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Project History


Sheree M. Bench and Cherry B. Silver began transcribing and annotating the Emmeline B. Wells diaries in 2002 at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at Brigham Young University. The Wells project was part of a women’s history initiative instituted by Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen. Wells’s forty-seven diaries are housed at L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU. Sheree and Cherry were given electronic files of a typescript that had previously been prepared by BYU students in an early word processing program. Sheree converted those transcriptions into another program and reformatted them, cleaning up codes and mistakes created in the transition. She then verified the entire text over the course of many years, comparing digitized images of the original diaries to the typescript—word by word and letter by letter—to identify and correct transcription errors.

Meanwhile, Cherry Silver took the lead in annotating the diaries to identify persons and places, clarify historical events, and explain allusions to literary works. She also assembled a massive register of most of the people appearing in the diaries, with basic biographical data for each person plus the date and substance of that person’s appearances in the diaries. The register therefore doubles as a rough biographical index to the diaries. The register will eventually be made available through the Church History Catalog.

Staff from L. Tom Perry Special Collections facilitated the project in its early stages. Connie Lamb oversaw women’s materials, Susan Fales arranged for digitizing the diaries, and Brad Westwood provided a research office for Sheree and Cherry. Jenne Steinagle helped Sheree with some early reformatting.

In 2017, executives with the Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, approved a proposal to publish the transcripts of the Wells diaries on the Church Historian’s Press website. At the same time, officials with the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU generously gave permission for the transcripts to be published by the press. Ryan Lee at L. Tom Perry Special Collections facilitated that permission.

Various employees, volunteers, and contractors with the Church History Department helped Sheree Bench and Cherry Silver refine the transcripts and annotation for publication. A skilled editorial staff in the Publications Division helped create a formal style guide, checked source citations, helped render the transcripts into the project style, and edited footnotes, biographical entries, introductions, and the other materials on this site. They also created the list of works cited and carefully proofread and corrected documents on a preview version of the website before they were published live. Editors who assisted included Jay A. Parry, Naomi M. White, Shannon Kelly Jorgensen, Alex Hugie, Jessica Neilson Whitlock, Alison Kitchen Gainer, Julia K. Ventura, Caroline Bliss Larsen, Kathryn Tanner Burnside, and Marie Searle. R. Eric Smith, editorial manager of the Church Historian’s Press, consulted on many issues, helped with editing, and managed editorial resources and workflow.

Patricia Lemmon Spilsbury and her team of volunteer researchers at the Church History Department wrote detailed, sourced biographical sketches for hundreds of the people mentioned in the diaries. These researchers included Brenda Homer (who also helped manage the biographical project), Eileen Carlston, Anne Collet, Loretta Evans, Robert P. Evans, Anita Gayle Hicks, Carrie Jacobs, Gerard Junkert, Tonya Junkert, Mary R. Jurgaitis, James Kohler, Shirley Kohler, Susan McLean, Deborah Means, Shirley Larkins Romney, Venna Ward, Judith Wight, Kathleen Williams, Diana Wing, and JoAnne Wright.

Kate Holbrook, managing historian of women’s history in the Publications Division, brought the Wells diaries project to the attention of the Church Historian’s Press. She has furthered progress on the project by helping manage the workflow, reviewing editorial content, consulting on annotation policy, and providing workspace in the Church History Library for Sheree and Cherry. Matthew McBride, director of the Publications Division, also provided valuable support, as did Matthew J. Grow, managing director of the Church History Department. Audrey Spainhower Dunshee of the Library Division assisted with questions about some of the sources used in the online biographical directory.

Ben Ellis Godfrey, a senior product manager in the Audience Needs Division, oversaw the development of the Church Historian’s Press website and various electronic publishing tools. He helped coordinate schedules, helped prepare files for electronic publication, oversaw efforts to find photographs, and assisted the project in many other ways. Cara Anne Wade helped prepare the text and locate photographs.

Katherine Kitterman ably assisted Cherry in annotation of the later volumes by researching and creating footnotes, identifying persons, and updating the biographical register. She also reviewed introductions, the chronology, and yearly events lists for this website. Her activity as historical director for Better Days 2020 has sharpened perspective on Wells’s involvement with national suffrage leaders for this project as well.

Carol Cornwall Madsen deserves special thanks for supporting the project since its inception, including by generously sharing her own scholarship on Wells. She has worked intimately with the diaries since they were acquired by L. Tom Perry Special Collections, using them as prime resources for her two biographies of Emmeline B. Wells. Those biographies have been cited extensively in the annotation of the diaries and provide the basis for the chronology of Wells’s life. Carol was the first to conceive editing and annotating the diaries as a project worthy of publication. She has answered questions from Sheree and Cherry on both small details and overarching concerns month after month. And no one understands the character and contribution of Emmeline B. Wells as does Carol Madsen.

The goal of the entire team is to make these diaries accessible and useful to individuals eager to explore the life and insights of one of the most important women in Latter-day Saint history, Emmeline B. Wells.