This chronology presents selected events from the life of Emmeline B. Wells, drawn from a variety of primary and secondary sources. The events below support diaries published so far on this website; additional events will be added in future updates.
Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born in Petersham, Franklin County, Massachusetts, to David and Diadama Hare Woodward. She was their seventh child.
Emmeline’s father, David Woodward, was killed in a wagon accident.
Emmeline’s mother, Diadama, married Samuel Clark Jr. Around this time, the family moved about ten miles to North New Salem, Massachusetts.
Emmeline attended the New Salem Academy, a private boarding school, and earned a qualification to teach.
At the urging of her mother, fourteen-year-old Emmeline was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Takes teaching post
Emmeline passed the district examination and took a teaching post in the nearby town of Orange, Massachusetts.
Marries James Harris
Emmeline B. Woodward married James Harvey Harris in Vernon, Vermont; both were fifteen years old. The marriage was arranged by her mother so that Emmeline could travel with the Harris family to Nauvoo, Illinois.
Departs for Nauvoo
Emmeline departed from Massachusetts for Nauvoo with her husband, James Harris, and his family. They arrived in Buffalo, New York, nine days later.
Meets Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith met arriving steamboat passengers, including the Harris group, at the landing in Nauvoo. In later years, Emmeline repeatedly bore witness of the electrifying experience of first meeting a prophet of God.
A son, Eugene Henri Harris, was born to Emmeline and James Harris in Nauvoo.
Eugene Henri Harris, the infant son of Emmeline and James Harris, died of an illness.
James Harris departs from Nauvoo
James Harris left Emmeline in order to seek work in St. Louis. In the weeks thereafter, he sent letters requesting her to join his parents in La Harpe, Illinois, but she decided to stay with the Saints in Nauvoo. James never returned.
Moves in with Olive Bishop
Emmeline moved in with Olive Bishop, a cousin of Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney. Emmeline soon began teaching the children of Elizabeth Ann and her husband, Newel K. Whitney.
Receives patriarchal blessing
Emmeline received a patriarchal blessing from patriarch John Smith.
Marries Newel K. Whitney
With Brigham Young as officiator, Emmeline B. Woodward Harris married Newel K. Whitney as a plural wife.
Learns James Harris has gone to sea
Emmeline learned that James Harris had gone to sea and would be away for three years. She recorded in her diary her hope for his return.
Mother arrives in Nauvoo
Emmeline’s mother, Diadama H. Woodward Clark, arrived in Nauvoo with three of Emmeline’s siblings.
Sealed to Newel K. Whitney
Newel K. Whitney was sealed in the Nauvoo temple to eight wives, including Emmeline B. Woodward Harris.
Departs from Nauvoo
Emmeline crossed the Mississippi River from Nauvoo into Iowa Territory; she traveled with the Whitney family as part of the Heber C. Kimball company.
Mother departs from Nauvoo
Emmeline’s mother and three of Emmeline’s siblings left Nauvoo with other poor Saints, headed west.
Emmeline’s mother died of an illness and was buried in Iowa Territory; the three children with her joined Emmeline and other families for the remainder of the journey.
Reaches Salt Lake Valley
Emmeline arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with the Heber C. Kimball company.
Daughter Isabel born
A daughter, Isabel (Belle) Modalena Whitney, was born to Emmeline and Newel K. Whitney. The new mother was living at that time in a wagon, parked on the northeast corner of Main Street and South Temple Street.
Daughter Melvina born
A second daughter, Melvina (Mell) Caroline Blanche Whitney, was born to Emmeline and Newel K. Whitney, in the Whitney home on North Temple Street.
Newel K. Whitney dies
Emmeline’s husband, Newel K. Whitney, died unexpectedly at age fifty-five in Salt Lake City. Thereafter, Emmeline moved herself and her two daughters in with Olive Bishop. She also opened a school in the Twelfth Ward.
Writes to Daniel H. Wells
Emmeline wrote Daniel Hanmer Wells, a prominent Latter-day Saint who practiced plural marriage, a letter subtly promoting their compatibility and suggesting marriage.
Marries Daniel H. Wells
Emmeline B. Woodward Harris Whitney (hereinafter EBW) and Daniel H. Wells were married by Brigham Young. She was Daniel’s sixth plural wife. At some point she moved into the Wells home on South Temple Street.
Daughter Emeline born
A daughter, Emeline (also known as Emmeline, Emma, and Emmie) Whitney Wells, was born to EBW and Daniel H. Wells.
Moves into new home
EBW and her daughters moved into a new two-story home at 243 South First East (or State Street).
Temporarily relocates to Provo
With three of Daniel’s other families, EBW and her daughters moved south to Provo, Utah Territory, for a few months to resist invasion by the federal army during the Utah War. She taught school in a tent next to the home where she was living.
Learns of death of James Harris
EBW learned that her first husband, James H. Harris, had died at sea somewhere near Bombay, India.
Daughter Elizabeth Ann born
A daughter, Elizabeth Ann (Annie) Wells, was born to EBW and Daniel H. Wells.
Daniel H. Wells moves into large home
Daniel H. Wells moved his other families into a two-story home on the corner of Main Street and South Temple Street. Thereafter the home was called the “Wells Mansion” or “big house.”
Daughter Louise born
A daughter, Louise (Louie) Martha Wells, was born to EBW and Daniel H. Wells; this was EBW’s last child.
Daughter Melvina marries
EBW’s daughter Melvina Whitney married William Dunford. They eventually had three children. The couple divorced in 1872.
Eliza R. Snow assigned to help revive Relief Societies
Brigham Young appointed Eliza R. Snow to help revitalize the dormant Relief Societies.
Daughter Isabel marries
EBW’s daughter Isabel Whitney married Septimus Wagstaff Sears as a plural wife. They eventually had eight children.
Great Indignation Meeting held
Thousands of Latter-day Saint women met in a “Great Indignation Meeting” in Salt Lake City to protest federal antipolygamy legislation.
Retrenchment movement begins
Mary Isabella Hales Horne, president of the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward Relief Society, convened the first retrenchment meeting, in response to Brigham Young’s request that she lead Latter-day Saint women in simplifying meal preparation and apparel.
Utah women granted suffrage
Stephen A. Mann, acting governor of Utah Territory, signed a bill giving women in the territory the right to vote. Women first exercised that right at the next municipal election, held two days later.
Appointed Relief Society assistant secretary
EBW was called as assistant secretary of the Salt Lake City Thirteenth Ward Relief Society. She served in that capacity for nearly twenty years.
Prominent women’s suffrage leaders visit
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony lectured in Utah and met with Latter-day Saint women.
First issue of Woman’s Exponent published
The first issue of the Woman’s Exponent appeared under the editorship of Louisa Lula Greene. EBW soon began submitting articles to the newspaper under the pseudonym Blanche Beechwood.
Wasatch Literary Association organized
The Wasatch Literary Association, a group for young single adults with literary interests, was organized in EBW’s parlor.
Daughter Melvina remarries
EBW’s daughter Melvina Whitney Dunford married William (Will) Woods, an attorney and a nephew of Daniel H. Wells. The couple eventually had two children.
Leads visiting teachers’ meeting
EBW’s first experience leading her ward Relief Society visiting teachers’ meeting.
Helps plan centennial exhibition
Eliza R. Snow asked for EBW’s help planning a women’s exhibition scheduled for July 1876 to celebrate the centennial of the American Revolution.
Becomes associate editor of Woman’s Exponent
First issue of the Woman’s Exponent published that listed EBW as associate editor; EBW also became a regular columnist for the newspaper at this time.
Holds first official Central Grain Committee meeting
EBW, chair of the Central Grain Committee, held its first official meeting. At Brigham Young’s request, EBW had earlier published two editorials encouraging local Relief Societies to begin storing grain.
First stake Relief Society organized
In Weber Stake, Ogden, Utah Territory, Brigham Young organized the first stake-level Relief Society.
Becomes editor of Woman’s Exponent
First issue of the Woman’s Exponent published that listed EBW as editor.
Gathers signatures for petition
As part of a national petition drive, EBW gathered nearly seven thousand signatures in Utah Territory in favor of a women’s suffrage amendment to the United States Constitution.
Appointed to advisory board
EBW was appointed to the advisory board of the National Woman Suffrage Association and began corresponding with national leaders.
Daughter Emeline dies
EBW’s daughter Emeline died of an illness.
Beginnings of Primary
After a Relief Society conference in Farmington, Utah Territory, Eliza R. Snow and EBW met with Aurelia Spencer Rogers. Rogers introduced the idea of an organization for young boys, which Snow took to President John Taylor for approval.
Selected as political delegate
At a meeting of the People’s Party, EBW was selected as one of four women delegates to the county convention. This began her entry into local politics.
Organizes mass meeting
Zina D. H. Young, Mary Isabella Horne, and EBW led a mass meeting in the Salt Lake Theatre to protest the “misrepresentation and falsehood” being circulated as part of a growing antipolygamy movement.
Departs to national convention
EBW and Zina Young Williams departed by train to attend the annual convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association in Washington, DC.
Petitions President Rutherford B. Hayes
Along with two other women, EBW and Zina Williams presented resolutions to President Rutherford B. Hayes, including one supporting women’s suffrage in Utah Territory. EBW and Williams also encouraged the president not to support federal antipolygamy measures.
Daniel H. Wells arrested
EBW’s husband, Daniel H. Wells, was arrested for contempt of court for refusing to testify in a polygamy case and imprisoned for two days. EBW chronicled his triumphal return from prison in the Woman’s Exponent.
Daughter Elizabeth Ann marries
EBW’s daughter Elizabeth Ann Wells married John Q. Cannon. They eventually had twelve children.
Eliza R. Snow becomes general president
In a conference of the Salt Lake Stake Relief Society, Eliza R. Snow was sustained as general president of the Relief Society. EBW was later appointed assistant secretary to general secretary Sarah M. Kimball. EBW traveled to outlying stakes with Snow over the next few years.
Mourns Elizabeth Ann Whitney’s death
Elizabeth Ann Whitney, sustained as a counselor to Emma Smith in the Nauvoo Relief Society and to Eliza R. Snow in 1880, died in Salt Lake City.
Edmunds Act becomes law
The passage of the Edmunds Act denied voting rights to women involved in plural marriage in Utah.
Serves on fifth constitutional committee
EBW served with two other women, Sarah M. Kimball and Elizabeth Howard, on the state constitutional committee.
Deseret Hospital opens
The Deseret Hospital, an institution established by the Relief Society, opened its doors in Salt Lake City. EBW served as secretary to the hospital association.
Daughters travel east
Daughters Belle and Louie went east to visit Wells, Woodward, and Dickinson family members. Louie sent travelogue-type letters back home.
Daniel H. Wells called as mission president
Daniel H. Wells was named president of the European Mission. His wife Louisa Free Wells later joined him there.
Leaves to visit family back east
EBW departed to visit her family in Massachusetts for the first time since she had left them at age sixteen.
Visits Rose Cleveland
In Washington, DC, EBW met with Rose Cleveland, sister of President Grover Cleveland, in an effort to counter the restrictions the impending Edmunds-Tucker Act would place on Latter-day Saint women.
Tours Latter-day Saint historic sites
On her return trip to Utah, EBW visited Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois.
Meets with President Grover Cleveland
EBW returned to Washington, DC, at the request of President John Taylor and, along with Dr. Ellen Ferguson, met with President Cleveland to present a memorial pleading for the rights of Utah women.
Louisa F. Wells dies
A few months after returning home ill from Europe to Utah, Louisa Free Wells died, the first of Daniel’s wives to die.
John Q. Cannon excommunicated
In a Sunday meeting in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, John Q. Cannon confessed a sin of immorality, later revealed to be an affair between himself and Louie Wells, and was excommunicated from the church.
Louie Wells marries John Q. Cannon
John Q. Cannon divorced Annie Wells Cannon and, on 10 September, the day after the divorce was finalized, married Louie Wells.
Court subpoenas EBW
EBW and her daughters were subpoenaed as witnesses in a polygamy case against John Q. Cannon.
Testifies in hearing
EBW, along with other members of the family, testified at a hearing in John Q. Cannon’s case. He was released on bail to await trial.
John Q. Cannon indicted
John Q. Cannon was indicted on the charge of polygamy. EBW and other family members again testified, this time before the grand jury.
Louie Wells Cannon goes into hiding
After John Q.’s indictment, Louie Wells Cannon decided to go to San Francisco to stay with her sister Belle Whitney Sears.
Edmunds-Tucker Act becomes law
The Edmunds-Tucker Act became law, taking away the vote from all Utah women and permitting the confiscation of church properties.
Louie delivers stillborn child
After suffering from renal failure, which caused swelling in her legs, feet, and abdomen, Louie gave birth to a stillborn son.
Arrives in San Francisco
EBW joined Belle’s family in San Francisco to help care for Louie.
Daughter Louisa dies
EBW’s daughter Louisa died of an illness or chronic condition.
Attends Louie’s funeral
John Q. Cannon and EBW accompanied Louie’s body back to Salt Lake City, where her funeral was held 21 May at the Cannon farm.
President Taylor dies
Church president John Taylor died.
Mell Woods argues with Angus M. Cannon
An encounter on the street between daughter Melvina Whitney Woods and stake president Angus M. Cannon over his words at Louie’s funeral stirred contention between the Wells and Cannon families.
Eliza R. Snow dies
Eliza R. Snow, general president of the Relief Society, died.
Appointed to press committee
The National Council of Women, formed at the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls, New York, women’s rights convention, appointed EBW a member of its press committee.
Daniel H. Wells, under financial duress, sold EBW’s home in Salt Lake City. She moved into the earlier Wells residence, the old adobe house on South Temple Street, as a combination home and office.
Zina D. H. Young becomes general president
Zina D. H. Young was sustained in general conference as Relief Society general president. She later asked EBW to serve on the central board as corresponding secretary.
John Q. Cannon rebaptized
John Q. Cannon was rebaptized by his father on 6 May. A few days later, he also had his priesthood authority restored.
Annie and John Q. remarry
Daniel H. Wells performed the remarriage of John Q. and Annie in the Endowment House. A civil ceremony followed, conducted by Judge Elias Smith.
Manti temple dedicated
The Manti temple was dedicated, and Daniel H. Wells was called as the new temple’s president.
John Q. and Annie move to Ogden
John Q. and Annie Cannon moved to Ogden, where John Q. edited the Ogden Standard.
Serves as proxy in temple sealing
EBW served as proxy in the sealing of her deceased daughter Emeline W. Wells to Orson F. Whitney in the Manti temple.
Mell moves to Idaho
Mell Whitney Woods moved with her two daughters to Murray, Idaho, to join her attorney husband, William W. Woods, who had been working there for some months.
National suffragists visit
National suffragist visitors Elizabeth Lyle Saxon and Clara Bewick Colby spoke in the Salt Lake Theatre and the Assembly Hall. They encouraged EBW and her friends to organize a state suffrage association.
Departs to visit Belle
EBW, with granddaughter Louise Cannon, and Zina Smoot Whitney, with daughter Emily, departed Utah to visit Belle’s family in San Francisco.
Wells home sold
Daniel H. Wells sold the “big house” at the corner of Main Street and South Temple Street.
Daniel H. Wells dies
Daniel H. Wells died in Salt Lake City.
Organizes literary club
EBW organized the Utah Woman’s Press Club for published writers in late 1891. The following year, she organized a companion organization, the Reapers’ Club, for women who had not yet published their writings. Throughout the decade she supported community groups such as the General Relief Committee, the Committee on Charities, the Utah Kindergarten Association, and the Wasatch Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution.
Woman’s Exponent debt paid
Stake president Angus M. Cannon told EBW the First Presidency had agreed to pay the debt that the Woman’s Exponent owed the Deseret News Press, and he suggested she cease editing the Exponent. He brought the idea up again on 30 March, saying she should let the church support her. She determined to keep the newspaper as her income.
Celebrates Relief Society jubilee
The Relief Society jubilee year was celebrated in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, with a symbol prominently displayed of the key turned by Joseph Smith to women.
Belle and Septimus Sears marry civilly
To meet requirements of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, Septimus Sears divorced his first wife, Mary Ann Needham, and was civilly married to EBW’s daughter Belle (who had married him as a plural wife in 1869). Belle and Septimus had returned to Salt Lake City from San Francisco the prior year.
Attends National Editorial Association convention
EBW, a member of the Pacific Coast and National Woman’s Press Associations, traveled to San Francisco for the National Editorial Association convention.
Hosts friends from convention
Back in Salt Lake City, EBW hosted convention attenders on their return journey east, arranging tours and a special organ recital.
Visits daughter Mell in Idaho
EBW visited her daughter Mell Woods, who then lived in Wallace, Idaho.
Daughter Annie returns to Salt Lake City
John Q. and Annie Cannon returned from Ogden to Salt Lake City, living initially in a house on Third East and Sherman Avenue.
Relief Society incorporated
To meet business standards, the Relief Society was officially incorporated as the National Woman’s Relief Society. Efforts to incorporate had gotten underway much earlier but culminated on 10 October. When secretary Sarah M. Kimball was called as third counselor in the presidency, EBW replaced her as general secretary.
Prepares for World’s Fair
As chair of Salt Lake County’s Board of Lady Managers, EBW helped prepare for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She edited a pamphlet for the exposition, Charities and Philanthropies: Women’s Work in Utah; and a poetry book, Songs and Flowers of the Wasatch. She contributed to another volume, World’s Fair Ecclesiastical History of Utah. She also organized Columbian Clubs in Salt Lake County to help prepare exhibits for the Woman’s and Utah Buildings.
A grand ball was held in Salt Lake City to raise funds for silk curtains for the Woman’s Building at the Columbian Exposition and a display of silk making.
EBW moved her Woman’s Exponent office to the Constitution Building on Main Street.
Construction begins on home
Settlement of Daniel’s will granted EBW $1,000, with which she had a home built on former Wells farm property in the Waterloo area of the city, close to both of her daughters. She moved into the home in December 1893, and Orson F. Whitney dedicated it in February 1894.
Salt Lake Temple dedicated
The Salt Lake Temple was dedicated after forty years of construction.
Federation of women’s clubs organized
The Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs was organized. EBW soon enrolled her two literary clubs in it.
Attends World’s Fair
EBW traveled to Chicago for the Woman’s Congress of the Columbian Exposition, at which she delivered a paper on Utah authors and journalists and the grain-saving mission. She stayed in the Palmer House and met many notable women. She was surprised at being invited to preside over the “General Congress in the Hall of Columbus,” which she noted as “an honor never before accorded to a Mormon woman.”
Receives letters from James Harris
EBW received a packet of letters in the hand of her first husband, James Harris, written to her but kept by his mother, who received them but never revealed to EBW that they existed. These were forwarded to EBW by a cousin after the mother’s death.
Becomes suffrage association president
EBW was named president of the Utah Territorial Woman Suffrage Association.
Supports Midwinter Fair
After the success of the World’s Fair in Chicago, another fair was organized for California and called the 1894 Midwinter Fair. EBW sat on the executive committee in Utah, preparing the expositions and delegates Utah would send.
Honored by National Council of Women
EBW was named a patron of the National Council of Women. During this period she often communicated with Susan B. Anthony and Rachel Foster Avery, who was secretary of the council.
Utah Enabling Act signed
U.S. president Grover Cleveland signed the enabling bill for Utah statehood.
Attends national conventions
EBW attended the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Atlanta and the National Council of Women meeting in Washington, DC. She was invited to stay overnight at the home of Rachel Foster Avery outside of Philadelphia and with May Wright Sewall in Indianapolis.
Women’s suffrage approved in Utah
As the constitutional convention met anticipating Utah statehood, EBW joined the campaign to include women’s suffrage in the new state constitution. On 18 April the motion passed, and EBW sent a telegram with the historic news to Susan B. Anthony.
Hosts suffrage leaders
EBW hosted Anna Howard Shaw and Susan B. Anthony at the Rocky Mountain convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The two suffrage leaders also spoke in the Assembly Hall and Tabernacle.
Joins Republican Party
EBW declared a political party, choosing to identify with the Republicans. She soon became chairman of the Republican Women’s League and joined her friend Ruth May Fox in organizing women’s Republican clubs throughout the state.
Nominated for Utah House
The Republican Party nominated three women for state office: Lillie R. Pardee for the senate, EBW for the House, and Emma J. McVicker for superintendent of schools.
Relevant judicial rulings, together with public opinion, put pressure on the three female political candidates to withdraw their names; EBW did so with considerable regret.
Utah achieves statehood
U.S. president Grover Cleveland signed the Utah statehood proclamation.
Inaugural celebration held
Inaugural ceremonies for Governor Heber M. Wells and other officials were held. EBW sat in the governor’s box with Heber’s mother, Martha Wells, for the inaugural ball.
Utah women lauded
The National American Woman Suffrage Association celebrated Utah women’s triumph at their annual meeting in Washington, DC, but EBW could not get the funding to go and instead received a tribute in absentia.
Visits Mell in Idaho
EBW visited daughter Mell Woods in Wallace, Idaho, and worked on a collection of poetry. It was to be published as Musings and Memories.
Loses state senate election
EBW was one of five Republican candidates for five seats in the state senate. All five Democratic candidates were elected, including Martha Hughes Cannon. EBW had the fewest votes of the ten.
Zina D. H. Young dies
Zina D. H. Young, Relief Society general president, died.
Bathsheba W. Smith becomes general president
Bathsheba W. Smith was sustained as Relief Society general president. EBW was named general secretary.
Bathsheba W. Smith dies
Relief Society general president Bathsheba W. Smith died. Her funeral was the first for a woman held in the tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
Appointed Relief Society general president
EBW was told by Anthon H. Lund, counselor to President Joseph F. Smith, that President Smith had selected her as the next Relief Society general president. The next day, in a meeting with the prior Relief Society general board, President Lund announced EBW’s appointment, with Clarissa Smith Williams and Julina Lambson Smith as counselors. Their names were presented at general conference on 6 October. EBW later selected Olive Derbidge Christensen as secretary, Amy Brown Lyman as assistant secretary, and Emma Empey as treasurer.
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Harris Whitney Wells died in the home of her daughter Elizabeth Ann Wells.
Funeral services for EBW were held in the tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
Bust unveiled at Utah capitol
A bust of EBW was unveiled in the Utah State Capitol rotunda on her hundredth birthday. It was sculpted by Cyrus Dallin and funded by women’s groups in the state in honor of “A fine soul who served us.”