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Examples of early Mormon women

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SALT LAKE CITY — Christine Cox, director of LDS Church History Library Services, urged an overflowing audience to glean inspiration from the lives of early Mormon women as they preserve personal records for future generations.

Cox presented "Recording and Remembering" at the Church History Library on Aug. 12 as part of the ongoing Women's History Lecture Series.

"There is no 'one way' to keep a record," she said. "(There is) a lot more to remembering than passive recall — 'remember when we did this, remember when we did that …'"

Cox expounded on the lives of four lesser-known and very different women from the early days of the church.

Emmeline B. Woodward Wells

Emmeline B. Woodward Wells, 1828-1921, was born into a humble home and baptized at age 14. When she turned 15, her marriage was arranged to James Harvey Harris, her same age.

Just one year later Emmeline had lost a child and been deserted by James.

"Alone and despondent she turned to teaching and used her skills to provide for herself," Cox said.

She eventually married Newel K. Whitney and crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. Whitney died in 1850, leaving her a widow at age 22.

Emmeline would marry again two years later to Daniel H. Wells. Throughout the rest of her life, she would watch her children fall away from the church and a couple of her children and grandchildren die young.

Yet she found solace in writing, leaving behind many essays, poems and other literature. She was the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from BYU.

A bust of Wells is in the Utah State Capitol building with the inscription, "A fine soul who served us."

Maud May Babcock

Maud Babcock, 1867-1964, had a very different life, growing up in a well-educated, refined New York family. She studied drama, speech and the arts in New York, Chicago, London and Paris. She would never marry.

Susa Young Gates, daughter of Brigham Young, studied under Maud and the two became fast friends. It was Susa who convinced a reluctant Maud to visit Utah.

Maud was baptized within four months and began to teach. Her family was disgraced and disgusted and remained bitter toward Maud for the rest of her life.

"She had a youthful energy," Cox said. "Her students ended up loving her."

Maud brought speech and drama to Utah schools when they were, at the time, not considered respectable fields of study. Her peers would even exclude her from faculty meetings.

Yet Maud went on to produce and direct more than 300 plays. She became president of the Utah School of the Deaf and Blind, wrote five books, was the first woman chaplain of the Utah State Senate and was the first woman to hold a professional rank at the University of Utah.

Cox said we have Maud's plays, letters and correspondence, which paint a colorful picture of a woman dedicated not only to the arts, but to getting women involved in sports … and getting them to wear bloomers instead of dresses.

Ellen Johanna Larson Smith

Ellen Johanna Larson Smith, 1868-1965, had her little bit of formal education in a converted stable in Snowflake, Ariz., where her family was sent to help start a small LDS community.

Her family was very poor. She married her childhood sweetheart and raised nine children; she was called on to find a way to help provide for so many mouths with her husband often absent.

While taking in boarders to make money, Ellen met a professor who gave her a camera as a gift. Photography fascinated Ellen, who had no formal training.

She created a small photography business anyway and specialized in taking photographs of people doing normal, everyday activities — not the norm at the time when. In early photos, "nobody blinks, nobody smiles, nobody does anything," Cox said.

Yet her photos depicted children playing marbles, young people at picnics, children on swings, etc.

"(We have) such a great understanding of community life because of her," Cox said. "She listened to her inner promptings and left a legacy unlike anyone else. … She broke traditional boundaries in photography."

Minerva Teichert

Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert, 1888-1976, grew up in Pocatello, Idaho. She began formal training in art at age 14, demonstrating great artistic talent.

Her parents sent her off to art school; she studied in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. She struggled financially, though, having to take on odd jobs in order to get by.

She eventually married a rancher and became a great Western artist as well as an artist for the LDS Church. She especially loved painting women rendering service.

Teichert's recollections share how an instructor of hers once told her that she painted with great intelligence, asking, "Has anyone ever painted that great Mormon story of yours? Good heavens, girl, what a chance!"

"I felt I had been commissioned," Teichert recorded in her personal history.

She would go on to complete a Book of Mormon art series and paint the murals inside the Manti Utah Temple.

"Each kept a record very differently," Cox said of the four spotlighted sisters, explaining how outside of journaling, they used poetry, plays, photography and painting to chronicle their lives.

She quoted President Henry B. Eyring on keeping records: "My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God's kindness. … You may not keep a journal. You may not share whatever record you keep with those you love and serve. But you and they will be blessed as you remember what the Lord has done."

In whatever way befits you, keep a record of your experiences. It is a way to acknowledge God in our lives as we go forward, Cox said. Your personal and personalized record could benefit someone down the road in ways you could have never anticipated.

e-mail: eschmuhl@desnews.com