Emmeline B. Wells

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Emmeline B. Wells
Photo of Emmeline B. Wells
5th General President of the Relief Society
October 3, 1910 (1910-10-03) – April 2, 1921 (1921-04-02)[1]
Called by Joseph F. Smith
Predecessor Bathsheba W. Smith
Successor Clarissa S. Williams
Personal details
Born Emmeline Blanche Woodward
(1828-02-29)February 29, 1828
Petersham, Massachusetts, United States
Died April 25, 1921(1921-04-25) (aged 93)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Cause of death Stroke
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′38″N 111°51′29″W / 40.7772°N 111.8580°W / 40.7772; -111.8580 (Salt Lake City Cemetery)
Spouse James Harris
Newel K. Whitney
Daniel H. Wells
Children 7[1]
  Harris - 2
  Whitney - 2
  Wells - 3
Parents David and Deiadama H. Woodward
Website Emmeline B. Wells

Emmeline Blanche Woodward Harris Whitney Wells (pronounced em-ma-leen) (February 29, 1828 – April 25, 1921) was an American journalist, editor, poet, women's rights advocate and diarist. She served as the fifth general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1910 until her death.

Biography[edit]

Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born in 1828 in Petersham, Massachusetts, the daughter of David and Deiadama Hare Woodward. Her father died when Emmeline was four years old. Precocious, energetic and intelligent, she graduated at age fourteen from the New Salem Academy. She taught school briefly before her first marriage at the age of fifteen.

Woodward joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in 1842. She married 16 year old James Harris, also a new member of the church, the following year. In 1844, the young couple, his parents, and other Latter Day Saints from their region migrated to the headquarters of the Church, Nauvoo, Illinois. After the death of their infant son Eugene Henri, Harris left Nauvoo looking for work and never returned.

The young Emmeline Harris returned to teaching. Through his children in her school, she met and later married Newel K. Whitney, a significantly older man, under the Mormon practice of plural marriage. Emmeline Whitney left Nauvoo in 1846, and traveled to Utah Territory with the extended Whitney family in 1848. At this time, she began maintaining a personal journal. Wells would continue writing in her diaries (forty-six journals are known) until 1920, shortly before her death. On the first page of volume 1, dated Friday, February 27, 1846, she recorded:

"Mrs. Whitney, Sarah Ann, and myself crossed the river to go the encampment of the Saints. We crossed the river a part of the way on foot, and then went on the encampment about 1 mile beyond.... We repaired immediately to Mr. H. C. Kimball's tent, took supper, and slept for the first time on the ground. There was a snowstorm without, yet all was peace and harmony within."

Whitney's death in 1850 left her with two young daughters, whom she supported by again teaching school in Salt Lake City. She remained primarily responsible for supporting herself and her children for the rest of her life.

Wells' grave marker

Emmeline Whitney approached Daniel H. Wells, a friend of her late husband and a prominent civic leader, about marriage. In 1852, she became Daniel Well's seventh wife, bearing him three daughters. Their early marriage was distant, as Daniel Wells was heavily involved in civic and church duties and had six other families. However, later in their lives, the couple became fond and loving companions.

Wells was the editor of Utah's Woman's Exponent, a semi-monthly periodical established in 1872 for Mormon women. Wells was a contributor to the magazine from its inception, but for its first five years of existence the editor was Louisa Greene Richards. Wells became the associate editor in 1875 at the time Cornelia H. Horne ended her term as business manager.[2] Wells was the editor from 1877 until the publication ceased in 1914. As editor she wrote all the editorials, many of the articles and most biographical sketches contained in the publication.[2] Near the end of her tenure as editor Wells had the assistance of her daughter Annie Wells Cannon as assistant editor.[3]

Wells was a delegate to the 1882 Utah State Constitutional Convention, where she served on the Committee on education and the committee on schedule and elections.[4]

Wells also wrote numerous short stories and poems, most published. She later compiled her poetry into a single volume, Musings and Memories. In 1912 she became the first Utah woman to receive an honorary degree, in literature, awarded her by Brigham Young University.

A bust of Wells, inscribed "A Fine Soul Who Served Us", is found in the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol. The bust was funded through the efforts of women's groups in Utah, including the feminist community, LDS women's groups, and women's groups from other church organizations. Wells is, to date, the only woman so honored.

Women's suffrage[edit]

Wells became an early advocate of women's rights, writing under the name "Blanche Beechwood" for the Woman's Exponent. "I believe in women, especially thinking women," she wrote. Wells was chief editor of the Women's Exponent newspaper for 37 years, beginning in 1877. In addition to reporting news of the Mormon Women's Relief Society, she used the publication to support woman suffrage and educational and economic opportunities for women. As editor, she became known for her executive talents and her superb memory.

Wells was active in the national women's suffrage movement, where she served as liaison between Mormon and non-Mormon women and fielded hostile criticism associated with the practice of polygamy. On the national level, she was closely associated with both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. For nearly thirty years she represented Utah women in the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National and International Councils of Women. Beginning in 1879, with her attendance at a suffrage convention in Washington, D.C., Wells acted as a lobbyist for Utah interests. She met congressmen and presidents and addressed the issues of polygamy and women's suffrage from the Utah woman's point of view. Wells was also involved in the ultimately successful effort to restore suffrage to Utah women in the 1896 Utah state constitution. In 1899, Wells was invited by the International Council of Women to speak in London as a representative of the United States.

Beginning in 1879, Wells advocated that women be granted the right to hold office in Utah Territory. In 1878, she had turned down a nomination for Salt Lake County Treasurer from the People's Party because women were not eligible to hold office in the territory. In 1879 she, along with Sarah M. Kimball, urged Governor George Emery to support women holding office, which he declined, and in 1880 she was the leading force involved in convincing Charles W. Penrose to introduce legislation to grant women the ability to hold office.[5]

In 1893 Wells was elected president of the Utah Territorial Women's Suffrage Association.[6]

After Utah gained statehood, Wells did run for election. In a much publicized election, the 66-year-old Wells stood as one of several "at large" Republican candidates for state senator from Salt Lake County. Martha Hughes Cannon, a physician and former employee at the Women's Exponent, was one of five Democrats running for the office. On November 3, 1896, Cannon defeated the field, and became the first woman ever elected as a state senator in the United States.

Church service[edit]

Wells while President of the Relief Society

For several years Wells served as the corresponding secretary of the LDS Relief Society.[7]

Wells was selected as general secretary for the Relief Society by President Eliza R. Snow and served for twenty-two years in the position under succeeding presidents. In her youth in Nauvoo, Wells briefly knew the LDS Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.. In 1905, as Relief Society Secretary, she wrote the following to the young women of the Church:

In the Prophet Joseph Smith, I believed I recognized the great spiritual power that brought joy and comfort to the Saints. . . .He was beyond my comprehension. The power of God rested upon him to such a degree that on many occasions he seemed transfigured. His expression was mild and almost childlike in repose; and when addressing the people, who loved him it seemed to adoration, the glory of his countenance was beyond description. At other times the great power of his manner, more than of his voice (which was sublimely eloquent to me) seemed to shake the place on which we stood and penetrate the inmost soul of his hearers, and I am sure that then they would have laid down their lives to defend him. I always listened spell-bound to his every utterance—the chosen of God in this last dispensation. ("Young Woman's Journal", Dec. 1905)

Wells was appointed by Brigham Young in 1876 to head a Church based grain-saving program, and managed the church wide program until the beginning of World War I. In 1919, Wells received a personal visit in her Salt Lake City home from US President Woodrow Wilson who presented her a commendation for selling the collected wheat to the government for the war effort.

Wells was called as the Relief Society organization's general president in 1910 at the age of 82. She served for eleven years, administering service issues related to the world war and dealing with issues relating to growth and administrative expansion. To her sorrow, the Relief Society Board declined to continue their support of the Women's Exponent, and the publication closed in 1914. Ill health led her to be released in 1921, at the age of 93. Wells died three weeks later and was buried at the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Wells's first counselor Clarissa S. Williams succeeded her as Relief Society general president.

Wells authored the text of the Latter-day Saint hymn Our Mountain Home So Dear, which is hymn #33 in the 1985 English-language LDS Church hymnal.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ludlow, Daniel H, ed. (1992). "Biographical Register of General Church Officers". Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. p. 1649. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140 Free on-line version here. 
  2. ^ a b Madsen, Advocate for Women, p. 43
  3. ^ Madsen, An Advocate for Women, p. 44
  4. ^ Madsen, Advocate for Women, pp. 192–93".
  5. ^ Madsen, An Advocate for Women, pp. 186–87.
  6. ^ Madsen, An Advocate for Women, p. 270
  7. ^ Madsen, An Advocate for Women, p. 268
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Bathsheba W. Smith
President of the Relief Society
October 3, 1910 (1910-10-03)–April 2, 1921 (1921-04-02)
Succeeded by
 Clarissa Smith Williams