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Four Additional Emmeline B. Wells Diaries Added to Online Collection

SALT LAKE CITY—The Church Historian’s Press today announced the online publication of four additional volumes of the diaries of Latter-day Saint leader and women’s rights activist Emmeline B. Wells, covering 1901 to 1904. For the first time, an annotated transcript of these volumes is available for free to the public at churchhistorianspress.org/emmeline-b-wells.

The torch of the Relief Society general presidency passed from Zina D. H. Young to Bathsheba W. Smith in the fall of 1901, and Emmeline B. Wells continued as general secretary of the Relief Society. In a setting-apart blessing given to Wells in January 1902, just a month before her seventy-fourth birthday, President Joseph F. Smith blessed her with “much scope for action mental and intellectual.”

As the new century unfolded, Wells also continued to serve in women’s civic organizations. When she was elected a director of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs in November 1901, she declared adamantly, “We [Latter-day Saints] do many things for the good of women the world over.” She attended the inauguration of U.S. president William McKinley in 1901. She spoke at the Washington, DC, meetings of the National Council of Women in 1902. She traveled to many stake Relief Society conferences in the West and took part in socials, study groups, and meetings of genealogical societies in Salt Lake City, where she lived.

Wells also dealt with disappointments in the four years covered in these diaries. She was unable to obtain financing to travel to Berlin in 1904 to speak at the International Council of Women meetings. Though still confident of her thinking and speaking powers, she sensed the narrowing of her life work and felt somewhat pushed aside on the public stage. 

In her family life, she supported her daughter Belle in the loss of her husband, Septimus Sears. She welcomed the birth of her daughter Annie’s twelfth child, who turned out to be Wells’s last grandchild. And she shared her home with family members as they prepared new housing. 

Through all these circumstances, Wells seemed determined to fulfill the blessing received from President Joseph F. Smith. She wrote in her diary on July 19, 1903, “I have not had so many privileges as many of the sisters with whom I have been associated but I have enjoyed my own gifts of mind and heart and tried to make myself useful in spreading the truth.”

A sampling of Wells’s diary entries from 1901 to 1904 includes the following quotations:

The Good Work Done by Our Women Missionaries

President Platte D. Lyman who has just recently returned from a mission preached and he spoke in the course of his remarks of the good work done by our women missionaries. I was very glad as it is a department in which I am exceedingly interested and hope to see great good accomplished by our sisters in the Mission field. (30 June 1901)

 

The Attention of So Many Noted People

It does seem quite remarkable that I should have had the attention of so many noted people & be sought after by those of our own faith as well after the obscurity in which I had lived during the time of raising my family. (3 August 1901) 

 

So Much to Do

I am so busy and see so many people on week days in my office. There is so much to do in looking up matters for our Society. (22 February 1903) 

 

My Greatest Sorrow

O how glad I should be to have all mine in full accord and harmony with the holy priesthood of God revealed in these last days. This is my greatest sorrow that I cannot have all thinking as I do and as their father did believing implicitly in the Savior and the Prophet’s divine mission. (30 December 1904) 

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.

Personal Life

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.

Leadership

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 Papersdocuments chronicling the early history of the Relief Societydiscourses 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.