Many Latter-day Saints are familiar with the stories of the first missionaries in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The stories of Samuel H. Smith and other intrepid Latter-day Saint missionary men have long featured prominently in the church’s histories and curriculum.[1] Many of their journals have been published for the benefit of scholars and posterity.[2]

Less well-known are the stories of the first Latter-day Saint women to serve as full-time preaching missionaries. The journals featured in this digital publication document the day-to-day experiences of two of the church’s earliest full-time women missionaries, Josephine Booth and Eliza Chipman, who served together as missionary companions in Scotland in 1899 and 1900. Chipman, Booth, and the other women with whom they served broke new ground. Their pioneering work left an enduring legacy of sister missionary service that remains vital to the church’s missionary efforts into the twenty-first century.

Women and Missionary Work in the Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a missionary organization from its founding. Early Joseph Smith revelations commanded the church to “declare repentance” and bring souls to Jesus Christ through baptism.[3] Latter-day Saints fulfill this charge both through informal sharing of the gospel message and by accepting formal calls to preach and win converts to the faith. From the beginning, formal missionary service has required a commission from church leaders. For the first sixty-eight years of the church’s history, this kind of proselytizing was carried out by ordained men.

Women’s involvement in missionary work during that early era consisted primarily of sharing the gospel message privately with friends and through kinship networks. Thousands of nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint women also participated indirectly by supporting their husbands while they were away on extended missions. This often involved adding the management of a family farm or business to a wife’s already demanding domestic responsibilities.[4] Some married women accompanied their missionary husbands, particularly when the man’s calling entailed travel to a remote location or an extended period of service. These women primarily supported their husbands in a domestic role. In missions in the Pacific, they often complemented their husbands’ preaching by operating schools where they gave local women and children both religious and secular instruction.[5]

The Latter-day Saint practice of plural marriage played an unexpected role in expanding women’s involvement in missionary work. In the 1860s and 1870s, as the United States began to pass legislation designed to end plural marriage, Latter-day Saint women stepped forward to defend their right to practice this religious teaching.[6] Their spirited defense helped other Latter-day Saint women find a voice as advocates for the church. It also demonstrated to church leaders the power of women’s voices in the public sphere.[7]

When President Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto rescinding the commandment to practice plural marriage, the number of new plural marriages in the church (when looked at on an annual basis) was already in decline. After the Manifesto, the number plummeted further.[8] But while the church had begun to withdraw from plural marriage, the controversial practice continued to negatively impact the church’s public image and to hinder the efforts of missionaries. This was especially true in the United States and Europe, where Christian ministers and dissident Latter-day Saints vocally decried the practice. Antagonists critiqued the alleged enslavement of women converts, who they claimed were either mindless dupes or frightened prisoners. These accusations were difficult for male missionaries to combat.[9]

A handful of Latter-day Saint women traveling in the eastern United States and Europe helped to counter this negative public perception in sermons at public meetings.[10] Prominent among these was Elizabeth Claridge McCune. While in London in 1897, she spoke of her personal experience as a woman from Utah who grew up in a polygamous family but was in a monogamous marriage herself.[11] Her well-received defense of the church prompted Joseph W. McMurrin, a counselor in the presidency of the British Mission, to write the First Presidency in early 1898 asking if women could be called to serve as preaching missionaries. He described how the presence and testimonies of women had helped break down prejudice against the church and opened doors to missionaries.[12]

On 11 March 1898, the First Presidency considered McMurrin’s letter, along with a similar one written by President Ephraim H. Nye of the California Mission asking if the wives of missionaries could serve with their husbands.[13] The First Presidency decided to begin formally calling women, both married and single, to serve as proselytizing missionaries. President George Q. Cannon announced this decision at general conference on 6 April.[14]

Harriet Nye was the first woman issued a ministerial certificate under the new initiative.[15] A short time later, Edward Partridge, president of the Utah Stake, and Joseph B. Keeler, bishop of the Provo Fourth Ward, wrote the First Presidency recommending two young women for full-time missionary service. Amanda Inez Knight and Lucy Jane “Jennie” Brimhall were already planning a trip to England to visit Will Knight, who was Inez’s brother and Jennie’s fiancé. They agreed to instead accept mission calls and extend their trip to preach the gospel. Knight and Brimhall became the first single women to serve preaching missions. Knight was also the first companion of Eliza Chipman, whose journal is featured in this publication.[16]

Missions at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

The journals of the earliest women missionaries provide a richly detailed view of the Latter-day Saint missionary experience at the turn of the twentieth century. Modern-day church members will quickly recognize just how much that experience has changed in the intervening century. For example, missionaries no longer work independently of their companions, go on hiatus for short periods, travel and teach in mixed-gender pairs, or participate in secular entertainment. Today’s missionaries also use a uniform teaching approach regardless of the location in which they serve. On the other hand, many aspects of the experience feel familiar: frequent rejection, tension between companions with different personalities, the excitement of experiencing a new place and culture, and the joy of helping others draw closer to God.

At the time Chipman and Booth served their missions, the supply of missionaries was maintained by a network of church leaders. Mission presidents wrote to the First Presidency proposing how many missionaries were needed in their respective area. Local bishops and stake presidents recommended, by letter to the First Presidency, individuals in their congregations who they believed were capable and willing to serve. In many cases, candidates approached their bishops requesting a mission call. The calls themselves were issued by the First Presidency and sent by the presidency’s secretary (at the time George Reynolds) from “Box B” in the First Presidency’s office. If the recipient responded with a letter of acceptance, the secretary would reply with further instructions and notify the mission president of the name and expected arrival date of the new missionary.[17]

This process meant that for the service of “lady missionaries” (as they were called at the time) to persist in the longer term, there needed to be not only women willing to serve but also mission presidents interested in their services. Many presidents watched the initial “lady missionary” experiment with eagerness. Though not all mission presidents wanted women called to their missions, the experiment was widely viewed as a resounding success and became permanent.[18]

Before departing, each newly called missionary traveled to Salt Lake City, received the temple endowment if they had not already, registered as a missionary, was set apart (usually by a member of the First Council of Seventy), and received a ministerial certificate. Latter-day Saint scripture had long called for ordained elders to receive such a certificate. Beginning in 1898, this requirement applied also to women called as missionaries.[19]

Departing elders and sisters were typically seen off at the train station, either in their hometown or in Salt Lake City, depending on which direction their travels took them. For missionaries like Booth and Chipman who traveled to the British Mission, the journey took several weeks and often included sightseeing and visits with other Latter-day Saints en route. When they arrived in their mission, they were given a letter of appointment assigning them to a specific field of labor.[20]

In the mid-nineteenth century, it was typical for missionaries to be married men whose average age was over forty. As time went by, the missionary force became increasingly younger. By the late 1890s, an average missionary was called in his or her midtwenties.[21] It also became common for missionaries to serve for a more consistent length of time, often around two years.

At the time, the church itself was structured differently in the missions than it was in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. For nearly a half century, church leaders had encouraged converts to immigrate or “gather” to the “stakes” established in the intermountain region of the western United States. These stakes—the term drew upon Isaiah’s metaphor of the house of Israel as a tent—and their officers constituted the administrative structure for the “gathered” church. Stakes were typically divided into wards, led by a bishop. Branches were sometimes created in new or remote settlements and led by a president until a stake structure was warranted.[22]

The “mission field”—named after another scriptural metaphor, a field “white already to harvest”[23]—was divided geographically into individual missions, each presided over by a president. There were almost no stakes in the church’s missions at this time.[24] Branches in the mission field had originally functioned as temporary outposts where converts could be spiritually nourished until they were able to gather to a stake. However, near the end of the nineteenth century, church leaders began to discourage new converts from emigrating and discontinued emigration services that had previously been provided by missions.[25] Instead, members were to stay in their homelands and strengthen the branches of the church abroad. Many mission branches at this time were led by a local church member. The missions were divided into conferences, each encompassing one or more branches and presided over by an experienced missionary. When missionaries received appointments, they were typically assigned to a conference.[26]

The primary method of proselytizing in the 1890s was “tracting.” This entailed canvassing the streets in a district or neighborhood, leaving a tract or pamphlet, encouraging people to read, and asking for a later appointment at which the contents of the tract could be discussed. Missionaries had their choice of a variety of pamphlets. Popular at the time the first women were called was a newly published series of tracts titled Rays of Living Light, by Charles W. Penrose. Tracts were designed to spark conversations about basic Latter-day Saint beliefs by emphasizing points of difference between the church and other Christian groups. Missionaries usually recanvassed the same areas with a second, third, or fourth tract, hoping to spur further dialogue with potential converts.[27]

During this time period, known as the Progressive Era, Americans developed a strong interest in improving efficiency and eliminating waste through principles of scientific management. Within this context, missionaries began to carefully track the number of tracts distributed, meetings attended, and other measures of productivity. These numbers helped mission leaders track the effectiveness of missionaries. Examples of this kind of statistical accounting can be found in the journals in this publication.[28]

Missionaries participated in a wide variety of meetings: sacrament services and testimony meetings with local Latter-day Saints, priesthood meetings with other missionaries and local leaders, open meetings and conferences to which they invited potential converts and other interested individuals, and impromptu street meetings held in streets or parks with high foot traffic. Street meetings, perhaps the most daunting missionary method, frequently involved debating with adversaries of the church. Missionaries hoped these exchanges would win the good opinion of others who gathered to listen.[29]

The Experience of the First “Lady Missionaries”

The two women whose journals are featured in this publication were among the first cohort of women to serve proselytizing missions. Like other single women called as missionaries at that time, they were among the most well-educated young women in the church. Most early single “lady missionaries” were products of the church’s growing academy system, roughly equivalent to a secondary education. They had gained formal teaching experience in primary schools or had acquired other skills useful in missionary work, such as singing, elocution, and playing the piano. Josephine Booth, for example, attended Brigham Young Academy from ages eight to sixteen and taught primary school for three years before serving.[30]

Because the first women missionaries served within a mission culture that had been defined by the thousands of men who preceded them, both they and the elders with whom they served had to adjust to the new reality of a mixed-gender missionary force. The women joined in singing popular missionary hymns like “We Are the True Born Sons of Zion.”[31] They attended “priesthood meetings” at which the entire group was sometimes addressed as “brethren.” This led Chipman to quip that by the “time we get home we will have become men for we are brothered and eldered on every hand.”[32] Booth and Chipman humorously signed a note calling the sisters “the true born Sons of Zion according to the relief society.”[33]

The first sisters in the British Mission were sometimes billed as “real live Mormon women” and were called upon to share their experience of Utah, help alleviate negative impressions of the church, and assuage concerns about the purported fate of women converts. They taught many women and some men, participated in local Relief Societies, and joined the elders in most of their regular missionary activities: tracting, street meetings, private teaching, and public speaking. Their work paved the way for the thousands of sister missionaries who followed them.[34]

[1] Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996), 11.

[2] For example, see Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana: University of Illinois, 1994); James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, eds., Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840–1842, vol. 1 of Classic Mormon Diary Series (Santa Barbara, CA: Peregrine Smith, 1974); Reva Holdaway Stanley and Charles L. Camp, eds., “A Mormon Mission to California in 1851 from the Diary of Parley Parker Pratt,” California Historical Society Quarterly 14, nos. 1 and 2 (Mar. and June 1935): 59–73, 175–182; Daniel W. Jones, Forty Years among the Indians (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor, 1890); Stan Larson and Patricia Larson, eds., What E’er Thou Art Act Well Thy Part: The Missionary Diaries of David O. McKay (Salt Lake City: Blue Ribbon Books, 1999). Brigham Young University has also released digital scans of many of the missionary diaries in its collection. (“Mormon Missionary Diaries,” Digital Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, accessed 17 Nov. 2023, https://lib.byu.edu/collections/mormon-missionary-diaries.)

[3] Doctrine and Covenants 6:9, 15:6, 16:6, 19:31 (Revelation, Apr. 1829–A; Revelation, June 1829–C; Revelation, June 1829–D, Revelation, circa Summer 1829, at josephsmithpapers.org).

[4] Chad M. Orton, “Those They Left Behind: A Look at Missionary Wives and Children,” BYU Studies Quarterly 58, no. 4 (2019): 4–47; Gordon Irving, “Numerical Strength and Geographical Distribution of the LDS Missionary Force, 1830–1974,” Apr. 1975, 8, 11, Task Papers in LDS History, Church History Library, Salt Lake City (hereafter CHL).

[5] Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Mormon Missionary Wives in Nineteenth Century Polynesia,” Journal of Mormon History 13 (1986–1987): 61–85.

[6] See Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 311–312.

[7] Matthew McBride, “‘Female Brethren’: Gender Dynamics in a Newly Integrated Missionary Force, 1898–1915,” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 4 (Oct. 2018): 52–53.

[8] Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 1; Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 98–103, 173; see also “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah,” and “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage,” Gospel Topics Essays, Church History, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed 5 Jan. 2024, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

[9] Eliza Chipman, Journal, 1 May 1900, Eliza C. Christensen, Papers, 1872–1986, bulk 1898–1910, CHL; Joseph W. McMurrin, “Lady Missionaries,” Young Woman’s Journal 15, no. 12 (Dec. 1904): 540; William Jarman, U.S.A. Uncle Sam’s Abscess or Hell upon Earth for U.S. Uncle Sam (Exeter, England, 1884), 23, 50–52; J. Spencer Fluhman, “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 117–125.

[10] Rulon S. Wells, Joseph W. McMurrin, and Edwin F. Parry to Wilford Woodruff and Counselors, 10 Mar. 1898, First Presidency, Mission Administration Correspondence, 1877–1918, CHL; George Q. Cannon, in Sixty-Eighth Annual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Held in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, April 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th, 1898, with a Full Report of the Discourses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1898), 7–8.

[11] Susa Young Gates, “Biographical Sketches, Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune,” Young Woman’s Journal 9, nos. 7 and 8 (July and Aug. 1898): 291, 297–298, 342–343; “London Conference,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 59, no. 43 (28 Oct. 1897): 684.

[12] McMurrin, “Lady Missionaries,” 539–540; Historical Department, Journal History of the Church, 11 Mar. 1898, CHL; Gates, “Biographical Sketches, Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune,” 342–343; Wells, McMurrin, and Parry to Woodruff and Counselors, 10 Mar. 1898, First Presidency, Mission Administration Correspondence, CHL.

[13] Ephraim H. Nye to Wilford Woodruff, 7 Mar. 1898, First Presidency, Mission Administration Correspondence, CHL; Historical Department, Journal History of the Church, 11 Mar. 1898.

[14] Cannon, in Sixty-Eighth Annual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7–8.

[15] Harriet Maria Nye entry, no. 131, Missionary Department, Missionary Registers, 1860–1959, Book C, 66, CHL.

[16] Edward Partridge and Joseph B. Keeler to Wilford Woodruff and Counsel, 29 Mar. 1898, First Presidency, Missionary Calls and Recommendations, 1877–1918, CHL; “Lucy Jane Brimhall Knight,” in Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 4 (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1904), 614; Alisha Erin Hillam, “Blessed beyond What I Dared Even to Pray For: Amanda Inez Knight Allen (1876–1937),” in Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume Four, 1871­–1900, ed. Brittany Chapman Nash and Richard E. Turley Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 15–16; Inez Knight, Journal, 104, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.

[17] For examples of this correspondence, see First Presidency, Missionary Calls and Recommendations, 1877–1918, CHL; Platte D. Lyman and H. W. Naisbitt to First Presidency, 2 Jan. 1899, First Presidency, Mission Administration Correspondence, CHL.

[18] McBride, “Female Brethren,” 56–61.

[19] “General Instructions for Missionaries”; “Missionary Certificate,” 1 Sept. 1898, Scrapbook, 1872, 1894–1926, 1938–1951, Christensen Papers, CHL; Doctrine and Covenants 20:64 (Articles and Covenants, circa Apr. 1830, at josephsmithpapers.org).

[20] Chipman, Journal, 17 Sept.–6 Oct. 1898; Josephine D. Booth, Journal, 26 May–14 June 1899, Josephine D. Booth Woodruff, Journals, 1899–1901, CHL; Rulon S. Wells and Joseph W. McMurrin to Liza Chipman, Letter of Appointment, 6 Oct. 1898, Scrapbook, 1872, 1894–1926, 1938–1951, Christensen Papers, CHL.

[21] McBride, “Female Brethren,” 58.

[22] Isaiah 11:12, 54:2; “Wards and Stakes,” Church History Topics, Church History, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed 11 Jan. 2024, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

[23] Doctrine and Covenants 4:4 (Revelation, Feb. 1829, at josephsmithpapers.org); see also John 4:35.

[24] An exception was the Cardston Stake, which was part of the Canadian Mission but was in an area settled by Latter-day Saints. (Brandon Plewe, ed., Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History [Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2012], 132–133.)

[25] See David Golding, “Gender and Missionary Work,” in The Routledge Handbook of Mormonism and Gender, ed. Amy Hoyt and Taylor G. Petrey (London: Routledge, 2020), 171–173.

[26] See “Wards and Stakes,” Church History Topics, Church History, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed 11 Jan. 2024, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

[27] Chipman, Journal, 8 Nov. 1898; 10 Jan. 1899; 19 Apr. 1899; 20 June 1899; 28 Nov. 1899; 23 Apr. 1900; Booth, Journal, 30 Aug. 1899; 4 Sept. 1899; 2 Oct. 1899; Charles W. Penrose, Rays of Living Light from the Doctrines of Christ (Liverpool, England: Millennial Star, 1898); Charles W. Penrose, “Rays of Living Light, No. 1,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 60, no. 13 (31 Mar. 1898): 200–204; David J. Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” Journal of Mormon History 4 (1977): 35–49; Reid L. Neilson, “The Nineteenth-Century Euro-American Mormon Missionary Model,” in Go Ye into All the World: The Growth and Development of Mormon Missionary Work, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Fred E. Woods (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 73.

[28] See Chipman, Journal, 26 Aug. 1899; 30 Sept. 1899; 31 Oct. 1899; 30 Nov. 1899; 31 Dec. 1899; 31 Jan. 1900; 28 Feb. 1900; 31 Mar. 1900; 30 Apr. 1900; 26 May 1900; Booth, Journal, 31 Jan. 1900; 31 Jan. 1901.

[29] Neilson, “Nineteenth-Century Euro-American Mormon Missionary Model,” 73; see also McBride, “Female Brethren,” 64.

[30] Josephine D. Booth biography, Andrew Jenson, Collection, circa 1841–1942, CHL.

[31] Booth, Journal, 9 Oct. and 6 Nov. 1899; The Latter-Day Saints’ Psalmody [. . .], 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1896), nos. 230, 281.

[32] Chipman, Journal, 28 May 1900; Knight, Journal, 101; Jean Clara Holbrook to Family, 10 and 12 Oct. 1900, Jean Clara Holbrook Jarvis, Mission Correspondence, 1898–1904, CHL.

[33] Booth, Journal, 9 Oct. 1899.

[34] Knight, Journal, 17; Tally S. Payne, “‘Our Wise and Prudent Women’: Twentieth-Century Trends in Female Missionary Service,” in New Scholarship on Latter-day Saint Women in the Twentieth Century: Selections from the Women’s History Initiative Seminars, 2003–2004, ed. Carol Cornwall Madsen and Cherry B. Silver (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, 2005), 127; McMurrin, “Lady Missionaries,” 539–540.