Beckoning Sisterhood - Y Magazine
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Beckoning Sisterhood

By Lisa Ann Jackson

When I asked people why they were at the 1998 Women’s Conference, the responses started to echo each other: “My sisters and I come every year.” “My mom and I came together.” “My college roommates are having a reunion.” An event akin to BYU’s Education Week, Women’s Conference annually draws family and friends from all over the United States, women who come together to share an experience they call “wonderful,” “unique,” and “spiritual.”

Women’s Conference was first conceived at BYU in 1976 in response to a national women’s movement making headlines at the time. Today BYU and the LDS Church’s Relief Society co-sponsor the event, hoping to provide what former BYU president Jeffrey R. Holland envisioned in 1986: “intellectual stimulation, cultural enrichment, and spiritual rejuvenation.”

The 1998 conference was my first experience tromping the sidewalks with 15,000 other women eager to get from class to class. As I spoke to participants throughout the conference, I began to sense that something more than informative lectures attracts women in droves and provides the experience President Holland described.

For some the pull comes from staying at the dorms–where former roommates can be roommates again, where sisters can laugh and giggle like kids, where mothers and daughters can just be friends.

For some the draw is the education–where women take classes that marriage and family postponed, where they learn of prophets and poets and principles, where they expand their minds and spirits.

And for some the draw is renewal and fortification–where speakers say what needs to be heard, where friends and acquaintances buoy each other up, where women unite in faith and hope.

But it wasn’t until the last session I attended that I really understood what thousands of women gain from this conference. The session was about writing. An instructor from BYU, Gladys Farmer, was among three panelists. She spoke on the power of personal writing and read an essay in which a former student delicately expressed her experience when her mother miscarried a child. The words, huge with emotion, pierced the room. A woman behind me began to sob. Gladys paused and acknowledged the audible weeping. “Writing is cathartic,” she said. “It’s OK that it brings tears.” It was clear that those tears came from tender familiarity with the topic of the essay. That woman knew the loss of a child.

The woman next to me–someone who knew the recent loss of a marriage–found tissue in her purse, passing one behind her and using one for herself. Another in front of us also wept softly. In the room was a tangible feeling of sisterhood. We were surrounded by sisters who loved us despite not knowing us. Our hearts were full with feeling for each other, for the women in the essay, and for ourselves.

As I looked around, I felt part of a bigger whole. I felt part of a legion of women who grasp eternity but grapple with mortality; women with hearts and minds lifted to higher things, seeking the friendship and strength, rejuvenation and love afforded by the sisters around them and the Spirit within them. I better understood why women choose to make Women’s Conference the setting of roommate reunions and family outings. The sisterhood is strong and compelling, even beckoning.

The 1999 Women’s Conference will be April 29­30 at BYU, with selected presentations airing on KBYU and the Church satellite system. Speakers will include Ardeth G. Kapp, former Young Women general president; Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Janet S. Scharman, assistant Student Life vice president and dean of students at BYU; Sheri L. Dew, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; and Gladys Knight, entertainer and recent LDS convert. For more information call (801) 378-7692 or visit the Women’s Conference Web site: