Should a woman become a scholar?
October 1975

“Should a woman become a scholar?” Ensign, Oct. 1975, 48–49

I have been offered an excellent scholarship to study mathematics at a prestigious school. Some friends have warned me that if I become a scholar, either I won’t want to get married (which isn’t true) or no man will want to marry me. They have some examples of women that seem to prove their point—what can I do?

Dr. Reba Keele, associate director of the Honors Program, Brigham Young University May I make a few guesses about the kinds of “facts” you have been given about women with education? Has it been suggested that “educated” women (sometimes meaning a woman with a degree, sometimes a woman with a degree in something other than education or child development, sometimes a woman with advanced degrees) are inclined to be aggressive, abrasive, unhappy, uncertain about the Church, domineering, anti-male, and forever single? Has it been suggested that the cause of these maladies is that the woman chose to major in particular academic subjects (a mistake), was too smart for her own good (another serious mistake), and so inevitably earned for herself spinsterhood and, from that, bitterness?

There are educated women, both in and out of the Church, who are bitter, angry, and unhappy. Some of them are single, some are or were married; some obtained their education before becoming bitter, some afterward. I know many men who fit into the same categories. Education, like most other things in life, is not good in and of itself. It can be very good if we keep our eyes single to the glory of God, and destructive if we pursue it for other reasons. This principle applies to women and men in the Church equally. Education does not in itself create persons who are bitter, unhappy, unmarried persons; instead, we allow those qualities to develop in ourselves by not learning how to cope with the blessings and blows that life holds for each of us.

My studies of the gospel indicate that it is the responsibility of every person to magnify his or her individual, God-given talents with all diligence. Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve pointed this out when he said that woman “bears joint responsibility with man in establishing the kingdom of God. … They have a common destiny, which as free agents they may attain or lose through their own actions.” (Relief Society Magazine, June–July 1943, p. 372.)

This statement does not imply that women or men may choose fields of study with no regard for the circumstances of their individual lives. Quite the contrary. For each person the responsibility is the same: first to discover those gifts that God has given and then to use them, all the while keeping the perspective of the eternal, which includes the family, as first priority.

It is unlikely that a particular academic major will prepare you less well than another to be a strong partner in a marriage relationship, for the purpose of learning is self-mastery. In mathematics, if you choose to be excellent, you will learn to reason, to discipline your mind, to do things that need to be done even though you don’t want to do them, to seek answers to questions, and to rely upon hard work and perspiration to solve problems that may seem insoluble. If your standard is personal excellence, you will be developing in mathematics the same skills, for self-mastery as you would in elementary education, physics, child development, history, nursing, social work, or whatever you choose. These are important skills for marriage, no matter the context in which they are learned, and they will be learned whenever you strive to be excellent.

There is no indication that any one academic major is better suited to women than another. In fact, President David O. McKay said, “I do not know that there is any objection to women entering the fields of literature, science, art, social economy, study and progress, and all kinds of learning, or participating in any and all things which contribute to the fulness of her womanhood and increase her upbuilding influence in the world; but I do know that there are those areas or realms in which women’s influence should always be felt … , the first is the realm of homebuilding. Next to that is the realm of teaching, and the third, the realm of compassionate service.” (Improvement Era, August 1965, p. 676.)

Make certain that your plans for study encourage and allow you to serve your fellow human beings, to teach the gospel as well as other subjects of your choice, and to be a homebuilder when that calling comes. I cannot think of any major in college that does not allow you to meet those conditions if you plan your life accordingly.

Realistically, you also need to consider study that will allow you to serve humanity and obtain personal fulfillment, should your opportunity to become a partner in an eternal family unit come later in life than you may like. One-third of the adult population of the Church (18 and older) is single, so you do need to carefully consider how to best serve God and your fellowmen prior to marriage, however long that may be, or in later life when unknown intellectual, physical, social, or spiritual demands may be placed upon you.

When I was deciding whether or not to continue in school for my doctoral degree, some worriers told me that my chances of marrying with a Ph.D. were slim. Thus I faced a dilemma: What if I chose not to obtain the degree because some men might be afraid of me, and then didn’t marry after all? Would I not then have to support myself by working at a job below my capabilities, one which did not allow me to serve others as well as I could with the degree? I sought counsel of the Lord, and it was made known to me that I should continue my education. I now see that my education will make me a better eternal partner in my forthcoming marriage than I would have been without it.

I will have a continuing need to build upon that education, too. President Spencer W. Kimball, in an interview on national television, said of Sister Kimball that in all the years of their marriage she “has continued her education. She has gone to college nearly every year, taking one or two classes when our children were all in school. She reads widely. She is a brilliant woman … a good companion … and a wonderful mother.”

I have friends in situations similar to mine and know of many others who found that the right course for them was to marry without completing their college degrees. After discussing the matter with friends and colleagues, one conclusion seems clear for both women and men: The gospel demands excellence and the development of talents God has given to us as individuals. The time, place, and medium of development will naturally differ for each according to the different callings of this life; but be we female or male, we are never excused from the need for excellence in all things, including active learning by study and by faith. Whatever you decide to do, decide to do it well, and do it with an eye single to the glory of God. By doing so you will magnify whatever talents and callings the Lord has given or will give to you.