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Sonia Johnson

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Title: Sonia Johnson  
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Subject: Richard Walton, United States presidential election, 1984, Citizens Party (United States), Republican Party presidential primaries, 1984, Helen Halyard
Collection: 1936 Births, 20Th-Century American Writers, 20Th-Century Philosophers, 20Th-Century Women Writers, 21St-Century American Writers, 21St-Century Philosophers, 21St-Century Women Writers, American Feminist Writers, American Feminists, American Memoirists, American Political Writers, American Relationships and Sexuality Writers, American Women Writers, Citizens Party (United States) Politicians, Female United States Presidential Candidates, Feminist Philosophers, Heresy, Lesbian Feminists, Lesbian Politicians, Lesbian Writers, Lgbt Latter Day Saints, Lgbt Politicians from the United States, Living People, Mormon Feminists, Mormonism-Related Controversies, Peace and Freedom Party Politicians, People Excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, People from Oneida County, Idaho, Radical Feminists, Rutgers University Alumni, United States Presidential Candidates, 1984, Utah State University Alumni, Women Memoirists
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Sonia Johnson

Sonia Johnson
Born Sonia Ann Harris
(1936-02-27) February 27, 1936
Malad, Idaho
Residence New Mexico
Nationality American
Alma mater Utah State University
Rutgers College
Occupation Feminist activist and writer
Known for Supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, excommunicated by LDS Church
Spouse(s) Rick Johnson (divorced)
Partner(s) Jade DeForest
Website Official website

Sonia Johnson (born Sonia Ann Harris; February 27, 1936) is an American feminist activist and writer. She was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and in the late 1970s was publicly critical of the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), of which she was a member, against the proposed amendment. She eventually was excommunicated from the church for her activities. She went on to publish several radical feminist books and become a popular feminist speaker.


  • Early life and education 1
  • LDS Church and ERA 2
  • Citizens Party presidential candidate 3
  • Publications and personal views 4
  • Personal life 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life and education

Sonia Ann Harris, born in Malad, Idaho, was a fifth-generation Mormon. She attended Utah State University and married Rick Johnson following graduation. She earned a Master's degree and a Doctor of Education from Rutgers College. She was employed as a part-time teacher of English in universities both in the United States and abroad, following her husband to new places of employment. She had four children during these years. They returned to the United States in 1976.[1][2]

LDS Church and ERA

Johnson began speaking out in support of the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, and she continued speaking and promoting the ERA and denouncing the LDS Church's opposition to the amendment.[1][3]

The LDS church began disciplinary proceedings against Johnson after she delivered a scathing speech entitled "Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church" at a meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) in New York City in September 1979. Johnson denounced allegedly immoral and illegal nationwide lobbying efforts by the LDS Church to prevent passage of the ERA.[3]

Because the speech drew national media attention, leaders in Johnson's local Virginia congregation immediately began excommunication proceedings. A December 1979 excommunication letter claimed that Sonia Johnson was charged with a variety of misdeeds, including hindering the worldwide missionary program, damaging internal Mormon social programs, and teaching false doctrine.[4] Her husband divorced her in October 1979, two months before the trial; she attributes his decision to "some kind of mid-life crisis."[2]

After the rupture with the church, Johnson continued promoting the ERA, speaking on television and at numerous functions throughout the country, including the 1980 Democratic Convention. She also protested venues such as the Republican Party headquarters in Washington. She and twenty ERA supporters were briefly jailed for chaining themselves to the gate of the Seattle Washington Temple in Bellevue, Washington.

Citizens Party presidential candidate

Johnson ran in the 1984 presidential election, as the presidential candidate of the U.S. Citizens Party, Pennsylvania's Consumer Party and California's Peace and Freedom Party. Johnson received 72,161 votes (0.08%) finishing fifth.[5] Her running mate for the Citizens Party was Richard Walton and for the Peace and Freedom Party Emma Wong Mar.[6] One of her campaign managers, Mark Dunlea, later wrote a novel about a first female president, Madame President.[7]

Johnson also founded Wildfire, a short-lived separatist commune for women that disbanded in 1993. She published several of her later books under the imprint "Wildfire Books."

Publications and personal views

Johnson became increasingly radicalized, especially against state power, as reflected in the books she published after 1987. They include:

  • From Housewife to Heretic (Doubleday, 1981)
  • Telling the Truth (pamphlet, Crossing Press, 1987)
  • Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation (Crossing Press, 1987)
  • Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution (Wildfire Books, 1990)
  • The Ship that Sailed Into the Living Room: Sex and Intimacy Reconsidered (Wildfire Books, 1991)
  • Out of This World: A Fictionalized True-Life Adventure (Wildfire Books, 1993)
  • The SisterWitch Conspiracy (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010)

In Going Out of Our Minds Johnson details the personal and political experiences that turned her against the state. In the book she rejects the Equal Rights Amendment, the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, equal opportunity laws, and other government benefits because she considers them cooptation by patriarchy.

In Wildfire Johnson elaborates on her beliefs and answers her many critics in and out of the feminist movement. Her bottom line argument is that state violence is male violence and that women relate to the male-dominated state much as women relate to battering husbands who alternately abuse and reward their wives to keep them under control. She compares both relationships to the Stockholm Syndrome in which hostages develop an emotional attachment to their captors.

In chapter three of Wildfire, entitled "The Great Divorce," Johnson writes: "I have heard women involved in male politics say about our political system almost the same words I have heard battered women use about their abusers: 'Of course our government isn't perfect, but where is there a better one? With all its faults, it is still the best system (husband) in the world.' Like a battered wife, they never think to ask the really relevant questions: who said we needed a husband, or a husband-state, at all?"

During this time Johnson also declared herself a lesbian and began a relationship with a woman. After ending that relationship, she wrote in The Ship that Sailed Into the Living Room that even relationships between female couples are a dangerous patriarchal trap, because "two is the ideal number for inequality, for sadism, for the reproduction of patriarchy", and that relationships are "slave Ships" (a concept from which she derived the title of the book).

"Nearly four years after I began my rebellion against relation/sex/slave Ships," she wrote, "experience and my Wise Old Woman are telling me that sex as we know it is a patriarchal construct and has no rightful, natural place in our lives, no authentic function or ways. Synonymous with hierarchy/control, sex is engineered as part of the siege against our wholeness and power."[8]

In The SisterWitch Conspiracy, Johnson imagines a world in which men do not exist at all, inspired by her belief that "as long as men were on the planet, neither peace nor justice would ever be possible."[9]

Personal life

Johnson currently lives in New Mexico with partner Jade DeForest, where they ran Casa Feminista, a hotel catering to feminist women.[10] She continues to speak at feminist events, including the 2007 Feminist Hullabaloo.

See also


  1. ^ a b The Sonia Johnson Papers Biographical Sketch, University of Utah Marriott Library Special collection.
  2. ^ a b Sonia Johnson, In the Battle for the E.R.A., a Mormon Feminist Waits for the Balloon to Go Up, People Magazine, December 29, 1980.
  3. ^ a b Sonia Johnson, Ed.D. Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church, paper presented as chair of Mormons for ERA at the American Psychological Association Meetings, New York City, September 1, 1979. Online reprint by Recovery from Mormonism (
  4. ^ Sillitoe, Linda, "Church Politics and Sonia Johnson: The Central Conundrum", Sunstone Magazine, Issue No: 19, January–February, 1980.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Johnson, Sonia. The Ship That Sailed into the Living Room: Sex and Intimacy Reconsidered. Wildfire Books, September 1991.
  9. ^ McCollum, Charles, "Looking for Sonia Johnson, a 'ghost' from Logan's past", The Herald Journal," Logan, UT, July 11, 2010.
  10. ^

Further reading

  • Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, Chapter 17 "Sonia Johnson: Mormonism's Feminist Heretic," (University of Illinois Press, 1998)
  • Majorie Hyer, "Mormon Bishop Excommunicates Woman Who Is Supporting ERA," Washington Post, December 6, 1979, p. A1.

External links

  • Sonia Johnson Papers at University of Utah Library Collection website.
  • Sonia Johnson photograph collection of LDS-related and other ERA demonstrations at University of Utah Library website.
  • Report on 2007 Feminist Hullaballo (with photographs).
Party political offices
Preceded by
Barry Commoner
Citizens Party presidential candidate
Succeeded by
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