Episode 126: Church history specialist Ken Adkins on Belle Harris’ prison journal and her story of faith amid persecution

The Church Historian’s Press recently published the 1883 journal Belle Harris kept while she was in prison

The Church Historian’s Press was created in 2008 with the goal to publish works of Latter-day Saint history that meet high standards of scholarship. Over the years it has helped scholars, as well as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have direct access to primary documents and contextual histories.

In February of this year, the Church Historian’s Press published “The Prison Journal of Belle Harris.” Just in time for Women’s History Month, this episode of the Church News podcast explores Belle Harris’ story of persecution, courage and hard-practiced faith.

Ken Adkins, the lead historian specialist who spearheaded the project, offers highlights of Belle Harris’ experience and speaks to why her story of incarceration was included among the Church’s other scholastic works. 

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Ken Adkins: The thing that I enjoy most about studying Church history, is taking the voices, the narratives that are uncommon, that aren’t in every biography, every Sunday School manual, and bringing them to life and helping us understand how Saints used their faith to get through challenges. That is a principle that will always touch the heart of a Latter-day Saints. That’s what I learned from Belle’s journal. That’s what I get from that. And contemporary readers may not recognize Belle’s fight, but they will recognize Belle’s faith.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Sarah Jane Weaver: The Church Historian’s Press was created in 2008 with the goal to publish works of Latter-day Saint history that meet high standards of scholarship. Over the years, it has helped scholars, as well as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have direct access to primary documents and contextual histories. In February of this year, The Historians Press published “The Prison Journal of Belle Harris.” But who was Bill Harris and why was her story of incarceration included among other scholastic works? Today, on the Church News podcast, just in time for Women’s History Month, we explore her story of persecution, courage and hard practice faith. We are joined by Ken Atkins, the lead historian specialist who worked on the Belle Harris prison journal. Welcome, Ken to the Church News podcast.

Ken Atkins, the lead historian specialist who worked on “The Prison Journal of Belle Harris,” joins the Church News podcast. | Provided by Ken Atkins

Ken Adkins: Thank you, Sarah. Glad to be here.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you so much for joining us, because I want to delve into this idea of Belle Harris and her influence in her life. In the spring of 1883, she’s a 22-year-old Latter-day Saint woman, and she refuses to answer questions regarding her plural marriage to her former husband before a grand jury at the courthouse in Beaver, Utah. And as a result of that, this young mother and her 10-month-old baby were imprisoned in the Utah territorial penitentiary and remain there for three months. And while she’s behind bars, she writes this compelling journal about her experience. And so as we start today, I’m wondering if you can tell us what we should know about Belle Harris.

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Ken Adkins: So, Belle Harris is a southern Utah girl. She is raised in the Cotton Mission of the Church. Her family is called to that mission just a year after she’s born. And she finds herself in a very difficult situation. She is a young woman at the center of a national debate about the legality of plural marriage. She’s one of the few women who appeared in court and is incarcerated for refusing to testify. During the time between 1882 and 1887, where the Edmonds Anti-Polygamy act is being enforced in the Utah territory.

Her journal is important, because really, it’s the only one. It is the only journal that we have one of these women. And as far as we know, she spent the most time of any of these women in prison. Some were there for a night, maybe two nights or a week, but she was there for over three months, and she had with her her 10-month-old son Horus. So what we have is the journey of a 22-year-old single mother of two in extraordinary circumstances. And her message for contemporary readers is, “Not everything in my life has gone according to my expectations. But I am no less a Latter-day Saint and I will stand for my people.” It’s a very, very powerful message.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I want to talk a little bit more about plural marriage. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practices and beliefs today that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman. But that has [not] always been the case in our history. Certainly, in biblical times, as well, the practice of polygamy was instituted. But between 1852 and 1890, Latter-day Saints openly practiced plural marriage.

Ken Adkins: That’s right.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And some of those plural families lived in Utah. And I also want to point out that in September of 1890, Latter-day Saint Church President Wilford Woodruff felt inspired to issue a manifesto. And on that occasion, he said, “In as much as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriage, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws.” And so from that point on, the Church shifts into a period where plural marriage is no longer something that Latter-day Saints can embrace. And while Belle Harris’ parents were not in a plural marriage, at age 18, she did choose to enter a plural marriage. So she married young. She was divorced. Why did she not want to testify?


Ken Adkins: That’s a great question. Belle does marry young. She marries a man named Clarence Merrill, who really sweeps her off her feet. We have a great interview from her from 1935, just a few years before she passes. And in that interview, she talks about how Clarence Merrill recites poetry to her, sends her letters and perfumes. She’s from a small town in rural southern Utah and she’s very enamored with Clarence. He’s a very charismatic person. And she loves him, but he has two other wives. Soon after marrying Clarence, Belle realizes that she’s spending most of her time in isolation. She is in her own home, but Clarence is having to travel between three women that he’s visiting. And he’s absent for her first birth and most of the pregnancy.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And at this time, as she enters court, she’s called upon to testify against her ex-husband. Tell us about some of the circumstances surrounding that experience for her.


Ken Adkins: It’s interesting that she shows up to the court at all, right? She could have just not gone. But Belle has very high standards. She’s very dutiful. She’s very honest. Belle has just been divorced. She has a newborn baby. And she’s asked to testify about this marriage, this relationship that’s just ended. I think it’s very difficult for her to go into a courtroom of strangers, and to talk about, probably one of the most tender moments of her life. And I think, to her, divorcing Clarence was not easy. I think it was very difficult for her emotionally.

They ask her the questions, “Were you ever married and if so, to whom, and when?” They might seem like very simple questions to us, but Belle sees these as being designed to attack the Latter-day Saints. She knows that any testimony that she gives will be used against the Church and against the father of her children and so she refuses to testify. She’s uncomfortable with these questions. I don’t think she wants to talk about this period in her life, and because she has this conviction, this passion to protect a way of life that is very important to her.

A photograph of the Utah Territorial Penitentiary dated Oct. 31, 1855, during the facility’s first year of operation in what is now Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City, Utah. Belle Harris spent the summer of 1883 there after refusing to answer questions about her former husband and their plural marriage.  | Utah Historical Society


Sarah Jane Weaver: And she’s testifying before a jury that would have consisted of whom?

Ken Adkins: Yes, so the Edmonds Act made it illegal for practicing polygamists to sit on juries, to hold public office and to vote. And so this would have been a group of men that were not of her faith. This is probably the most non-Latter-day Saint people she’s ever been around in her life and her first time in court. So she’s 22 years old, and I think very, very uncomfortable with the situation. And I can’t blame her.

Sarah Jane Weaver: So now she goes through this trial. What was she sentenced for after refusing to testify?


Ken Adkins: So she is charged with willful contempt of court. She is charged a $25 fee and she is told that she’s going to be in prison until she testifies, or until the grand jury disbands. So, she is in for three months. There’s a recess in the grand jury for that time, so this won’t be resolved till around Aug. 29. During that time her attorneys try to get her out of prison by way of the territorial Supreme Court.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And she’s after refusing to answer, is found a contempt of court and then what happens to her?

Ken Adkins: So from there, she’s taken to the Utah Territorial Penitentiary in Sugar House. She’s brought her 10-month-old son Horus with her. And she is very nervous about being in prison, as you could imagine. But luckily when she arrives, as soon as she arrives, she is ministered to by her Relief Society sisters. The first day, May 18, 1883, that Belle is in the prison, Emmeline B. Wells and others come to visit her and minister to her. They bring her food and supplies for her baby and they let her know that they are behind her.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, her family is still in Beaver, Utah. That’s 200 miles from Salt Lake. There was a train, but they’re probably not visiting every day.

Ken Adkins: They’re not visiting every day, but her father Charles Harris is doing his best to be with her at least a few times a week. So he’s going back and forth between Salt Lake and Beaver to tend to the farm and then to to come and visit Belle.


Sarah Jane Weaver: and her parents were caring for the one child that was not with her at this time.

Ken Adkins: That’s correct. So Albert Merrill is about 2 years old and he is staying with Belle’s parents. He never comes up to visit, but in the journal she talks about missing Albert very much. So it’s kind of sad.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to understand what was this prison like? What kind of situation was she in? Were there other females that were incarcerated or was she totally alone?


Ken Adkins: What we understand, the prison at this time is that it’s a pretty dilapidated, adobe structure. The general population is living in small, flea-ridden, poorly-ventilated cells. Belle is given her own room. So it’s a storage room connected to the warden’s quarters, but they turn it into a cell so that Belle can have privacy. There are no other female inmates at this time. One does arrive during Belle’s stay, but she is alone. The idea of a woman even being in prison at this time is pretty rare. And it’s interesting, because Rudger Clawson, he ends up staying in the same room that’s created for Belle. And he describes this room as, “a small room, perhaps 10 by 13, attached to the building occupied by the warden, with one window heavily-ironed facing the north, thus forever excluding the sunlight.” And it’s a very hot summer, so maybe it was a good thing that there was no sunlight coming in through that window, because Belle often complains about the sweltering heat in that room.

The first handwritten page of the prison journal of Belle Harris, dated May 18, 1883. | Church History Library


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I personally love that what she did was a manifestation of her belief and of her faith. And so, here she is in prison. She has this baby, she’s breastfeeding and she has another child that is not with her. What kind of support did she get? Is she alone? Are people kind to her?

Ken Adkins: The Latter-day Saints really rally around Belle, especially the women. So she arrives on May 18, 1883. When she gets there, she is nervous, she’s exhausted and she is in this dining room connected to the warden’s quarters. Her baby’s not feeling well. Horus doesn’t travel well that day and she’s told that she has visitors. She’s not expecting this at all. And lo and behold it’s Emmeline B. Wells, Isabel Horn, Ellen Clawson and Presendia D. Kimball. So, we have these matriarchs of the Church, showing up for this young woman to minister to her in a way that, I think, just helps us to understand their faith and their sacrifice. The spirit of ministry is throughout this journal. And we can see that many, many, many women and men came to Belle’s aid.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love the fact that Eliza R. Snow actually visited her.

Ken Adkins: Right, Eliza R. Snow is 79 years old. I make the joke that if I were in prison, I don’t think my 80-year-old grandpa would visit me and probably with good reason. But Eliza R. Snow is making this trip with Emmeline B. Wells out to Sugar House to visit Belle. And the fact that she goes to this place that is not comfortable. I don’t think most people choose to spend their free time at a prison. And here we have Eliza R. Snow and Emmeline B. Wells coming to visit her in mid July of 1883. And one of the benefits that Belle has, besides these great accommodations, are the women of the Relief Society bring her gifts. She receives a sewing machine, she receives fabric, she receives paper on which she wrote this journal, she receives a bassinet for her baby, she receives a lot of food.

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Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think all of us want to know what that food would have been, what it would have tasted like.


Ken Adkins: Tuesday, July 3:

“Today I’ve been visited by Zina D. Yong and Sister Freeze. Their talk was very pleasant and enlivening. Sister Zina also related some of her experiences in the early rise of the Church, at which I felt my suffering was comparatively nothing. They brought canned fruits, jellies and other delicacies and were anxious to learn if there was anything I needed. I received a letter from Sister Eliza R. Snow, in which she expresses herself pleased with my conduct and also bids me be of good cheer and all will be well. Have also received a letter from a non-Mormon lady who expressed his admiration for me and says, ‘Stay with your determination and do not forfeit your dignity by ascending to such an unjust demand.’

“Tomorrow is the fourth of July, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, wherein the people of this nation were declared to be free to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. But I am held here a prisoner for refusing to answer certain questions relative to my family relations. This looks to be something like oppression. However, I know the Lord will overrule for the welfare of His people and I am content. I shall at least have enough to celebrate our independence with a good dinner, as I have have on hand at present time canned tomatoes, blackberry jam, raspberry jelly, canned cherries and canned pears, oranges, oysters, sardines, pickles, butter, sugar, lemon candy, nuts, crackers and cake.”

So I don’t know what you do for the Fourth of July, but I don’t think I’ve ever had that much food in my life.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and that sounds like, for the time, a pretty big feast for her.

Ken Adkins: Yes, definitely. I think some of those foods strike us as odd, right? Oysters and sardines, I think, stand out to me. But I think that the Saints really wanted Belle to have the best of what they had to offer.

Sarah Jane Weaver: How is it that she came to write a journal? Was she a journal writer before her prison term? Is this something she did to pass the time while she was in prison?


Ken Adkins: Belle is not a journal keeper that we know of. She begins this journal on May 18, the day she arrives at the penitentiary, and she ends it on the 31st of August when she’s released. I think she has an awareness of the importance of this moment in her life. I also think that she’s probably pretty bored and this is something to pass the time. She does a great job of acknowledging the people who come to visit her, which makes this very exciting. We get a lot of people by name listed in the journal.

I also think that the women who visit Belle have an influence on her. She is visited by Emmeline B. Wells who was an excellent diarist. And I’m sure that they were very encouraging of Belle keeping a diary.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love the fact that she had so many visitors. I suspect that this is also a time for her that’s filled with lonely, long days.

Ken Adkins: It is. It’s difficult. One of her first days in prison, she describes a feeling of waking up and realizing that she’s incarcerated. There’s a dark, gloomy feeling that she doesn’t have the freedom she once had. But she remembers her faith. She remembers what she’s doing and why she is doing it and she pushes forward. She says, “I know that the Lord will overrule for the welfare of His people and I am content.”


Sarah Jane Weaver: And in this time, she fills this journal. It’s 72 handwritten pages that is written over three months. Her 10-month-old baby, when she begins her incarceration, actually celebrates his birthday while they are incarcerated together. But is there something from these journals that you learned personally, that you had a moment where you thought, “Wow, I didn’t know that I didn’t understand that. Belle Harris gave me a new perspective on this?”


Ken Adkins: Strangely enough, Belle does not come from a family that practices plural marriage. Her father eventually does long after this, but she has it as a core principle. Her grandfather and others in your community have practiced plural marriage. And so it’s something that is a part of her faith tradition and part of her Latter-day Saint identity at that time. I’ve said in the past, contemporary readers may not recognize Belle’s fight, but they will recognize Belle’s faith. And so we see her standing up for others. She hasn’t had the best experience directly with plural marriage, yet she continues to defend her people.

Sarah Jane Weaver: We have had Matt Grow on the Church News podcast before. He’s the managing director of the Church History department. And he has said we need to be careful with how we view history. He said we don’t want to be the ugly tourist, looking back on history or visiting history, and being too judgmental, because of our own standards. Can you elaborate on that and talk about this concept that we really have to be careful about the lens with which we use as we view history?

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Ken Adkins: I think it’s easy to dismiss this period of the Church’s history. I think it can be uncomfortable for some people to talk about and I can see why. I really like what our department has done in “Saints, Vol. 2,” making it accessible, contextualizing it in a way that it can help us understand Belle’s story. It is important that as we approach Belle’s story, we understand that what she does, is rooted in her faith in Jesus Christ, that regardless of the teachings of the time, her faith is still the same. Her commitment to the principles of the restored gospel is the same that we have now. So though we might not understand her fight, we can definitely understand her faith.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I absolutely love that. And you know, so much of her story is meaningful to me, because here is just an average woman. I think all of us feel just average on most days, and yet, suddenly, she’s cast into this national spotlight. Her story is being written up in local papers and national papers. How did she take to going from Beaver, Utah, to a name that people knew across the nation?


Ken Adkins: She does get quite a bit of media attention. She doesn’t like it. Some women from the East come to visit her and she says that she supposes that they want to come and see the elephant. And so she’s referring to herself as kind of this sideshow circus act that people from outside of Utah are coming to look at, to gawk at. And so she’s upset by that. She has a pleasant visit with those women and she finds them to be very polite, but she doesn’t like being in the spotlight very much. She handles it very well, but she does grow tired of it.

The second handwritten page of the prison journal of Belle Harris, dated May 18, 1883. | Church History Library

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to talk a little bit about the Church Historian’s Press desire to publish this part of her experience and her story, because it feels like it represents this desire or this objective to actually tell the experiences of every Latter-day Saints during this time period.


Ken Adkins: That’s correct. So, this is the first project of the Church Historian’s Press that is focused on someone who is not a general authority or general officer of the Church. I think there’s something special about that. We have this, for lack of a better term, “lay woman” who is put in the spotlight. And I think you’re right, in that it is a symbol of our ongoing commitment to include every voice. And I think that we’re going to see more of that come out of the Church Historian’s Press. Hopefully we’ll get some international voices soon too.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Talk about some of the works that the Church Historian’s Press has published in addition to these Belle Harris journals.


Ken Adkins: One that’s related to this journal is “The Diaries of Emmeline B. Wells.” So, one of the neat things about this is that we can see both Belle’s entry and a lot of these entries have corresponding entries in other diaries. So, we get her perspective but we also get the perspective of other women. So on her first night in prison, May 18, 1883, she says, “I was just making up my mind to make the best of it when I was told there were some ladies who wished to see me. You may be sure I held them with delight and it proved to be sisters Emmeline B. Wells, Isabel Horn, Ellen Clawson and Presendia Kimball. They all talked encouragingly to me, told me the Lord would take care of me and said I had many friends who would be happy to furnish me every comfort I required. After furnishing me a great variety of delicacies calculated to tempt the appetite of the most dainty, the officer informed me that their time was up and they took their departure, bidding me be of good cheer and promising to call again.”

So some of your listeners might recognize those names. These are very prominent women in the Church. They are the great matriarchs of the restoration, in my opinion. They are pioneers and they have been with the Saints from the very beginning. So, what we have here is you can jump to the diaries of Emmeline B. Wells also available through the Church Historian’s Press. And on May 18, she writes, “All day I’ve been in confusion, saw Joseph F. Smith, Charles W. Penrose and Bishop Hiram B. Clawson the first thing this morning and arranged to go to the penitentiary to see Belle Harris and baby confined for their contempt of court for declining to answer questions about her private affairs. She ought to be encouraged.”

So we have this commentary about the situation coming from these other women who are constantly visiting Belle and showing their support for her. So I find that exciting. So Belle shows up in “The First 50 Years of Relief Society.” She shows up in the Emmeline B. Wells project. She also appears in “Saints.” So we have these brief mentions of Belle everywhere. And now we’re taking this precious and compelling journal and bringing it to the forefront of the Church Historian’s Press. One of the great things about Belle’s journal is that it can be read in one sitting. It’s only 72 manuscript pages, but that’s 29 printed pages. So anyone who’s interested can go to the and read any of our publications for free, including this diary. And I hope that you do.

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Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the things that I personally love about it is that I feel like from Belle’s story, I can draw courage and faith for my own life. Is that the hope that we’ll all have an opportunity to find parallels for our time from history?

Ken Adkins: I would say so. One of the compelling things that we find in this journal, is the ministering of her Relief Society sisters. Many of these women would not choose to spend their free time at a penitentiary. I don’t think it was comfortable for these women to minister to Belle. They had a lot going on. Many of these women were involved in the administration of the Deseret Hospital at this time. They were very busy, but they felt that they must support one of their own.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love that that support from the Latter-day Saint community didn’t just come from women. I think that that feels intuitive to us, that of course, women in the community would have supported another woman. But in my reading I see that men also visited her, that she had people like George Reynolds or Charles Penrose and Milton Musser and of course her attorney, who was also a man.

Ken Adkins: One of the great and charming entries from Belle’s journal is two men come to visit her on July 4, 1883. She’s unable to leave but Horus can leave so they take Horus and they put him in their carriage and they take him for a carriage ride. So, I really liked that story. These two men are babysitting for Belle so that she can have some time to herself.


Sarah Jane Weaver: So overall, how long did she actually spend in prison?

Ken Adkins: Her confinement lasted for 106 days.

The Church Historian’s Press has published “The Prison Journal of Belle Harris.” | Church History Library

Sarah Jane Weaver: Tell us about her release from prison. How is it that her time in prison came to a conclusion and that she got to go home?


Ken Adkins: Right, so while she’s been in prison, her attorneys have been petitioning the Utah Supreme Court for her release. That doesn’t come about. Unfortunately in June, she learns that her only hope to be released is to return to the court and Beaver, and to be released by the grand jury. The grand jury members have seen the press coverage. I think they feel uncomfortable with it. And so they petition the judge, Stephen P. Twiss, to release Belle. They disband the grand jury and she is released.

Belle relies very heavily on her faith and her faith community to get through this crisis. And on Monday, July 9, she writes, “Oh, if it was not for my friends who do all they can for me and the faith I have in the Lord, I should despair. I know that He watches over me and helps me bear patiently with my trials and I will try ever so hard to do right and live acceptably before God. Then I shall have nothing to fear.”

And one of the more fascinating things about Belle’s release, is that she celebrated by the Latter-day Saints. There’s a party at Milton Musser’s house. Also, she’s invited to dine with John Taylor at The Gardo House in Salt Lake. They have a brass band play in her honor. There’s even a couple, unrelated to Belle, that name their daughter, Belle Harris England, and that’s covered by the local papers. So you can see that the whole community, not just these women, not a select group of people in the know, but all of the Latter-day Saints in the territory were very excited about Belle being released. They felt very represented by her and her willingness to sacrifice for a greater cause.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And what happens in the rest of her life? Now, I was so sad to learn she didn’t write any more journals, but what does she go on to do after this hinge point in her life?

Ken Adkins: Belle ends up attending Brigham Young Academy. She marries a man, N. L. Nelson who is an instructor there, and they have more children. Unfortunately, they divorce, as well. And she ends up marrying a man by the last name of Barry, who she spends the rest of her life with. Little baby Horus, he becomes a doctor. Belle is very, very insistent on her children and her family members receiving an education. That is her family legacy. Aunt Belle wants you to get an education. So when people remember her in her family, they think of her conviction for her faith and also for education.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and all of us are so intrigued with her story. I’m interested in knowing how you first connected with her story. You did undergraduate work at BYU, you did your graduate studies at Claremont University. And when and where did you find this journal?

Ken Adkins: I was doing some research, actually on her second husband, N. L. Nelson. On FamilySearch, I noticed that Belle had a journal. And when I read that journal, I was just so excited. I had heard of these kinds of great men, polygamy journals, like we have Redguard Clawson, and George Reynolds and George Q. Cannon. But I had no idea, first that women were imprisoned at all, and second, that any of them kept any kind of record, especially one that was so personal, so intimate and so compelling. And so immediately my research subject changed in grad school and I went all in on the Belle Harris journal.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, I’m interested in your personal journey. What is it about history, especially Church history, that has fascinated you in a way that you’ve dedicated your life to studying this?

Ken Adkins: I grew up not knowing much about church history. I grew up in San Diego, California. Other than the Mormon Battalion, we don’t have a lot of Church history and I just wanted to know more. I had Sunday school teachers who would use books or manuals and I was very interested in what they had to say. Neither of my parents were raised in the Church, but they’re very committed Latter-day Saints. So the thing that I enjoy most about studying church history, is taking the voices, the narratives, that are uncommon, that aren’t in every biography, every Sunday school manual, and bringing them to light, and helping us understand how people, how Saints, use their faith, to get through challenges. That is a universal concept. That is a principle that will always affect or touch the heart of a Latter-day Saint. How can my faith help me meet the challenges of my life? That’s what I learned from Belle’s journals. That’s what I get from that.

I also get to see these networks of support. The great thing about this journal, because Belle names so many of her visitors by name, I get to look at their journals and see what they were going through in their lives. They’re very busy women. They’re taking time away from their families, away from their church callings, to go and minister to Belle one on one. They are focused on encouraging her and giving her what she needs to be successful. That is very inspiring to me. I think Emmeline B. Wells or Eliza R. Snow could have easily said, “The Sugarhouse Relief Society will take care of that.” And they did. They visited her. We have their meeting minutes of them visiting Belle in prison. But they also visited. They also took the time to minister to Belle. So that helps me to reevaluate my covenant relationship, my covenant to mourn with those who mourn.

A handwritten page of the 1883 prison journal of Belle Harris. | Church History Library


Sarah Jane Weaver: We have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we always give our guests the last word. And we always give them an opportunity to bear their testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then to answer the question, “What do you know now?” And so, as we wind this really interesting discussion on Belle Harris up and all that we’ve learned from her, what do you know now after studying her life, especially this period of time when she’s incarcerated?


Ken Adkins: Since studying Belle’s journal, becoming familiar with her story, I have better understood The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a body of believers, as a community of covenants and of faith, not have individuals making commitments, but of a group of people making commitments to each other. It’s changed the way that I see my own church meetings and the way that I interact with my brothers and sisters every Sunday. One of the benefits of studying Church history, is that it helps you to think of stories you’ve heard all your life, but in different ways.

At one point, I was studying the First Vision and I thought to myself, “There are three people in the story; the Father, the Son and the Prophet Joseph Smith. I have access through prayer to two of these three people.” And I realized in that moment, that I knew that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove, not because he said he saw Them, but because God had told me that He saw Joseph. That was a moment where Church history changed my life. It changed my perspective. It’s helped me to refocus myself on what is important and that is our commitment to Christ, to our Father in Heaven.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on

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