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Women of the Restoration: Meet Emmeline B. Wells

A core value for FigLittles Creative (and me personally) is to help give equal representation for both men and women in teaching children about the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why even though much of scripture is heavily male dominated, we still include just as many female bodies, clothing and accessories in our PlayKits. It's important that girls are able to imagine themselves in scripture stories and the history of our church.

I've spent a lot of time recently reading and researching the historical roles of women in the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm nowhere near an expert, but I've learned a lot. It's been extremely valuable to me to study the lives and contributions of pioneer women and the women who were there from the infancy of our church. I've had questions answered and discovered new ideas and thought patterns that I'd never considered before.

Within the last decade there's been a lot of hubbub about women's role in the church. I recently listened to a fantastic podcast from Faith Matters (which I'll link at the end of this post) interviewing Neylan McBaine, the author of a book I've just ordered called "Women at Church" and after hearing her thoughts and studying the lives of historically influential women within our faith, I think that we are due for a restoration of types within the female role of the church. I've shifted from the belief that we are building women's roles in the church from scratch, to the idea that maybe we've just been complacent about how we show up within the church organization. Maybe, just maybe, instead of being squeezed out of our role in the church organization, we just sat down. IDK. I'm spitballing here.

All of my personal thoughts aside, there's absolutely zero questioning what Emmeline B. Wells believed about women in the church AND society at large. If you've never heard of her before, hang on. Because she is a FREAKING COOL LADY. I'll give a short synopsis of her life and contributions here, and then link to some more sites where you can read more about her. Trust me. You WANT to know Emmeline.

Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born February 29, 1828, to David and Diadama Hare Woodward of Petersham, Massachusetts. She was the seventh of nine children.

Clearly an intelligent young woman with aspirations of becoming a writer, Emmeline was the only sibling who was given a private education. She earned her teaching certificate.

At the age of 14, she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her mother and three youngest sisters also accepted the gospel.

Emmeline Married James Harvey Harris in 1843 and moved to Nauvoo. here, her child died and James left to find work, but never returned.

She worked as a teacher to support herself, then later became a plural wife of Newel K. Whitney and crossed the plains with his family.

Emmeline had two daughters with Bishop Whitney before he died in 1850 and she was left alone again. she again relied on her ability to teach to support herself.

later she married into Daniel H. Wells' polygamist family as the seventh wife. she had three daughters with him.

Emmeline was was the editor of the Woman’s Exponent, a newspaper written for the benefit of Latter-day Saint women, for 37 years. This became a turning point in her life and lead her to become a champion for women's rights, working as a suffragette to obtain voting rights for women as well as protecting religious freedom.

Her work led to Utah being the third state/territory to allow women to vote and Emmeline was one of the first women in the entire United States to vote.

She was close with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and stood by their sides to represent Utah at the 1879 National Woman’s Suffrage Association convention in Washington.

Emmeline attended the 1891 National Council of Women in Washington D.C. and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Il. She also attended the 1899 International Council of Women in London.

In her diary she wrote: “This morning I presided over the General Congress in the Hall of Columbus, an honor never before accorded to a Mormon woman...If one of our brethren had such a distinguished honor conferred upon them, it would have been heralded the country over and thought a great achievement."

17 years after women in Utah gained the right to vote, the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1877 banned polygamy and also made it illegal for women in Utah to vote again.

Emmeline was outraged and led Utah’s suffragists in battling to regain the ballot. Through their tireless lobbying efforts, they ensured that equal suffrage was included in Utah’s Constitution when it became a state in 1896.

In 1910, at 83 years old Emmeline became the 5th General Relief Society President. She and her counselors created the theme "Charity Never Faileth" which stands today.

Much to her chagrin, she was the first Relief Society president to be released before death (only by 3 weeks) at 93 years old after 11 years of service.

In 1912 she was selected to unveil the Seagull Monument on Temple Square at its dedication. That same year, she was awarded an honorary doctor of literature degree at Brigham Young University, the first woman in Utah so awarded.

She was Barely five feet tall and less than 100 pounds, described as “exquisitely delicate and dainty, in her writing, her living, and in her life.”

The fragile exterior, however, camouflaged “an exceedingly frank” nature, according to one associate. She could be “sarcastic at times,” but such expressions were always softened by a show of repentance afterwards.

If you'd like to read more about Emmeline, here are some great resources:

Faith Matters Podcast I mentioned:


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