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Daughter of polygamist writes of LDS women

She hopes latest book clears up misperceptions

Dorothy Allred Solomon's father was murdered by rival polygamists.
Dorothy Allred Solomon's father was murdered by rival polygamists.
Brian Nicholson, Deseret Morning News

As number 28 of 48 children fathered by polygamist and fundamentalist-sect leader Rulon Allred, Dorothy Allred Solomon has polygamy down cold.

In fact, she has written two books on the subject: "In My Father's House" (1984) and "Predators, Prey and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy" (2005).

Solomon's father was a homeopathic physician and chiropractor in Salt Lake City before becoming leader of the Apostolic United Brethren, a breakaway sect of so-called Mormon Fundamentalists in Utah, Colorado and Arizona. In 1977, he was murdered under orders of Ervil LeBaron, the head of a rival polygamous group.

However, Solomon left fundamentalism many years ago and lives a monogamous life as an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has a bachelor's degree in theater and a master's in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah.

At the invitation of Amanda Johnson Moon, an editor at Palgrave Macmillan in New York City, Solomon has written a new book with a much wider scope, "The Sisterhood: Inside the Lives of Mormon Women."

Because present-day Mormonism is often mistakenly associated with polygamy, which LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff renounced in 1890, Moon thought a book examining the lives of Mormon women today might clear up misconceptions and be of interest to the general public.

During an interview in her Layton home, Solomon expressed satisfaction in the research that led to her new book. She had no way of reconciling the problems of her childhood with the history of the mainstream LDS Church. "I discovered how empowered women in early Mormonism were — to heal, speak and make decisions. Whereas, as a fundamentalist woman, my mother seemed to acquiesce all the time. She relegated most of her decisions to my father and even her sons."

In her work as a communication trainer, Solomon has learned that "people who take accountability for what they say and do are much more effective. They can make things happen, and therefore they are happy. Accountability is so basic to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Solomon wanted to write about the roots of Mormon women who impressed her, such as Eliza R. Snow, who compiled the LDS Church's first hymn book, and Zina Young. "I wanted to claim my heritage, so I wrote the book for the lay person outside the LDS Church.

"I wanted to make it clear that the LDS Church does not promote polygamy. Yet polygamy was a good thing while it lasted and did what it was designed to do. Today we have the fastest-growing American religion on the planet."

She is also convinced that Mormon women "are not downtrodden, brainless, weak or incapable. I was also attempting to speak to the feminists of the world and even in the church. I'm not a nonfeminist, but I'm committed to partnership — the roles men and women play. I think it's wonderful that women get to stay home and raise their children."

Solomon especially enjoyed reading "Women of the Covenant," a book written by three LDS women scholars, Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. "That book enlightened me in many ways about the heritage and activism of Mormon women. I discovered how much the Relief Society has had to do with education in Utah and across the globe — and contributions women have made in social work and medicine. These things made me very proud to be a Mormon woman."

In her own book, Solomon tried to be "as fair and even-handed" as she could. She said she "values every point of view" and has consulted the works of such LDS women intellectuals as Terry Tempest Williams, and she enjoys the work of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. "It's a sign of maturity to be able to sustain more than one point of view. It's an eternal spectrum. All of us have a lot of growing to do, so I'm slow to condemn anyone.

"The only problem I have with women speaking out is when they are intolerant. I don't appreciate women who take potshots at the prophet."

Since becoming a Mormon, Solomon has felt very welcomed. "I've been invited to speak in probably 100 different wards. The Relief Society in my ward spent an entire evening discussing one of my books. To be received so warmly was wonderful."

On the other hand, she said, Deseret Book does not carry them. "I hear the reason is polygamy, but they don't return my calls."

Solomon hopes no one will condemn her for "having an inquiring, curious mind. I have great respect for others who have the courage of their consciences."

During the recent Warren Jeffs trial she found herself rooting for the prosecution and said she is "so glad that young woman won. When a life is commandeered that way, it is a rape. So I thought the trial was symbolic. I have two brothers in that group, and they lost their families because of him. My sister has not been allowed to speak."

Jeffs, 51, is awaiting sentencing in 5th District Court after he was convicted of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He was accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs faces up to life in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 20.

Solomon is grateful that Utah and Arizona prosecutors are taking action, "not against polygamy but against child abuse, mishandling of funds, usurping lands, that sort of thing." And she hopes her book will "empower women, shore up testimonies and that it converts people to the LDS faith and makes Mormon women better understood."

She is almost finished with a new novel, "The Lost Boy," inspired by the problems of young men in fundamentalism, "who are exiled from their homes because they're not doing enough in their lives."

On the other hand, she believes the LDS missionary program is "a wonderful rite of passage" that helps young men become stronger members.