From the Archives: Marie Hafen’s “Celebrating Womanhood”

Image credit: Kara Harms

by Naomi Watkins

While searching for articles on women and education, I found Marie Hafen’s devotional address at the then Rick’s College Women’s Week entitled “Celebrating Womanhood” given in March 1990. Given the devotional’s title, I admit that I had a few reservations prior to reading. But rather than finding just fluff and praise of womanly virtues, I discovered one of the better addresses regarding LDS women and education and careers.

You can read the full address here.

A few points that stood out to me:

“The choice between family life and education is not an either-or choice.”
Twenty-three years ago, Marie Hafen was making the point that women did not (and do not) have to give up their own educations because of marriage or family. More recently, Susan Madsen of the Utah Women and Education Initiative showed that while “education is a top priority for many [LDS young women] until marriage…priorities quickly change. Some participants struggled with understanding why there is so much emphasis placed on education before marriage and then why they must ‘give it up’ after they are married.” Apparently, many LDS young women (and perhaps even their parents and spouses) do not realize that the pursuit of education does not need to stop with marriage or motherhood.

“Before becoming somebody’s wife, before becoming somebody’s mother, become somebody.”
I would also add, “And continue to be somebody even after becoming somebody’s wife or mother.”

And, also, if you are not yet somebody’s wife or mother, you still are somebody.

“Career-oriented education matters.”
It was recently suggested to me that we avoid using the word “career” when talking about education and work with LDS women because doing so may be a turn off to women who desire to stay home full-time with their children. I disagree. Yes, the word “career” has a rather negative connotation in LDS culture—often equated with a woman who ignores her family in order to pursue outside-of-the-home employment. Yet, to me, “career” means work that is not menial, that requires education and training, that pays a decent wage, and that has room for growth either personally or professionally. Yes, Hafen, talks about career-oriented education from an economical standpoint—that almost all women will have to support themselves or their families at some point and in some capacity—but I appreciated that this reality was not the only reason given for LDS women to pursue purposeful educations.

(Addressing men) “Become somebody who encourages young women to reach their full intellectual and spiritual potential.”
At a recent fireside, I shared many of the disheartening things LDS men have said to many of my female friends and me regarding our educational paths and choices. After the fireside, several men approached me and apologized for the way I had been treated. While I appreciated the sentiment, I agree with Ryan when he said that LDS men “need to do more than passively support our sisters or apologize after the fact.” We not only need to do a better job at showing and teaching our young women that their educations are important and valued, but we need to show and teach our young men this truth as well.


So now that I’ve shared my take-away points, what were yours?

Read about Marie K. Hafen here and here.

View a more recent address given by Marie K. Hafen at the 2010 BYU Women’s Conference.

Have you joined our online community yet? Have you invited other women? If not, we invite you to do so.

5 Comments on “From the Archives: Marie Hafen’s “Celebrating Womanhood”

  1. Marie is my neighbor and, believe me, she’s as awesome as you’d think she is. She’s one of my ladies who’s led the way for me without even trying or knowing it. Love her!

  2. FYI: The link to Sister Hafen’s talk isn’t working…which is important because EVERYONE needs to read this article! Naomi, thank you so much for sharing this. I think it’s quite possibly the most perfect sermon on women and motherhood and education that has been written. She strikes such a great balance between emphasizing the importance of motherhood while underscoring the importance of education for reasons including and beyond “just in case I need to support myself/my family.” I want to paper the walls of my house with these words!

    I’m curious and to what you and others thought about the many messages in General Conference that emphasized the importance of motherhood? I certainly think that there’s room for education and motherhood, and I don’t think that the speakers necessarily intended to create a binary between motherhood/career, but in my opinion, some of the messages could have been taken that way.

  3. I really appreciate reading this. As I’ve considered the question of expanding my family, I find I have a lot a lot of angst over working and having kids. So the idea that such choices do not have to be either/or is welcome right now. I need to go read the full text soon. Thanks!

  4. I’m still working my way through all of conference, but I do distinctly recall Elder Oak’s remarks about the declining numbers of births and marriages and citing “the pursuit of a career instead of marriage and the bearing of children [as] an increasing choice of many young women” and one reason for these declines. I personally know few women who have careers who don’t also value their families tremendously or who don’t want families of their own–particularly in the LDS world. However, I can see people taking this statement out of context (Oaks is not saying that we can’t have multiple priorities, but that our ultimate priority should be God), thus within his remarks I do see space for wifehood, motherhood, education, and career.

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