Sunday, April 25, 2021

Heart aches for the mothers

’How dreadful to be left in one’s old age dependent upon strangers, and broken down in health, God help me that I may never be left thus friendless; I feel as if I could not turn any one away and especially a mother, my heart aches for the mothers.’ This is from the extensive diaries of thrice-married Emmeline Wells, a Mormon and women’s rights advocate who died 100 years ago today.

Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born in 1828 in Petersham, Massachusetts, her parents seventh child. Her father died when she was four, and her mother remarried before moving to North New Salem. She was schooled at New Salem Academy. As advised by her mother, she heeded the Latter-day Saint missionaries and, aged 14,, was baptised a member of the Mormon Church. Over the following eight years, she married and migrated to Nauvoo, Illinois, gave birth to and lost an infant son, was abandoned by her young husband, married Newel K. Whitney as a plural wife (in a ceremony performed by Brigham Young), crossed the plains to Utah (then Deseret), gave birth to two daughters, and became a widow! 

Emmeline took up teaching, but in 1852 - still only 24 - became the seventh wife of Daniel H. Wells, a friend of her late husband’s and a prominent citizen who eventually became mayor of Salt Lake City. He established her in a two-story home with a garden, where she had three daughters. According to biographies, she never regretted or doubted her participation in polygamy. When the Utah War broke out in 1857, Emmeline Wells moved south to Provo, where she continued to teach, and in 1859 gave birth to her fourth daughter. By the 1860s, she was involved in church and public service, but it was her skill as a writer that brought her notice, with articles on women’s rights for the magazines Women’s Exponent and Women’s Journal. From the late 1870s, she became to take active role in the national suffrage movement; and for 30 years she represented Utah women in national suffrage associations. In 1899, she traveled to London to speak as a US representative to the International Council of Women. 

In 1912, Emmeline Wells received an honorary degree from Brigham Young University, and she lived to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which brought voting rights to women in 1920. She died on 25 April 1921. According to the Utah History Encyclopaedia, she was ‘known for her executive talents, her superb memory, and her indefatigable energy’, and ‘served as liaison between Mormon and non-Mormon women’ helping to ‘dispel much of the hostile criticism of her people’. On her 100th birthday, representative Utah women of all faiths and political persuasions posthumously recognised her achievements by placing a bust of her in the rotunda of the state capitol building, the only woman so honoured. Further information is also available at Wikipedia, Alexander Street and The Church Historian’s Press.

Wells left behind some 47 volumes of diaries spanning the years 1844 to 1920, There is substantial gap in the diary entries between 1846 and 1874 - though it is considered possible diaries from this period have been lost. The diaries today are held at Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. They have recently been edited and made freely available online by the Church Historian’s Press - see Deseret News.

The publisher states: ‘The diaries of Emmeline B. Wells provide a window into the life of one of the most influential Latter-day Saint women in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the diaries she is both historymaker, as she meets with presidents and works with national suffrage leaders, and historian, as she documents noteworthy events, daily interactions with her family and members of her community, and her adversities and faith. The diaries are a record of her perceptions and philosophies, and they are valuable not only to historians but also to those simply curious about this remarkable woman and the time in which she lived.’

Here are several examples, with original (lack of) punctuation but page references and footnote numbers removed.

10 August 1874
‘The upper porch is nearly finished, the men cut off lots of branches while I was away and made me feel dreadful, I never intended anything of the sort, Mell & Em. went down to Mary Ann’s, Lizzie Heisel went to Lile’s today - I am not feeling well and am so low-spirited tomorrow is my husband’s trial towards evening Mrs. Nancy Dixon came here and said she was destitute of a home, I told her to stay until I could see what could be done for her in our Society; how dreadful to be left in one’s old age dependent upon strangers, and broken down in health, God help me that I may never be left thus friendless; I feel as if I could not turn any one away and especially a mother, my heart aches for the mothers, Mr. Wilson came and spent the evening also Richard [J.] Taylor;’

23 August 1874
‘Mary Jo [Ayers Young]’s baby died this morn. we are none of us very well today – in the evening Will was here Mell. went with Lile to the Methodist Church; Mr. Bryant came home with her; Jo. [Joseph W.] Taylor, Rudd, Clawson, Harry [Henry B.] Emery, Rulon, Heber and several other of the young folks were here; enjoyed themselves very much indeed;

Wm. [Dunford] was here drunk both Saturday night and Sunday very much to my annoyance; indeed on Sunday he made me quite sick; when will it all end; I am so worn out with these kind of things;’

3 November 1874
‘This is the day Mr. Hendrie spoke of as one on which he had made an engagement to be at home I was busy writing a note to my husband relative to Mellie’s marriage when aunt Zina came in and Mell was terribly annoyed in consequence and we had something of a scene, however I could not write afterwards and even now when almost a week has elapsed and many stirring incidents have since transpired I feel as if I could scarcely resume my pen May God help me to overcome every weakness and be complete master of myself. having in subjection every impulse and feeling guided and controlled by the Spirit of God, We got a dozen new glasses from the co-op’

11 December 1874
‘This is Onie’s birthday she is five years old, I have been busy preparing my piece for the paper, called on Mrs. Richards’ coming home about four o’clock my friend came to meet me and walked a block with me said he should go to Bingham on Saturday; What can be the cause of the feeling of nearness which is in my heart for him, it is an enigma to me I have tried every way in the world to put this feeling from me; Em. went to the party in the Assembly-Rooms with Junie[;] Lou. went to [Hiram B. and Ellen] Clawson’s and staid all night, Annie and I were very lonely and I was not well my nerves were over-strained; I have been weeping for a day or two more than is usual with me; I pray and struggle against it with all my strength;’

2 May 1875
‘Wrote all day had Belle here, Em. went up to Belle’s and staid all day, in the evening Mr. Hendrie came and staid until late half-past twelve; it seemed refreshing after such an interval of time since he had been in our midst. If he could only realize the necessity of obeying the Gospel how happy we should all be. I cannot describe to any one my feelings in regard to these things.

This Mr Hendry so often referred to was very much in love with my sister Emmie An extremely nice man, educated wealthy good family but not a member of the Church. Mother idolized Emmie and desired her happiness but belief caused difficulties.

29  January  1881
'A very dull day. The Chinamen’s new year. Quite a demonstration of fire-works. “no wash, no iron, no workee.” Sister Pratt and I called on Maggie [Margaret Young] Taylor to invite her to Br. R’s. got the pictures in the locket. Dr. Ferguson is worse. Louisa [King Spencer] had a dinner for her mother and invited all the near relatives. <I was present.> Louie went to Ogden. Sep came down to stay over Sunday. rec’d a letter from Mrs. Brayman of Wisconsin’

13 April 1881
‘This is Emeline’s birthday she is twenty-four I gave her Jean Ingelow’s Poems. I was very weary could scarcely sit up came home and was much distressed. How lonely it is not to have any one to go to in the hour of trouble. Poor little Louie I cannot burden her, she is not well herself and I must not add to her misery’

27 April 1887
‘Today Dot has been very sick indeed, and her mother has had double duty to perform, running from room to room It does seem melancholy to hear the girls Louie in one room and Dot in another groaning with pain, mustard plasters have been used for both and several other remedies but with very little effect, The nurse Mrs. Kelly is not much good, she helps lift and turn Louie and does a little rubbing, but she has no tact what ever for the sick room The Dr. talks every day about aspirating or tapping but I have not consented as yet.’

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