Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Emmeline Wells, Part 3: Becoming Self-reliant

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 Utah with the Whitney family in 1848. In 1850, Newel died, and she was alone again, this time with two daughters to support. She started teaching again.

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.

PBS: New Perspectives on the West, Emmeline Wells

1 comment:

Elissa said...

It's sad that she could not have had better marriage experiences. I admire women who can make it through those kinds of experiences without letting it embitter them.