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Celebrating Women’s History Month

March 24, 2017 GMT

In honor of Women’s History Month, members of the local faith community submitted information about women in their faith and some of those who have made significant contributions. Here’s what they had to say:

It has always been a challenge for women to have a voice in Buddhism, a religion with its roots in ancient India. The Buddha’s step-mother reportedly was not allowed into his group of followers until, by dint of sheer determination, she was able to convince him that women needed to have a place in the holy orders of the religion.

Even today, a bias against women exists in some schools of Buddhism, but women such as Pema Chödrön have made great efforts to change the face of Buddhism in North America.

Pema Chödrön was born in 1936 as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in New York City to a Catholic family. Later, in the midst of a devastating divorce, she sought out solace within Buddhist practice. She began studying under Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in London and was ordained as the first fully ordained Vajrayana nun by His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Chödrön is the Spiritual Director of Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia, Canada, and has written prolifically and taught extensively about how to thrive in difficult circumstances.

She is highly regarded as an individual with great compassion and courage. In her words, “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”

— Contributed by Tony and Paula Seikel, Portneuf Sangha Meditation Center

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The equality of women and men is one of the foundational principles of the Baha’i Faith.

The Baha’i writings state, “The world of humanity has two wings — one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.” According to Baha’i teachings, therefore, our communities cannot develop to their full potential until women and men participate equally in all aspects of human society.

Many women were influential in Baha’i history. For example, a Baha’i poetess, Tahirih, was one of the first women in the world to stand up for the rights of women, and she was eventually killed for her beliefs. It was mostly American Baha’i women who spread the Baha’i teachings of the unity of human race all over the world.

The son of Baha’u’llah, in one of his talks in the United States, said, “As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs.”

— Contributed by Mona Heern, The Baha’i Faith

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Belle Smith Spafford served as the General President of the Relief Society, a women’s organization in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from 1945-1974 — nearly three decades.

Shortly after she was called to her position, she met with George Albert Smith, who was then the president of the church, and asked if they could terminate the Relief Society’s membership in the National Council of Women, according to lds.org. Relief Society leaders had faced opposition and expensive travel costs as part of their 50-plus year involvement with the organization.

Spafford felt they didn’t get anything from their membership, but President Smith reminded her that what was most important was what they had to give.

“You continue your membership in these councils and make your influence felt,” Smith told her, according to lds.org.

Spafford did just that. She went on to serve on the National Council of Women for 42 years and was elected as its president from 1968 to 1970. And the Church says women around the world were blessed by her faith, wisdom and inspiration as she served on the council and in the Relief Society.

Belle was especially interested in education and social service, according to ldsmag.com.

“As Relief Society president, she directed social-service agencies in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho, and supervised programs for abused children and unwed mothers, adoptive services, and youth guidance services,” according to ldsmag.com. “She was instrumental in getting legislation passed in the state of Utah to establish university programs to educate social workers, legislation that became a model for other western states.”

Spafford also served as a member of the National Advisory Committee to the White House Conference on Aging and held many other notable positions, according to Wikipedia. She received multiple honors for her contributions to social work, education, her church and the nation.

Information submitted by Brenda Pollard, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Leontine T.C. Kelly was the first black woman elected as bishop in the United Methodist Church. She was elected at the Western Jurisdictional conference in Boise in 1984.

Kelly, as bishop, oversaw North Carolina and Nevada for the church from 1984-1988, and also served as president of the United Methodist Church College of Bishops taking on the duties of chief administrative officer and spiritual leader for the more than 100,000 members of her flock. Kelly died in 2012.

She is quoted as saying, “All my life, my political and social and spiritual selves have all moved together. I just could not separate them.”

Bishop Judith Craig said of her: “She never ran from challenge or controversy, and she also stood fast in her convictions.”

— Contributed by Donna Boe, Pocatello First United Methodist Church

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Emily Tubman was a woman who excelled way before it was allowed. She was a southern belle who took control of the family business when her husband died.

In 1836, she took over the management of a large Georgia plantation and developed those holdings into a vast financial empire. She invested her resources carefully in a wide range of educational, church and community projects. She shattered the “glass ceiling” by accomplishing the impossible and unthinkable.

In pre-Civil War Georgia, she was able to free the slaves she “inherited” despite being a woman with no vote and limited rights. As a thoughtful and serious Bible student and as a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), she was a chief benefactor in establishing Bethany, Hiram and Midway colleges and, at the time, provided the largest gift ever received by our Missionary Society.

Her work penetrated widely into her state and her community, establishing schools and even providing a free train by which the defeated and battered Confederate soldiers could return home.

She was inducted into Georgia Women’s Hall of Achievement in 1994 and has been honored for her faith and generosity in many other forums.

— Contributed by Roger Bray, Central Christian Church. Source: Disciples of Christ Historical Society