In this past general conference, President M. Russell Ballard encouraged that “Church members—both men and women—should not hesitate, if they desire, to run for public office at any level of government wherever they live.” He continued, “Our voices are essential today and important in our schools, our cities, and our countries” (“Precious Gifts from God,” general conference, April 2018). Here are eight LDS women in U.S. politics who have already dedicated their lives and their voices to making the world a better place.
The following is adapted from Susan Easton Black and Mary Jane Woodger’s book Women of Character: Profiles of 100 Prominent LDS Women.
Angela Bay Buchanan: Standing for Something
Angela Bay Buchanan served as the youngest U.S. Treasurer in the history of the United States.
The love of debate and commitment to her beliefs has sustained Bay in the national political arena and in her own home.
Bay went to work on former California Governor Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. After he lost that race, she moved to California and worked with him until he ran again in 1980, when she was named his national campaign treasurer. When Reagan won, Bay was determined to be appointed Treasurer of the United States—after all, she had been with Reagan for five years. After learning that Vice-president-elect George Bush had someone else in mind for the job, Bay met with Ed Meese, a respected appointee in the Reagan administration, to get his support for her appointment.
“This can’t happen,” Bay told Meese. “After years of working to elect Reagan, I’m not losing to a Bush person. Ed, I want to see the president.” It wasn’t going to be necessary. Ed told her the President was appointing her. At age 32, Bay was named U.S. Treasurer in 1981—the youngest treasurer to serve in the history of the United States. Under her leadership the Treasury Department was restructured to include the Department of the Mint and the Department of Engraving and Printing.
She tells Church members, “Work to be bold—spokespeople, spokesmen, for our beliefs.” Through Bay’s take-charge attitude, she has created a niche for herself in the conservative realm of national politics.
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Paula Hawkins: Breaking the Mold
Paula Hawkins was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from the southern states.
A devoted Latter-day Saint and self-described “housewife” from Maitland, Florida, Paula Hawkins was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from the southern states. Florida Governor Charlie Crist praised her for being a pioneer in the political arena, saying, “Paula Hawkins’ pioneering spirit earned her the respect of Floridians, fellow senators and all who worked alongside her.” History books will record her many firsts—first female Florida Public Service Commissioner, first female U.S. Senator from Florida, and first female Senator from the entire South.
After 10 years of marriage and with the encouragement of her husband, Gene, Paula began her political career. In the late 1950s, she fought Maitland City Hall to get sewers put in her neighborhood. Her victory as a community activist had a lasting impact on Paula’s political aspirations. In 1972 she was the first woman elected to a statewide office in Florida when she won a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission. She ran for the U.S. Senate in 1974 and lost. She ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978 and lost again. Believing the third time would be the charm, Paula again ran for the U.S. Senate in 1980. To the surprise of many constituents, she garnered 52 percent of the vote.
Washington, DC, was not prepared for a female senator from the South, let alone her husband. Paula was the first senator to bring her husband with her to Washington. This forced the exclusive Senate Wives’ Club to change its name to the Senate Spouses’ Club and embrace Gene as a member.
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Algie Eggertsen Ballif: Providing Education and Opportunity
Algie Eggertsen Ballif served in the Utah House of Representatives, focusing on educational issues.
Daughter of Lars Echart Eggertsen and Ane (Annie) Grethe Nielson, Algie was born May 3, 1896, in Provo, Utah. Although Algie was reared in an era when educational opportunities for women were not equal to those of men, her mother was determined to see that her daughters had the same opportunities as her sons.
As one biographer noted, “[Algie] didn’t let things like child care, housework, and home management slow down her other interests.” In 1932 she became the membership chair of the American Legion Auxiliary.
In 1935 Algie was elected to the Provo School Board—very unusual for her era. Algie served from 1935 to 1958. In reflecting on her experience on the board, she said, “[It] gave me insight, far more than I had ever had into the problems of public education and I hope that I did some good.”
From 1959 to 1960 she served in the Utah House of Representatives with a focus on educational issues. At the request of Eleanor Roosevelt, she served on the National Education Subcommittee based in Washington, DC, and later as chair of the Education Committee. Service on the national committee required Algie to travel to the nation’s capital at least once a month to contribute to discussions on women’s education in America. Algie’s daughters claimed that their mother always felt inferior at the national meetings, never realizing how smart and talented she really was. “Sometimes I probably was over-awed with [other participants’] brilliance and their knowledge,” she admitted, “but I did the best I could and I think what I did was appreciated.”
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Christine Meaders Durham: Balancing Career and Family
Christine Meaders Durham was elected as Chief Justice of Utah’s Supreme Court.
To those still holding a single-minded view of women in society, meet Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham. She not only fulfills her role as wife and mother but is making her mark in the professional world. As a Latter-day Saint, she “has always been aware of the Church’s emphasis on excellence, learning, and academic value,” using her quality education to make a difference in legal discussions and judgments in Utah.
In Utah, Christine struggled to find her niche in society because Utah’s legal profession was still viewed as a traditionally male-dominated field. Yet she pressed forward and found enjoyment in her career. “I was right all those years ago to fantasize about [being a judge] because it is the best job in the world,” Christine says. From 1973 to 1978 she worked as an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University, and from 1978 to 1982 she was a judge in the Third Judicial District Court. “If I had failed as a trial or an appellate judge,” says Christine, “it would have redounded not just to my detriment but also to that of women lawyers across the board.” As a result of her extraordinary legal skills, she was appointed an Associate Justice of the Utah Supreme Court in 1982 and was elected Chief Justice of Utah’s Supreme Court in 2002.
Christine has worked to successfully fuse her desire to develop professional skills and intelligence with her love of and responsibility to her family. Christine maintains that “the most significant role I have ever played in life—and the one that has been the most significant to my personal growth and development—has been my role as a wife and mother. On the other hand, I never saw any conflict in the performance of that role with also pursuing professional pursuits.”
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Alice Merrill Horne: Championing the Arts
Alice Merrill Horne served in the Utah House of Representatives and was the second woman to serve in that legislative body.
Alice devoted her life to ennobling art in everyday life in Utah.
During her years of motherhood, Alice always kept one hand in the arts, if not two. In 1893 she represented Utah on the Liberal Arts Committee at the Chicago World’s Fair.
From 1894 to 1896, while her husband, George, served an LDS mission in the Southern States Mission, Alice returned to teaching at Washington School and took classes in art. It was during this time that she directly challenged the prescribed art program in the Salt Lake City School District. Twenty-six-year-old Alice used her well-placed connections in Salt Lake City to convince a member of the state board of education to replace the district’s worn-out art training with a course in drawing by J. Leo Fairbanks, a Utah impressionist trained in Paris.
By the time George returned from his mission, Alice had launched a political career.
In 1898 Alice announced that she would run for the Utah House of Representatives as a Democrat in Salt Lake’s Eighth District. She was elected by a thousand-vote margin and served one term—the second woman to serve in that legislative body. Her main objective as a legislator was to “establish a state agency that would hold an annual art exhibition and make annual purchases of paintings to begin a permanent collection of art” in the state.
When it came time for re-election in 1900, Alice chose not to run. She never again held an elective office in the state, but she kept herself in the public arena. Of her many contributions, none has had a bigger impact than her contributions to Utah art.
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Amy Brown Lyman: Advocating for Women
After serving as Relief Society general president, Amy Brown Lyman was nominated for a seat in the Utah State Legislature.
For many years, marriage for Amy was the opposite of what she had once feared it would be. Richard, her husband, encouraged her to take advantage of opportunities to hone her talents; as one example, in 1901, when Richard enrolled at the University of Chicago, he supported Amy’s desire to follow suit by enrolling in a course on the new science of sociology. While completing her coursework, she concluded that organized relief should replace indiscriminate giving and that “old fashioned charity” should be “replaced by modern welfare which calls for getting to the very roots of the trouble.” These simple truths became her hallmark for the next sixty years.
In October 1909, when Amy was invited to become a member of the Relief Society general board, she had many opportunities to speak about these truths. Those opportunities increased as she served on the Relief Society general board for the next three decades, eventually becoming the Relief Society general president. Her position gave her many opportunities to speak about giving greater and more meaningful service.
As her circle of influence increased, Amy became a delegate to the National Conference of Social Work and the National Council of Women. Believing that there was yet more for her to do, in 1922 she was nominated for a seat in the Utah State Legislature. As a legislator, she worked to secure federal aid to state agencies for maternity, child health, and welfare programs. Some claimed that “infancy and maternal mortality rates in the state decreased markedly” as a direct result of her efforts. When opponents argued that women belonged in the home and were not suited for a role in government, Amy countered that the virtues traditionally ascribed to women because of their experience as mothers and homemakers “endowed them with a special knowledge of human needs and humanistic rights.”
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Ivy Baker Priest: Garnering Support
Ivy Baker Priest was appointed as the U.S. Treasurer by Dwight D. Eisenhower and was the second woman to serve in that position.
The oldest daughter of Orange Decatur Baker and Clara Fearnley, Ivy Maude Baker was born September 7, 1905, in Kimberly, Piute County, Utah. Ivy’s father was a miner who frequently moved the family; due to a series of mishaps and injuries, he was often unemployed. To pay the bills, Ivy’s mother opened a boarding house for miners. The mess their muddy shoes left on the floor led in a roundabout way to Ivy’s lifelong political career.
Ivy’s mother decided that wooden sidewalks would solve her problem; she found a sympathetic mayoral candidate who agreed with her. When the candidate won, Ivy “felt as elated as a kingmaker” and determined to enter politics and make a difference in the world.
Ivy entered the political realm, serving as chairwoman of the Young Republicans for eleven western states and as Utah’s Republican National Committee chair. She ran on the Republican ticket for Congress in 1950 and lost. It was not until 1952 that her political world changed for the better when she met Dwight D. Eisenhower. “I felt as if I’d known him all my life, and a sense of confidence and optimism swept through me,” she said.
When Eisenhower ran for president in 1952, Ivy was the assistant chairwoman of the Republican National Committee in charge of women’s interests. She was credited with increasing the Republican women’s vote by 40 percent in 1952. Eisenhower garnered 52 percent of the women’s vote, much to the credit of Ivy.
In appreciation and recognition of her talents, President Eisenhower appointed Ivy treasurer of the United States—only the second woman to hold the position. She served for two terms, 1953 to 1961. Despite a hectic schedule, she wrote her own speeches, emphasizing the importance of a sound dollar and the need to reduce taxes.
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Olene Walker: Making Her Presence Felt
Olene Walker was the first female governor of Utah and the oldest governor in the United States.
In 2003, Olene S. Walker was installed as the first female governor of Utah—and at age seventy-two, this mother of seven and grandmother of twenty-five was the oldest governor in the United States. “I don’t know when you start feeling old,” Olene said. “But I’m certainly not there yet.” In her administration of government affairs, she proved her vitality on a daily basis.
Olene wanted to pursue her career, so she started to work when her youngest child was in preschool. Olene then launched a political career as a moderate Republican. From 1980 to 1989 Olene served in the Utah House of Representatives. She was elected to serve as the first female lieutenant governor of Utah, a position she held for ten and a half years.
Olene was appointed the fifteenth governor of Utah and sworn into office on November 8, 2003, when Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt stepped. “I felt a great weight on my shoulders, being the first female governor. I didn’t want to just be a caretaker,” she said. “I wanted to make my presence felt.”
To her colleagues on Utah’s Capitol Hill, Olene did just that. Her administration was “full of surprises.” She worked very well with all Congressional members. She dined with President George W. Bush and swapped one-liners with Arnold Schwarzenegger. She clashed with conservative Republicans and fought against storing nuclear waste in Utah. But key to her administration was better education of children. She said, “Good education demands not only adequate public funding, but personal investment of time.”
She said, “Through my years of involvement in the private sector, in the public sector and with my family, I have found that money, fame, and power do not bring happiness. In the long run it is how we live our lives on a daily basis, how we treat other individuals, the routine decisions that establish who we are and what our reputation is.”
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To learn more about these and other inspiring Mormon women, check out Women of Character: Profiles of 100 Prominent LDS Women by Susan Easton Black and Mary Jane Woodger.
This book celebrates noble women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with one hundred inspiring biographies of LDS women who have accomplished the extraordinary, leaving an indelible mark on history. These are stories about life, love, and a remarkable determination to do one's best—messages that reveal to the reader that neither happiness nor greatness is found in compromising self, but instead is found in reaching to a higher source. By reaching up, these women have reached out to make a valuable difference.