Wednesday, April 30, 2008
In 1910, Emmeline Wells became the 5th general president of the Relief Society. She would serve from 1910 to 1921. It was a period filled with triumphs and trials for Emmeline. In 1912, the Relief Society took on responsibility for burial and temple clothing. Despite her best efforts to keep it going, the Relief Society Board would not pick up the tab for the Exponent, and it ceased publication in 1914. Also in 1914, the Relief Society issued a standard curriculum. Among the issues Emmeline emphasized during her presidency were motherhood, women's and children's legal rights, welfare, and elevating the minds and spirits of LDS women. Her executive capabilities were constantly utilized for the good of LDS women.
In 1921, Emmeline was released as general Relief Society president, which hurt her deeply, as the past three presidents served until their deaths. Emmeline only lived 3 weeks past that date.
I kept trying to cut these posts down so I could write about more than one woman this month, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I admire Emmeline's strength, her commitment to improving the status of women and providing them a voice, and her ability to trust in the Lord (even when it hurts to do so). The more I learn about her, the more I admire her. Her life was not what she would have chosen for herself, and she was often disappointed, but her faith in the Mormon religion was unshakable, and her trials truly made her strong and a force for good. I'm grateful for her example.
Emmeline B. Wells Biographical Sketch, lds.org
Emmeline B. Wells: A Fine Soul Who Served, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Ensign, July 2003
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Many factors led to the divide between the National Woman Suffrage Association (created by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (created by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and others), most prominently the level of involvement they wanted with working toward suffrage for African American men. A less-discussed factor was difference of opinion about what on earth to make of these polygamist Utah suffragists. The American Woman Suffrage Association wanted nothing to do with them, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton insisted that all women should be welcome in the organization, especially if they had similar goals. Therefore, Emmeline Wells and other Mormon women formed an alliance with the National Woman Suffrage Association, and Emmeline represented Utah women there for roughly 30 years.
Emmeline's suffrage creds are impressive. In 1870, when Utah women were (temporarily) given the vote, Emmeline was among the first to exercise that right. In 1874 she was appointed vice-president of the Utah chapter of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Among the many suffrage conferences she participated in were the National Woman's Suffrage Association in 1879 and the National Suffrage Convention in 1882. In 1889, she formed the Woman's Suffrage Association of Utah, through it leading a campaign that resulted woman's suffrage being part of the package-deal for Utah's statehood in 1896. She was embraced by Susan B. Anthony at the National Woman's Suffrage Association meeting in Atlanta in 1895 after her address on Utah's prospective admission to statehood. She met with U.S. senators to discuss "Mormon" questions. She attended the Woman's International Council and Congress in London in 1899. And of course, there were her constant efforts through the Exponent.
Not only do I love her commitment to women's rights, but also the way she stayed true to her Mormon identity. Throughout her suffrage work, she lobbied for the rights of Mormon women, particularly on issues of polygamy and the right of women to own property. Mormon women were not always treated well at these meetings, even by the National Woman Suffrage Association, but Emmeline served as a good-will ambassador for Mormon women. I love the way she carved a place for herself in both realms where she could be true to her principles and fight for them, and am grateful for the tangible improvement she made to the status of women in the United States.
4 Zinas, Martha Sonntag Bradley & Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia Volume 2
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells, Encyclopedia Britannica
Emmeline B. Wells, Utah History Encyclopedia, Carol Cornwall Madsen
Friday, April 18, 2008
On June 1, 1872, the first issue of the Woman's Exponent was published, with Louisa Greene serving as chief editor. As a part of describing its purpose, it pledged: "we will endeavor, at all times, to speak freely on every topic of current interest, and on every subject as it arises in which women, and the great sisterhood the world over, are specially interested." And it would serve this purpose for over 40 years, providing a forum for Utah women to define themselves, keeping women politically informed, and informing the spread-out saints of what was happening in other areas of the territory. While the stated purpose took a fairly calm and non-radial tone ("we have no rivalry with any, no war to wage, no contest to provoke"), even in this inaugural issue, Emmeline Wells made her voice heard. She contributed an article entitled "Woman's Rights and Wrongs" which took aim against laws and customs that denied women the vote, equal job opportunities, and equal compensation for labor performed. Five years later, in 1877, Emmeline Wells would become the chief editor of the Woman's Exponent, a position in which she would serve until the Exponent's demise in 1914.
When congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, rescinding the right of Utah women to vote (previously granted in 1870 by Brigham Young) and further punishing individuals that practiced polygamy, Emmeline Wells and the Woman's Exponent sprung into action. Thousands of Exponent readers, and Emmeline in particular, protested this act and defended the rights of women both to vote and to practice polygamy. Emmeline wrote many passionate defenses of both causes in the Exponent. The Exponent played an important role in the suffrage movement in Utah, and documents the many political activities of Utah women.
Emmeline also recognized the inherent historical value of this publication. She felt the journal should "furnish good material for future historians...not only concerning woman's work, industrial and educational, but the lives of the women." While the rights of Utah women are certainly featured frequently, the Exponent never lost sight of its mission to provide a voice to women's experience. Scrolling through, you can find a wide range of topics, from original poetry to practical tips for washing children; autobiographies of Mormon women to literary pieces on Shakepeare's portrayal of Portia in Julius Caesar. I love the diversity of the topics addressed in this publication, and its efforts to reach all kinds of women.
In 1914, the Exponent hit financial ruin. Emmeline lobbied for the Relief Society Board to take ownership for the publication, but failed. The Relief Society Magazine began publication the following year.
I am grateful for Emmeline's efforts in producing the Exponent, both for its work to promote many of the rights I enjoy as a woman, and for the record it provides of the lives and interests of so many Mormon women.
Woman's Exponent, Volume 1 Number 1
Representative Women of Deseret, Augusta Joyce Crocheron
Women of Mormondom, Edward W. Tullidge
Women of the West Museum: Emmeline Wells
And also, you can check out the modern reincarnation of this publication, Exponent II.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Married life was unkind to Emmeline, at least in the beginning. After working as a teacher for a year, Emmeline’s mother feared her school associates would lead her away from the church, and she arranged for Emmeline to marry James Harris, the son of a local presiding elder. She traveled with James’ family to Nauvoo in 1844. She and James had a son, and she seems to have looked back on this period as a difficult time, but a time the Lord sustained them and gave them peace. However, it would not last. Her son died shortly after his birth, and James deserted her.
She began teaching again, and became a plural wife of Newel K. Whitney, who was significantly older than her. She traveled to
Perhaps out of economic necessity, Emmeline approached Daniel H. Wells about marriage in 1852, and she became his seventh wife, having three daughters with him. She appreciated that he was faithful and served diligently. However, for much of their marriage, Emmeline felt isolated from Daniel, who was busy with his church and civic responsibilities, as well as his six other families. Indeed, she was the only one of his wives who did not live in the “other house” with him. A characteristic journal entry on these feelings states:
Wednesday Sept. 30, 1874: ...Misery and darkness and I have no one to go to for comfort or shelter no strong arm to lean upon no bosom bared for me, no protection or comfort in my husband ... O if my husband could only love me even a little and not seem so perfectly indifferent to any sensation of that kind. He cannot know the craving of my nature. He is surrounded with love on every side, and I am cast out. O my poor aching heart. Where shall it rest its burden, only on the Lord, only to Him can I look every other avenue seems closed against me ...
And she did look to the Lord, and he strengthened her. Emmeline previously described herself as “nervous and delicate,” but she became strong. Because she did not have a “strong arm to lean upon,” she became independent and self-reliant. She found satisfaction in writing, writing for The Women’s Exponent, and becoming its editor in 1877. She became actively involved in the Relief Society, eventually serving as the General Relief Society President from 1910-1921, and serving in many leadership positions prior to that time. She became actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement, forming close relationships with such figures as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Carrie Chapman Catt. I admire Emmeline’s ability to trust in the Lord, and trust in herself. She turned to the Lord during her trials, and He shaped her into a powerful force for good.
Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
When Emmeline decided to be baptized, she met with a lot of adversity from her friends at the academy, who tried to convince her to change her mind. I really enjoyed the passage from Representative Women of Deseret about this period in her life. The language is a bit over-the-top, as was characteristic of the time, but it hits on some important aspects of Emmeline's character:
On the 1st day of March, 1842, when a little group of Latter-Day Saints was assembled to perform the ordinance of baptism … zealous friends sent messengers down to ask her if she was sure she was acting of her own free will and choice, otherwise they would take her by force and she should never lack for means of higher education, but if she accepted the Mormon faith and gathered at Nauvoo she must renounce not only her friends but also all the advantages of literary culture she had so ardently hoped to attain, and be forever disgraced. Not knowing but that it was true that her hopes for further advancement must be resigned, she laid them on the altar of her faith, willing to yield up her future entirely to the will and care of her Creator … She told her mother and friends then what proved true afterwards, that the crisis was past, she had renounced all she had before looked forward to, henceforth she desired to dedicate herself entirely to the work in which she had enlisted.I love Emmeline's faith here. "Literary culture" was very important to her, and the decision to leave it behind could not have been easy. Yet she knew that if she trusted in the Lord, He would take care of her. And He did. Emmeline was given many opportunities throughout her life to use her brains and talents, blessing many lives along the way. I love that in 1912, she received an honorary Doctor of Literature from BYU for her work in literature and writing - the first Utah woman to receive an honorary degree. I love that she was able to use her talents, as well as receive recognition for them.
Representative Women of Deseret, Augusta Joyce Crocheron
Women's Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1900, Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, Jill Mulvay Derr
Emmeline B. Wells, Utah History Encyclopedia, Carol Cornwall Madsen
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I believe in women, especially thinking women
I am excited and nervous about writing this series of posts about Emmeline Wells. I can't begin to describe my admiration, respect, and gratitude for this woman, and I want to do her justice.
I have a confession. Before starting this project, I intentionally avoided accounts of polygamous women in the early church because I thought that with my feminist sensibilities, I would have a hard time handling their circumstances. So imagine my surprise when I read account after account of empowered, intelligent, and independent women's rights activists who also happened to be in polygamous marriages (although it is clear that not all women in polygamous relationships had this experience). Emmeline Wells was one of the first of these women that I encountered. Her life and accomplishments impress me, and I'll talk about them in upcoming posts. But I love her strong sense of self and her convictions, and I want to focus on that today. In addition to being an advocate for women's suffrage, she was also an advocate for the right of Utah women to be in polygamous relationships as a part of their religious commitment. I love how she combines these belief systems in her rhetoric:
The world says polygamy makes women inferior to men -- we think differently. Polygamy gives women more time for thought, for mental culture, more freedom of action, a broader field of labor... and leads women more directly to God, the fountain of all truth.
Another of my favorites of her quotes on the topic:
All honor and reverence to good men; but they and their attentions are not the only source of happiness on the earth and need not fill up every thought of woman. And when men see that women can exist without their being constantly at hand... it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them.
I love Emmeline's ability to carve a niche for herself in these two seemingly contradictory realms. While she wasn't always happy with her treatment under both of these systems (and for good reason), she stayed true to her convictions and made important contributions to both the women's rights movement and the LDS church. Instead of nursing hurt feelings, she worked to foster understanding and make improvements. While I can't relate at all to wanting to be in a polygamous relationship, I relate to her efforts to reconcile her faith and feminism. I hope as I go through life, I'll be able to develop the moral compass that Emmeline had so I can find my own place within these two value systems, and to contribute in my small way to both groups.
PBS: The West, Episode 5