Foreword and Introduction, in Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), xi–xvii.
This volume had its genesis in a discussion between the editors in May 1978. Many subsequent conversations with our colleagues convinced us that this project was worth pursuing.
Through the essays in this volume we hope to accomplish several purposes. Above all, the essays testify of the rich heritage that Latter-day Saints have in the diverse and insightful lives of their forefathers and foremothers. In this sense, each of the essays tells us of the service, devotion, talent, sacrifice, and love that permeated the lives of early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A second objective has been to show writers of Latter-day Saint biography the valuable insights that can be gained by taking as subjects for biographies individuals who were not directly in the limelight of Church history. We have come to believe that Mormon biography suffers from the same focus that has plagued the writing of American history: the presidential synthesis. Too often our biographical efforts have concentrated on those who have held center stage in our history—those who were Presidents, prophets, and Apostles. While we do not wish to suggest that the lives of such key Church leaders are any less important, we do believe that those of the “middle wagon,” in J. Reuben Clark’s words, played important roles in the drama of the Latter-day Saints. Hence, our title, Supporting Saints.
We have attempted to select authors and subjects that would give a broad view of the nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint experience. It is our hope that these essays will enlarge the window through which our heritage can be seen. We hope these sketches will help us “remember” our past.
In the first essay, coeditor David J. Whittaker provides an introduction to the subject of biography, giving particular attention to the historical context of Mormon biography. The essay is descriptive as well as prescriptive.
Then follow the thirteen biographical essays. As indicated previously, care has been taken to select men and women of the nineteenth century who were generally behind-the-scenes figures, supporting Saints in both their allegiance to the leaders of the Church and in their secondary roles. While they share these features, each is distinctive in his or her own way. Among these four women and nine men are architects, business people, miners, farmers, schoolteachers, boardinghouse proprietors, politicians, and writers. There are also polygamists (men and women), missionaries, a General Authority, stake presidents, bishops, and Relief Society presidents.
Ronald W. Walker’s essay on the mother of Heber J. Grant is the first essay. Written for this volume but previously published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, this essay tells us of the different, even tragic, life of Rachel Ivins Grant. Her life is evidence that many nineteenth-century women indeed had a hard life. Her courage and dignity in the face of such hardship are certainly worthy of our admiration. Her legacy, through her son, Heber J. Grant, continues to influence the Church.
William Howells, the first LDS missionary to France, is the subject of the second essay. Ronald D. Dennis, with his skills in William Howells’s native Welsh language, has been able to interpret the feelings and experiences of this interesting man. The trials and problems of early missionary work are graphically portrayed here. We catch a glimpse of what it was really like to open a mission in Europe in the nineteenth century.
The third essay treats Andrew Jenson. In this essay Keith W. Perkins writes about the dedicated historical career of this Scandinavian immigrant. Having learned by hard experience that farming was not his natural vocation, Andrew Jenson turned to collecting sources on and writing about Church history. In 1889 he began visiting the stakes of the Church, collecting local history and journals. At first his work was done entirely on his own, but eventually the Church helped when he became Assistant Church Historian. His work on the Journal History, Church Chronology, Encyclopedic History of the Church, and LDS Biographical Encyclopedia produced a treasure trove of historical information still widely used by students of Church history.
Lavina Fielding Anderson in the fourth essay explains the life and times of Martha Cragun Cox. Martha Cox left behind a three-hundred-page autobiography which skillfully tells the story of her life and her struggle. Her journal and, in turn, this essay tell of her polygamous marriage and of her sixty-year career as a schoolteacher in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico.
The fifth biographical essay explains the career of Mormon architect Truman Angell, who left an enduring monument in the Salt Lake Temple. Paul Anderson, himself an architect associated with the Arts and Sites Division of the LDS Historical Department, examines the conversion, Church career, personal life, and architectural work of this fascinating but relatively unknown figure from nineteenth-century LDS history.
In the sixth essay, coeditor David Whittaker deals with an obscure but significant aspect of the life of Richard Ballantyne. While many Latter-day Saints recognize Ballantyne as the founder of the Church’s Sunday School, few are familiar with his work as a missionary in India. In this detailed article, the author presents the work of Ballantyne as a “publishing missionary,” an aspect of missionary work which has yet to be fully studied and understood.
The seventh essay, by Thomas E. (Ted) Lyon, presents a portrait of John Lyon, a Scottish convert and prolific poet. By presenting a biographical sketch interwoven with the poetry born of a fruitful life of service, Ted Lyon shows how one man tried to capture the meaning of the restored gospel in aesthetic form. Ted Lyon is currently at work on a full-scale biography of John Lyon, and, no doubt, his appreciation for his work is enhanced by the fact that the subject of his study is his great-grandfather.
In the eighth essay, Chad J. Flake describes the frontier life of his ancestor Lucy Hannah White Flake. Her diaries reveal the story of a woman who experienced heartache and problems as she lived the life of a polygamous wife struggling to colonize the Arizona frontier. Her accounts of the death of several of her children forcefully display the harsh life many pioneers faced.
The ninth essay is D. Gene Pace’s study of Elijah Sheets. Serving the longest tenure of any bishop in the history of the Church, Elijah Sheets was bishop of the Salt Lake Eighth Ward for almost fifty years. In this interesting essay, Pace considers Sheets’s attempt to promote unity in his ward, his use of teachers to visit ward members, and his attitudes regarding social welfare. Through this study we can gain considerable insight into the office of ward bishop in the late nineteenth century.
William G. Hartley’s study of Edward Hunter constitutes the tenth essay. Although he was a General Authority, Bishop Hunter is relatively unknown. Hartley’s treatment of Bishop Hunter tells us much about this man’s life as well as the relatively new office of Presiding Bishop. Under Hunter’s direction, the office grew in importance and influence and assumed greater responsibility for temporal affairs in the kingdom.
The eleventh essay concerns the life of Emmeline B. Wells. This study by Carol C. Madsen skillfully and gracefully describes the challenging life of this nineteenth-century LDS woman. Emmeline’s life included, in the words of the author, “disappointment, disillusionment, and even despair.” In examining the career of this female writer and editor, the essay helps us understand the nature of Mormon women’s concerns. Emmeline Wells served for thirty-seven years as editor of the Woman’s Exponent, one of the great literary efforts of the Restoration.
James R. Christianson’s essay on Jacob Spori is the twelfth subject in this book on “Supporting Saints.” Jacob Spori was a convert to the Church in Switzerland. After some years of Church service in Europe, he immigrated to Utah. Five years later Jacob returned to his native Switzerland whence he served a very difficult mission to Constantinople. In later years Spori and his family moved to Idaho, where he was influential in Church education.
Angus M. Cannon is the subject of the final essay, written by Donald Q. Cannon. Emphasis in this study is on Angus’s Church career, especially his role as stake president of the Salt Lake Stake for twenty-eight years, from 1876–1904. His experience as stake president tells us much about the nature of the Church and, particularly, the role of stake presidents in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The author, a great-grandson of Angus M. Cannon, draws heavily upon the subject’s large collection of letters, diaries, and business papers.
We are grateful to many people. In reality, as editors, we have only provided a forum for each of those who contributed to this volume. In this sense, this volume is really theirs. We express thanks to them for working with us during the months and years it took to assemble this volume.
We express thanks to Larry C. Porter for his continued support and encouragement for this project. His enthusiasm, together with the approval of those who direct the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University, has made this task an easy burden to bear.
For expert editorial help, we are grateful for the services of Linda Hunter Adams and Don E. Norton. We acknowledge the editorial assistance of numerous students in the BYU Humanities Publication Center. We also appreciate the fine work done by the secretaries in Religious Education at Brigham Young University, who typed several drafts of each of the essays in this volume.
Finally, we are grateful to our families, who lived with this project and with the subjects of the essays for these past years. They too are supporting saints.
Donald Q. Cannon
David J. Whittaker