The Educated Woman within Us
March 1983

“The Educated Woman within Us,” Ensign, Mar. 1983, 29

Notes from the Legacy Lectures

The Educated Woman within Us

Women today stand at an open door of opportunity in education. At no other time in history have we enjoyed such freedom of self-expression and fulfillment. Indeed, the “educated woman” has become the expectation of society. None today would discourage a woman’s desire for a “proper education”; indeed, it has become a very nearly inalienable right. And this “right” of education is now part of our greatest expectation and vision of ourselves. For this is our time. Today the world looks to women.

But what, really, is “education”? And who is the “educated woman”? Some of us enroll in courses and register at universities to “get an education,” then face the dilemma of career versus family—often without considering the meaning of our own “education” and its potential effects on our homes, our professions, our families, or our own inner selves. Others of us wonder if we have missed something in life if we don’t have that degree or diploma. Sadly, sometimes we fail to consider what “education” really is, and when or how it may be acquired or its results implemented.

The meaning of education is often assumed to be somehow related to “going to school” or learning as an external experience, related only to acquiring knowledge or skills helpful toward work productivity in society. All too often, when a woman makes the conscious effort to become “educated,” she perceives her alternatives as the following: (1) to seek fulfillment outside her home, (2) to sacrifice her education in order to raise a family, or (3) to try to balance career and family in some “superwoman” fashion. But I submit that the education of a woman is much broader, comprehensive, and perhaps more personal. Let us begin by considering the term “education.” Education is seen here, in its most idealistic sense, as an unveiling of the natural thirst of the mind and soul, and subsequently their replenishment, refreshment, and expansion. Considered in its broadest sense, education may occur at school, at home, with family, at church, or even with an enlightening thought in a moment of solitude. Education is more than learning. It is a complex interactive teaching and learning process.

Perhaps this is not “education” as it is traditionally defined. What we are calling “education,” one may call enrichment, fulfillment, vision, teaching, learning, or a number of other words. Indeed, education encompasses all of these.

Obviously, this view of education is idealistic. But let us not be afraid to dream of the ideal, for “as [we] dream, so shall [we] become. [Our] vision is the promise of what [we] shall one day be; [our] ideal is the prophecy of what [we] shall at last unveil.”1 The educated woman is within each one of us, awaiting discovery. Thus, education is a beautiful, progressive process of “becoming.”

Each teacher and each learner are individuals with different capacities, resulting in varying degrees of quality in the process of education. A great teacher may have a less-than-great learner, or an excellent learner may interact with a barely adequate teacher. In any case, the process of education is more dependent upon the contribution, than upon the innate quality of each. Each may contribute to the quality of the other’s experience, thus creating a dynamic relationship between the two.

Such a relationship was experienced recently in my own attempt to teach my five-year-old to read music and play the piano. At age five, he cannot read and does not seem to have the attributes of a prodigy. I thought it would be much easier for both of us to begin when he had acquired some reading skills, so I promised to start lessons next year. But he was insistent and ready to learn—now. So I called upon my best creativity in helping him begin to read music. He is learning quickly, enjoying it, and contributing effectively to the described dynamic teaching-learning relationship; hence, the experience has actually contributed to my own progress toward becoming “educated.”

One author describes learning as “a continual process of growth, resulting from persistent organization and reorganization of experiences,”2 each adding upon and expanding the other. This process continues with bits of knowledge continually fusing toward a meaningful whole.

Now, these ideas may seem rather academic, but I do know about real life. With two boys, ages three and four, and a third at twenty-two months, there are days when my most educational experience is trying to find three pairs of socks that match. Other times my most pressing objective is to separate the breakfast cereal from the dining-room floor. Just to have us all dressed, in anything near appropriate, before 10:00 A.M. is sometimes a major academic achievement. But I also know that these idealistic, academic ideas may actually apply to any learning situation a woman may choose. It requires some effort; but mostly, it requires a vision of our potential and the potential of those we may influence.

Obviously, learning may exist in many settings and at many levels. However, let us envision a “higher” education in which the learner organizes and integrates not only facts, but attitudes and values. My training is in nursing. Constantly I see among the nurses whom I am most proud to call colleagues a vision beyond the scientific principles and skills learned. They are the special ones who exhibit more caring attitudes, and who seek greater professional values. They exemplify the idea that the inner motivation to become truly educated, to open the mind and soul to manifest their natural thirst, is more significant than the learning activity itself.

When education is considered in such a sense, we see that there may exist educated women who have never entered a university. Such a woman may enter this dynamic teacher-learner interrelationship as teacher, sharing proper values with her child, or as learner, reading an uplifting written word. The education process in uplifting reading can be most important; and I, for one, subscribe to the same philosophy of learning that Somerset Maugham suggests:

“In a great library, you get into society in the widest sense … From that great crowd you can choose what companions you please, for in these silent gatherings … the highest is at the service of the lowest, with a grand humility. … In a library you become a true citizen of the world.”3

It would enhance the learning of any woman to include the scriptures as part of her quest for education, as our own prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, admonished: “Study the scriptures. Thus you may gain strength through the understanding of eternal things. … We want our sisters to be scholars of the scriptures as well as our men.”4

It is true that a woman may become “educated” in a number of ways, from candidacy for an advanced degree to personal study in her own home. To a woman educated in the sense described, her method of education is irrelevant to her “degree” of education. There are no degrees, for true education is a process of life, and not merely a means to an end.

While serving a mission in Colombia, South America, I met a humble sister who truly exemplified this principle. I knew her as Hermana Cabrera. Her tiny two-room home had no heat or electricity. She shared her only water source, a pump in the plaza, with five or six other families. She lived alone with her young son and daughter on the barest subsistence. She had attended school as a girl only long enough to learn to read. But her “educated” influence of refinement was evident all around her—in the hand-crocheted tablecloth on the rough wooden table; in the pictures of flowers and loved ones on her walls; in her constant, searching questions and study of the gospel; in the refined, dignified, mature demeanor of her children.

However a woman chooses to involve herself, it is the dynamic process of “becoming” in education that is desirable; and excellence in that education is the loftiest goal. There are a few precious people in the lives of each of us who refuse to accept less than the best of themselves, their peers, their students, or their children; not in a demanding, oppressive way, but in a stimulating, exciting manner that makes each of us want to reach a bit higher in all our worthy pursuits toward excellence.

None of us travels the road of mortality by chance. Every decision, every act, every thought, moves the direction of our lives to one path or another. Often we may choose the path of least resistance—but occasionally we catch a glimpse of our own divine nature and realize that our influence can be limitless.

Some women will choose formal, traditional routes of education, and will contribute to discoveries in science, medicine, industry, and business that will change a part of society; others will write books or create art that will challenge souls for generations. But some will make just as significant an impact on humanity by their educated influence on their own sons and daughters at their own hearths. Author Edith Hunter and others describe the important influence of an educated woman in the home: “Educated women in the home? What an odd thing to deplore! What better place to have us ‘end up’ … What more important job is there than sharing the values we are learning to cherish with the next generation of adults? What more strategic place could there be for the educated woman?”5

“We fancy that God can only manage His world with battalions, when all the while He is doing it by beautiful babies. When a wrong wants righting, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world … perhaps in a simple home and of some obscure mother. And then God puts the idea into the mother’s heart, and she puts it into the baby’s mind. And then God waits. The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies.”6

It is our challenge to realize that our influence on our peers, our families, and our posterity can be limitless. And it is because of this marvelous potential and boundless influence that we are constantly warned of Satan’s plan to undermine our efforts. We cannot compromise.

With the freedom and fulfillment offered by education comes a wider field of decision. Within each of us is a capacity for improvement and the freedom to choose our own path. Our challenge, then, 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.7 If we are earnest and obedient in our strivings, we are promised the help and comfort of a loving Heavenly Father. We are his children, and we are rearing his children. His will is our growth, refinement, progress, and influence for good.

The potential lies within each of us to become educated as we have described, and to educate our posterity, that the human condition may be enriched and improved. The way is open for you and me to step onto a path of progression toward excellence. Education can be pursued by all of us, wherever we may be. Indeed, we have only to open our minds and hearts, drinking in the fulfillment and exhilaration that flows from the expansion of our souls.


  1. James Allen, As A Man Thinketh (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, n.d.), p. 61.

  2. Eva May Green, “Teaching—A Learner-Centered Process,” A Reader for the Teacher, comp. A. Hammer Reiser (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1960), p. 87.

  3. W. Somerset Maugham, “A Confidential Question” (reprinted from Wisdom Magazine), National Education Association Journal, April 1965, p. 19.

  4. Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 102.

  5. Edith F. Hunter, “What More Important Job is There?”, American Women: The Changing Image, ed. Beverly Benner Cassara, reprinted by Lois Daniel, ed., in To Be A Woman (Kansas City: Hallmark Cards, 1971), pp. 50–51.

  6. E. T. Sullivan, “God’s Way,” The Treasure Chest (New York: Harper and Rowe, 1965), p. 53.

  7. N. B. Lundwall, Comp., Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: by compiler, n.d.), p. 57.

  • Elaine Shaw Sorensen, mother of three, registered nurse, and doctoral student at the University of Utah, serves as organist and Relief Society sewing mini-course chairman in her Layton, Utah, ward.

Photography by Jed A. Clark