By ALI ANDERSON
Women’s Conference has evolved over the past 24 years under the direction of changing leadership to reach out to more LDS women.
“We didn’t expect people to be coming from all over the world, but that’s what we have now,” said Carol Lee Hawkins, former conference committee chair.
In its early beginnings, Women’s Conference was aimed at students and local community members. A proposal by BYU faculty members sparked the creation of a conference to gather women together to discuss prevalent issues, Hawkins said.
Former BYU President Dallin H. Oaks granted permission for the first Women’s Conference to be held in 1976. The ASBYU Women’s Office, directed by Ardeth Kapp and student volunteers, planned the conference each year until 1984.
Former BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland transferred the conference responsibility from students to the President’s Office in 1984. A committee of BYU faculty and community leaders was formed to plan the conference.
“It was an attempt to ease the load not expected to be carried by student leadership,” Hawkins said.
She said the responsibility was removed from students because the scope of the conference had expanded beyond its small beginnings. Members of the extended community began taking part in Women’s Conference.
Former BYU President Rex E. Lee announced another shift of leadership for Women’s Conference in 1990. The Relief Society General Presidency and BYU were given cosponsorship, and continue to carry that responsibility to date.
“It’s exciting that the Relief Society and BYU can partner in meeting the needs of many, many brothers and sisters,” Hawkins said.
The shift to cosponsorship was influenced by the increasing number of women who wanted to attend, said the 1999 Conference Committee Chair Wendy Watson.”(Women’s Conference) meets the needs of its changing audience,” Watson said. “Originally it was meeting the needs of students, and then faculty. Now it is directed at the broader church community.”