The precocious young Emmeline was a well-educated child, graduating from New Salem Academy at age fourteen. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1842, and within two short years she married James Harris, moved from Massachusetts to Nauvoo, and gave birth to a son who survived only one month. Poverty stricken, James went to sea in search of work, but his letters home were intercepted by his mother. Believing she had been deserted, Emmeline became the plural wife of Newel K. Whitney and traveled with him and his family to Utah. Devastated by his death in 1850, she began teaching school to support herself and their two young daughters. In 1852 she married Daniel H. Wells as his seventh wife and bore him three daughters, but her financial stability was still not secure. Under the name Blanche Beechwood she began writing spirited essays on women’s rights for the Woman’s Exponent.
She assumed the editorship of the paper in 1877, and during her thirty-seven-year tenure she argued Mormon women’s need for educational and vocational opportunities as well as for their right to practice polygamy. Her position allowed her to become a vital liaison between the Latter-day Saint community and national women’s groups, and she represented Utah at national and international women’s meetings, forming alliances with important suffrage leaders. Her Relief Society work included chairing the grain-saving committee from 1876 to 1880, serving more than twenty years as the general secretary and becoming its general president at age eighty-two. As a poet and short story writer she was often sentimental, writing on reminiscences of her Massachusetts home, family relationships, and matters of the spirit. Many of her pieces that had appeared over the years in the Woman’s Exponent
were collected into one volume called Musings and Memories
(1896). In 1912 her lifetime of contributions was recognized as she became the first Utah woman to receive an honorary degree from Brigham Young University. [from Discoveries: Two Centuries of Poems by Mormon Women
Included in 75 Significant Mormon Poets