“I believe in women, especially thinking women.” -Emmaline B. Wells
Happy Women’s History Month! I’m taking comfort in reading about some remarkable women of the past. They too did hard things! Let me tell you about an amazing woman of the suffragette movement and her contribution to women gaining the right to vote!
Emmeline Blanche Woodward Harris Whitney Wells has a remarkable place in history, both in the early Christian faith, and in the women’s right movement. She earned her teaching certificate at age 14, was a journalist, editor, poet, women’s rights advocate, and diarist.
Her first husband disappeared and she never saw him again. Her first baby died at age 5 weeks. Her first daughter was born in a wagon bed in the middle of a treacherous winter storm. She was a widow at age 22.
Now this is where it gets really (personally) interesting. Alone and bereft, Emmaline approached Daniel H. Wells (my great great great grandfather) and asked him to consider marrying her. Wells was the mayor of Salt Lake City and already had six other households. He consented, but had little time for her and she wrote of her great struggle and loneliness.
At the age of 82, she became the fifth Relief Society General President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving from 1910 until her death.
- Invited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Emmaline represented Utah women in the National Woman Suffrage Association for nearly 30 years!
- Remained a lifelong friend of Susan B. Anthony (Anthony sent Wells a gold band as a token of their friendship)
- Lobbied in Washington, D.C. for statehood for Utah
- Met with several presidents in the White House
- Represented American women in international conferences
- Met Queen Victoria in London in 1899
- Was the editor of the Woman’s Exponent for 37 years
- Accepted Brigham Young’s challenge to lead an effort to save and store thousands of bushels of wheat
- This wheat was used for relief during and after WWI
- President Woodrow Wilson paid her a personal visit in 1919 to thank her for her work
- Published a book of poetry
- Left a life story in 46 diaries
- At her death, the Utah state flag was flown at half mast – one of the first times it had ever been done for a woman.
She was small, but wielded great power with her pen. (YES!) This was especially true when it came to writing about a woman’s right to vote and run for public office (which she did – against Martha Hughes Cannon; Martha got the vote.)
Emmaline wasn’t perfect, nor maybe “easy” to be around all of the time. I read that she suffered from “strong emotion” due to her many trials.
But she was also this:
“Her mind is keen, her intellect sure, her powers unbending,” wrote Susa Young Gates. “She possesses a rarely beautiful spirit … is an eloquent speaker, a beautiful writer … is exquisitely pure — no unclean thing could enter her presence or remain in her atmosphere. She is beloved by all who dwell in the church, all who know her and their name is legion.”
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