"The Value of an Educated Woman:
Elder John Carmack's 30 September 2009 Address to the
J. Reuben Clark Law Society of Brigham Young University"

Janille Shumway Stearmer and S. Matthew Stearmer

SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall 2009)






            Fifteen years ago when we were starting out as undergraduate students it was still popular for young women attending school to choose an academic program that did one of two things: either it prepared her to raise children or it put her in a position to meet eligible husband material.  Although there were women like our friend Becky in the civil engineering program, it was most common to find young women in programs such as early childhood development, teaching, or pre-med/pre-law/pre-business. It was also common for these same young women to leave their program of study unfinished once they married.  After all, according to accepted LDS cultural opinion, once a woman had achieved her true objective and purpose of securing a spouse and provider, further education was unnecessary - she was supposed to be truly fulfilled and complete.  Wasn’t she?

            What role does education and training play in a woman’s life?  This question has occupied the minds of men and women for ages, with opinions ranging all across the board.  Can education have any personal value for the individual alone—and should it, in the case of women?  Does the education of a woman reach beyond the individual and family to a wider community and sphere of influence?  A recent address by Elder John K. Carmack, given at Brigham Young University to the J. Reuben Clark Law Society on 30 September 2009, and specifically to female students contemplating law school, offers a great deal of insight into these questions.  Elder Carmack’s talk should be read by all young LDS women as well as their parents and other adults of influence.

            Elder Carmack is the Executive Director of the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In this role he has had to determine whether education would be of benefit to women in order to allocate finite resources among applicants.  He is often asked if the PEF is for women as well as men, to which he responds “YES!” and adds that 51% of PEF recipients are women [1].  Given his experience, Elder Carmack has both the ecclesiastical and the practical background to address these questions concerning the education of women.  Here we aim to spotlight important elements of Elder Carmack’s address, adding commentary from our own personal experience.

The Position of Contemporary Church Presidents

            Elder Carmack commented that both LDS and non-LDS persons are curious to know what the LDS Church leadership has to say about education for women.  He illustrated this by reference to the press conference held following the formation of the current First Presidency with Thomas S. Monson as President of the Church.  The following is an excerpt from that interview, as quoted by Elder Carmack:

            “One question came from Howard Berkes, a reporter for National Public Radio. He asked: I recently heard a speech of yours that you gave at the Relief Society before the Relief Society Conference in October in which you told women that they should get an education in case their husband dies or they get divorced, and I am wondering what you would say to Mormon women who may see that the need for an education or career goes beyond these two things.
            “President Monson’s unedited answer was: “Oh, I think that today’s world is competitive more than it has ever been and I believe men and women need to get a type of education which will enable them to meet the exigencies of life whether it be the death of a husband or a death of a wife or moving to this assignment or that assignment. I believe men and women need to be prepared for a vastly broader scope than we have ever had before. Well educated too” (italics added).
            “Berkes followed up with this additional question: 'Education for the sake of education is worthy other than the notion of being prepared for the death of a spouse?'"
            “President Monson’s answered, "Oh, I certainly think so. I had the privilege of serving for many years on the State Board of Regents which governed all of the universities in the State of Utah and I have seen a great expansion and emphasis upon everyone qualifying to educate the mind and to be prepared for any type of exigencies that may come into their life and to have a satisfaction of knowing that you’ve accomplished something. That you’ve had a goal and that you’ve achieved it.”
            “Then Daniel Carrillo, a reporter for Univision, the Spanish Network, asked: 'During the presidency of Gordon B. Hinckley the Perpetual Education Fund was created as a message of hope for those third world countries which a pretty large group of your membership comes from Latin America which that fund is being used very well. What would be your message of hope for those third world countries in general? Are you going to continue with that fund with any other program” (italics added)?
            “Here was President Monson’s reply: "I think the Perpetual Education Fund is one of the hallmarks of the administration of President Gordon B. Hinckley. I remember that he was the first to speak to us about it and indicated the need to pursue that to a conclusion…. Bishop Burton… has worked closely in that regard and others who have received assignments there. They report to us regularly and it is expanding and those young people are finding jobs and they are able to repay the loans. It is a perpetual education fund. It has lifted them out of poverty to a life comparable to others who otherwise have the chance and the money to provide an education. It’s a miracle that’s all there is to it and every day when I read the obituaries, we do that every day you know, make certain we are not in it, but I like to see at the bottom, in lieu of flowers contributions may be made to the Perpetual Education Fund. That is a fund that will go far in to the future” (italics added) [2].

            Elder Carmack then goes on to emphasize that “President Hinckley never made a distinction between men and women in establishing PEF as the educational program for young adults in less-advantaged countries. Now that he is gone, we can learn several important things about President Monson’s feelings. Education is just as vital for women as for men in the Church. Education for women is not just a safeguard in case of divorce, death of a spouse, or lack of opportunity to marry, but is also important for fulfilling life’s purposes and the goals of improving our minds and skills. The Perpetual Education Fund is a miraculous tool to expand educational and training opportunities and also to fight poverty that exists. It is a program that will continue indefinitely and go far into the future [3].”

            Some people may wonder why the LDS Church is emphasizing education for all, when we know that many great women, including some in our own families, haven’t been college educated, yet have contributed magnificently in all aspects of society. Elder Carmack made the following points to help answer that question:

            “As implied in the first question to President Monson, a woman may end up either early or late being the primary bread winner for her family, or for herself.  Aside from that practical point made above, education can help women fulfill their life’s roles, including rearing children, at the highest level of which they are capable. Women also gain fulfillment and satisfaction from improving their minds and skills. As we will point out, with an education women are more likely to fulfill their duties as citizens, pay their fair share of taxes, vote intelligently, give voluntary service in their communities, and develop a sense of self worth and self reliance. Education helps women achieve excellence in Church and community service. Through achieving educational goals, they experience joy and fulfillment. Education opens opportunities in matters where education is a required condition [4].”

            Many of us will remember former President Gordon B. Hinckley’s many talks on the importance of education, for both men and women.  Elder Carmack relates the following personal experience with President Hinckley: “Early in my service as a Seventy, President Hinckley joined a group of us for lunch. I mentioned that his sons were well educated at prestigious universities. He replied: ‘Yes, they are smarter than their father, but not smarter than their mother.’ I sensed his feelings about his wife’s critical place in their family [5].”

            President Hinckley later shared his counsel on this matter in the 2004 Women’s Meeting of the Church, where he said:

            “I must remind you that you must get all of the education that you possibly can. Life has become so complex and competitive. You cannot assume that you have entitlements due you. You will be expected to put forth a great effort and to use your best talents to make your way to the most wonderful future of which you are capable. Occasionally, there will likely be serious disappointments. But there will be helping hands along the way, many such, to give you encouragement and strength to move forward.”
            “What a tremendous difference training makes. Training is the key to opportunity. It brings with it the challenge of increasing knowledge and the strength and power of discipline. Perhaps you do not have the funds to get all the schooling you would desire. Make your money go as far as you can, and take advantage of scholarships, grants, and loans within your capacity to repay.”
            “It is for this reason that the Perpetual Education Fund was established. We recognized that a few dollars could make a world of difference in the opportunities for young men and young women to secure needed training. The beneficiary secures the training and repays the loan so someone else can have the same opportunity (italics added) [6].”

            For the sake of clarity, let us review what President Hinckley counseled women--for he was speaking to the women of the Church--about the importance of gaining an education:

            • Get all the education you possibly can.
            • Life is getting more and more complex and competitive.
            • You can’t assume entitlement.
            • The Lord expects both men and women to increase their talents and use them.
            • A wonderful future can be possible if we do our part.
            • With helping hands and hard work we can overcome disappointments.
            • Training can make a huge difference.
            • There is power in discipline.
            • Make your money go as far as you can, then take advantage of scholarships, grants, and             loans within your capacity to repay.
            • PEF has taught us that a few dollars can make a world of difference for our youth [7].

            It is apparent from the comments of both Presidents Monson and Hinckley that this is an important and relevant topic for young women today.  In light of this prophetic counsel, it is important to examine what young women are hearing from friends and family regarding education.  Consider the following true and recent experiences shared by a university professor of our acquaintance:

            "One of my students came to see me during my office hours.  She was an outstanding student, and I was troubled to see her so upset.  She explained that lately she had been getting a very strong spiritual impression that she was to go on to graduate school.  This had not been her original plan for her life, but she could not deny the prompting she was receiving.  She had gone home for Thanksgiving and had announced to her family her intention to go to graduate school.  Her mother burst into tears, and her grandmother remarked, "Well, I guess I won't be seeing any grandchildren from you, will I?"

            "Another female student told me a stunning story.  She was a convert to the LDS Church, and engaged to be married to a returned missionary.  Since she had never had a patriarchal blessing, she felt now was the time to receive one, and she invited her fiancé to come with her.  The patriarch laid his hands on her head and gave her a beautiful blessing.  To her amazement, about one-third of the blessing concerned her future education leading to a career and how she would influence millions of women for good as a result of that career.  The blessing over, she and her fiancé left the patriarch's home.  Her fiancé told her that he would have to break the engagement because he did not envision his future life with a wife who continued her education and then had a career."

            "A student remarked in class that she was newly married and she had applied for law school, only to be told by her father-in-law that a woman should only have a necessary education and that going on for law school was clearly going beyond what was necessary for her to survive economically if her husband died."

            Reading the counsel of our modern prophets, and then juxtaposing that counsel with the real experiences and very mixed messages young LDS women are receiving regarding education, we may regard Elder Carmack’s talk and his recounting of contemporary prophetic teachings as an important corrective message that deserves serious consideration by a wider LDS audience.  Counsel from our prophets should not be taken lightly nor overruled by longstanding but incorrect traditions.

            Elder Carmack also presented the following findings from a recent published study by the American College Board regarding the benefits of education. Here are a few of the most pertinent findings mentioned by Elder Carmack in his address to LDS women contemplating law school:

1. On average, education secures much higher levels of lifetime earnings for recipients.
2. Educated persons generally contribute more to our communities in taxes and voluntary service.
3. A young adult who has to borrow for tuition, fees, and other educational costs will, on average, earn enough to compensate for these loans by the time she or he reaches mid-thirties.
4. Although a woman benefits somewhat less financially than a man from education, a college-educated woman will generally earn 60% more than her counterpart that has only a high school education.
5. These benefits apply to all racial and/ethnic groups.
6. Poverty rates are lower for educated persons.
7. Educated persons are generally more healthy than their counterparts. They smoke less and are more likely to exercise than less educated ones.
8. Their children are generally better prepared for school and participate more in extra-curricular activities. They also participate much more in volunteer activities.
9. They are more likely than less educated persons to vote and donate blood [8].

            We can certainly find evidence that the uneducated woman can still make a wonderful contribution with her life, and can fulfill every opportunity presented her – but the educated woman will have more advantages and opportunities throughout her life.  This was emphasized for Janille when she received her Patriarchal blessing at age 14.  The Stake Patriarch blessed her to pursue her educational opportunities stating that, all other things being equal, the educated person will have that much more advantage over the uneducated person. 

            This lesson was again reinforced by Janille’s mother Judy who, after raising her ten children, found herself in need of employment and lacking the necessary education and training to give her any advantage in the job market.  Judy took what work she could find and has worked to the best of her ability, but she indicated to her children that she wished she had taken advantage of educational opportunities when she was younger so she could have improved her job potential later in life when the necessity arose.  All four of Judy’s daughters earned 4-year degrees, married and are raising families; the oldest daughter also eventually earned a Master’s degree and is currently employed.  At this time the other three daughters are stay-at-home mothers.  Matt’s mother also faces similar restrictions in the job market because her education remains incomplete.  Both mothers have lived and are living productive and fulfilling lives.  Both, however, have also expressed frustration at the limitations placed on them in diverse ways due to their lack of a formal education or other relevant training.  Many women, including stay-at-home mothers, will face similar circumstances and choices throughout their lives.

What We Teach Our Daughters About the Value of Education

            Elder Carmack also has some concerns to share. He states that “although in the past two or three decades women have significantly out-paced men in acquiring college and professional education, still they are not doing as well as they could. We should be concerned and do our part to change that.  Graduation rates in colleges are generally falling and are not nearly what they should be. Many enroll in college, but don’t finish. Colleges could do a much better job than they do in helping students complete their education, but men and women should be better finishers.  Faced with an economic downturn, people are enrolling in institutions of higher learning in greater numbers to increase their skills and employment opportunities. Our young people should not be apathetic about the need to gain more knowledge and skills. Presidents Hinckley and Monson are right on target. We should heed their counsel [9].”

            Elder Carmack’s talk certainly brings a different perspective on the subject of LDS women and education.  In fact, we believe that it encourages both men and women to have a different perspective on the role of education in their lives. Education isn’t just for the obtaining of employment (or the obtaining of a husband and better child-rearing skills), but it is for the greater edification and contribution of all mankind.  There are attitudes about education and training that need adjusting in our society, for men and women. 

            A case in point is a conversation we had with our eldest daughter after Janille came home from hearing Elder Carmack’s talk.  After some discussion with Elder Carmack and some panelists at the event, Janille is now considering enrolling in a law program once our youngest child enters full time school in a few years.  Our daughter became concerned that if her mother earns an advanced degree that mom would be required to leave the home and work – because isn’t that what dads did when they got educated?  This prompted a discussion in our family about the purpose of education for all family members, where our priorities ought to be correctly placed whether we are contributing financially in the family or not, and how mothers and fathers can work together to provide for, protect, and nurture in the home. 

            From a limited child’s perspective it may seem that increased education limits choices in life because an educated person is expected to DO something with that education (outside the home, family, or Church).  How many women have been asked why they are wasting their education by staying home and raising children, or why they are wasting their lives raising children rather than going to school and having careers, or why they would bother going to school since they are just supposed to get married and have babies?  But are such questions fair, or do they miss the point?

            Matt spoke to a group of young women a few months ago about education and he asked them the standard question, “Why do women need to get an education?”  Predictably, one of the young ladies answered, rather sneeringly, that it was in case she got divorced or her husband died. Matt’s response was – “How depressing!”  Is that supposed to be motivating? Encouraging?  Matt then spent the entire class period trying to convince them to have a positive view of educational opportunities.  Unfortunately, after decades of teaching women to view education primarily as “disaster preparation” it will certainly take more than one Sunday class to convince them otherwise.

            Do we want young women to view their future lives with the Sword of Damocles always hanging over them? Is education Plan A for Heavenly Father’s sons, but only Plan B for His daughters?  That’s not how we want our daughters to view educational opportunities throughout their life. In light of the counsel of Presidents Hinckley and Monson, we are apparently supposed to look at education as a source of strength, hope, opportunity, personal growth and positive influence—for our girls as well as for our boys.

            Does this also mean we need a shift in what education means to men as well as women?  It seems it does.  As was previously referenced, Elder Carmack ably points out the many benefits that we as individuals, as families, and as communities and society derive from an educated populace.  Women have a sphere of influence uniquely their own – in our modern era the educated LDS woman can be a significant force for great good as well as a persuasive advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the family.

            A prime example of this is the story of Oyun Altangerel, from Mongolia.  At a recent BYU-Idaho address, Elder Dalin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared the following story:

            “Following the perestroika movement in the Soviet Union, popular demonstrations in Mongolia forced the Communist government to resign in March 1990. Other political parties were legalized, but the first Mongolian elections gave the Communists a majority in the new parliament, and the old repressive attitudes persisted in all government departments. The full functioning of a democratic process and the full enjoyment of the people’s needed freedoms do not occur without a struggle. In Mongolia, the freedoms of speech, press and religion — a principal feature of the inspired United States Constitution — remained unfulfilled.”
            “In that precarious environment, a 42-year-old married woman, Oyun Altangerel, a department head in the state library, courageously took some actions that would prove historic. Acting against official pressure, she organized a “Democratic Association Branch Council.” This 12-member group, the first of its kind, spoke out for democracy and proposed that state employees have the freedoms of worship, belief and expression, including the right to belong to a political party of their choice.”
            “When Oyun and others were fired from their state employment, Oyun began a hunger strike in the state library. Within three hours she was joined by 20 others, mostly women, and their hunger strike, which continued for five days, became a public demonstration that took their grievances to the people of Mongolia. This demonstration, backed by major democratic movement leaders, encouraged other government employees to organize similar democratic councils. These dangerous actions expanded into a national anti-government movement that voiced powerful support for the basic human freedoms of speech, press and religion. Eventually the government accepted the demands, and in the adoption of a democratic constitution two years later Mongolia took a major step toward a free society.”
            “For Latter-day Saints, this birth of constitutional freedom in Mongolia has special interest. Less than two years after the historic hunger strike, we sent our first missionaries to Mongolia. In 1992 these couples began their meetings in the state library, where Oyun was working. The following year, she showed her courage again by being baptized into this newly arrived Christian church. Her only child, a 22-year-old son, was baptized two years later. Today, the Mongolian members of our Church number 9,000, reportedly the largest group of Christians in the country. A few months ago we organized our first stake in Mongolia. Called as the stake president was Sister Oyun’s son, Odgerel. He had studied for a year at BYU-Hawaii, and his wife, Ariuna, a former missionary in Utah, graduated there [10].”

            This story is significant for several reasons: First, an educated and married mother led the movement to establish democratic and constitutional freedom for her entire country.  Second, this educated mother’s actions led to the opening of Mongolia’s doors to LDS missionaries.  Third, this educated mother welcomed LDS missionary discussions, accepted baptism, and supported her adult son’s investigation into the Gospel, which subsequently led to his baptism.  Fourth, this educated mother supported the religious and secular education of her son, who is now a strong, married Priesthood leader in his home country.  Thousands of lives and future generations have been changed for good – all because of the work of one educated mother.

Elder Carmack’s Concluding Thoughts

            The conclusion of Elder Carmack’s speech illustrates several personal experiences, some within his own family and others from Perpetual Education Fund recipients.  Rather than try to summarize these stories, we would like to end this essay by including them below in their entirety.

            “In conclusion, I share a thought or two from my own family experience. Looking back, I am happy to have married Shirley who excelled as a student. This has benefited us in every way—spiritually, emotionally, and financially. She graduated from an excellent university, did graduate work in her field of foods and nutrition, became a registered dietician, and was in a position to help our children and grandchildren by example and by being prepared to assist them in their school work.”
            “We have four daughters and one surviving son. I will talk just about our daughters. All of them are very good mothers and were excellent students in school. Lisa has both a college education and a law degree from a fine law school. Having an excellent provider for a husband, she has used her law training mostly part time at home in real estate matters. She has put her knowledge and education to good use in raising her children. Their oldest two are now in graduate school and the third well along at the university.”
            “Paula also is a university graduate and has an MBA from an excellent university. She has used that education wisely, contributing much to needs of their family. She has been able to work just two or three days a week in her chosen field and make an excellent income that has helped with family finances and kept her up-to-date in her chosen field. Her children are excelling in school, with one well along at the university.”
            “Barbara and Julia, our youngest, both served missions for the Church. Both graduated from the university and are doing an excellent job raising bright children. Neither of them works full time, but Julia is handling important matters for her husband’s small business and Barbara has master’s degrees in French and education if ever she must work outside the home. All of our daughters are intelligent, educated, and excel in Church and voluntary community service.”
            “Finally, here are a couple of stories from our sisters’ Perpetual Education Fund experiences. One dear sister in Mexico wanted to be a dental hygienist, but could not afford the schooling. She worked as a waitress, an honorable work, but at subsistence level remuneration. When PEF provided a loan, she was able to get into school to follow her dream and immediately got a job in a dental office at much higher pay. Then she completed her training and became a dental hygienist at an even higher level of pay. She is reaping some of the benefits brought by education that I have shared.”
            “In her own words, here is my last example among thousands from PEF. Shirley from South Africa sent this: The PEF program is a blessing from our Heavenly Father. My bishop introduced the program to me at a time when I desperately needed extra funding to finish my Java programming course. I had attended college previously and had spent a lot of money being trained, but I couldn’t find decent employment. The PEF program was able to give me hope and an opportunity to drastically improve my life through education. I appreciate that the program encouraged me to stay active in the Church, to participate in institute programs, and to improve myself spiritually.”
            “Shortly after completing the course I was blessed with a computer programming job at one of South Africa’s leading insurance companies. I made sure to pay off the PEF loan as quickly as I could. This helped me understand the importance of being responsible for my actions in order to bless other students that will need the help from PEF. My confidence levels increased as I paid off the loan and I proved to be reliable and trustworthy. I felt good about that achievement. I think it’s better to not procrastinate paying off a loan, because interest on the loan can quickly build up. To avoid any temptations at the end of the month, I opted to have a debit order going off my account to pay for the loan. Some months when I could spare some money, I paid extra towards the loan. That made a huge difference, and I would advise others to do the same, but only after they have taken care of all their necessary living costs.”
            “A better paying job meant a better quality of life. It meant I could help out my parents and family, and I was able to make myself more available to serve in the Church. The skills and refinement I have since acquired from working have helped me greatly to be of better service in all my Church callings. I’ve been working for almost six years as a programmer and I still love my job. I was able to save up a really good deposit for my first car. I recently got married in the temple to a wonderful man. With both of us working, my husband and I were able to save up for our wedding and for a deposit for our new home. I feel that if it were not for my studies and my constant participation at church I would not have had a job, nor would I have been able to achieve any of these good things. I feel so indebted to our Heavenly Father. I owe Him my life and more. I would not have come this far in my life without his help. I’m thankful for the continued revelation we receive from modern-day prophets. Each and every revelation helps to improve our lives. The Lord truly loves us and wants the very best for us. I’m grateful to know that [11].”
           “That story has all the elements in it that President Hinckley foresaw in his announcement of the Perpetual Education Fund, doesn’t it! It includes [Shirley’s] good feelings when she fulfilled a sacred promise, the benefit of carefully selected training for a skill needed in her community, the time and skill to fulfill Church callings, the blessings of a temple marriage, and the joy and powerful testimony that comes from following a Prophet of God.”
            “Primary children often sing the hymn “Follow the Prophet. He knows the way.” [The prophet] has a message for our women about education: Obtain all you can. Fulfill your ambitions and goals one way or another, now or later. Improve and increase your talents. Use your education and training for yourselves, your families, and your communities. You’ll not regret it [12].”



[1] Elder John K. Carmack, “For Women As Well As Men.” J. Reuben Clark Law Society, BYU. September 30, 2009. http://www.law2.byu.edu/news/file/9%2023%20women%20education.pdf . [Back to manuscript]

[2] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[3] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[4] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[5] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[6] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[7] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[8] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[9] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[10] Elder Dallin. H. Oaks, “Religious Freedom.” BYU-Idaho. October, 13, 2009. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/religious-freedom#_edn5%23_edn5 . [Back to manuscript]

[11] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[12] Carmack, ibid. [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: Stearmer, Janille Shumway and S. Matthew Stearmer (2009) "The Value of an Educated Woman: Elder Carmack's 30 September 2009 Address to the J. Reuben Clark Law Society of Brigham Young University," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleStearmersCarmack.html, accessed [give access date].

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