Susa Young Gates's "Vision Beautiful"

Lisa Olsen Tait

Lisa Olsen Tait is a historian, writer, and specialist in women's history in the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In April 1920 the magazines published by various organizations within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints featured articles commemorating the centennial of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The most extensive of these commemorative issues was published by the Improvement Era—then officially the magazine of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA), priesthood quorums, and Church schools. In almost one hundred pages, eighteen authors—all prominent leaders and writers in the community—celebrated and explicated the significance of that event.

Each member of the First Presidency contributed pieces to the Era forum. Heber J. Grant extolled the Restoration as “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder”; Anthon Lund treated “Joseph Smith’s First Vision and Scripture Prophecies”; and Charles W. Penrose extolled “The Edict of a Century.” Several other authorities and leading writers of the Church—including Joseph Fielding Smith, David O. McKay, James E. Talmage, and B. H. Roberts—treated the “Origin of Joseph’s First Vision,” “The Effect of Revelation on Man’s Creed,” “A Theophany Resplendent,” and Joseph Smith as “The Modern American Prophet.” There were poems by Edward H. Anderson and Orson Whitney, an “oration” by Nephi Jenson, and several photographs of Church history sites.[1]

photo of susa young gatesSusa Young Gates, circa latre 1890s-1900. Johnson Photography Studio.

Tucked in among these grand explorations was a single article written by a woman: “The Vision Beautiful,” by Susa Young Gates. At the time, it must have seemed right that Gates would be the woman to make this contribution. She was then arguably at the height of her writing capacity and prominence in the Church: as editor of the Relief Society Magazine and as a Relief Society general board member, ubiquitous proponent of genealogy and temple work, well-known writer, and generally high-profile personality and public figure, Gates often had something to say on the important questions of any given day, and she always had an inimitable way of saying it.

In this article Gates posed a particular question: What was the meaning of the First Vision for women? This may not be a question we would ask today. In 1920, however, a lingering sense of gendered spheres made such a question relevant, all the more in the context of the significant changes that were then underway in regard to women’s position in society and in the Church. Gates’s answer—that “the Vision held the bright promise of equality and freedom for women”—reflected her efforts to come to terms with women’s changing status in church and society.[2] It also expressed her own vision of the ultimate meaning of the restored gospel.

Before examining Gates’s writing in detail, it will be necessary to consider several important contexts from which it sprang, contexts of the Church generally and of Gates’s own life and thinking. After surveying these contexts, I will provide a close reading of Gates’s article, supplemented by some of her other work.

Susa Young Gates and the First Vision Narrative

Latter-day Saints today take for granted the foundational importance, doctrinally and historically, of the story of the First Vision (known by that term and capitalized accordingly). But that narrative took its place as such in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Joseph F. Smith, who took office as president of the Church in 1901 after decades as a counselor in the First Presidency, became perhaps the preeminent “selector, relater, and repeater” of the First Vision in this era.[3] By 1920, when Latter-day Saints celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the First Vision, that narrative was at its zenith, the two previous decades having seen a “golden age” in the consolidation and transmission of the First Vision story among the Saints.[4]

Another major narrative took shape among Latter-day Saints in this same period in tandem with that of the First Vision. This was the account of the Great Apostasy. James E. Talmage’s book of the same title, published in 1909, is perhaps the most significant contribution. “The restored Church affirms that a general apostasy developed during and after the apostolic period, and that the primitive Church lost its power, authority, and graces as a divine institution, and degenerated into an earthly organization only,” Talmage declared in the preface to his book. This state of apostasy had continued for eighteen centuries until the Restoration was ushered in by Joseph Smith’s First Vision.[5]

Talmage’s account tracked with that of Victorian scholars in characterizing the centuries between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance as the “dark ages,” a time of stagnation, illiteracy, and ignorance among the masses.[6] For Latter-day Saints, the reality of the Great Apostasy was affirmed by the First Vision, in which Jesus Christ told the young Joseph Smith that none of the churches then in existence was correct: their creeds were “an abomination” and their professors (i.e., their clergy and theologians) were “corrupt.” The Apostasy had given way to the Restoration of the gospel, “marking the inauguration of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.”[7]

As with the narrative of the First Vision, the Great Apostasy made its way into the collective consciousness of Latter-day Saints. Lessons and articles in the Church’s youth organizations set forth the two complementary narratives, Apostasy and First Vision/Restoration, making them a fundamental part of young Latter-day Saints’ gospel education. In 1909–1910, for example, the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA) took up the Great Apostasy as its theological course of study in eight lessons drawn from Talmage’s book.[8]

By 1920 Susa Young Gates had long participated in the development of these narratives. Indeed, she herself seems to have undergone the same rise in consciousness regarding the First Vision/Restoration that took hold in the Church collectively. In the early 1890s Gates wrote the first lesson manual for the YLMIA. In its Theological Department, the Guide included two lessons on “Church Organization” and “Divine Authority in the Church,” neither of which mentioned the First Vision. In the Historical Department, a lesson on “The Boyhood of the Prophet” contained only one paragraph mentioning the First Vision—and it did not use that title. It highlighted religious revival, Joseph’s question, his experience of almost being overcome by “the powers of darkness,” and the appearance of the Father and the Son, who “delivered a message to him.” It did not elaborate on that “message” or offer any commentary or interpretation of the event.[9]

In 1901, on a trip to the East, Gates visited sites of significance to Latter-day Saints in New York and published a lengthy account of her trip in the Young Woman’s Journal. Here again, the vision received mention but little emphasis. Describing her visit to the Smith farm in Palmyra, she described the view of a virgin forest (or grove) of maple, birch, elm, hickory, basswood, whitewood, and cottonwood trees. “As we gazed into the dim and silent green arches, we pleased ourselves by deciding that this must be the very grove where Joseph went out to pray that momentous morning in April, so many years ago,” she reflected.[10] Clearly, the vision was in her consciousness, but she did not reflect extensively on its meaning.

A watershed event in the development of Gates’s internalization of the First Vision narrative was her participation in the 1905 pilgrimage of the Centennial Memorial Company, a group of thirty representatives of leading Latter-day Saint families, led by President Joseph F. Smith himself, to Sharon, Vermont, for the dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Monument on the occasion of the centennial of the prophet’s birth. Coming in the midst of the withering controversy surrounding continued practice of plural marriage made public in the Smoot hearings, this notable anniversary afforded an opportunity to emphasize that foundational story and its importance in the Saints’ collective memory, history, and theology.[11] Susa Young Gates, then nearly fifty years old, joined the Centennial Memorial Company on its historic pilgrimage at the invitation of her close friend President Smith.[12]

The trip was an intensive experience in group bonding and theological celebration. The company of about thirty individuals traveled together in a specially chartered railroad car, mingling in close quarters, giving ample opportunity for discussion and fellowship. Evenings were especially memorable because the group engaged in conversation, singing, and prayer together before retiring for the night.[13] They arrived in Royalton, Vermont, on the morning of December 22, and for the next several days, they participated in a series of impressive services in which Joseph Smith’s vision and the restoration of the gospel were repeatedly discussed, testified of, and celebrated.

photo of the monument and cottage on the joseph smith trip in winterWinter view of monument and cottage. Photograph by German E. Ellsworth, circa 1904-1911.

The deep impression this experience made on Gates is evidenced by her writing, almost as soon as she returned home, a lengthy account of the trip that was published in two parts in the Improvement Era. As was typical for her, Gates felt the need to interpret her experience for the benefit of others. As she saw it, the dedication of the Joseph Smith monument had brought to the fore “two significant facts”: “First, the time has come to publish to the world by visible, tangible, unmistakable signs the mission of the man Joseph.” Second, she declared that no matter how much love and reverence we pay to such important men, “we must never forget to give the honor, the glory, the credit and the praise to God, our Eternal Father, and to his Son Jesus Christ.” These themes had been stressed repeatedly in sermons by the Church leaders on the trip, especially President Smith, who Gates called “the man of all living men who best loves the memory of the prophet.”[14]

She noted particularly the memorable experience of singing the hymn “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” when the group visited the stand of trees believed to be the site of the vision near the Smith home in Palmyra, New York. They went, as Gates wrote, “with reverent steps and glistening eyes” to the grove, and, gathering around President Smith, they spontaneously broke into song. “No more profoundly grateful hearts and voices were ever raised on earth than ascended to the throne of God in that song, in that grove, on that blessed beautiful day,” Gates wrote. “Oh, that all our friends in Zion could have been present to swell the chorus.”[15]

From the Sacred Grove, they traveled the short distance to the Hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith had retrieved the plates of the Book of Mormon. Here they sang “An Angel from on High,” and President Smith gave a mighty prayer. The official record of the trip called it “comprehensive and splendid.” Smith prayed for the authorities of the Church, for its auxiliary organizations, and for the children of the Saints, “that not one of our precious children might be lost or go astray.” He prayed that the sacred spot on which they stood would be protected, and he pled for hearts to be softened in their feelings toward the Church. With great emotion he prayed for the children of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who now “wander in darkness and unbelief,” and he closed the prayer by “pouring out a flood of gratitude and love to the Savior who had brought us here and who had Himself lived, suffered and died for us and all mankind.” All present felt a “fresh manifestation of the Holy Spirit” and “rejoiced exceedingly,” according to the report.[16] Gates, as usual, was more effusive: “The spirit of that prayer grew with its utterance until the whole wide world, the past and the future, opened to the gaze,” she exulted. “That hour was an epoch in the history of this people.”[17]

Through this trip, Gates’s reverence for Joseph Smith became entwined with her adoration of Joseph F. Smith. It also became connected to her lifelong search to understand gender and the relative position of women and men. Having spent a year pondering what she had experienced on the pilgrimage, early in 1907 she published another two-part article in the Era, this one entitled “A Message from a Woman of the Latter-day Saints to the Women in All the World.” In this piece she sought to lay out the principles of the gospel as restored by Joseph Smith, and she enumerated what she believed that gospel had done for women: civil rights, especially the vote; educational rights; social rights (under which she included the women’s organizations in the Church); and religious rights—including what she termed the “religious franchise” or the right to vote to sustain church leaders, women serving missions, and women serving as “High Priestesses” in the temple.[18] In these articles, Gates laid out many of the arguments she would later develop about the meaning of the First Vision for women.

One other context is critical before we turn to Gates’s articles about the First Vision. By 1920, the first wave of the American women’s movement had peaked with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting full suffrage to women, which would shortly be ratified in August of that year. For half a century, Latter-day Saint women had participated in national women’s organizations and advocated for expansion of women’s rights and opportunities.[19] Gates herself had been a leading participant in these efforts, having worked in the community as founding editor of two women’s periodicals in which she often published discussions of women’s issues and kept readers apprised of national developments and Latter-day Saint women’s involvement. Beyond Utah, Gates had served prominently in the National Council of Women, where she had chaired the press committee, acted as a delegate to the International Council, and built relationships with many prominent national leaders.[20]

The early twentieth century was a time of heightened gender consciousness but diverging views: the term feminism came into use in the United States in the 1910s, and as the goal of suffrage reached fruition, divisions within the movement were emerging with force.[21] Moving away from the “separate spheres” construct of the nineteenth century, which had enabled the women’s movement in the first place, women of Gates’s generation yet retained a strong sense of collective gendered self-consciousness—as expressed in her question about what the First Vision meant to women. At the same time, she did not identify with the more radical strains of feminism that advocated for women’s individual and sexual liberation.[22] Gates decried restless women who resisted the laws of God and nature. “The spirit that is now abroad in the world,” she observed, “makes for women’s demand for every place and office enjoyed by men, and a few more that men can’t enter.” She insisted that women should be “womanly”—long one of her favorite terms—which meant, to her, that women should embrace their God- and gender-defined places in family, church, and society.[23]

Gates had witnessed by 1920 the extensive transformations in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that were wrought by the Priesthood Reform Movement initiated by Joseph F. Smith in 1908. This church-wide effort to organize and revitalize priesthood quorums and to systematize, define, and codify priesthood ordinances and procedures was driven by President Smith’s vision that the priesthood must be made the “the ruling, presiding authority in the church.”[24] In particular, this authority was asserted in relation to the Relief Society, the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, and the Primary, which had been founded and operated as women’s organizations for half a century. Whereas these organizations had traditionally operated with a great deal of autonomy, they were now brought under the “ruling, presiding authority” of the priesthood and firmly defined as “auxiliaries” to the priesthood. In the case of the Relief Society particularly, this meant a new, clearly subordinate status.[25] Gates had lived through this transformation, and while she fervently voiced support for Joseph F. Smith and the new order he was bringing to the Church, its implications were not lost on her.

The Vision Beautiful

With this background, we can turn to Gates’s writings on the First Vision. I will focus primarily on her Improvement Era article, “The Vision Beautiful,” but in the same month, she also published a slightly longer treatment of the First Vision in the Relief Society Magazine, which provides additional insight.[26] There is considerable overlap between the two pieces; in both, she develops an extended metaphorical conceit by likening the progress made possible for women because of the Restoration to women’s passing through the successive “courts” of the ancient Israelite temple, a conceit ultimately gaining admittance through the “Gate Beautiful” into the Holy of Holies.

As was typical for Gates, the writing is effusive and colorful, incorporating lofty language and extended metaphor. In addition to being a natural style for Gates at this point in her life, this high literary tone was also meant to reflect the principles and ideals she was writing about and to convey her strong feelings about them. Gates had first posited many of her ideas in an article published fifteen years earlier, just as she was departing for the Memorial Company pilgrimage of December 1905.[27] In the intervening years, she had refined and developed her argument, and by 1920 much had happened in the Church that she had to take into account.

The text of the Era piece is relatively short, which makes it convenient to work through as written. Gates begins by asserting that the vision “held in its heart, like the half-opened calyx of a rose, all the promises of future development for woman,” foreshadowed by Moses’s revelation that “man” (Gates puts this term in quotation marks) was created in the image of God. Therefore—and this is her central argument—“the Vision held the bright promise of equality and freedom for women.” She continues: “The divine Mother, side by side with the divine Father, the equal sharing of equal rights, privileges and responsibilities, in heaven and on earth, all this was foreshadowed in that startling announcement of the Son, ‘They were all wrong!’”[28] From this vision, in other words, flowed all the other restored truths about the nature and relationship of men and women, including the idea that we have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father.

Moreover, the Restoration ushered in by the First Vision began to dispel the preceding ages of darkness that had fallen especially hard on women. “Man had held woman by the wrist, had controlled her religiously, financially, and civilly. What rights and what privileges she enjoyed through those dark ages of superstition and oppression after the Master’s vision had closed upon mankind . . . were hers through sufferance of her male guardians and possessors.”[29] Here Gates reframes the entire narrative of the Great Apostasy around gender: the darkness of the “dark ages” consisted of “superstition” and “oppression” of women. The Restoration, then, meant “the right of choice” for women in civil, religious, social, and financial matters; “it meant woman’s free agency, the liberation of her long-chained will and purpose.”[30]

In this article, Gates does not explain exactly how this “liberation” was brought about by the vision. Indeed, her characterization of the “bright promise of equality and freedom for women” is somewhat ambiguous. Does she believe the “promise” has actually been fulfilled? In the piece she wrote for the Relief Society Magazine that same month, she elaborates a bit more. First, she asserts that the Church, as restored based on the vision, granted women the right of religious franchise. “They have always voted on all matters of procedure, and on the support of all officers in the Church from the least to the greatest. The doctrine of common consent makes the woman an equal with man in all her religious activities.”[31]

Gates also pointed to the temple—which had been the particular focus of her life for the past two decades—as a place where women participate “symbolically and equally”; moreover, she noted, the highest ordinances of the temple were shared “side by side” by husband and wife. “Indeed, in the last or Holy of Holies, men must be accompanied by their wives when they secure their blessings.”[32] And in the Church generally, women’s organizations gave opportunity for women and girls to “exercise every gift and grace” and develop their abilities.[33] These assertions suggest that she did believe the Restoration had liberated women.

Returning to the Improvement Era piece, we note that Gates builds to a close in sublime literary style, returning to the theme of male-female partnership. Whether consciously or not, at this point Gates has shifted from the vision of Joseph Smith to describing her own hopeful vision of ultimate truth. “Today, and since that day, in this Church and Kingdom, as was divinely ordained, together men and women stumble along,” she exulted. “Joined by the clinging hands of their little children, both are facing the rising sun of the coming day of peace and power.” She then takes her metaphor to its limits:

When the key was turned in the opening portal of sky and earth to admit men once again in life’s sacred courts, men were endowed with the power and majesty of the Holy Priesthood; and all its blessings, gifts, and powers are shared and shared alike by man and his true mate. He of right enters into his Priesthood heritage, while the Gate Beautiful opens wide to admit all of us women into the glories of the Court of the Women! Nor are we there confined! Side by side, men and women climb the golden stairs, pass Solomon’s Porch, the Altar of Sacrifice, the symbolic tables and glowing candle-branches, into the Holy Place; and as we go together into the Holy of Holies we voice the hymnal of our sex—

She then quotes the final verse of the hymn “O My Father,” expressing the hope of entering into the “royal courts on high” by the “mutual approbation” of both our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.[34]

Amid this flowery rhetoric, Gates has made a couple of significant moves. In saying that “men” were endowed with the priesthood, she introduces another note of ambiguity. Standard usage at this time required that the male pronoun be used to refer generically to men and women alike, and “men” could refer to “mankind,” as suggested by her earlier quotation marks around the term. Thus, Gates could be saying that the priesthood was given to men and women together. “Endowed” may underscore this likelihood, since it would root the reception of priesthood in the temple—which Gates has already indicated as a site of male-female equality. She was well aware that in previous generations there had been an understanding that women in some sense “held” or “shared” the priesthood “in connection with their husbands” through participation in temple ordinances.[35]

At the same time, Gates knew that President Smith had explicitly repudiated the idea of women holding the priesthood in connection with their husbands. Early in his administration he had published an adamant statement that women did not “share” or “hold” the priesthood with their husbands; they did, however, jointly “enjoy the benefits therefrom.” This became the standard formulation: women did not hold the priesthood, but they shared in all its blessings.[36] Indeed, her assertion that the “blessings, gifts, and powers” of the priesthood were shared by men and women echoed—if in somewhat stronger terms—Smith’s own formulation.

Whether Gates meant to invoke the earlier understanding about shared priesthood, she certainly grasped the profound implications in the shifts that had taken place regarding priesthood in her lifetime and especially over the past two decades. These developments had served to elevate both the concept of priesthood and its association with male ecclesiastical authority. Just a few years earlier, she had grappled with this issue in her first major editorial in the new Relief Society Bulletin, soon to become the Relief Society Magazine. “There is one rule . . . which should be written deep in the heart of every woman in this kingdom,” she declared, “namely, respect for the priesthood.” While women of the day were restlessly seeking to change society in their favor, women of the Church, she said, should “honor the law of God.” The right of presidency associated with the priesthood was the source of all functions and offices in the Church. Women who led in the Relief Society did so because they received authority from the priesthood.[37]

These statements tracked closely with what President Smith had been teaching for years, but Gates did not stop there. She felt it necessary to draw out their full implications. “Women do not hold the Priesthood,” she emphasized. “This fact must be faced calmly by mothers and explained clearly to young women.”[38] Women in this church, she insisted, must “render that reverence and obedience that belongs of right to the Priesthood” that their fathers and husbands hold.[39] Gates seems to take almost grim satisfaction in setting women straight, but her expression about facing the situation “calmly” hints at turbulent undercurrents.[40] She well knew that different ideas about women and priesthood had once prevailed, and she knew that the Relief Society had formerly acted with more autonomy. Still, she gave no ground.

There is another significant move in Gates’s “Vision Beautiful.” This is her use of the phrase “the key was turned,” which she invoked in relation to the restoration of priesthood for men. Gates certainly knew that the origin of that phrase was from Joseph Smith’s teachings to the Relief Society. In a sermon given 28 April 1842, the prophet had declared to the women: “I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time—this is the beginning of better days, to this Society.”[41]

These words had been cited and republished many times and had become part of Latter-day Saint women’s discourse and self-definition, as epitomized at the 1892 Relief Society Jubilee celebration when one of the most prominent decorations in the Tabernacle was a huge key-shaped floral arrangement. Emmeline Wells’s remarks on that occasion expressed the by-then standard interpretation: Since the founding of the Relief Society and Joseph’s turning of the key, she proclaimed, “Woman is becoming emancipated from error and superstition and darkness.”[42] Twenty years later, and just a few months after Gates’s “Address” on women and priesthood, Wells (the then Relief Society General President) had reaffirmed this view. Since Joseph Smith “turned the key of knowledge for women,” she wrote, “very much greater liberty has been brought about towards the elevation of womanhood, until greater progress and a higher civilization for all has been attained.”[43] In Wells’s accounts, it was the organization of the Relief Society that “turned the key” to give women authority and status in the Church and to open a new era of women’s progress and emancipation.

It is possible, of course, that Gates simply used the key metaphor as a stand-alone image, without meaning to erase its application to women. The idea that the First Vision “turned the key” to priesthood restoration was not necessarily incompatible with Joseph Smith’s having “turned the key” to women. But given all the thinking she had done about priesthood and women, including in this very article, it seems unlikely that she would have used that phrase carelessly. Rather, she recast the First Vision as the ultimate source of women’s status and authority in the Church—through the priesthood authority of men.

While women leaders had always affirmed their allegiance to the priesthood and priesthood leaders, the image of the First Vision “turning the key” nonetheless represented a significant shift. In this casting, the source of women’s emancipation was priesthood, not the Relief Society itself. The bestowal of priesthood on men made possible the joint progress of men and women into higher spiritual realms; turning the key to women was a secondary event. Just as Gates’s vision of male-female partnership was rooted in Joseph Smith’s theophany, so was the priesthood itself and the order of the church it created. To the degree that Gates felt any ambivalence about how she had seen that order change within her lifetime, perhaps attributing it to the vision was her way of reconciling it—facing the situation calmly, even.

Ultimately, Gates’s piece sets forth a lofty vision indeed—a vision of full, eternal equality between men and women. In this vision, was she eliding certain facts of the ground—ignoring the reality of inequality between men and women? Or was she asserting a fundamental explanation for those facts? In either case, Gates’s “Vision Beautiful” captures the attempt of one very smart and deep-thinking woman to translate the First Vision of Joseph Smith into terms relevant for her own complex times. And while the terms in which she posits her account might not resonate as fully for us today as they did for her, perhaps the question still remains for a new generation, and maybe for every generation: “Can you conceive what the vision meant to woman?”


[1] See table of contents for Improvement Era, April 1920, 576.

[2] Susa Young Gates, “The Vision Beautiful,” Improvement Era, April 1920, 542.

[3] Steven C. Harper, First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 186.

[4] Harper, First Vision, 205.

[5] James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy Considered in Light of Scriptural and Secular History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909), iii. For Talmage’s assessment that the apostasy was well underway by the end of the first century, see chapter 3, “Early Stages of the Apostasy,” 39–53.

[6] Talmage, Great Apostasy, 150. For Talmage in context of Victorian scholars of the Dark Ages, see Eric R. Dursteler, “Historical Periodization in the LDS Great Apostasy Narrative,” in Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy, ed. Miranda Wilcox and John Young (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 23–54.

[7] Talmage, Great Apostasy, 163.

[8] See the Guide Department in the Young Woman’s Journal, July 1909 through February 1910. The lessons were published two months ahead of the month in which they were to be studied; thus, the lessons would have been given in the local associations from September to April. May Booth Talmage, James’s wife, was a prominent member of the YLMIA general board at the time and may have adapted her husband’s book to create the lessons.

[9] Guide to the First Year’s Course of Study in the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1892), 24.

[10] Susa Young Gates, “A Visit to the Hill Cumorah,” Young Woman’s Journal, January 1901, 18–26.

[11] Harper, First Vision, 194; Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 110–22.

[12] For more on Gates’s relationship with Joseph F. Smith, see Lisa Olsen Tait, “‘Thank God I Have Been Counted Worthy of Receiving This Testimony!’ Susa Amelia Young Dunford Gates (1856–1933),” in Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume Three (1846–1870), ed. Brittany A. Chapman and Richard E. Turley Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 57–81; and Lisa Olsen Tait, “Susa Young Gates and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” in Revelations in Context: The Stories behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016), 315–22.

[13] Susa Young Gates, “Memorial Monument Dedication,” Improvement Era, March 1906, 383.

[14] Susa Young Gates, “Memorial Monument Dedication,” Improvement Era, February 1906, 308.

[15] Gates, “Memorial Monument Dedication,” Improvement Era, March 1906, 381.

[16] Proceedings at the Dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Monument at Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, December 23rd, 1905. With a detailed account of the journey and visits of the centennial memorial party to Vermont and other places in the Eastern States; also a description of the Solomon Mack farm and account of the purchase of the same [undated, no place of publication, book or pamphlet, circa 1906], 67.

[17] Gates, “Memorial Monument Dedication,” Improvement Era, March 1906, 382.

[18] Susa Young Gates, “A Message from a Woman of the Latter-day Saints to the Women in All the World,” Improvement Era, April 1907, 447–52. Part 1 ran in the March 1907 issue.

[19] Carol Cornwall Madsen traces much of this story in her work on Emmeline B. Wells. See Carol Cornwall Madsen, An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells, 1870–1920 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2006).

[20] Gates described many of these activities herself in “Hail and Farewell,” Young Woman’s Journal, October 1929, 675–78. For one rich report of Latter-day Saint women’s involvement in the National Council of Women, see Susa Young Gates, “Utah Women at the National Council of Women,” Young Woman’s Journal, June 1895, 391–425.

[21] Nancy Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), 3–10, 13–50.

[22] Cott, Grounding of Modern Feminism, 41–49.

[23] [Susa Young Gates,] “Address,” Relief Society Bulletin, February 1914, 1–2. This article is unsigned but bears unmistakable evidence that it was written by Gates, who was editor of the RSB. The Relief Society Bulletin was renamed the Relief Society Magazine the following year and was counted as the first volume of that periodical.

[24] Joseph F. Smith, “Editor’s Table: On Church Government,” Improvement Era, July 1903, 705. On the Priesthood Reform Movement, see William G. Hartley, “The Priesthood Reform Movement, 1908–1922,” BYU Studies 13, no. 2 (1973): 137–56; and Jonathan A. Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[25] Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 154, 172, 212–14, 240–42.

[26] Susa Young Gates, “Opening the Gate Beautiful to Women,” Relief Society Magazine, April 1920, 189–91. Besides Gates’s opening piece, in this issue she also wrote an editorial, “The Vision as the Answer to the Eternal Question,” and published two articles about the First Vision by other women.

[27] Susa Young Gates, “What Joseph Smith Did for the Womanhood of the Church,” Improvement Era, December 1905, 179–83.

[28] Gates, “Vision Beautiful,” 542.

[29] Gates, “Vision Beautiful,” 542.

[30] Gates, “Vision Beautiful,” 543. Gates had first articulated this idea in “What Joseph Smith Did for the Womanhood of the Church,” 180.

[31] Gates, “Opening the Gate Beautiful,” 190. Susa’s account is somewhat idealized, likely reflecting her assumption that the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 26 (about the doctrine of common consent) had applied across the board since its reception in 1830. Nonetheless, it is not entirely accurate to say that women had “always” voted on Church matters. In the earliest years of the Church, only “official members” (i.e., men ordained to a priesthood office) voted in Church meetings. Women did participate in sustaining Church officers at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and in other conferences in Missouri and Nauvoo. The organization of the Relief Society in 1842 brought them to a new level of participation in at least their own Church business. My thanks to Elizabeth Kuehn of the Joseph Smith Papers Project for this information.

[32] Gates, “Opening the Gate Beautiful,” 190.

[33] Gates, “Opening the Gate Beautiful,” 190.

[34] Gates, “Vision Beautiful,” 543; Eliza R. Snow, “O My Father,” Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 292.

[35] The most forceful statement of this view is probably Franklin D. Richards’s 1888 sermon: “Is it possible that we have the holy priesthood and our wives have none of it?” he asked the men in the congregation. “I hold that a faithful wife has certain blessings, powers and rights, and is made partaker of certain gifts and blessings and promises with her husband.” Franklin D. Richards, Discourse, 19 July 1888, in “Memorial Anniversary,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 September 1888, 52–54; Document 4.20 in The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016).

[36] “Questions and Answers,” Improvement Era, February 1907, 308.

[37] “Address,” 1–3.

[38] “Address,” 1–3.

[39] “Address,” 2.

[40] “Address,” 3.

[41] Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, 28 April 1842, document 1.2.7 in First Fifty Years of Relief Society.

[42] “Relief Society Jubilee Exercises at the Tabernacle,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 April 1892, 140–44. Document 4.28 in First Fifty Years of Relief Society.

[43] Emmeline B. Wells, “Relief Society Memories,” Relief Society Bulletin, May 1914, 1.