The year 1873 was a troubling one for the Saints. “There were way too many babies dying in the Salt Lake Valley,” said Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities. “In addressing a Relief Society conference in Ogden, Utah, Eliza R. Snow announced that Brigham Young wanted to send several women to Philadelphia to get medical degrees. The Relief Society went door to door to gather tiny donations to help fund the women’s tuition.”
The women were willing, but the journey was tough.“I think of these women and what they faced,” said Sister Eubank. “Many had emigrated from outside the United States. They were poor. They practiced a religion many people disagreed with. And they were women in a medical school dominated by male students. They had a lot against them. But they were willing to try.”
Ellis Shipp was one of the women sponsored to go to school. “Another member of her family was actually selected to go first,” noted Sister Eubank. “She attended just one month, hated it, and said she was not going back. So Ellis said she would go in her place and headed to school in November. Not only did she face all the other barriers, she was now weeks behind.”
Ellis was resourceful. “She went to Philadelphia, and the job she got was guarding the cadaver lab at night,” said Sister Eubank. “Here she was, studying to catch up from the first semester, guarding the cadaver lab, and during her second year, she was pregnant. This woman had all the odds against her, but she went to two years of medical school, got her degree and came back to Utah. She established her own practice and during her career delivered more than 6,000 babies. She also helped start The School of Nursing and Obstetrics and trained 500 women to become midwives.”
Sister Eubank said that the experience from the past carries over to today.
“The experience from our own refugee pioneer heritage allows us to say to others with credibility: ‘You don’t need government funding to solve all the pressing needs in the world. You can figure out what you need to do and then do it because poor but dedicated people figured out a way to do this in the past.’ God, the Father of us all, will open up the doors for those who trust Him and ask for a way.”
Sister Eubank encourages people to participate in their own communities. “The Church is sponsoring neonatal and other projects around the world and donations from members assist in distant countries. But there is much more to do. What is needed more than anything else is for people to look around their own communities and ask: ‘What can I do to help in the place that I live?’ Volunteering to help parents with an infant in the intensive care unit or supporting March of Dimes outreach for first-time mothers who need someone to talk to are just as critical as being part of a training team in Indonesia. And you already speak the language.”