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Chronology

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.

Born

Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born in Petersham, Franklin County, Massachusetts, to David and Diadama Hare Woodward. She was their seventh child.

Father dies

Emmeline’s father, David Woodward, was killed in a wagon accident.

Mother remarries

Emmeline’s mother, Diadama, married Samuel Clark Jr. Around this time, the family moved about ten miles to North New Salem, Massachusetts.

Attends academy

Emmeline attended the New Salem Academy, a private boarding school, and earned a qualification to teach.

Baptized

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.

Son born

A son, Eugene Henri Harris, was born to Emmeline and James Harris in Nauvoo.

Son dies

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.

Mother dies

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.

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. 

Daughter Louisa dies

EBW’s daughter Louisa died of an illness or chronic condition.

Eliza R. Snow dies

Eliza R. Snow, general president of the Relief Society, died.

Home sold

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dies

Emmeline Blanche Woodward Harris Whitney Wells died in the home of her daughter Elizabeth Ann Wells.

Funeral held

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.”