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Moravian College

Ruby Johnson

2010-2011 Honors Student

Name: Ruby Johnson 
Honors in: History 
Hometown: Bethlehem, PA 
Major(s): History and Philosophy

Ruby Johnson

Title of project: Faith and Feminism: Mormon Involvement in Equal Rights Politics, 1977-1982.

Abstract or brief description: In 1975, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its opposition to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Prior to this, the majority of Mormons in Utah were in favor of ratification, but opinions quickly shifted in light of the Church's disapproval. The Church encouraged women to participate in various ways to defeat the amendment throughout the critical ERA years, 1977-1982. The Church warned members that if the amendment passed, women would be forced into the workplace, drafted into the military, and Mormon families would be permanently altered. Not all Mormon women fell in line, however. Across the nation, Mormons in favor of the ERA formed groups, participated in marches and protests, wrote newspaper editorials, and spoke out against Church hierarchy. Many women struggled between their support of the ERA and their membership in the Church, and others were excommunicated for their participation in pro-ERA activities. Ultimately, my thesis challenges ERA historiography and suggests that the Mormon Church played a major role in defeating the amendment. Furthermore, I argue that the women of the Church responded to directives to defeat the ERA in multiple feminist and anti-feminist ways, not in a singular voice as is often depicted.

How did you get interested in your topic? In my History 270 class (Historical Methods and Interpretations), we were charged with writing a historiography paper on a topic we were interested in, but I struggled to make a decision. Finally, Dr. Ryan asked me, “What do you know?” I jokingly answered that I knew about Mormons because I grew up in the Church. He thought it would make a great topic, so I went with it. While writing the paper, I read a short paragraph about the excommunication of a female member of the Church for her political actions. I felt compelled to do more research, but only found one book and one article that really dealt with Mormon involvement in equal rights politics. I knew writing an entire thesis on this topic would be difficult, but I was excited about the challenge.

Do you intend to research your topic further? If so, how? Yes. Eventually, I would like to write an article that engages with the argument of another historian about Mormon feminism. That article will not use my honors thesis directly, but it will use the findings from my project as the basis for my argument. I also see this project, in some way, being part of my PhD dissertation.

How did you benefit academically by conducting research/participating in honors? Honors forced me to concentrate and become a better student. It has developed my researching, critical reading, and writing skills. In the beginning, it seemed impossible to write a paper more than 100 pages long, but by the end, I still had more to say. I also discovered a passion for researching. I was able to work in two separate archives for several weeks and loved every minute of it. More than helping me academically, it reaffirmed my decision to go to graduate school and pursue a career in academia.

How has the department (or faculty advisor) prepared you for the future? I will be attending Villanova in the fall to begin working on my MA in History. Moravian's History Department made that possible by pushing and challenging me to always be a better student. The classes are not easy, but they are rewarding. In each class I took in the History Department, I produced a paper or project I am proud of, that would not have been nearly as successful without the professors. My advisor in the department, Dr. Lempa, guided my education at Moravian. Over the past year, he has given me advice about graduate school, worked with me on a summer independent study course, and advised me on my honors project. I could not have done honors without his help and support.

What advice do you have for other students interested in honors? Do not take it lightly. Honors is a major project that you have to stay committed to for an entire year. If you can do that, you will be rewarded immensely. Choose a topic that interests you and challenges you. The challenge is important because it keeps you interested. If it's too easy, you will get bored and lose focus.