Date of Award:

5-2018

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)

Department:

History

Advisor/Chair:

Victoria Grieve

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Rebecca Anderson

Third Advisor:

Daniel Davis

Abstract

On November 17, 1980, twenty Mormon women and one man were arrested on criminal trespassing charges after chaining themselves to the Bellevue, Washington LDS Temple gate. The news media extensively covered the event due to the shocking photos of middle-aged housewives, covered in large chains, holding protest signs and being escorted to police cars. These women were part of the group Mormons for the Equal Rights Amendment (MERA) and were protesting the LDS Church’s opposition to the ERA. The LDS Church actively opposed the ERA and played an important role in influencing the vote in key states leading to its eventual failure. However, ERA literature generally ignores the LDS Church and their influence, instead attributing the ERA’s failure to lack of appeal to lower class and minority women, the ratification process, and confusing messaging about the amendment. Literature that does discuss the LDS Church and its opposition to the ERA fails to tell the story of the small, but bold and attention grabbing group of Mormon women who organized a campaign in direct opposition to the position of their church. This thesis begins with an evaluation of MERA’s use of sacred space in protest, and their portrayal in the media. It then explores how MERA re-appropriated LDS hymns, rituals and language to assert their power and express discontent with the church’s position on ERA, and concludes with an evaluation of the institutional and social consequences MERA members faced as a result of their activism.

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