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Historians seeking untold stories of LDS women

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two LDS Church historians are on a quest to tell the world about the inspirational lives of Mormon women.

Richard E. Turley Jr., an assistant church historian and recorder, and Brittany A. Chapman, a historian in the Church History Library, are serving as the editors for a new series of books titled "Women of Faith in the Latter Days." Because half of the people in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been women, the purpose of the project is to bring to light their untold accounts of faith and dedication, both past and present.

"Most of history we've created focuses on men. We've recognized a huge gap there that needs to be filled," Turley said.

For now the two editors are preparing seven volumes. Each volume in the series will contain 50 chapters of 10 pages each on women throughout history and from around the world. The target audience is the general membership of the LDS Church. The source of each story, however, is what makes the project unique.

"We are asking for submissions from the public," Chapman said. "A lot of times the same women have been talked about in church history, whereas other women may be famous only in their families. Finally their story gets to be told, and that's exciting."

Not only have submissions arrived from the United States, but also from Hong Kong, Brazil and Australia. The hope, Turley said, is to provide a broad spectrum of women, both famous and unknown.

"It will include famous women, but also include women that most people have never heard of, who live lives of faith, often quietly, yet who deserve to be respected and celebrated for what they did," Turley said.

The idea for the series came last February, and Turley knew it was a home run. For a considerable amount of time, the Church History Department has recognized the lack of historical data regarding Mormon women. But the project needed something he couldn't provide — a woman's touch.

"I decided it wouldn't be ideal for me to do it alone because I am a man and we are talking about women," Turley said, grinning. "Immediately I thought of Brittany."

Chapman, 28, has a background in women's history, including a master's degree in Victorian studies from the University of Leicester (U.K.). (She has also spent three years editing the life works of Ruth May Fox, which will eventually be published by the University of Utah press.) Turley described her has a "rising star in the department." He invited her to his office one day and asked, "How much free time do you have?"

The memory prompted laughter and smiles for the two editors.

"Of course I was thrilled," Chapman said.

The series was announced in May and the first volume, focused on women born in or before 1820, is scheduled for publication in 2011 by Deseret Book. Subsequent volumes will follow at about one-year intervals and include a 25-year time span. Volume 2 includes women born between 1821 and 1845; Volume 3 from 1846 to 1870; Volume 4 from 1871 to 1895; Volume 5 from 1986 to 1920; Volume 6 between 1921 and 1945 and Volume 7 from 1946 to 1970.

When a submission is received, the editors will verify the sources and edit the material.

"Certainly when you have this many people involved with a project of wide variance and style, and we don't want to squash that style, but we do want to have a uniform quality," Turley said. "That means a lot of work for us."

Both editors feel the project is timely and will fill a big hole in church history books. Church research also suggests that people are hungry for more historical examples of people who confronted and overcame challenges. Personally, Turley wants to provide a credible source for his daughters and granddaughters to find stories about women of faith.

"Right now it's difficult for members of the church around the world to find that material. We hope to make it much more accessible," he said.

Entries are currently being accepted. Subjects do not have to be famous. Those interested in contributing should submit a proposal to lds.women.of.faith@gmail.com or 2914 Ivory Way, Taylorsville, UT 84084. Selected authors will receive a modest honorarium and two copies of each volume in which their chapter appears.

For information, see www.ldswomenoffaith.org.

E-mail: ttoone@desnews.com