More than 130 years ago, thousands of Saints trekked westward out of Nauvoo, Illinois. This June, thousands came back to visit. Dedication to the gospel took the early Saints away; the dedication of a monument brought them back.
The Nauvoo Monument to Women, a statuary plaza near the visitors’ center at Nauvoo, was dedicated June 28–30 by President Spencer W. Kimball in three ceremonies. Some 7,500 Relief Society members attended as invited guests. Thousands of other visitors participated in dedication activities.
Most attendees were bussed from their home states to Illinois, where they stayed in dormitories and other housing within several hours’ drive of Nauvoo. About 2,500 women attended each day’s dedicatory service and toured restored homes and shops in Nauvoo. When it didn’t rain, the women and the public were treated to an elaborate, original pageant, Because of Elizabeth.
The dedication was the first chance for many women to see the prophet and other General Authorities in person. Three members of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke at the services, and several members of the First Quorum of the Seventy attended.
“A day of fulfillment” was how President Kimball described the dedication of the monument, thirteen bronze statues financed by contributions from Relief Society members throughout the world.
On the second day of the dedication President Kimball gave the women a firm admonition: “Women are to take care of the family.” He said that through staying home to care for her family, “a woman will find greater satisfaction and joy and peace and make greater contributions to mankind.” In the dedicatory prayer that day, he added, “Bless the women of the Church that they may bless the Church and become the mothers of the posterity that will follow.”
Later that day, at a filmed interview with Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, President Kimball admonished women to magnify their calling by attending Relief Society meetings. “Attendance is important because if they are not there they can’t get the spirit of it he said.
President Kimball also said that women have a right to look to their husbands for maintenance and support.
Illinois Governor James Thompson had declared June 28 as Nauvoo-Monument-to-Women Day in the state. His representative, Ilana D. Rovner, said that in view of the persecution of the early Saints, she should bring the governor’s apologies instead of his greetings.
“I think we’ve lost the greatest resource we had,” she said. “And on behalf of the governor—come back.”
Bethine Church, wife of Idaho Senator Frank Church, was the official representative of Rosalyn Carter, wife of the United States President Jimmy Carter. She read a message from the First Lady.
Sister Smith and other speakers defined the role of women.
She encouraged women to proclaim the gospel message “with the same courage, faith, and conviction as did the women of early Nauvoo,” and to create homes “without any ire.”
“It is a matter of deep concern that social and economic conditions today are enticing, if not forcing, woman out of the sphere in which she can find the most happiness and can render the greatest good to mankind,” Sister Smith said.
Her esteem for womanhood and her concerns were reinforced by three members of the Quorum of the Twelve—Elder L. Tom Perry, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, and President Ezra Taft Benson—who spoke on successive days of the dedication.
Elder Perry, speaking at the first dedicatory service, honored his great-grandmother, Martha Webb, a convert to the Church who pulled a handcart across the plains and made straw hats to support her five children after the death of her husband. “I’ve often compared her courage to that of today’s women. The scene has changed dramatically, but the challenge is just as real as it was in any period of history,” Elder Perry said.
“Today we cry, we plead, we earnestly petition you to remain on your pedestals in a place of striking, singular beauty, in a revered light. Continue to maintain the priorities the Lord has established for you. The scriptures have made record of your role.”
Elder McConkie told women on the second day of dedication that they were entitled to seek and receive revelation directly from the Lord. He cited Biblical women to “dramatize the part that women play” and to illustrate the Lord’s direct dealings with women.”
“I think we see in Mary [the mother of Christ] a pattern of piety and submission to the will of the Lord which is the example of all sisterhood,” he said. As he spoke of the birth of the Savior, his voice showed emotion.
Mother Eve provided “a pattern in teaching our children courage and light and truth for succeeding generations,” he said.
Rebekah, the wife of Isaac and mother of Jacob, was an initiator of faith in her family. “This is important,” Elder McConkie said. “‘She went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her. … ’” (Gen. 25:22–23; italics added.)
“Women are appointed to be Rebekahlike, to be guides and lights in the family unit and to engineer and arrange so that they lead in the way that will bring about salvation in the Father’s kingdom.”
President Benson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, underscored the need for women to “temper the home and marriage relationship with … compassionate and loving influence.”
“It is not good for man to be alone, because a righteous woman complements what may be lacking in man’s natural personality and disposition,” he said. He addressed his remarks to “the elect women of the kingdom of God” and explained: “You are elect because you were elected to a certain work. How glorious is the knowledge that you are dignified by the God of heaven to be wives and mothers in Zion.
“Now the Church recognizes that not all women in the Church will have the opportunity for marriage and motherhood in mortality. Of necessity, some of our sisters have had to choose careers as a means of their own livelihood, and in some instances to provide for their families. But we do not encourage our young women to enter careers as lifelong objectives nor as alternatives to marriage and family,” he said. “There is a godly and noble reason for this counsel.”
Janath R. Cannon, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, compared the Nauvoo gardens to the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane. “As you walk through the garden here at Nauvoo and contemplate the bronze figures that portray the many opportunities available to women, be grateful for the decisions made in Eden and Gethsemane that made these opportunities possible,” she said.
Marian R. Boyer, second counselor, lauded sculptors Florence Hansen and Dennis Smith. Sister Hansen created two of the statues in the monument, and Brother Smith sculpted the other eleven.
“This beautiful garden of statues is the gift of Latter-day Saint women to all women everywhere—a precious gift, for it embodies all that Latter-day Saint women hold highest and most sacred,” she said.
Former general Relief Society president Belle S. Spafford voiced her support of Relief Society and the monument. “It is now my hope that those who may pass this way in the days ahead shall be rejuvenated in mind and spirit and favorably influenced by what they see, the truths conveyed to them, and the feelings they experience,” she said.
The Brethren, the Relief Society leaders, and their advice were received enthusiastically—even emotionally at times. Wherever these leaders went, women swarmed to shake their hands. Groups frequently started singing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” when they sighted President Kimball. When two busloads of women unexpectedly saw President and Sister Kimball after they toured the jail at Carthage, Illinois, where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred, many cried.
Tears, however, were not the only moisture in Nauvoo. Several days before the dedicatory services began, an oppressive humidity settled over the town, which borders the Mississippi River. Visitors with swollen feet and sticky skin sought refuge in the few air-conditioned buildings in restored Nauvoo.
Humidity became a downpour only moments after 2,500 women and dignitaries gathered under a giant tent for the first dedicatory service. While Sister Smith and others spoke, rain clattered on the tent roof. But, by the time President Kimball offered remarks before the dedicatory prayer, the rain had turned to sunshine. “The beautiful storm we had has passed, and beyond the showers comes the peace,” he said.
Later that day, as President Kimball took his seat to watch the outdoor production Because of Elizabeth, the rain started again. That performance and another on July 1 were cancelled because of rain.
The weather eased for the next three days and the pageant went on as scheduled. In the musical production, a cast and crew of 240 members of the Champaign Illinois Stake presented the life of a young woman who joined the Church in England, immigrated to Nauvoo, migrated West with the Saints, and raised her family while her husband served three missions for the Church.
Most pageant-goers who applauded the epic of sacrifice were unaware of the logistics and sacrifice involved in staging the pageant itself.
Members of the Champaign Stake began working on the production in March under the direction of Stake President Joseph R. Larsen, assistant producer, and Moana Bennett of Salt Lake City, who wrote the script.
Larry Bastian of Bountiful, Utah, wrote and arranged the music. Duane Hiatt of Provo, Utah, wrote the lyrics. Nonie Sorenson of Salt Lake City wrote one musical selection. The music was recorded in London, the dialogue in Illinois. The chorus was recorded in California.
Meanwhile in Champaign, the cast and crew learned lines and staging. Costumes, wigs, and props were prepared. In Nauvoo, the set was built. During the week of the dedication, the cast assembled in Nauvoo for final rehearsals with Sister Bennett, President Larsen, and Nathan B. Hale of Salt Lake City, producer. Cast members came and stayed at their own expense, using vacation time to rehearse and perform. Entire families, even babies, were in the production.
Of course, the dedication services, the tours of the restored sites, and the pageant were peripheral to the reason for the dedication: the monument itself.
The thirteen statues in the red brick plaza south of the visitors’ center were the central attraction for members and nonmember visitors alike. A full-time missionary assisting with the dedication, Elder Harold Christiansen of Escondido, California, said, “We can use the monument as a tool to help people understand a beautiful principle.” In dedicatory remarks, Elder Perry noted that the original center of Nauvoo, the Nauvoo Temple, had been destroyed; but “today a new centerpiece is added to give honor to women.”
And honored they were. The monument was the first place many women went when they reached Nauvoo, and was often the place they lingered as time came to leave. The sculptors spent hours in the plaza greeting visitors and explaining the statues’ significance and symbolism. “I wanted to portray many different aspects of a woman’s nature in her multifaceted experience,” Brother Smith said.
For many women, the statues went beyond portrayal into inspiration. “They are a model for me,” one young woman said. And from a middle-aged mother: “They make me proud to be a woman.”