Susan Easton Black reminded an Education Week audience packed into the Wilkinson Center ballroom Thursday of the vital role women have played in church history.
“I am grateful to have shared about some of the marvelous women from a town called Nauvoo,” Black said.
She said women stand out in history for three reasons: 1) being the mother of a famous person, 2) being the wife of an important person and 3) race.
She began with Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of a famous person, and talked of her role in restoring the Church. She said Lucy was the first person to know Joseph Smith had his first vision, and she said she was always a believer of the faith. When a deacon from another faith berated her for her beliefs in the Book of Mormon, she answered with her faith in the gospel.
“She is such a defender of the faith,” Black said. “She told him that if she were burned at the stake, she would never deny the Book of Mormon.”
Black explained how Lucy went through persecution in Palmyra from pastors but remained faithful. When she moved to Nauvoo, she became extremely active in the Relief Society and enjoyed caring for the sisters.
“We must love each other,” Lucy said. “We must have charity for each other so we can all sit down in heaven together.”
The next woman she highlighted was the tall, literate Emma Smith, she of the soprano singing voice and wife of an important person. She was the first to know Joseph had obtained the gold plates and related it as a great blessing in her life. She was also the only woman to have a section in the Doctrine and Covenants specifically for her. Black said Joseph had always seen Emma’s potential and understood why the women in the Church elected her as the first president of the Relief Society.
“When she was elected to the office, Joseph viewed that as a fulfillment of section 25 that Emma is an elect lady,” Black said.
Black referred to Emma as the first lady of Nauvoo and said she led parades and other events throughout her days in Nauvoo.
Black said one time W.W. Phelps suggested Emma follow Napoleon Bonaparte’s example to have a table only large enough for one to avoid having to feed guests frequently. Emma responded, “My husband is a bigger man than Napoleon Bonaparte, and Joseph could never eat without his friends.” Joseph overheard her and said, “Emma, that’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard you say.”
Black said some people have wondered of the character of Emma’s faith after she didn’t follow the saints to Salt Lake, but Black answered those questioning Emma with Emma’s patriarchal blessing. “Thou shalt be saved in the Kingdom of God, even so, amen,” read the patriarchal blessing.
The next person Black featured was Jane Manning, a black woman who converted to the Church and convinced seven family members to travel a difficult journey to Nauvoo to meet Joseph Smith.
“One year after I was baptized, I started for Nauvoo,” Manning said.
Black recounted how Jane was welcomed into Joseph and Emma’s home and immediately became close with them by helping out around the house and with the children. The children fondly referred to Jane as “Aunt Jane.”
After Joseph’s death, Emma asked Jane to stay with her in her home, but Jane replied, “No thanks, Emma. I’d rather be with the saints of God.”
Black said while in Salt Lake, Manning asked Brigham Young, John Taylor, and each prophet until Joseph F. Smith if she could take out her endowments in the temple but kept receiving the answer, “It’s not time yet but someday.” She remained faithful throughout her life and lived to be one of the last saints who knew Joseph Smith before her death.
“I want to say right here that my faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as strong today – nay it is, if possible, stronger – than it was the day I was first baptized,” Manning said.
In 1978, Black and her son were doing family history and while looking through Black’s old notes, her son asked how a woman named Jane Manning fit in with their family. Black said she then had the opportunity to do the temple work for Manning and her family.
“There was barely a time where I’ve felt the spirit so strong in the temple as the day I stood proxy for Jane Manning,” Black said.
Tina Chadwick from Highland said she has attended Black’s classes in the past and loves the smooth transition from character to character in Black’s methods of storytelling.
“She talks and makes you feel like you’re there,” Chadwick said. “She gives you the information and you feel the spirit in how she is speaking it. It just feels like she knows, and she can help you know.”
Chadwick said she appreciated hearing stories about Manning and Emma she perhaps would never have heard otherwise.
“Who would have known to call Emma the first lady of Nauvoo?” Chadwick said. “I never heard of that. I had no idea she [Jane Manning] lived with the Smiths. She has so much information that you just can’t read anywhere.”