Chattanooga Latter-Day Saints Recognize Women's Rights Activist

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Church Historian’s press of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the online publication of six additional volumes of the diaries of Emmeline B. Wells, covering 1892 to 1896. 

"The publication of these diaries is important for women everywhere, including in the greater Chattanooga area, which is home to the Chattanooga Stake Relief Society, a part of the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world with more than seven million members across the globe in over 188 countries and territories," officials said.
 
According to Chattanooga Stake Relief Society President Celeste Ward, the life and work of Emmeline B.

Wells continues to impact women for good.  Wells (1828-1921) was a journalist, women’s advocate and suffragist.  She wrote extensively for the Woman’s Exponent, a newspaper for Latter-day Saint women, “which became part of a nationwide network of feminist journalism” (wikipedia).  Wells served as editor of the Exponent from 1877-1914 and also wrote for women’s papers in the eastern United States, advocating for women’s legal, political and religious rights.  Her writings caught the attention of national suffragist leaders who invited her and Zina Young Williams, another Latter-day Saint activist, to attend the 1879 National Woman Suffrage Association meeting in Washington DC where Wells met national suffrage leader, Susan B. Anthony, who became a lifelong friend.  
 
“What many people may not know,” said Mrs. Ward, “is that 50 years before the United States passed the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, women in Utah were already voting.  In fact, women in Utah were the first to exercise equal suffrage rights, beginning in 1870.  The Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919, and ratified in 1920.”
 
Beyond suffrage, Emmeline B. Wells appeared before U.S. House and Senate Committees to defend religious freedom.  In 1895, she wrote, ‘I have desired with all my heart to do those things that would advance women in moral and spiritual as well as educational work and tend to the rolling on of the work of God upon the earth’” (newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org).  
 
When she was 82 years old, Wells was called to be the fifth general president of Relief Society.  In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife visited Wells in her home in Salt Lake City, Utah to present her with a commendation for selling more than 200,000 bushels of wheat to the U.S. government during World War I.  The wheat had been ‘painstakingly collected for years under the direction of Wells’ who Brigham Young had appointed in 1876 to head up a church-based grain-saving program for time of shortage” (wikipedia and newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org).   
 
Wells was born in Massachusetts.  She was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of 14.  She earned a teaching certificate and migrated to Nauvoo, Illinois.  She crossed the plains to Utah and reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1848.  “What strikes me most,” Mrs. Ward said, “is that Emmeline B. Wells encouraged women to learn from women, especially women ‘who comforted the sad and distressed, visited the widow and fatherless, and were like ministering angels.’  She urged young and old ‘to be kind to friends and enemies alike, to volunteer in community efforts and to seek the pure love of Christ’ (lds.org).  This is the same message the world needs today, and I am pleased to join with women around the world, including in the greater Chattanooga area, to celebrate the diaries and legacy of Emmeline B. Wells who lived to be 93 years old and saw the day when all American women were guaranteed the right to vote,” Mrs. Ward concluded.


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