Susan Easton Black: Mormon Scholar
Susan Easton Black is a professor emeritus of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University and the author of over one hundred books related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which she is a member.
Black (maiden name Susan Lindsay Ward) was born in 1944 and raised in Long Beach, California. Her parents were affluent and she lived a debutante’s life. She also modeled while in college at BYU. When she was 19, she went to Hollywood to model shoes. She was asked to be on the BYU College Board, which was a fashion and leadership board that included six colleges throughout the United States and sought to advise students on the sorts of clothing that were appropriate.
While at BYU, she nurtured her love of Church history stories that her grandmother told her by enrolling in several classes taught by Milton V. Backman Jr. She went on a Church history tour, led by Backman, that solidified her love of early Church history. She earned her degree in political science and history and married and had three sons. After six years of marriage, when she had a three year old, a two year old, and was pregnant with her third, she found herself a divorced parent. She decided to pursue a master’s degree to enable herself to provide for her children; she earned a degree in counseling from San Bernardino State and then taught at a junior college in San Bernardino. She realized a doctorate would enable her to be home more, as well as to write at home, so she obtained her EdD in educational psychology with a minor in Church history from BYU. Before she finished this degree, BYU hired her for the College of Family Living, where she stayed for four years. She describes her move to the BYU religion department:
- There weren’t a lot of women who were professors or had doctorates. I was only in that department for a few years – from 1978 to 1981 – but those years corresponded with the push for the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States. At that time the president of BYU was Dallin H. Oaks, who was raised by a single mother, much like my own sons. He began looking through the University to make sure there were female faculty members in each college. He discovered through that process that the Religion Department had not had a female full-time faculty member since the beginning of the University—107 years! By this time, I was an ad hoc professor. I was teaching in my own field but also teaching about three religion classes at any one time. I was publishing in Church history and Book of Mormon, and so I was invited to transfer out of Family Living into a full-time position in the Religion Department.
It was not easy building a career in a male-dominated department. But she became a sought-after teacher, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured in all fifty states, giving up to 200 lectures a year. She has led Church cruises and tours in the Mediterranean, Jerusalem, Alaska, Caribbean and Baltics. In 2000, she was presented BYU's highest honor—the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer award—making her the first female winner. She was also an associate dean of General Education and Honors during her tenure at BYU. He hosted the BYUtv series Joseph.
Her book titles include: 400 Questions and Answers About the Life and Times of Jesus Christ, 400 Questions and Answers About the Book of Mormon, 400 Questions and Answers About the Old Testament, Who's Who in the Doctrine & Covenants, Women of Character, and Joseph Smith: Praise to the Man. With Andrew C. Skinner Joseph: Exploring the Life and Ministry of the Prophet, Lion of the Lord: Essays on the Life and Service of Brigham Young and The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith (with Larry C. Porter).
After being a single parent for thirteen years, Black married Harvey B. Black, a widower with five children. They were married for twenty-five years before he passed away in 2011. She married George Durrant in 2013. They served as missionaries in the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, where she has maintained a home for many years.