Sonia Johnson

On this date in 1936, Sonia Ann Johnson, née Harris, was born a fifth-generation Mormon in Malad, Idaho. She graduated from Utah State University and married Rick Johnson, then pursued her M.A. and Ed.D. degrees from Rutgers University. She taught English at American and foreign universities, working part-time as a teacher while accompanying her husband on overseas jobs.

The family returned to the U.S. in 1976, buying a house in Virginia, one of the states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Johnson became such an ardent supporter of the ERA that she was excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1979. She exposed the role of the wealthy Mormon Church in sabotaging passage of the ERA. She went on a 37-day hunger strike in the Illinois statehouse in 1982 during the last days of the ERA countdown to symbolize how "women hunger for justice."

Johnson ran on a feminist ticket for U.S. president in 1984 as the candidate of the Citizens Party, becoming the first third-party candidate to qualify for primary matching funds. In countless speeches, she pointed out, "Nobody's ever fought a revolution for women." She wrote eloquently of her experiences in From Housewife to Heretic (1981). In a 1982 speech to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, she said, “I have to admit that one of my favorite fantasies is that next Sunday not one single woman, in any country of the world, will go to church. If women simply stop giving our time and energy to the institutions that oppress, they would have to cease to do so.”

Her marriage ended amid tensions around her ERA advocacy and she started a feminist collective in an old monastery near Albuquerque, N.M. Membership dwindled until only she and Jade DeForest were left. They moved to Arizona and have been together ever since, according to a news story in the Salt Lake Tribune (Jan. 19, 2019).

Johnson, who is estranged from her four children, last published a book in 2010, The SisterWitch Conspiracy.

Photo: National Women's History Museum

"Did I believe in God? The answer was no. All my conventional beliefs fell off me like a big, sloppy, unnecessary overcoat, and my real self emerged.”

—Johnson, on leaving Mormonism behind, Salt Lake Tribune interview (Jan. 19, 2019)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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