Additional Emmeline B. Wells Diaries Added to Online Collection
SALT LAKE CITY—The Church Historian’s Press today announced the online publication of seven additional volumes of the diaries of Latter-day Saint leader and women’s rights activist Emmeline B. Wells, covering 1881 to 1888. For the first time, an annotated transcript of these volumes is available for free to the public at churchhistorianspress.org/emmeline-b-wells.
Readers of the newly published volumes will find Wells advocating for women on the local and national levels with her characteristic acumen and zeal. In this busy period, Wells continued her work as editor of the Woman's Exponent, served under Presidents Eliza R. Snow and Zina D. H. Young in the general Relief Society organization, became secretary of the Deseret Hospital executive board, represented the women of Utah to the National Woman Suffrage Association, and helped plan for the admission of Utah as a state.
On the personal front, Wells took a trip to the eastern United States to visit family members she had not seen in decades. She mourned the untimely death of her daughter Louie Wells Cannon in May 1887 and, later that year, performed proxy temple ordinances for the first time. In 1888, Wells moved from her longtime home into a combination home and office in the center of Salt Lake City. She regretted her daughters relocating to other cities but welcomed her husband’s appointment as president of the Manti temple.
A sampling of Wells’s diary entries from 1881 to 1888 includes the following quotations:
I Believe in Woman Representing Her Own Sex
Went up late & attended the meeting of the Territorial Central Committee at the City Hall at 12. m. nineteen gentlemen present and only one lady. It does take some courage but as I believe in woman representing her own sex I determined to attend and do my best to understand how things were going and what the prospects were for a fair representation of the People’s Party. (11 June 1887)
To Travel and Speak in the Interest of Zion
I am pleased however to have the opportunity to travel and speak in the interest of Zion and feel how blest I have been and the truth of the prophecy of Bishop Whitney upon me, when he said I should have nothing to do but to devote my whole time to writing and to literary pursuits, and that I should sit and eat and drink and converse with the nobles of the earth and tell them of the Gospel. (13 June 1888)
Miss Anthony Greeted Me Warmly
[In Washington, DC:] The first thing after I came to the Riggs house I saw Miss [Susan B.] Anthony she greeted me warmly and invited me to her room. . . . Br. [John T.] Caine immediately expressed a desire that I should see the Presidents sister Miss Rose Elizabeth Cleveland. which was really the very pith of the errand upon which I had come to the Capital. (28 January 1886)
Our Love for Her Is So Strong
The Dr. gives us every hope that she [Louisa Wells Cannon] will recover and our own faith is somewhat strong yet, no one knows nor yet what is best and we must accept the inevitable whatever that may be. Our love for her is so strong and our desire for her to be restored that we could almost rend the heavens with our entreaties, but we know not what more to do. (10 May 1887)
My Dear Old Home
32 years today since I moved into my dear old home. I shall never forget the days when we were moving, the little sweet things used to run down with things in their hands, they were so overjoyed to have a home, their own home. I recollect so well how delighted Belle was to have a room. We used always to call it Belle’s room in those days. It was the North East bedroom. We put out the trees and shrubs and watched them day by day. Every spot of ground and spear of grass and weed was dear. Where their little feet have pattered up and down, in the dear old days. I see them now as little things, as they were then in their innocence & beauty. (5 May 1888)
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.