Additional Emmeline B. Wells Diaries Added to Online Collection
SALT LAKE CITY—The Church Historian’s Press today announced the online publication of six additional volumes of the diaries of Latter-day Saint leader and women’s rights activist Emmeline B. Wells, covering 1897 to 1900. For the first time, an annotated transcript of these volumes is available for free to the public at churchhistorianspress.org/emmeline-b-wells.
The diaries for these four years cover high points of Emmeline B. Wells’s involvement in women’s suffrage, in women’s clubs, in local politics, in travel, and in the Relief Society as corresponding secretary for general president Zina D. H. Young.
Wells’s volume of poetry, Musing and Memories, appeared in 1897. In the public sphere, she volunteered with the Salt Lake Municipal League. She ran for political office for the final time but was defeated for a place in the state legislature. With Susa Young Gates she helped organize a chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution in Utah in 1898; Wells also represented the state at the organization’s national convention in New York two years later. In June and July of 1899, she served as a delegate to the International Council of Women in London. She visited Paris and toured England and Scotland, meeting with church members and missionaries at various places.
In 1900 she composed a peace pamphlet for the National Council of Women to be translated into French for the Paris Exposition. She researched and began writing a history of women’s suffrage in Utah. With other Relief Society leaders, she served on a committee to raise funds and plan a building for the women of the church across the street from the Salt Lake Temple.
Activities during these four years illustrate her diligent labors “with heart and brain” as an editor, organizer, and spokesperson for church and civic causes.
A sampling of Wells’s diary entries from 1897 to 1900 includes the following quotations:
On Wayward Loved Ones
How I wish I could see my loved ones all of them, sound in the Gospel and willing to be obedient to the commandments of God. My heart aches when I think any are wayward. (1 August 1897)
When One Expects to Do Brain Work
I am very glad however to have my evening to myself after returning from Annie’s I could never do my work without some seclusion– It is a positive necessity when one expects to do brain work– I must sometimes be alone. (17 July 1898)
One of the Dreams of My Life
Today I have fulfilled one of the dreams of my life, that of seeing Westminster Abbey. Mrs. [Susa Young] Gates & [Elizabeth Claridge] Mc’Cune were with me & had both been there before. I shall go again alone as it is the one place most sacred to me and I know I am more emotional than I can express with others. (23 June 1899)
This is the day we generally keep for my birthday, had the usual custom been followed there would have been 29 days in February this year, but in each hundred years to preserve an equillibrium one of the four years has to be without an extra day and it has come in my lifetime however quite a number of gifts came. (28 February 1900)
Official Relief Society portrait of Emmeline B. Wells, fifth Relief Society general president. Painting by Lee Greene Richards. (Church History Museum, Salt Lake City.)
About the Diaries
The forty-seven volumes of diaries kept by Emmeline B. Wells provide a window into the life of one of the most influential Latter-day Saints in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In them she is both historymaker, as she meets with presidents and works with national suffrage leaders, and historian, as she records noteworthy events and her daily interactions with and impressions of prominent members of her community. She provides glimpses into her relationships with family, friends, and church leaders. She declares her faith in God even in the face of tragedy. The diaries are a record of her perceptions and philosophies, and they are valuable not only to historians but also to those simply curious about this remarkable woman and the time in which she lived.
Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born in Petersham, Franklin County, Massachusetts, on February 29, 1828. As a young woman, she listened to Latter-day Saint missionaries and was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She migrated to Nauvoo, Illinois, and then to the Salt Lake Valley.
She married three times. She and her first husband, James Harris, had a son who died at a few weeks of age, after which James left in search of work and never returned. She then married Newel K. Whitney as a plural wife, and they had two daughters. After Newel K. Whitney died, she married Daniel H. Wells as a plural wife. She and Daniel Wells had three daughters.
In 1873 Emmeline Wells began writing articles for a recently launched newspaper called the Woman’s Exponent. She was soon enlisted as associate editor and then became editor in 1877. She remained editor until terminating the paper in 1914.
Wells helped link Latter-day Saint women to national women’s organizations and championed the achievements of the women of Utah to leaders and members of these organizations. She worked as a committee member for the National Woman Suffrage Association (later National American Woman Suffrage Association), the National and International Councils of Women, and the National Woman’s Press Association. In the state, she headed the Utah Territorial Woman Suffrage Association. She served as secretary of the board of the Deseret Hospital Association. She served her political party and ran for state senate, though she was not elected. She organized two local women’s clubs and supported the beginnings of the Daughters of the Revolution and Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. She shared her talent for organization and meeting management with a broad range of church and civic leaders.
Her aptitude for public speaking and keen memory served her well in church service. She assisted general Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow as a secretary and often traveled with her to visit wards and stakes. Under general president Zina D. H. Young, she was named corresponding secretary and wrote countless letters by hand. With Bathsheba W. Smith as general president, Wells was called as general Relief Society secretary, a role in which she acted much like an executive director of the board as she set up meetings and arranged travel schedules. In 1910, at the death of Bathsheba Smith, church president Joseph F. Smith and his counselors called Emmeline B. Wells as fifth general Relief Society president. She died on April 25, 1921, at age ninety-three.
About the Church Historian’s Press
The Church Historian’s Press was announced in 2008 by the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The aim of the Church Historian’s Press is to increase access to materials related to the history of the church. Previous publications include the Joseph Smith Papers, documents chronicling the early history of the Relief Society, discourses by Latter-day Saint women, the Journal of George Q. Cannon, the Journal of George F. Richards, and the Discourses of Eliza R. Snow. For more information, visit the Church Historian’s Press website.