At the Pulpit

by Kate Holbrook, Jennifer Reeder

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From the banks of the frozen Lake Erie in early May 1831, Lucy Mack Smith admonished her despondent fellow Saints. "Where is your faith in God?" she asked. "If I could make my voice to sound as loud as the trumpet of Michael the archangel I would declare the truth from land to land and from sea to sea."

At the Pulpit contains fifty-four discourses given by Latter-day Saint women throughout the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like Lucy Mack Smith, these women drew on inspiration and experience to declare their understanding of eternal truths. This book illustrates the history of women's public preaching in the church, but its most important feature is the actual words of Mormon women. From the time of Emma Hale Smith's earliest exhortations at meetings of the Nauvoo Relief Society, Latter-day Saint women have been charged to instruct their families and neighbors, their congregations and Relief Societies, and other organizations. The talks featured in this volume show Mormon women doing the spiritual and intellectual work inherent in a life of Christian faith—seeking to do good works, understand the atonement of Jesus Christ, and strengthen their own faith and the faith of those around them. These women endeavored to live what they believed and to help their listeners do so as well.

Written to the high scholarly standards of the Church Historian's Press, the book provides a resource for contemporary Latter-day Saints as they study, speak, teach, and lead. Each discourse in this volume begins with an introduction that acquaints readers with the vibrant personalities of some of the women who have shaped the church. Introductions also provide glimpses into the circumstances and forces that shaped these women. Readers will encounter some familiar figures from church history and from the contemporary church—leaders like Eliza R. Snow and Linda K. Burton, current Relief Society general president. But they will also learn from women like Jane H. Neyman, whose stories are largely unknown to modern Latter-day Saints. Neyman applied to join the Nauvoo Relief Society in 1842, but her petition was rejected due to gossip about her daughters. Over twenty-five years later, she spoke in a Relief Society in Beaver, Utah, on charity, urging members to be forbearing and forgiving of one another.

The voices in these pages ring from Nauvoo's red brick store to the National Auditorium in Mexico City to the Tabernacle on Temple Square and beyond. These discourses offer instruction on gospel principles while also revealing the particular concerns of individual women. At the Pulpit allows us to hear the historical and contemporary voices of Latter-day Saint women—voices that resound with experience, wisdom, and authority.

Included in the eBook are 7 bonus talks and 21 original recordings.

Product Details

Size7 x 10
PublishedThe Church Historian's Press 2017

About the Authors

Kate Holbrook

Kate Holbrook is the managing historian for women’s history at the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She received a PhD in religious studies from Boston University.

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Jennifer Reeder

Jennifer Reeder is the nineteenth-century women’s history specialist at the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She holds a PhD in American history from George Mason University.

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Average rating:

(based upon 36 reviews)

Historical and Doctrinal Gems
By , Submitted on 2017-03-07

Review of Reeder, Jennifer, and Kate Holbrook, editors. At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women. Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2017. 452 pp. Photographs, notes, appendix, index. ISBN 978-1-62972-282-5. $29.99

Review by R. Devan Jensen

R. Devan Jensen is executive editor at the Religious Studies Center.

At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women is well conceived, compiled, and edited by Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook and a team of researchers who embody the high standards of the Church Historian’s Press. The volume is also timely, being released for the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society. But this is more than a book about the Relief Society or the Young Women organizations. It is a collection of wise, witty, and spiritual insights to inspire and enrich readers’ understanding of American religious history and Sunday School lessons. “In addition to being a scholarly history,” the editors write, “this book provides a resource for contemporary church members as they study, speak, teach, and lead” (xv).

How did this project come to be? In a recent interview, Holbrook said she envisioned a “journal of discourses” for women. Many collections traditionally emphasize the writings of male church leaders, whose writings were more likely to be recorded in church minutes. A stated goal of this volume is to “powerfully demonstrate that women have contributed to Latter-day Saint devotion through sermons, speeches, prayers, songs, and stories” (xv). She and Reeder pitched the concept to the Church Historian’s Press and found a willing reception.

To create this vital project, Reeder, Holbrook, and a team of researchers and editors scoured eclectic sources such as “old minute books and obscure newspapers.” Reeder emphasized nineteenth-century discourses, while Holbrook focused on twentieth- and twenty-first-century speeches. The editors then created introductions and notes that “provide insight into the biographical, historical, theological, and cultural context of each talk” (xv). The result is a compilation of fifty-four speeches or, in a few cases, notes of speeches. Sometimes the latter strain the definition of “discourses” and are sometimes shorter than their accompanying introductions, but the overall compilation is well done.

Auxiliary leaders such as Linda K. Burton, Julie B. Beck, and Sheri L. Dew are well represented, but this book includes other lesser-known women who spoke at BYU Women’s conference. To represent the global nature of the church, the editors quote women from North and South America, Europe, and Asia. These talks include warm and witty speeches by Jutta B. Busche, Chieko N. Okazaki, Irina Kratzer, and Gladys N. Sitati (who is both wise and hilarious).

In my honest opinion, Francine R. Bennion’s BYU Women’s Conference address of March 28, 1986, “A Latter-day Saint Theology of Suffering,” is, by itself, worth the price of the book. Bennion begins with paradoxical couplets such as Proverbs 3:13 (“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding”) and “Ecclesiastes 1:18 (“In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”). How do we reconcile these paradoxes? “Theology,” she writes, “provides a framework that binds diversity and complexity into a more simple net with which we can make some sense even of things we don’t fully understand” (215).

Citing incidents of suffering worldwide, Bennion writes, “Good theology makes sense of what is possible but also of what is presently real and probable. . . . It is not enough that theology be either rational or faith promoting. It must be both. It is not enough that satisfying theology be mastered by a few expert scholars, teachers, and leaders. It must be comfortable carried out by ordinary people. It is not enough that theology help me to understand God. It must also help me to understand myself and the world” (216–17). Quoting the story of Jephthah’s vow and consequent sacrifice of his daughter, Bennion asks, “What do you think about Jephthah, his vow, and his God? Your answer will depend in part upon your own version of theology” (219). Complex, intriguing, and open ended!

Bennion then quotes a BYU Honors student’s conception of the celestial kingdom in the context of Voltaire’s “best of all possible worlds.” What is the celestial kingdom like? she asks. “Well, there won’t be any problems,” he replies, saying that “everyone will be–happy. There won’t be any unkindness. No one there will be rejected or abused, or laughed at, or ignored.”

“Oh,” Bennion said, “Are you suggesting that God experiences none of these things now?” Silence. Bennion then wrote, “In wanting to get to the celestial kingdom, these students had more awareness of traditional struggle-free utopias than of our own God and our own world” (221). Thus, our theology embraces the world as it is and our struggle to make sense of it.

This is just one of the many treasures to be discovered in "At the Pulpit." The book is well worth efforts to mine it for other historical and doctrinal gems.

By , Submitted on 2017-03-01

What a piece of work! After reading this book it's clear that numerous hours of work went into creating it and it shows. Discourses by female leaders in the LDS Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) combine to make this a tour de force. Not only are the talks powerful doctrinally, but they also give a glimpse into different times and places and how things have both changed and stayed the same over time. All of these women made a difference during the times in which they lived. Some of these women I remember myself. Reading this was both eye-opening and informative. I especially think the timing on the release of this book can't be an accident. With some questioning women's role in the Church, I couldn't be more pleased with this book that clearly demonstrates the strong and ongoing role that women have in the LDS Church. This is the sort of book that could be read over and over again with the reader learning new things every time. It's also an excellent resource as it includes extensive footnotes and an appendix. The release of this book is truly a service to both members and nonmembers alike as well as female and male readers.

Great History Book
By , Submitted on 2017-03-01

This book is very interesting to me because it starts out with a history of the women of the church and as you read through the talks, you can see the changes and the constants over time. I can’t imagine the work that went into compiling this book. It is one I’m sure I will use over and over again. If you want a great reference book from so many of the women throughout LDS History, At the Pulpit is the book for you.

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