A few weeks back, our stake relief society organized a fabulous celebration of LDS women, past and present. Several historical women were featured prominently, and today's post comes from one of these presentations.
When Harriet joined the LDS church in England on February 1, 1837, her father was not pleased. He was a prominent businessman in Staffordshire, and was worried his family would be disgraced. Harriet stayed faithful and bravely moved forward. She married Charles Shaw, and when they left for Utah in 1865, they had three children, aged 4, 2, and 9 months. The journey was difficult. They had prepared well, and had even paid in gold for first-class passage to the United States, but conditions on the ship were still poor, and their carefully-packed bags were stolen. However, the family pressed forward. At Emigration headquarters, they were given a team of oxen and a wagon to head West. Charles had never seen an ox before, so there were many humorous moments on their trip to Winter Quarters.
At Winter Quarters, Harriet's faith was tested. Her two-year old son died of measles due to the poor conditions; they had no coffin, so he was buried in a too-small box with his feet dangling out the end. When her baby daughter came down with canker, other women told her she was cruel for insisting the elders bless her daughter, when it was so clear she would not make it. But Harriet would not back down, stating "I know she has a work to do." Harriet was right - her daughter lived. Harriet's trek west was filled with even more challenges and difficulties, even more poor conditions and sicknesses, but Harriet made it to Utah.
From there, I was intrigued, so I did a little research. Harriet's story is less dramatic once she arrived in Utah. However, we know that she stayed faithful, and that she was actively engaged in building the kingdom. She settled in Cache County. She sent in Relief Society reports to the Woman's Exponent (in her humble way - one particular entry ended with "Hoping you will pardon me for trespassing on your valuable space"), and she was listed as an "agent" of the publication on several occasions. She was involved with the Primary program, and she served as a counselor in a Relief Society Presidency, emphasizing in her messages the importance of educating and raising children.
Harriet is one of those women that is rarely heralded, but absolutely essential to the work of the church. Harriet trusted in the Lord, despite her trials. I'm not a mother yet, and sometimes the onslaught of accounts of children that died on the trail can be easy to block out and not fully appreciate. But for some reason, reading Harriet's account reminded me of the personal cost she paid for her faith, a cost that so many have paid. Harriet had faith in the importance of women's contributions to the Lord, and a belief in the importance of the contributions her daughter would make. She worked diligently at serving her ward and strengthening her community. While she was not a particularly prominent figure, she served faithfully, and generation after generation of her descendants have been doing the same thing - doing what they can to serve the Lord and their communities.
Stake Enrichment Presentation
William S. S. Willes Company, Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, Church History Library and Archives
Woman's Exponent: generally, and June 1, 1864; April 1, 1883 specifically.