I asked [Dialogue editor] Mary [Bradford] some questions about [ERA activist] Sonia Johnson, and here are some things I learned. Sonia, Mary says, is a very good example of a very orthodox Mormon; that is, in terms of beliefs and doctrines. She is a straight arrow. She has never been plagued by doubts. From this standpoint she is a very sincere, believing, confiding, practicing Latter-day Saint. After the ERA business came out, as one who believed that Mormonism had given women an elevated status, she thought ERA was quite consistent with the gospel. She accepted it on the basis that it was in line with gospel principles and Church practices. Some of the women in Sonia's ward had gotten together for "awareness" meetings. Most of these women who were regular attenders"activists"-were women who had had trouble with their husbands. They were divorcees or separated. ... This little group ... were very upset when they discovered that certain elements in the Church were conducting an intensive campaign against ERA.
This group interpreted that as beyond the proper limits of Church activity and felt that if these Church "right wingers" could carry out a campaign against the amendment, they (the Mormons for ERA) could seek to counteract them. They did organize "Mormons for ERA." After long discussion they decided that Sonia should be their front-person. They decided this because she was the one person in the group who was not divorced, she had a reputation for being a straight arrow and orthodox in her doctrines and beliefs, and she was a sincere, intelligent, and dedicated person. Most of the members of this group now feel that it may have been a mistake to have chosen Sonia to be their spokesperson. They had not counted upon her excommunication. The excommunication would not have hurt the others as much as it hurt Sonia, and of course Sonia subsequently had the divorce from her husband-something they had not expected. Mary said that some of the things that were done by Mormons for ERA were the ideas of Teddy Wood. For example, the ideas of running the airplane over conference in October trailing the banner Mormons for ERA was strictly Teddy Wood's idea. Mary says that this thing went farther than any of them expected-especially farther than Sonia expected. Mary says that she does not believe Sonia is on an ego trip and that she has [not] reveled in the wide publicity and place in the national news which she has come to have. Mary said this whole business, as far as Sonia is concerned, started with her questioning by [Utah] Senator [Orrin] Hatch. [[Hatch invited Johnson to address the US Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights in August 1978. See Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums, 335-36.]] If that episode had not occurred, none of the rest that followed would have; but Hatch sort of dared her and she was courageous enough to take the dare. Mary says Sonia has ego, but not nearly as much as people have supposed. Mary says that while Sonia has been excommunicated by her bishop, the other sisters, Teddy Wood, Maidia Withers, etc., have spoken up in their wards and have not particularly had any trouble with their bishops. Mary thinks that Sonia could have lived in a dozen wards in the area and never have been brought to trial. Mary does not suppose that Bishop [Jeffrey] Willis was put up to this; he was simply a person who perhaps showed an excess of zeal in doing what he thought was the right thing. Mary said she would not be surprised if the stake president decided to suggest a new trial or to overrule the bishop's judgment. Mary says that Sonia has repented of the extreme things she said in her Montana talk and in the paper she gave to the American Psychological Association. But she of course has not repented of her opposition to ERA. Sonia is delighted with one development. She has gotten the Church to openly state that one may speak up for ERA without jeopardizing membership in the Church. It is just the extreme of her speaking against President [Spencer W.] Kimball and urging people not to accept the missionaries that got her into trouble. Mary thinks that Sonia's mother's support of her is undoubtedly due to her knowledge that Sonia is basically an orthodox girl. Mary says that she finds these angry LDS women who favor ERA to be made up almost exclusively of women who had highly orthodox, stern fathers and who had husbands who were not considerate. ...
I have been surprised, this week, to be visited by two persons who wanted to "set me straight" on some issues. It was important to set me straight, they inferred, because I was a leader of the Mormon intellectual community. I have never regarded myself in that light. ... Intellectual leaders are deep thinkers; I have never regarded myself as a deep thinker. Intellectual leaders take themselves seriously; I have never taken myself and my own thoughts very seriously. ... If I were to list those who are intellectual leaders in the Mormon community, I would mention Sterling McMurrin, Lowell Bennion, Henry Eyring, Lowry Nelson, Homer Durham, Claudia Bushman, Adele McCollum, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Hugh Nibley. If anybody should regard me in that company, I would be honored. I suppose some people may have mistaken my readiness in writing for readiness in thinking. I see myself as primarily a conveyor of ideas, not an originator of ideas. To use historical analogy, I am more like James E. Talmage than B. H. Roberts; more like Parley P. Pratt than Orson Pratt. Nevertheless, even if undeserved, it is pleasant to be considered "in the group" of LDS intellectuals.
[Confessions of a Mormon historian : the diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997, Gary James Bergera, editor, Signature Books, 2018]