Remembering, recording: 4 women profiled in history lecture

Stories show how people become 'angels for others'

Highlighting the lives of four Latter-day Saint women from different time periods in Church history, Christine Cox told a gathering at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City that there can be various ways of remembering and recording the hand of the Lord in one's life.

Their lives show that "we become angels for others when we are in tune with the Spirit," said Sister Cox, director of library services, as she delivered the second address in the Women's History Lecture Series at the library. The five-lecture series is held monthly through November.

Photo by Ellen Johanna Larson Smith demonstrates unique and lively style at a time when photography
Photo by Ellen Johanna Larson Smith demonstrates unique and lively style at a time when photography was comparatively staid. | Courtesy Church History Library

Sister Cox gave profiles of writer Emmeline B. Wells, actress Maud May Babcock, photographer Ellen Johanna Larson Smith and painter Minerva Teichert. They each had trials, challenges and difficult times, she said, "but there are some messages for us."

Emmeline B. Wells

Emmeline Blanche Woodward was ridiculed at school after joining the Church, suffered the death of her first child and abandonment by her first husband, endured the hardships with the pioneers of expulsion from Nauvoo, Ill., and crossing the plains to Utah. She married Bishop Newell K. Whitney, who died soon after their arrival in Utah, and later married Daniel H. Wells. Notwithstanding her best efforts, some of her children fell away from the Church.

"Despite all of these hardships and discouragements, she made some amazing contributions," Sister Cox remarked. "She was a writer, an editor and a mother. She helped publish and became an editor of the Women's Exponent. She participated in Mormon politics, women's suffrage and advanced women's status in defending the Church before Congress and the president of the United States."

Sister Wells became the fifth general Relief Society president at the age of 82, Sister Cox noted. "She published poetry and was the very first woman to receive an honorary doctorate of literature from BYU, and she was 84 then."

Sister Cox said of Sister Wells, "Along the way there were a lot of angels who entered her life and helped inspire and motivate her."

One of those angels, she said, was Eliza R. Snow, who, when Emmeline was 16 and living in Nauvoo, told her she would live to do a work that had never been done by any woman since the creation. "Emmeline felt that the Relief Society grain-saving mission was the accomplishment of that." Her life became devoted to helping others, she added.

Maud May Babcock

Sister Babcock, who never married, was persuaded to come west to Utah by one of her students, Susa Young Gates, who had enrolled in one of her classes in elocution and acting. In Utah she joined the Church, which disgraced her family, who remained bitter the remainder of their lives.

Sister Cox said Sister Babcock had a passion for improving the lives of her students, though her chosen profession was not highly regarded by residents of Utah Territory at the time, including her fellow university faculty members. But more people were drawn to her classes than others. She was a taskmaster with high expectations. She also received praise for her skills in reading and performing throughout the territory.

She had angelic influences in her life and also was such an influence in the lives of others, Sister Cox said, including Utah Gov. Herbert Maw, who credited her with helping him overcome shyness by casting him in the role of the king in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." She told him to walk through the lines acting and speaking like a king.

"Some of the records we have about her are from plays, letters, articles, correspondence, recordings and scrapbooks," Sister Cox said.

Ellen Johanna Larson Smith

A mother of nine children, Sister Smith lived in Snowflake, Ariz., where she had to endure separation from her husband, Silas Derryfield Smith, as he evaded prosecution for plural marriage. To provide for her family, she took in boarders, raised honeybees and ran a notion shop.

"One day, a man by the name of Prof. Peterson gave her a camera, and it fascinated Ellen," Sister Cox said. "She knew nothing about photography or art. With a little bit of training, she created a photography business. She created a magnificent photographic record, capturing life and humanity in Snowflake, Ariz." Her record is unusual for the time period, when photographs were often staid and posed. "As she listened to her inner promptings and she used her innate creativity, she left a legacy unlike anyone else," Sister Cox said, "because one angel entered her life and gave her a camera."

Minerva Teichert

Minerva Kohlhepp was born in Ogden, Utah, in 1888, and spent most of her life on a ranch in Pocatello, Idaho. The second of nine children, she was the daughter of pioneer immigrants.

At a young age she demonstrated artistic talent, recognized by her parents, who sent her to art school in Chicago, Ill., at age 14 with gold coins hemmed in her dress, Sister Cox said. She studied in other schools in the East always struggling for the necessities of life. She was a trick roper and Indian dancer.

Sister Cox remarked, "Inspiration came to her in unexpected ways as angels also entered her life." While she was studying in New York, she was sitting in a testimony meeting at Church one day when a woman spoke on the joys of marriage and motherhood. She realized that back on the Idaho desert herding and branding cattle "was a man more nearly meant for me than anyone else in the world."

She went back to Idaho and married Herman Teichert. The hard work of ranch life she began to express in her art. The prominent theme in many of her paintings is women expressing service.

On one occasion, she met a young woman considered the "ugly duckling" of her family. Minerva told her she was one of the most beautiful women she had seen and that she wanted to paint her. "That girl blossomed because someone had recognized her beauty," Sister Cox said.

Sister Teichert completed a Book of Mormon art series and communicated stories and ideas through nearly a thousand pieces of art. She painted the murals in the Manti Temple and published two books.

"We learn about her through her art, through her books and her personal history," Sister Cox said. "One of the angels that came into her life was her instructor." Noting that she painted with great intelligence, he asked if anyone had ever painted "that great Mormon story" of hers. "He said, 'Good heavens, girl! What a chance! You do it. You're the one. That's your birthright. You feel it. You will do it well,' " Sister Cox related. Sister Teichert felt she had thus been commissioned.

In summation, Sister Cox drew these lessons from the lives of the four women: "No trials are unique; the Lord is in charge. We will be inspired by others and we will inspire others through the Holy Ghost. By recording our trials and our blessings, we can find strength and comfort while building faith and testimony. There is no one way to keep a record."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed