Date of Award:

5-2009

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)

Department:

History

Advisor/Chair:

Jennifer Ritterhouse

Abstract

Missionary work has long been an important aspect of Christianity. At least as early as the 1870's, Protestant women began journeys to foreign lands to work as missionaries and teach people about Christianity, both the spiritual dimension and the lifestyle. These were primarily independent women who sought to enlarge the women's sphere from the confined, domestic life to which they were accustomed and because of its decline by the 1930's, historians have often labeled these missions as a "feminist movement."

Meanwhile, in 1898, their counterparts from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also began filling missions, but with a different purpose. These women, known as "Lady Missionaries," did not seek out the new role, but were assigned by Church leaders to share the Mormon message and to show that Mormon women were something other than the stereotypical downtrodden, polygamous wives often portrayed by the media.

The greatest evolution of the Lady Missionary program occurred during its first three decades as the LDS Church defined the role of the Lady Missionary and established guidelines for all to follow. Three women of this period are Inez Knight, Stella Sudweeks, and LaRetta Gibbons. Knight, the first Lady Missionary, labored in England from 1898-1900, where she stood on corners as an example of a "real, live Mormon woman" and faced religious persecution from non-Mormons. Sudweeks filled her mission in the mid-West from 1910-1912, where she had been motivated by anti-Mormon sentiments, but faced less difficulties than Inez while sharing her message and also had more training and established expectations than those previously. Finally, Gibbons worked form 1933-1935, mostly in Colorado, where she spent comparatively more time among new converts teaching them their role within the Church and encouraging them to share their religion with neighbors. Their accounts and experiences show that women have long had a steady and significant role in the LDS Church's missionary program, which has long gone unnoticed and offers a new perspective on Mormon women.

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