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Please begin with an informative title:

This is a repost of something I wrote for Women's History Month a couple of years ago at Street Prophets. Since then I have learned that Emmeline is in my family tree. Not a blood relative (we are connected by marriage twice over,  through both my Gardner and Price ancestors), but her story is interesting enough that I venture to share it here.

Since March is Women's History Month, I thought it might be a good time to introduce the remarkable Emmeline Blanche Woodward Harris Whitney Wells.

Genealogy & Family History Community

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Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born in Petersham, Massachusetts in 1828. Her father died when she was four years old, but her mother saw to it that she received a solid education, sending her to the New Salem Academy as a boarding student, where she graduated at the age of 14. Emmeline began teaching school almost immediately.

She and her mother joined the LDS Church at about that time, and Emmeline married 16-year-old James Harris a year later. The young couple left New England for Nauvoo, Illinois to join the main body of the church; within another year she bore — and lost — a child, and her young husband abandoned her. She returned to teaching.

It was a stressful time for the Mormons just then, as they were forced to leave their Nauvoo homes, and it was during this difficult period that, possibly looking for stability and protection, she married the much older Newell K. Whitney as his second, plural wife.

Whitney died in 1850, shortly after their arrival in Salt Lake City, and Emmeline was again left alone, now with two young daughters (one barely a month old). Again, she returned to teaching to support her family. But life as a single mother was difficult, so two years later she approached a family friend, Daniel H. Wells, and she proposed marriage; she became the seventh of his family of wives.

She and her husband became prominent religious and political leaders: he was the first Attorney General of the State of Deseret (the forerunner to the Utah Territory), Mayor of Salt Lake City, and member of the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles; as for Emmeline:

Wells was active in the national women's suffrage movement, where she served as liaison between Mormon and non-Mormon women and fielded hostile criticism associated with the practice of polygamy. On the national level, she was closely associated with both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. For nearly thirty years she represented Utah women in the National Woman's Suffrage Association and the National and International Councils of Women. Beginning in 1879, with her attendance at a suffrage convention in Washington, D.C., Wells acted as a lobbyist for Utah interests.

- Wikipedia

She frequently appeared before Congress; met with four Presidents of the United States; and, while in London representing the United States for the International Council of Women, was presented to Queen Victoria.

Emmeline was also the editor of The Woman's Exponent, a monthly newspaper published in Salt Lake City.

[T]he Exponent was a generally accepted voice for the women of the LDS Church. However, the Exponent's editorial board and management also acted independently of the church hierarchy and had considerable influence in matters of Utah and national politics. Its editorials frequently championed both plural marriage and women's suffrage.
Emmeline Wells at her desk
At her desk

From Volume I, Number 1 of The Woman's Exponent:

Millions of intelligent women are deprived of the vote simply because nature qualified them to become mothers and not fathers of men. They may own property, pay taxes, assist in supporting the government, rend their heart-strings in giving for its aid the children of their affections, but they are denied all right to say who shall disburse those taxes, how that government shall be conducted, or who shall decide on a question of peace or war which may involve the lives of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands.
By this time (1872) Utah women had already enjoyed the right to vote for two years — a right taken from them by Congress in 1887 as part of the anti-polygamy Edmunds-Tucker Act.
National suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony came to Utah at least twice in support of woman's suffrage. The Deseret News on May 13, 1895, reported one visit this way: "This has been an eventful day in the history of the woman suffrage movement in Utah. ... This morning the three-day conference of the Women's National Suffrage Association commenced in the convention hall in the joint city and county building, being presided over by Susan B. Anthony, ably and actively assisted by Mrs. E.B. Wells." [emphasis mine.]

The question of votes for women was one of the most hard-fought issues of the state constitutional convention in 1895.

Arguing against the proposal was Mormon scholar B.H. Roberts, who spoke for two days against including women's suffrage in the constitution. On the other side, Franklin S. Richards [attorney and general counsel for the LDS Church] stated that he would "rather remain in territorial vassalage" than deny women equal political standing.

Overnight, women on both sides of the issue gathered petition signatures, with 24,801 favoring a constitutional guarantee of women's votes and 15,366 supporting a separate election on the issue. In the end, of those delegates present for the April 18, 1895, votes were unanimous for suffrage.

- MormonTimes, Utah women voted earlier than most in U.S.

Salt Lake City & County Building, site of the 1895 Women's National Suffrage Association convention.

On January 4, 1896 Utah joined the Union, and Utah women once again were allowed to vote.

Emmeline saw no contradiction between the two causes she championed:

Through The Woman's Exponent, Wells became an articulate spokesperson for women's rights and a defender of plural marriage. Drawing on her own experience, she argued against the view, widespread in the non-Mormon world, that women's rights and plural marriage were irreconcilable opposites, the one based in sexual freedom and the other in sexual bondage. For Wells, women's rights and plural marriage were instead complementary, since in plural marriage a woman found the personal freedom and independence to exercise her rights as a member of society. And she gained a more detached perspective on the male part of society than a woman whose social standing rested on a single man.

- PBS: The West, Emmeline Wells

Emmeline B. Wells published The Woman's Exponent until 1914; she died in 1921, having lived to see suffrage extended to women throughout the United States.
Wells played an important part in the process of mutual understanding that eventually brought the Mormon community into the mainstream of a non-Mormon, frequently anti-Mormon, American society. To Mormons, her prominence within national organizations such as the Woman's Republican League and the National Suffrage Association was evidence that Americans were not universally hostile. To other Americans, Wells' national stature and friendship with such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Carrie Chapman Catt made it more difficult to reflexively think of Mormons as anti-social deviants. The Mormon hierarchy appreciated her service. In 1912 she was awarded an honorary degree from Brigham Young University, and in 1928, seven years after her death, a marble bust of her likeness was placed in Utah's capitol building.

- PBS: The West, Emmeline Wells

Here is Emmeline in her own words:

"I believe in women, especially thinking women."
"Let woman speak for herself; she has the right of freedom of speech. Women are too slow in moving forward, afraid of criticism, of being called unwomanly, of being thought masculine. What of it? If men are so much superior to women, the nearer we come up to the manly standard the higher we elevate ourselves."
Deseret Hospital Board of Directors
Deseret Hospital Board of Directors (Emmeline Wells, front row right)

"All honor and reverence to good men; but they and their attentions are not the only source of happiness on the earth and need not fill up every thought of woman. And when men see that women can exist without their being constantly at hand... it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them."
"If the women of Utah are slaves, their bonds are loving ones and dearly prized. They are to-day in the free and unrestricted exercise of more political and social rights than are the women of any other part of the United States. But they do not choose as a body to court the follies and vices which adorn the civilization of other cities, nor to barter principles of tried worth for the tinsel of sentimentality or the gratification of passion."
With five of her sister wives
Emmeline, front row center, with five of her sister wives

Postscript: The photo of the Deseret Hospital board of directors above contains three women in my tree: Emmeline; Romania Pratt Penrose, the first Mormon woman to obtain a medical degree (she was the consulting physician for the hospital) and a suffragist in her own right; and my fourth-great-grandfather's sister, Marinda Johnson Hyde.

And for the most rabid genealogists among you, Ancestry.com describes my connection to Emmeline as follows:

Emmeline Blanche Woodward (1828 - 1921)
relationship to you: wife of father-in-law of stepdaughter of great grand aunt

Daniel Hanmer Wells (1814 - 1891)
Husband of Emmeline Blanche

Daniel Hanmer Wells Jr (1849 - 1926)
Son of Daniel Hanmer

Emma Geneva Price (1857 - 1929)
Wife of Daniel Hanmer

William Price (1818 - 1906)
Father of Emma Geneva

Mary Ann Gardner (1860 - 1943)
Wife of William

James Alexander Gardner (1837 - 1921)
Father of Mary Ann

John William Gardner (1872 - 1949)
Son of James Alexander

Hilda Gardner (1912 - 2003)
Daughter of John William

Marcia Lee (1932 - 2008)
Daughter of Hilda


Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Genealogy and Family History Community on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 09:00 AM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, Invisible People, and Street Prophets .

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