and novelist who also penned the Mormon hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace?"
Future speakers will include Claudia Bushman, Grethe Peterson and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
"The speakers series offers the chance to recognize and hear from some of the women," Curtis says, "whose contributions have carried Exponent II through our 40-year history."
Curtis sees the presentations as providing context and historical background on how the LDS Church and its members arrived "at this particular Mormon women’s moment."