Final Emmeline B. Wells Diaries Posted; Forty-Seven Volumes Recount Decades of Individual Service and Church Growth

SALT LAKE CITY—A remarkable collection of personal writings has been edited and published on the Church Historian’s Press website. The final diaries of Emmeline B. Wells, fifth Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have just been posted. A celebrated editor, public speaker, community activist, and defender of her faith, Wells was the most renowned Latter-day Saint woman of her generation. Because she was a conscientious diarist, her writings illuminate the challenges and opportunities experienced by women, particularly members of the church, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Forty-seven diaries have been transcribed and annotated. They cover Wells’s early experience in Nauvoo, Illinois, and then her activities from 1874 to 1920 in Salt Lake City. Editors at the Church Historian’s Press first published a batch of these diaries online in 2020. The November 2022 posting represents the ninth and final diary batch made available with introductions, biographies, annotations, and historical notes on a searchable platform free to readers and researchers.

The final four diaries appearing on the website cover 1916 through 1920. After the outbreak of World War I, Wells and her associates in Relief Society general leadership increased their civic activities. She urged programs in home gardening and food storage, conferred with the American Red Cross, and consulted with Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley on storage of Relief Society wheat. She took a room in the Hotel Utah, next door to the Bishop’s Building, where the women’s organizations had offices. That facilitated her attending meetings and greeting dignitaries who visited Salt Lake City.

Wells continued to support voting rights for women. In August 1920, when ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment granted the vote to all U.S. citizens, Wells joined other prominent suffragists in ceremonies at the Utah State Capitol. It seems fitting that she lived to see this effort completed and shared her congratulatory message.

All her life, Wells worked closely with general church leaders. When church president Joseph F. Smith died on 19 November 1918, she wrote a tribute to him as leader and friend. Her last speeches to the women of the church honored church presidents. As the last Relief Society general president to have known church founder Joseph Smith, she often reminded women of their heritage of faith.

President Heber J. Grant released Emmeline B. Wells from her leadership role in early April 1921. This release startled her and her family because until this time, precedent permitted women general presidents, like church presidents, to serve until their deaths. She died at the home of her daughter Annie Wells Cannon three weeks later, on April 25, 1921. Funeral services were held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square on April 29, and she was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

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 Joseph Smith Papers was the first publication to bear the imprint. The press publishes works of Latter-day Saint history that meet high standards of scholarship. For more information, visit the Church Historian’s Press website.