Emmeline B. Wells

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Emmeline B. Wells
Photo of Emmeline B. Wells
5th Relief Society General President
October 3, 1910 (1910-10-03) – April 2, 1921 (1921-04-02)[1]
Called byJoseph F. Smith
PredecessorBathsheba W. Smith
SuccessorClarissa S. Williams
Personal details
BornEmmeline Blanche Woodward
(1828-02-29)February 29, 1828
Petersham, Massachusetts, United States
DiedApril 25, 1921(1921-04-25) (aged 93)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Cause of deathStroke
Resting placeSalt 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(s)James Harris
Newel K. Whitney
Daniel H. Wells
  Harris - 2
  Whitney - 2
  Wells - 3
ParentsDavid and Deiadama H. Woodward
WebsiteEmmeline B. Wells

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


Early life[edit]

Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born in on February 29, 1828 in Petersham, Massachusetts. She was the seventh child of David and Deiadama Hare Woodward.[2] Her father died when Emmeline was four years old.[1] She would later claim that her widowed mother inspired her to be a woman's rights advocate. As a child, she wrote poems and stories which she shared with her friends. She often enjoyed being in nature. Woodward was very intelligent and began studying in public school until she enrolled in the New Salem Academy.[2] She graduated from the Academy at the age of fourteen.[3] She taught school briefly before her first marriage at the age of fifteen. Woodward joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 1, 1842.[2]


She married 16-year-old James Harris, also a new member of the church, on July 19, 1843.[2] 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.[1]

The young Emmeline Harris returned to teaching. Through his children attending her school, Harris met and later married Newel K. Whitney, a significantly older man, under the Mormon practice of plural marriage.[1] Emmeline Whitney left Nauvoo in 1846, and traveled to Utah Territory with the extended Whitney family in 1848.[2] 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.[4]

Whitney's death in 1850 left her with two young daughters,[1] 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.[5]

Emmeline Whitney approached Daniel H. Wells, a friend of her late husband and a prominent civic leader, about marriage. In 1852, she became his 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.[1]


Woman's Exponent[edit]

Emmeline Wells

Wells was the editor of Utah's Woman's Exponent from 1877 to 1914,[6] a semi-monthly periodical established in 1872 for Mormon women.[1] The periodical published news about women in the church along with articles about women's suffrage, educational, and economic rights.[6] 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 when Cornelia H. Horne ended her term as business manager. 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.[5]:43 Wells wrote many articles about women's rights, particularly the right to run for office and the right to vote.[6] Near the end of her tenure as editor Wells had the assistance of her daughter Annie Wells Cannon as assistant editor.[5]:44

Wells also wrote numerous short stories and poems, many of which were published.[3] Wells 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.[7]

Women's suffrage[edit]

Wells became an early advocate of women's rights, writing under the name "Blanche Beechwood" for the Woman's Exponent.[3] "I believe in women, especially thinking women," she wrote.[8] In addition to reporting news of the 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.[9] In 1879, Wells was appointed as a Utah representative to a suffrage convention in Washington D.C. by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.[6][1] 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.[5]:192–193 Wells joined the National Council of Women of the United States in 1891[2] and was the first woman from Utah to hold an office.[5]:345

Beginning in 1879, Wells advocated that women be granted the right to hold office in Utah Territory. In 1878, she 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]:186–87

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.[1] Wells gathered signatures from women in Utah to appeal to Washington DC for a constitutional amendment that would grant women suffrage in Utah.[6] On the national level, she was closely associated with both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.[1] Wells remained life-long friends with Stanton and Anthony as she represented Utah in the fight for national battle for suffrage.[6] 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. In 1893, Wells was elected president of the Utah Territorial Women's Suffrage Association.[5]:270 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.[1][2] A year before her death, Wells was able to see the passing of the 19th Amendment.[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 Relief Society.[5]:268

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 Joseph Smith, founder of the church. 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.[10]

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 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who presented her a commendation for selling the collected wheat to the government for the war effort.[2]

Wells' grave marker

Wells was called as the Relief Society's general president in 1910 at the age of 82.[1] 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.[2] Poor health led her to be released in 1921, at the age of 93.[1] 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.[11]

Wells authored the text of the Latter-day Saint hymn "Our Mountain Home So Dear", which is hymn number 33 in the church's 1985 English-language hymnal.[12]

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 and was made posthumously as a tribute to Wells.[7][9]



  • "Charity and Faith". Relief Society Magazine. 1 (4): 1–3. April 1914.
  • "Relief Society Memories". Relief Society Magazine. 1 (5): 1–4. May 1914.
  • "Loyalty". Relief Society Magazine. 1 (7): 1–2. July 1914.
  • "The Grain Question". Relief Society Magazine. 1 (9): 1–3. September 1914.
  • "Relief Society Conference". Relief Society Magazine. 1 (11): 1–3. November 1914.
  • "Relief Society Conference". Relief Society Magazine. 1 (12): 1–3. December 1914.
  • "The Mission of Saving Grain". Relief Society Magazine. 2 (2): 46–49. February 1915.
  • "Augusta Joyce Crocheron". Relief Society Magazine. 2 (7): 301–303. July 1915.
  • "Relief Society Conference Address". Relief Society Magazine. 6 (8): 459–461. August 1919.
  • "Testimony of President Emmeline B. Wells". Relief Society Magazine. 7 (10): 561–564. October 1920.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ludlow, Daniel H, ed. (1992). "Appendix 1: Biographical Register of General Church Officers". Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. p. 1649. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Madsen, Carol (1985). Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons - Emmeline B. Wells: Romantic Rebel. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center. pp. 305–342. ISBN 0-88494-565-0.
  3. ^ a b c Black, Susan Easton; Woodger, Mary Jane (2011). Women of Character. American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications. pp. 357–360. ISBN 9781680470185.
  4. ^ "Emmeline B. Wells, 1828-1921". Hardwhips in Iowa. Brigham Young University. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Madsen, Carol Cornwall (2006). An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells, 1870-1920. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University. ISBN 9780842526159.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Brown, Barbara. "Emmeline B. Wells, A Thinking Woman". Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Madsen, Carol Cornwall (July 2003). "Emmeline B. Wells: A Fine Soul Who Served". Ensign. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  8. ^ "Emmeline B. Wells". Church History. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  9. ^ a b Madsen, Carol. "Emmeline B Wells: A Soul Who Served". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  10. ^ Fox, Ruth M.; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1921). "Emmeline B. Wells: A Tribute". The Young woman's journal. 32. Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association General Board. pp. 344–346. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
  11. ^ "Chapter 5: "Charity Never Faileth"". Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2011. p. 69. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  12. ^ "Our Mountain Home So Dear". Hymnal. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 2 May 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Bathsheba W. Smith
Relief Society General President
October 3, 1910 (1910-10-03) – April 2, 1921 (1921-04-02)
Succeeded by
 Clarissa Smith Williams