They were “appalled at the fact that he was harassing me, which is basically what he was doing,” she said.
Caci left the church soon after.
Romney’s interaction with Caci marked a low point in what she and the contributors to Exponent II describe as Romney’s pilgrim’s progress from tone-deaf enforcer of doctrine to a more mature and tolerant pastor of the feminists in his flock.
Romney, who declined to comment for this article, is now a potential Republican nominee for president. In this election, he has embraced his long and active membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to parry accusations that he lacks consistency and a “core.” But some of the women who witnessed Romney’s tenure as the highest-ranking Mormon authority in Boston, the epicenter of the church’s women’s movement, offer a more nuanced portrait.
“He evolved,” said Barbara Taylor, a former president of Exponent II who went on to serve as personal assistant to Romney in the Massachusetts governor’s office. “He is an entirely different person now.”
Romney, fresh from graduation from Brigham Young University, arrived in Boston in 1971 to enroll in a joint program of Harvard’s business and law schools. His wealth and pedigree as the son of a former governor and presidential candidate made him stand out. But at that time, he was far from the only young and brilliant Mormon on Harvard’s campus. Many of those Harvard and MIT graduate students came with their wives. Animated by a spirit of intellectual freedom and historic scholarship blowing out of Salt Lake City, and a feminist movement sweeping the country, those women started discussing where they came from and where they were going.
In Harvard’s Widener Library, one of the women stumbled across a volume of a turn-of-the-century Mormon women’s publication called Exponent. The long-forgotten journal revealed that Mormon women, despite a reputation downtrodden from polygamy, had been among the country’s most vocal suffragists. The discovery inspired the women in Boston to pick up where their ancestors had left off.
On a recent afternoon in this Boston suburb, Nancy Dredge, a 67-year-old descendant of Mormon apostle Brigham Young, carried a brittle sheaf of Exponent II newspapers into her living room and read aloud from the top of the stack.