One of the figures I have been most excited to learn about this year is Vilate Kimball. The only story I had ever heard about her had been in relation to her husband – the oft-cited story of Joseph Smith telling Heber C. Kimball that the Lord had commanded him to surrender his wife to him. The account I’m familiar with discusses Heber’s three days of agony before he finally decides to bring her to Joseph, and his relief when Joseph tells him it had only been a test, and he would not be required to do so. I’ve always felt Vilate was strangely absent from this account, and wondered what those three days were like for her. How much did Heber tell her, and when? How did she respond to the demands? What kind of woman was she, and what did the future hold for her? I did a little digging, and never did find her description of the incident, but I did find stories about a woman of constant service and giving.
Vilate was constantly willing to put others’ needs before her own. The first additional citation I found of Vilate was that several months after Heber, Phineas Young & Brigham Young had encountered the missionaries, they longed to be with the other saints, and the group decided to take a 125 mile winter sleigh ride to visit the Columbia, Pennsylvania branch. Vilate did not go – she stayed home and watched all of the families’ children so that Miriam & Clarissa Young could make the trip. This willingness to care for others’ children continued - after Miriam died in 1832, Vilate would care for Brigham’s daughters while he served a series of missions.
She was also constantly willing to put the needs of the church before her own. When her husband was about to depart on his second mission to England, she not only had several sick kids to care for on her own, including a 4 week old, but she was so sick with the ague she was confined to her bed shortly after his departure. He was gone for two years. J And to think that I fell to pieces when my husband had to clock substantial overtime when our baby was 4 weeks old - I’m no Vilate, apparently.
In Winter Quarters, there are accounts of Vilate spending so much time bringing food to others and caring for the sick that she rarely took time to eat and take care of herself.
Although she was not given to Joseph, polygamy did impact Vilate. Heber was commanded to take plural wives, and also commanded by Joseph initially not to tell Vilate about the doctrine “for fear she would not receive the principle.” Heber obeyed, but it was hard on him, and Vilate prayed to know what was causing his anxiety. The plan of celestial marriage was made known to her “in a vision,” and Vilate told Heber he should obey. Later, Joseph would propose marriage to Vilate’s 14 year old daughter, Helen. Vilate complied, but was not enthusiastic (when Joseph asked her permission, her reply was “If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say”).
Stories about self-sacrificing women have become so common in the angel-mother dialog of women’s roles that I originally hesitated to include another account of a self-sacrificing woman. But as I thought about why I was having this reaction, I realized that although I may resent the fact that women are often expected to sacrifice in ways men are not (but often do because they are cool like that), it doesn’t diminish the value of the sacrifices that are made. I’m grateful for women like Vilate that are able to serve constantly, and see the needs of others and fill them. I have been blessed countless times by their sacrifices, and hope to be able to serve others in the same way.
"In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith," Tom Compton, 1997
Living in a Chapter of History, Marjorie H. Rice, October 2007 Ensign
Called to Serve, Jeffrey R. Holland, November 2002 Ensign.
“Chapter 1: The Ministry of Brigham Young,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young
“Lesson 39: The Saints Build Winter Quarters,” Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants: Church History, (1997),222
Mormon Enigma, By Linda King Newell & Valeen Tippetts Avery