“I desire to do all in my power to help elevate the condition of my own people, especially women. I have desired with all my heart to do those things that would advance women in moral and spiritual as well as educational work and tend to the rolling on of the work of God upon the earth.”¹
This quote comes from Emmeline B. Wells, the national women’s suffrage leader, renowned journalist, and Relief Society General President I have had the privilege of writing about for the past two weeks. In my capacity as Wikipedia Editor for BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library, I’ve had the opportunity to copyedit and write multiple Wikipedia pages for historical figures – and Wells has been a particular inspiration to me. You can read her page here. (Know that I am not responsible for writing it in its entirety, but I have contributed to much of it at this point. No one is ever really done writing a Wikipedia page, especially for a woman of Wells’s caliber.)
She was widowed three times. She was largely ignored by her third husband. She lost her infant son and struggled financially throughout her life; but, she was the editor and owner of the Women’s Exponent, a periodical for Latter-day Saint women – for 37 years. She’s published two books of poetry and countless articles arguing for women’s suffrage and societal reform. She visited Washington, D.C., addressed the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, and developed a lifelong friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. She made the acquaintance of three U.S. presidents. She achieved her childhood dream of becoming a published author. She did not allow anything to hold her back. Both rigorously religious and fervently feminist, Wells fought tirelessly for the political and religious rights of women until the day she died.
Whenever I write a page such as this, I consider how the person in question would have wanted me to write about them – how they would want to be remembered. I think it’s a valid question we all ask ourselves: how do I want to be remembered? If I “go down in history” at all, what do I want to be on my Wikipedia page? I would be content with being remembered as a trilingual writer who occasionally valued her car over actual people, but pulled through in the end and experienced great love and sacrifice. Maybe that’s too much to ask, but isn’t it worth a try? Isn’t it worth the effort? Aren’t our dreams worth a fight?
Emmeline B. Wells felt exceedingly uncomfortable, overwhelmed, lonely, and outnumbered. She endured criticism – both to her writing and to her beliefs. She made it clear to me that experiencing these emotions does not outweigh your accomplishments. Experiencing strong feelings – positive and negative – cannot be classified as weakness. You will ultimately be remembered on your Wikipedia page for what you have done, not the rollercoaster of emotions you took to get there.
Like the title says (it’s a quote from Wells), I believe in women. I believe that emotion is strength. I believe that discomfort is a good thing. Challenging ourselves the way Emmeline did, discovering our innermost goals and working tirelessly towards them – that’s the way we show our feminism. An experience this past week has taught me this: I don’t want my family, including any children I may have, to remember me as someone who did not do what she knew she should simply because she was scared. That’s not what I want to show up on my Wikipedia page.