A View of the Eighties: What It Means to Be a Latter-day Saint Woman Today
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“A View of the Eighties: What It Means to Be a Latter-day Saint Woman Today,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 22

A View of the Eighties:

What It Means to Be a Latter-day Saint Woman Today

In Luftkin, Texas, Marsha Ault, who was eight months pregnant, was shopping with her husband and four children. She endured the curious, disapproving, and pitying stares of several of the store’s patrons before a woman approached her and asked, “Don’t you believe in birth control?”

The question sent Marsha and her children to the car, leaving Marsha’s husband to check out the groceries. Marsha began to cry, and her children asked what was wrong. “I tried to explain that many people nowadays feel it is wrong to have more than one or two children, and that people seemed to think I was very foolish to be having another child. Then my five-year-old daughter, Ginger, said innocently, ‘Mama, we can duck down!’ I have never felt so small.”

Joy Allen of St. John’s, Arizona, joined the Church as a single mother with two small children. As she attended church and began to learn and understand the principle of self-sufficiency, she decided that, in her circumstances, she could stop receiving state welfare and go to work answering telephones while teaching herself to type. Before long she achieved a supervisory position, and a few years later she had a secretary of her own. Now she has remarried and has been promoted to court administrator/judicial secretary in a superior court judge in northeastern Arizona.

Eighty-six-year-old Erma Clark lives alone in her northern California home and cares for herself, her house, and her yard without help. She returned to college at age eighty after her husband died, and she continues to study and take classes that interest her.

When friends wonder how she manages alone, she responds, “I’m not alone—the good Lord is with me. When I start feeling sorry for myself, I pray for strength, I start counting my blessings, and I keep busy.”

In another part of California, Kathleen Sanders, a homemaker and mother, and also a CPA, struggles with her desire for a career in addition to the challenges of motherhood. “After four years of college and four years of hard work in the business field, I want to use my skills,” she says. “Yet I do not feel comfortable leaving two preschoolers in order to pursue a full-time career. The challenge of maintaining a balance of career and family goals while keeping my perspective spiritually is something I am continually working on.”

The Ensign received these responses and many more from women in thirty-one states in the United States and in five other countries when it asked, “What does it mean to you to be a Latter-day Saint woman in the eighties?” Responses covered a wide spectrum of topics.

Whether married or single, full-time homemakers, working mothers, widows, or divorced, most of the sisters who responded agreed that the eighties are a decade full of challenges, opportunities, and conflicts, with more choices available, especially to women, than ever before.

The values espoused by today’s society frequently conflict with those which members of the Church learn through leaders and through gospel study. The world urges women to forsake home and family in favor of professional careers, while Church leaders teach that women should put home and family first, pursuing careers as full-time homemakers whenever possible.

Leaders also urge both single and married sisters to learn and to prepare to support themselves and their families if necessary. In addition, involvement in church and community activities is strongly recommended.

What can a Latter-day Saint woman do when confronted by the judgment and opportunities of today’s world? Jane Choate of Loveland, Colorado, explains how she deals with her frustrations. “Being an LDS woman today means respecting and loving myself as well as others. It means knowing when to say ‘yes’ and having the courage to say ‘no’ to the myriad of demands that confront me every day. It means sifting through all the options available today and choosing what is right for me and for my family.”

Jaylyne Reynolds of Pocatello, Idaho, says, “There are times when the ‘to do’ list seems impossible. It’s all overwhelming, unless I remember King Benjamin’s advice in Mosiah 4:27: ‘And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.’”

The Joys of Homemaking

In addition to conflicts they face within their own lives, LDS women must face the difficult choices today’s society presents, and the opposition that comes when they choose a path the world disagrees with.

Her experience in the grocery store caused Marsha Ault to reflect upon her role as a mother and full-time homemaker: “Being a mom can be very overwhelming at times. It is not always easy, but when we look at motherhood with an eternal perspective, our vision does not become blurred. Even if it’s not popular in the eighties to choose to stay home as a mom, it’s the right choice for me.”

Laura McGavin of Salt Lake City was six months pregnant when she received her bachelor’s degree in mining engineering from the University of Utah in June of 1982, one of only two women to do so that year.

Laura and her colleagues assumed that she would pursue her career after the baby was born. But, she says, “As I held my newborn in my arms, I was prompted to change careers. I chose to be a mother—a choice I am thankful I was able to make.”

“My choice was confirmed by the Spirit,” Laura says when some question her decision. “I stand by it. The education I received will allow me to raise my children in an environment where education is important and encouraged and where choices are also important.”

Jeanette Smith, a mother and a writer from Waterbury, Connecticut, sometimes struggles with her role as a full-time homemaker in a world where most women work outside the home. “At times I’d rather blow out the candle and be a little less different,” she says. “I’d like to accept the position as an assistant editor that I was recently offered. Then no one will ask, ‘How do you do it on only one income?’

“When I am invited to spend three weeks at a writer’s workshop in New York, sometimes I’m tempted to go. Then something happens to remind me that my fellow writers envy my life.

“I know where I’m going, tomorrow and in eternity. I’m happy—and every day, I help to make three other people happier too.”

Donna Kelly passed the Oregon State bar exam and landed a job as an associate in a long-established, small-town law firm. She had a preschooler at home, and she struggled to serve well as a wife, mother, lawyer, and member of the Church.

The promptings she received convinced her that she was serving the Lord as she should—that motherhood should be a priority in her life, but, at the same time, her legal career was worthwhile and she was free to pursue it. Yet she was still uneasy, and the birth of her second child increased the tensions she felt.

When Donna’s husband was offered a promotion that would take them to another Oregon town, much fasting and prayer convinced the Kellys they should make the move. “At first I told myself that my unemployed status was only temporary, and even set a deadline for beginning my job search,” Donna says. “But as the weeks wore on, I found myself happier, more relaxed, and surprisingly unconcerned about my unintentional sabbatical. The spirit in our family echoed this change. I not only avoided a job search, I also turned down several offers of employment. Answering my prayers was the familiar, quiet voice of the Spirit with a new message: ‘Not now.’ I have learned that if I am willing and worthy, the Spirit will lead me not only in all things I should do, but also in the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’ of those things.”

Many women see their roles as mothers as true contributions to society. Sister Fern Hess, matron of the Sydney Australia Temple, says, “Our six children are all honorably married to worthy companions. All are faithfully serving in the Church and in their communities. What more could I contribute to a world sick with sin than honorable children?”

Kim Martin of Federal Way, Washington, agrees. She chose motherhood for what she considers to be two simple reasons. “First,” she says, “responsible individuals are a valid contribution to the future. Second, it sincerely brings me joy. I don’t know of any worldly pleasure that could replace grubby little fists clutching a bouquet of dandelions and a breathless, excited little voice saying, ‘I picked ’em for you, Mom. I just love you!’ I see the adoration in that little face and suddenly I’m humbled. I silently vow to be better—to be worthy of this child.”

Challenges for Working Mothers

While mothers who are full-time homemakers face many challenges, so do mothers who must work. Laurie Hansen of Alpine, Utah, works full time and takes her two preschoolers to a babysitter each day, something she finds very difficult to do.

“The routine is painful for me,” she says. “I yearn to be with my children, to play with them, to love and nurture them.

“I, like so many Latter-day Saint women, want to be the ‘perfect mother.’ I feel an urgent need and desire to see my children’s first steps, to hear their first words, to be there when they get home from school. But because of the high expenses in today’s economy, I simply must help out financially—at least for now.”

Carley Clayton Adler of Sandy, Utah, felt a familiar pang one Sunday as her Relief Society president asked for volunteers to work at the stake welfare cannery. She realized she would be at work during that time and would be unable to help out.

The lesson for that day was on “Serving the Community,” and the teacher encouraged the sisters to do volunteer work. “Guilt filled me, and I thought I must be committing a sin of omission because I’m not associated with any charitable organization,” Carley says.

After that lesson, she took her feelings of inadequacy to her Father in Heaven, and afterward realized that she had been giving a great deal of service to others, but hadn’t recognized it. “Without my income, our family would live almost at the poverty level. I work not to get away from home, but because without my help, we would not own a home at all.” Almost every mother who works outside the home, who is active in church, and who is a caring neighbor, needs a gentle reminder of how much she really gives of herself, she says.

Laurie Hansen adds, “We must shed the guilt and devastating dissatisfaction that can come with the call of duty that takes us away from home. If we must work to supply another income for our family, could a change of attitude help our situation? Why not use the experience to make our influence felt in the working world? We may not always have to work, but while we do, we should not be miserable.”

Some mothers, like Jeanine Passey of Lethbridge, Alberta, have found ways to help their families financially while remaining at home. When Jeanine discovered that her husband’s first job was “full of experience, but not so full of cash,” she thought she would have to continue the local department store job that had helped support the family as her husband had finished school.

But she felt so uncomfortable about continuing to leave her daughters while she worked that she reluctantly decided to try baby-sitting instead in order to supplement the family income. Gradually, her attitude toward baby-sitting changed. “I began spending time scanning books to discover ideas for what to do with these youngsters. On one particular day, my group of kids had grown to eleven. I was quite pleased with how well I was coping!

“As one mother came to pick up her children, she exclaimed, ‘You’re just like a Kool-Aid mom—you know, the neighborhood’s favorite mom!’ We laughed, but I never forgot her comment. I decided that if babysitting was to be a major part of my life for the next couple of years, then I was going to be the best babysitter I could be.”

Living Single Lives

Whether rich or poor, parents or childless, married or single, sisters in the Church are encouraged to forge ahead—learning, growing, and contributing to the world.

Claudia Green of Mesa, Arizona, is a single sister who is pursuing a career in law enforcement. Her goals have helped her to improve and advance in her field. “However,” she says, “the only career I ever desired, even growing up, was that of wife and mother. At times I have dreaded waking up one day to find myself ‘over the hill’ and unmarried, certain that life would end on that day. But I have learned to live by the Lord’s time clock, not my own, trusting that he knows what is best for me.”

Claudia travels, works on genealogy, and has served a stake mission. She studies the scriptures, keeps a journal, and constantly seeks to improve herself, having faith that her righteous desires will be fulfilled. “I know that if I put the Lord first,” she says, “he will not forsake me.”

Alene Tucker of West Valley City, Utah, says, “As a twelve-year-old girl, my goals were to go on a mission, get married in the temple, and have eight children. As a fifty-year-old woman, I have accomplished one of those goals. I went on a mission.”

But Alene’s life has been a full one. She has traveled to Europe, Canada, Hawaii, and throughout the United States. She has seen miracles in her life and has had many prayers answered. She has served faithfully in the Church and as a guide on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. She describes her life as happy and fun-filled. “Do I regret not marrying and having a family?” she asks. “Yes, when I see my nephews going on missions and my nieces marrying, I think that I could have had these experiences with my own children. But I also realize that I was where my Father in Heaven wanted me to be, doing what he wanted me to do. In the meantime, he has taken very good care of me, for which I will be eternally grateful.”

Sandy Reinhold, who is also single, is a returned missionary and a convert to the Church. Presently she is working on her Ph.D. in pharmacology at the University of Utah and is serving as a stake missionary.

She believes that LDS women should be among the hardest-working people in our society, whether they are mothers at home, single career women, or some combination of the two. “Work can be highly rewarding, although there may be some mundane moments,” she says. “The scripture says, ‘Men [and women] are, that they might have joy’ (2 Ne. 2:25), not ‘that they might have joy once they’re perfect, or married, or graduated.’

“One of the challenges women in the Church face today is finding the way they can best fulfill their responsibilities—whatever they are. We have a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to work at making this world a better place.”

Making the world a better place becomes a greater challenge as each decade comes and goes. The eighties have brought adversity as well as blessings to LDS women, as Brenda Kehoe, a divorced mother of six from Meridian, Idaho, points out.

“The adversity in Latter-day Saint women’s lives is as varied as each individual sister. Poverty, wayward children, death, sickness, divorce, transgression, the stress of daily living, and, for some, affluence, are among the problems we face. Enduring to the end becomes a daily, conscious effort.” Brenda gains strength from her knowledge that the Lord loves her and is always there.

Unfavorable Influences

Today’s unfavorable influences can affect adults as well as children. Janette Linn of Vancouver, Washington, discovered at one point in her life that she was unable to accomplish very much during the day because she planned her schedule around television soap operas. “For a while I blamed my frustrations on having four preschoolers at home and my demanding Church callings,” she says. “Only when I admitted to myself that watching soap operas in no way helped my eternal progression did I overcome this wasteful habit.”

Janette has learned that the ability to “think eternal” is a necessary talent for the Latter-day Saint woman living during a time when so much of what we choose to do with our lives meets with daily resistance.


Another set of challenges LDS women face in the eighties is misconceptions many people have about the roles of women in the Church. Jan Marie Petersen, now married and the mother of one, had a shocking experience while serving a mission in Florida. One woman “literally screamed” the two missionaries off her front porch after they had introduced themselves, furious that they represented, in her words, “a church of male dictators where women cower in kitchens—mindless slaves to their husbands.” “Her words appalled me,” Jan Marie says. “They were so far from describing the many talented, confident Latter-day Saint women I had grown up admiring.”

Jan Marie, who has since received her master’s degree, says, “Contrary to the world’s conception of the ‘place’ of a woman in LDS society, our places in the eighties are as diverse as we are—our possibilities for achievement are as endless and exciting as our dreams.”

When Barbara Ferguson of Berwick, Victoria, Australia, joined the Church with her husband and three children in 1981, her family worried about how she would deal with the Church and its priesthood leadership, because she was inclined to be a “liberated woman.”

“How will you cope?” they asked. “I have not coped,” she says. “I have revelled in my new-found freedom. At last I know where I came from, why I am here, and where I am going. How sorry I feel for my sisters in the world who fill their lives with manmade philosophies.”

Making a Difference

Women in the Church can and do make a difference in the world—not only by raising righteous families, serving others, and making an impact in the working world, but also by standing up for what they believe is right.

When LaRee Farrar’s friend Irene called to inform her about the contents of the sex education films being proposed for their children’s Southfield, Michigan, school district, the two women agreed the films were far too explicit and contained no mention of moral responsibility.

Irene, whose children went to a different middle school in the district, suggested that LaRee present the problem at the next PTA meeting at her own children’s school.

“I frankly didn’t think I would get a chance to be heard,” says LaRee. “But I had attended PTA meetings regularly over the years. I hoped that would help.”

LaRee wrote a brief summary of the content of the films, made copies, and asked the PTA president’s permission to pass them out at the next meeting.

“As everyone read them, there was dead silence,” LaRee remembers. It soon became apparent that all in attendance agreed the films were inappropriate. The explicit films were rejected, and the original films, which contained a strong emphasis on personal responsibility and respect and consideration for others, including the unborn, were retained in the program.

Lynn Fortin of St. Andrew’s West, Ontario, explains that their Church membership has trained LDS women to accept and meet challenges like these, to overcome them, and to reach out to help others succeed. “In an era when the role of women is being questioned and examined as never before,” she explains, “we can know of a certainty the Lord’s plan of joy for each of his children, and how we, his beloved daughters, fit into that plan. As a result, we are able to stand firm as the tides of uncertainty and despair wash around us.”

Gospel Strength

Zelma Clayton of Inkom, Idaho, knows firsthand the strength that comes from the gospel. In 1980, her son suffered a heart attack. He would not let anyone tell Zelma, because she was serving a mission in Wisconsin and he did not want her to worry. But when he had a second attack and was scheduled for open heart surgery, his wife called his mother.

Zelma’s mission president told her that he and his wife would fast and pray with her, and promised that her son would recover.

Six weeks after triple bypass surgery, her son was back to work.

A few months later, Zelma’s sister called to say their 95-year-old mother was seriously ill and was calling for Zelma to come home. Again her mission president promised that with fasting and prayer, her mother would live until she got home. Zelma’s mother improved, and lived for three more years, “very alert and sharp” until the end.

Six weeks prior to her mother’s death, Zelma’s older sister died of cancer. One year later, her brother also died of cancer. Two years later, Zelma became a cancer patient herself, and her youngest daughter was found to have leukemia. Then her oldest sister died of cancer. When people ask, “How do you take it all and still keep going?” Zelma replies, “Being a Latter-day Saint woman has been an anchor in the storm, because we believe in fasting, prayer, and bearing our burdens valiantly to the end that we may be candidates for celestial glory. I hope I can go on another mission to declare this to many more wonderful people.”

This valiant sister’s gratitude for an anchor amidst today’s storms of adversity is echoed by women throughout the Church, regardless of their circumstances or the trials they have had to endure.

Maurine Cundick of Moccasin, Arizona, says, “While taking the different progressive steps of the gospel I have come to the point where I know no fear in my endeavors. I can conquer any obstacle! With the Lord as my partner, I will struggle up again and go forward to complete my assignment on earth. Who could ask for more?”

Gwen Howe of Onehunga, Auckland, New Zealand, agrees. “My blessings are so numerous because of my membership in God’s true church. Peace of mind is something I cherish in the midst of today’s confusion. Where else in the world can it be found?”

Latter-day Saint women of today know it can best be found through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Mary Alice Campbell is a counselor in the Primary presidency of the BYU 139th Ward.

Photography by Michael M. McConkie