This was originally posted at the Juvenile Instructor.
I've been enthralled by the portrait of Mormon women painted by Edward W. Tullidge in his 1877 book The Women of Mormondom. He called them women of a new age, of new types of character, religious empire-founders, and even bestowed upon Mormon women the title "apostles." Of course, the term "apostle" when associated with the female sex was not, in the late 1800's, fraught with as much tension as it is today. Yet I was still interested to investigate the impulse which led Tullidge to employ this word when speaking of our nineteenth-century sisters.
First, Tullidge invoked the ancestral bloodlines of the Mormon pioneers to account for their apostolic status:
Their ancestors were among the very earliest settlers of the English colonies. There is good reason, indeed, to believe that on board the Mayflower was some of the blood that has been infused into the Mormon Church. This genealogical record, upon which the Mormon people pride themselves, has a vast meaning, not only in accounting for their empire-founding genius and religious career, but also for their Hebraic types of character and themes of faith. Their genius is in their very blood. They are, as observed, a latter-day Israel,--born inheritors of the promise,--predestined apostles, both men and women, of the greater mission of this nation,--the elect of the new covenant of God, which America is destined to unfold to "every nation, kindred, tongue and people."
Next, Tullidge spoke of distinct spiritual gifts possessed by women which qualified them as apostles.
Joseph Smith opened to America a great spiritual dispensation. It was such the Mormon sisterhood received. A latter-day prophet! A gospel of miracles! Angels visiting the earth again! Pentecosts in the nineteenth century! This was Mormonism. These themes were peculiarly fascinating to those earnest apostolic women whom we shall introduce to the reader. Ever must such themes be potent with woman. She has a divine mission always, both to manifest spiritual gifts and to perpetuate spiritual dispensations. Woman is child of faith. Indeed she is faith. Man is reason. His mood is skepticism. Left alone to his apostleship, spiritual missions die, though revealed by a cohort of archangels. Men are too apt to lock again the heavens which the angels have opened, and convert priesthood into priestcraft. It is woman who is the chief architect of a spiritual church.
Along with women's apostolic prerogative by spiritual inclination, Tullidge compared women's and apostles' abilities to receive angelic administration. He even contended that females were better suited to this spiritual commission.
This gospel of a new dispensation came to America by the administration of angels. But let it not be thought that Joseph Smith alone saw angels. Multitudes received angelic administrations in the early days of the Church; thousands spoke in tongues and prophesied; and visions, dreams and miracles were daily manifestations among the disciples. The sisters were quite as familiar with angelic visitors as the apostles. They were in fact the best "mediums" of this spiritual work. They were the "cloud of witnesses." Their Pentecosts of spiritual gifts were of frequent occurrence.
Yet another way that women were described as apostles by Edward Tullidge was in their "blessed office of motherhood." This was seen as part of her divine ministry:
The chief faith of the Mormon women concerning themselves is that they are called with a holy calling to raise up a righteous seed unto the Lord--a holy nation--a people zealous of good works. The Mormon women have a great truth here. Woman must regenerate the race by endowing it with more of her own nature. She must bring forth a better type of man, to work out with her a better civilization. Woman shall leaven the earth with her own nature. She shall leaven it in her great office of maternity, and in her apostolic mission.
Finally, Tullidge wrote of the ordination of nineteenth-century Mormon women to a form of priesthood authority, connecting them in this way with apostleship.
The sisters were also apostolic in a priestly sense. They partook of the priesthood equally with the men... the "Church" herself acknowledged woman's key. There was no Mormon St. Peter in this new dispensation to arrogate supremacy over woman, on his solitary pontifical throne. The "Order of Celestial Marriage," not of celestial celibacy, was about to be revealed to the Church. Woman also soon became high priestess and prophetess. She was this officially. The constitution of the Church acknowledged her divine mission to administer for the regeneration of the race. The genius of a patriarchal priesthood naturally made her the apostolic help-meet for man.
In Tullidge's estimation, Mormon women were "apostolic mediums of
a new revelation." He taught that these women were oracles of a new dispensation and a new civilization. In the society in which Tullidge brought forth his writings, the woman who dared to play the oracle was accounted a witch, a medium, or a fortune teller. But with the advent of Mormonism and temple ordinances she began to fill a sacred and a sublime role which he elevated in his book as prophetess, high-priestess, and even legitimate "apostleship."
Edward Tullidge and perhaps other LDS writers of the nineteenth century saw the "apostleship" of the Mormon female as including, but not limited to an endowment of priesthood held jointly with her husband. It extended to the influence she held in her family, the Church, society, and the nation. The apostleship of women, he noted, had not been fairly granted to women before the Restoration. Paul, "in the egotism of man's apostleship," commanded the woman to be silent in the church, yet the prophet Joseph corrected Paul. The Latter-day Prophet "made woman a voice in the church, and endowed her with an apostolic ministry." We see in _The Women of Mormondom_ the injunction to use her influence to gain suffrage and to claim the privilege of plural marriage. The writer passionately concludes, "With the scepter of woman's rights, they will go down as apostles to evangelize the nation!"