Emmeline B. Woodward Wells
(1828-1921) Salt Lake City, Utah
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells lived quite the extraordinary life, even before she became involved in the cause of women's suffrage. She experienced three marriages (some plural), abandonment, multiple religions, migration across America, raising children, and losing loved ones.
She grew up in Petersham, Massachusetts, and attended a "select school for girls" in New Salem. When she returned from school in 1842, her mother, Deiadama, had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after previously being a practicing Protestant. Deiadama encouraged Emmeline to take lessons from the missionaries and, following her mother's advice, she embraced the religion and got baptized in a lake while local "anti-Mormons" jeered at her for being a "victim of delusion."
In 1843 at just age fifteen, she received her teaching certificate and began teaching in a local school. She married James Harvey Harris that year, a presiding elder of the local branch and the two of them moved to Nauvoo, Illinois in April 1844. Emmeline experienced great hardship in the following year. Her infant son passed away, and then shortly after, her husband deserted her.
In the following winter, alongside Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Emmeline became the wife of Newel K. Whitney. Brigham Young performed the ceremony in February 1845 and Emmeline joined her new family in the journey from Nauvoo to Salt Lake between 1846 and 1848. She had two daughters with Bishop Whitney, Melvina and Isabel. Their father died in 1950, leaving Emmeline single again.
In 1852, Emmeline became Daniel Hanmer Wells' seventh wife. He was a close friend of Brigham Young's and a high officer of the church. Emmeline had three more daughters, Emmeline, Elizabeth Ann (Annie), and Louisa (Louie) Martha. Now that her life had finally settled down, Emmeline was able to devote her time to church work, journalism, and most prominently the movement of women's suffrage.
Between 1973 and 1914 she went from "periodic contributor" all the way to Associate Editor for the Women's Exponent magazine, retaining her title for nearly forty years. She was known as "Aunt Em" in her writings and produced a variety of articles, poems, and features. She became more and more involved in the Relief Society, eventually becoming president of the fifty-thousand-member body in 1910. She used her position of influence to promote female suffrage and rights by printing suffrage articles, editorials, and letters in every issue of the Women's Exponent.
In 1889, alongside Emily Sophia Richards, Wells formed the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah. Wells and the members of the WSAU lobbied strenuously at the Utah constitutional convention of 1895 which resulted in the approval of a woman suffrage clause that became operative in Utah in 1896. National feminist leaders were beginning to notice Wells and her activities, and in 1874 she was made vice-president for Utah of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She attended its national conventions and became a member of many other organizations for women's suffrage and attended the International Council of Women meeting in London in 1899.
When she wasn't advocating for women's rights, Wells was passionate about poetry and her religion. She is spoken of fondly by those who knew her, describing her as a woman of "kindly features," "frank and outspoken." Her poetry verses recorded in the Woman's Exponent and her book, Musing and Memories (1896) were mostly about nature, religion, and the home. She wrote the church hymn, "Our Mountain Home So Dear." Wells also fought diligently in her writings and speeches to dispel exaggerated assumptions of the Church that were prominent at the time, presenting a more balanced view of the religion.
Emmeline passed away, full of honor, at age ninety-three. Dignitaries from around the world made the effort to visit her in the years preceding her death. She was eulogized as a "veritable mother in Israel," and buried in the City Cemetery as the first woman in Utah to have flags flown at half-staff in her honor.
Why I Chose This Person
"I'm Meg Mackay and I chose to write about Emmeline B. Woodward Wells because of how unusual her life was! She overcame some of the worst hardships a person can go through (loss of multiple companions and children) and still kept looking towards the future. She used her voice to make a difference in both women's suffrage and the church. I also just found reading about her absolutely fascinating and encourage anyone to do the same."
"I believe in women, especially thinking women."
There is so much to learn about Emmeline's unusual life! By searching her name in the McKay Library website you can read her journals, find marriage certificates, letters, videos, and more details about the emotional toil regarding her daughters Annie and Louie. available here
Watch The life, loves and legacy of Emmeline B. Wells [videorecording] : originally presented as Sixth wife / Joan Oviatt ; a KBYU Production in association with LDS Motion Picture Studio. available here
Listen Our Mountain Home So Dear available here
Barbara Jones Brown, “Emmeline B. Wells, A Thinking Woman,” Better Days 2020, available here
Britannica Academic, s.v. "Emmeline Blanche Woodward Wells," accessed September 21, 2020, available here
De Pillis, Mario S. “WELLS, Emmeline Blanche Woodward.” Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary: 1607-1950 (Vol.1-3), November 3, 1971, 561. available here
Wells, Emmeline B. (Emmeline Blanche). Emmeline B. Wells Certificate of Visitation to the World’s Columbian Exposition. L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 1893. available here