In honor of Mary Lythgoe Bradford (1930-2022)

November 10, 2022

Mary Lythgoe Bradford passed away on November 8, 2022 at the age of 92. Mary was the third editor of Dialogue, from 1976 to 1982 and the first woman in the role. She was a prolific writer and scholar who touched many lives through her work.

Dialogue pays tribute to this lovely woman and marvelous writer and editor. We invite you to learn more about Mary Bradford through her wonderful work at Dialogue, found here on her author page as well as her mark on Dialogue’s history as told by current editor Taylor Petrey and former art editor Andi PItcher Davis in Episode #3 and Episode #4 of the Dialogue Heritage Podcast.

Also find more history about Mary Bradford’s editorship of Dialogue in this beautiful piece by Peggy Fletcher Stack at the Salt Lake Tribune: “Her writings did the ‘biggest work of all’ — Mormon journal’s first female editor dies.”

This announcement for Mary’s editorship appeared in 1975:

New Dialogue Editor Appointed

The Executive Committee is pleased to announce that Mary Bradford of Arlington, Virginia has been appointed as the next editor of Dialogue. Mary has been working with a group in the Washington D.C. area for the past several months getting ready for the transition from Los Angeles and we are extremely pleased that she and her co-workers have agreed to publish Dialogue. As of June 1, all correspondence should be sent to Dialogue, P.O. Box 1387, Arlington, VA 22210. All manuscripts should be sent in triplicate, care of the editor, at the above address, and all subscription matters should be addressed to the subscription department at the same address.

Mary Bradford is eminently qualified to be the editor of Dialogue. She is widely known as a poet and writer and has published in a number of Church periodicals. Along with Garth Mangum, she was responsible for editing the special issue of Dialogue on Mormons in the Secular City (Volume 7, No. 1). She served on the Dialogue Board of Editors for eight years and for the past two years has been an associate editor. We look forward to many exciting issues under her editorship. Mary will officially begin her responsibilities as editor with Vol. IX, No. 3, issue, which will be out sometime later this year.

There are many who loved and admired Mary’s work. We include three tributes below from Joanna Brooks, Greg Prince and Larry Bush:

Joanna Brooks:
My experience of Mormon feminism is that no matter what our relationship to the institutional church, Mormon feminists acknowledge and love each other, show up for each other, across generations.  Being recognized as belonging, being claimed, feels essential, especially when our feminism puts us in tension with others in our families and home faith communities.  Mary Bradford has done that for me and for many others—always.  I will never forget when she reached out to me just as The Book of Mormon Girl was being published—from one “Mormon girl” to another.  In fact, with her classic personal essays in Mr. Mustard Plaster and in her groundbreaking work collecting Mormon women’s essays in Mormon Women Speak, she was the original literary “Mormon girl” who broke ground for all of us.  She believed that writing about every day Mormon life—especially Mormon women’s lives—could be beautiful and powerful.  She is beautiful and powerful, and elegant, in the best Mormon way.  Love to you, Mary—always, with tremendous affection and gratitude.

Gregory A. Prince:

Dialogue followed me.  Shortly after I enrolled in graduate studies at UCLA in the late 1960s, it moved from its original location at Stanford to an office in the Religious Conference Center at UCLA.  While it was in Los Angeles, Dialogue published the most important article in its history, one that arguably pried open the door to the 1978 revelation: Lester Bush’s “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview.”  I was impressed enough that I sent a letter to Lester, who then was on overseas duty assignment with the government, and was very pleased that he would respond.

In 1975, I moved to Maryland and, unknowingly, into the same ward into which Lester had moved his family the prior year.  We became, and remain, the closest of friends. Not long after that, Dialogue moved from Los Angeles to Arlington, Virginia, just a few minutes’ drive from where Lester and I lived.  He became associate editor, with Mary Bradford the editor.  Therein was my introduction to Mary.  At Lester’s urging, I began to show up weekly at a volunteer work meeting in the Dialogue office, which was in the basement of Mary’s home.  It didn’t take long for me to see that Mary and Lester were a Dream Team.  Mary’s literary background, along with her extensive network of bright Mormon women, served her well in soliciting literary contributions and editing the final version of each issue of the journal.  And Lester’s superb historical and analytical skills, honed by his day job at the C.I.A., allowed him to commission some of the most important articles—aside from his own 1973 paper—that Dialogue has ever published.  The one thing that Mary could not abide was writing rejection letters, and so in addition to being book review editor, I became her ghost writer.

Mary’s tenure coincided with one of the darker periods of 20th century LDS history, when church leaders responded in a heavy-handed manner to the rise of feminism within the United States.  With the ratification fight for the Equal Rights Amendment in full pitch, the Brethren saw “Mormons for ERA,” a group comprised largely of LDS women living in the Washington, DC area, as a threat not to be ignored.  One of Mary’s good friends, Sonia Johnson, got into the church’s crosshairs and catapulted to national notoriety when she was excommunicated for her advocacy.  Yet, throughout the debacle I was deeply impressed that Mary was able to dwell simultaneously in two worlds, that of active and committed church member (her husband Chick was, at the time, bishop of the Arlington Ward), and committed Mormon feminist.  Her diminutive physical stature and gentle persona were just what was needed to persuade others, particularly LDS women, that it was possible and worthwhile to stay involved in a church that refused to give them total validation.  In the long haul, it may have been a more important contribution than her editorship of Dialogue.

I watched Mary give heroic and uncomplaining assistance to Chick as his health steadily declined due to inherited muscular dystrophy.  On crutches while Dialogue was in his basement, Chick soon advanced to a wheelchair.  Not long after Dialogue moved to Salt Lake City and its fourth editorship, Chick died.  And not long thereafter, Mary’s health took a turn for the worse.

For nearly three decades, in spite of health challenges, Mary pushed forward.  She was a frequent attender of the study group that Lester and I had begun in the mid-1970s.  When she was no longer able to drive, she caught a ride when she could, and send a note of regret when she couldn’t.  Her mind was always at work, and always receptive to good ideas.  And her face could be counted on to have an engaging smile—a mental image that I will never forget.

Larry Bush:

I knew Mary for many years until I moved to California in the mid-1980’s.During that time, Mary made the decision to have Dialogue editorial work transferred to her in Arlington. She was loyal to the Church’s values but willing to examine how that was being translated into our life as individuals and as a community. All that was reflected in Dialogue. She takes real joy — and was unafraid to show her delight—in the commitment, capacity and vision of others. She mentors not lectures others. She was a talented writer, teacher (including a contract to instruct on TM), and has a mind and spirit eager to engage in the world. She brought me in to write a history of the Mormons in Washington for a special issue of the Ensign, the church’s magazine, to be included in the cornerstone of the new Washington Temple for its dedication. We met with local LDS figures like Merlo Pusey, a Pulitzer winning editorial writer at the Washington Post, with Jack Anderson, also a Pulitzer winner as a commentator, and ultimately with Ezra Taft Benson, a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. She was equally comfortable, warm and engaging with each of them and all the others involved in the project. Anyone who came into contact with Mary was better for it, and we each acted like we were in grade school with a show-and-tell moment when in her company, looking to engage her and delight her in equal measure. She stands tall in all the important ways, regardless of her height.