A Legacy of Love, Hope, Sisterhood

“A Legacy of Love, Hope, Sisterhood,” Ensign, May 1982, 105–9

A Legacy of Love, Hope, Sisterhood

“To stir our imaginations … gladden our hearts … prick our consciences … sharpen our vision … lift our spirits … express love … affirm the possibilities realized by women in all walks of life—these are the opportunities for all who have chosen to share in A Tribute to Women.” (Program notes, Legacy Banquet, March 26.)

March was a month of superlatives for women of the Church. In Salt Lake City, the general Church leadership of the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society organizations joined their efforts to produce “A Tribute to Women: The Legacy—Remembered and Renewed.” It was a gracious, invigorating, month-long compliment to the multiple dimensions of Latter-day Saint womanhood. And it was meant to be repeated in wards and stakes throughout the Church.

The events themselves added up to a stunning display of virtuosity across much of human experience:

Legacy Lectures. Between March 15 and 19, hundreds of women heard fourteen selected lecturers explore the personal and public challenges of being a twentieth-century Latter-day Saint woman. Women, prominent in their fields of endeavor, addressed such varied topics as community service, homemaking, arts and letters, history, music, education, science, medicine, and the interrelationship of body, mind, and spirit. They came from Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Utah, Missouri, Pennsylvania—all with differing backgrounds and perspectives, but each with a commitment to truth and gospel living. Their collective attitude was perhaps best expressed by Elaine Shaw Sorensen of Layton, Utah, a doctoral student, mother, and homemaker, whose address was titled “The Educated Woman within Us.”

“Within each woman,” she said, “is the capacity for striving for improvement and the freedom to choose her own path. … Our challenge is to choose a path that will offer to each of us the assurance that our chosen course of life is acceptable and according to the will of God.”

As a final lecture in the series, Sister Camilla Kimball spoke to a large audience in the auditorium of the Church Office Building. “A legacy,” she said, “is something handed down from the past, an inheritance.” After relating stories from the lives of her noble ancestors, she acknowledged that “I have gratefully received my legacy and have sought to make use of it. I would like to be like my parents. I cannot be greater than they, because they were among the best of God’s children on this earth, but I want to be enough like them so that I can be with them forever. And often, when I pass the pictures of my father and mother on the dresser in our bedroom, I say, ‘Oh my, it’ll be good to see you, mother and dad. I hope it isn’t long. I look forward with real anticipation to the time when we shall be reunited.’ Some days the time seems alluringly short. Other days I count up all the things I still have to do and pray for a little more time.”

Sarah M. Kimball Nauvoo Dedication. Earlier in the month, on March 11, Church leaders dedicated the restored Nauvoo home of Sarah M. Kimball, where the idea of a women’s society first took shape. (See accompanying news article describing the week’s activities in Nauvoo.)

Legacy Concerts. Gifted Latter-day Saint performing artists took center stage as they appeared in concert on March 17, 19, and 25 in Salt Lake City; Oakland and Los Angeles, California; and Dallas, Texas. A total of fifty-nine women (some as young as eleven), all professionally acclaimed for their musical gifts, moved audiences with the variety of their musical accomplishments. Piano, harp, violin, flute, voice, cello, bassoon, organ, the lithe figure of a prima ballerina—all expertly maneuvered through the intricacies of sensitive artistic expression. Performances at each location attracted large crowds of members and nonmembers alike. The Salt Lake City program included selections by women of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and other locations followed suit by organizing impressive women’s choirs for concert performance.

Clare Johnson, a gifted organist, spearheaded the Los Angeles Concert. “I see these events,” she said, “as a renewal of the Latter-day Saint musical tradition. We have always had outstanding musicians in the Church—especially the women—and they have been recognized by the world, but not always within the Church. These Legacy concerts have been a major step toward realizing the depth of musicianship our women have to offer.”

And there are women—many of them—in the Church whose hands are busily engaged in the creation of fine works of art. When the call went out from Salt Lake City for artistic works to be exhibited during the Legacy events, more than 400 Utah painters and sculptors made submissions.

Departmental Exhibits and Walking Tour. If you were in Salt Lake City during the Legacy events, perhaps you took an afternoon to follow the handpainted, light-plum colored signs through the Church Office Building for a look at colorful, informative displays in virtually every area of Church endeavor, from missionary work to genealogy and temples to Church publications to displays by the Sunday School, Primary, Activities Committee, and the Young Women. Historical vignettes in the auditorium and noon-time presentations by visiting musical groups completed the fare. (Who can stand dry-eyed while fifty beaming, freshly scrubbed youngsters sing their repertoire of favorite Primary songs?)

The Legacy signs also pointed the way along a self-guided walking tour of several central-city locations: Promised Valley Playhouse, Mormon Handicraft Gift Shop, the historic Beehive and Lion Houses, the Relief Society Building, Temple Square, and the Deseret Gymnasium. Those taking the tour were treated to demonstrations of everything from quiche-making to quilting to aerobic exercise.

Relief Society 140th Anniversary Open House. “We planned for 2,000 visitors that day. We had 10,000.” A little breathless at the memory, Sister Marjorie Nelson, who chaired the event, added that, “even with wall-to-wall people, it was all peace and a spirit of happiness” during the March 17 open house, complete with birthday cake, held in the Relief Society Building to celebrate that organization’s 140-years-ago beginning.

In addition to the building’s full complement of demonstrations and exhibits, descendants of each of the Relief Society’s general presidents—beginning with Gracia Denning, a great-great granddaughter of Emma and Joseph Smith—gave brief presentations based on the lives of their prominent forebears.

Other events included in the Legacy series were March 21 Church-wide sacrament meetings honoring women, supervised by Sister Jeanene Stringham of the Young Women’s General Board; and a March 24 Women’s History Symposium at Brigham Young University, highlighting women and events in the history of the Young Women’s organization.

Thousands of women—some very young, some not so young—crowded the Church Office Building’s spacious lobby between 11:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. on Saturday, March 27, as the general presidents of the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society greeted visitors. It was a time of warmth, friendliness, and shared vision—from live background piano music, played in turn by women of varying ages, to the excellent sampling of international foods prepared by sisters from five different countries. The presidencies seemed never to tire of meeting and greeting. “And the tears, the smiles, the hugs,” said Young Women’s president Elaine Cannon. “I believe those young women really caught the vision, and now they will go forth with the torch.”

“Altogether;” mused Sister Cannon, “it has been a great purging, a great lifting, a great sanctioning and refining influence. Every experience you have in the Church is marvelous; but I can’t think of any deeper strengthening to my testimony that the Lord not only lives, but that he cares about the details.”

A General Women’s Meeting on the evening of March 27 was the culminating event of A Tribute to Women. The program, a moving blend of pretaped narrated segments, live addresses, and musical numbers, reminded women of the legacy of love extended to them by the Savior. The value of growth, adversity, and an appreciation for the great diversity of womanhood were themes addressed in prerecorded interviews with dozens of women. Live speakers were Dwan J. Young, Primary general president; Elaine A. Cannon, Young Women general president; Barbara B. Smith, Relief Society general president; and Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (These addresses are published in this issue of the Ensign.)

Sister Margaret Smoot, a television newscaster and a member of the Relief Society General Board, chaired the committee responsible for producing the women’s program. “Generally speaking,” she said, “a production of this kind would take between six months and a year to pull together. We were able to do it in two and one-half months.”

Altogether, the Legacy events proceeded through the month in tasteful, first-class fashion. But perhaps the real “legacy” behind the “Legacy” was a certain spiritual dimension, manifest in the selfless dedication of those who set an example for women throughout the Church—women who now, following the pattern established at Church headquarters, will produce Legacy events in their own wards and stakes this year. “You’ll find,” said Sister Cannon, “that they will do it wonderfully—and in some places, it will be even grander than it was here.” Guidelines for planning Legacy events and videotapes of the General Women’s Meeting have been distributed to all Regional Representatives for use in wards and stakes.

(Audio and video tapes of the Salt Lake Legacy lectures are now available from the Relief Society, 76 North Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150. Cost is $2.50 per audio cassette, $26.00 per video cassette. Video cassettes may be rented for $10. The concerts and selected other presentations have also been taped. Those interested in using these tapes may contact the general offices of the Relief Society, Primary, or Young Women in Salt Lake City.)

“Everything went far beyond our expectations,” said Dwan J. Young, general Primary president. “Doors were opened. The response of wards and talented individuals was unanimous—‘Yes, we’ll do it—whatever you want us to do.’ It was a testimony to me that our message was true.”

Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, spoke of her hopes for the Legacy experience.

“We believe the diversity of the events has helped us all to renew our awareness of the great numbers of things women are doing, and to refocus our attention on the limitless potential of each life. We must stretch our minds, our hearts, and our souls so that we can make meaningful contributions to all with whom we share this life.”

Members of the Phelps family musicians perform at March 17 concert in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Cahoon.)

Legacy lecturer Barbara D. Lockhart, professor of physical education at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Historical vignette, “The Hymns and the Hers,” traced contributions of women to writing, selection of Church hymns.

Birthday cake displayed at Sarah Kimball home dedication and, later, Relief Society open house.

Salt Lake Art Center and Relief Society Building displayed works of forty-three women artists.

Lion House demonstrations included roll and pastry making.

Lobby of Church Office Building was decorated to reflect concept of international sisterhood.

Lee Provancha Day, prima ballerina with Utah’s Ballet West, at March 17 concert in Salt Lake City.

Beehive House tour featured reenactments of family activities, quotes by Brigham Young.