Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: GQ Cannon Narrates Part of the Decision to Call Sister Missionaries, 1898
 


From the Archives: GQ Cannon Narrates Part of the Decision to Call Sister Missionaries, 1898

By: Edje Jeter - April 15, 2013

The first official, female, Mormon missionary was set apart on 1898 March 27.  Ten days later, George Q Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, spoke at General Conference. As presented in the conference report, he spent 2 out of 14.5 columns on the decision to call female missionaries. Below I give a five-hundred-word summary for those of you in a hurry and then the unbroken thirteen-hundred-word excerpt.

Summary

Immediately prior to talking about female missionaries, Cannon (seems to have intentionally) set the stage by described an out-reach effort to non-Mormons in Utah, including the observation that “where they have been brought in contact with our people, especially with our sisters, the effects, as reported to us, have invariably been good.”

Cannon then transitioned to what sounded like a report on the California mission, but turned into a list of requests for female missionaries that they (the First Presidency) had received in quick succession: three wives to join Elders in California, a general request for missionary wives in Europe, and a request from an affianced couple in “a Stake” for the fiancée to receive a mission call and then accompany the already-called fiancé as wife. After verifying health and finances, the answers were:

“‘Yes, if these wives are prudent women.’ We do not want unwise women sent any more than unwise men, because they could do more injury than they could do good, but if they can get a recommend from their Bishops as wise, suitable women, we will set them apart and send them to their husbands, if their husbands can bear the expense of their transportation.”

Cannon then proceeded to two unmarried women who “were capable young ladies” with “kindred in Europe, one a brother and the other an affianced,” who “were going to Europe” anyway, “and the application came up from the President of the stake and his counselors to know whether they could not go in the capacity of missionaries.” The answer:

“‘Yes, if they are the kind you describe, set them apart and let them go as missionaries to preach the Gospel, as far as they can, to their own sex and to others who will listen to them.’ It seems as though the Lord is preparing the way for the women of this Church to do some good in this direction. To some lands and under some circumstances suitable women might go with their husbands as missionaries and be able to do a great deal of good.”

Cannon then cited first letters from the European mission leadership describing the work of non-set-apart Mormon women and then the conversion of a “woman of some prominence” in the eastern US who was influenced by a visiting Sister Pyper, “an intelligent woman, and a woman that did not look as though she was a poor, downtrodden slave.” He concluded:

“This is encouraging, and it no doubt will enlarge our field of operations to a very great extent. There will be an opportunity, doubtless, for women who are capable and who desire to do good, to go out, under proper conditions; not to go unattended and alone—that would not be prudent— but where they have husbands who are going, and they are suitable in other respects, it would seem as though there would be no impropriety, in their going and bearing their testimony. Of course, they cannot administer the ordinances. It is not their province to officiate in the ordinances of the Gospel. But they can bear testimony; they can teach; they can distribute tracts, and they can do a great many things that would assist in the propagation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Unbroken Excerpt (1,300 words, starting p 6, column 2, paragraph 4)

… There is a class of people in Utah who think what they do not know about the Mormons and their doctrines is not worth knowing, and they are filled with conceit respecting their knowledge of our principles, while they are densely ignorant concerning us. That which they do know is of so shallow a character that it deceives them. They sometimes go away and talk to newspaper people, and tell what they know, and how long they have resided here, and yet they really do not know anything about us. But besides this class there is another, composed [7] of honest people who are not of our faith—honest, I mean, in regard to morality and in their conception of the truth. A man may be a very honest man financially, and yet not be honest enough to receive the truth of heaven, It is, therefore, no impugnment of a man’s financial honesty to talk about not being honest enough to receive the truth. Some of the brethren thought they could do a good work in the different wards by visiting those who are not of our faith. Where this has been done, the reports are that it has been attended with excellent results. Many of the people in the State have read our works with pleasure, and have expressed their confidence in their truth. This is a good thing. It is a labor that should be encouraged among us. Some of these people have complained of our exclusiveness. Of course, we can understand why we are exclusive. We have had such a training as to make us to a great extent exclusive. They have had cause doubtless for thinking that we in our treatment of them, were exclusive; but where they have been brought in contact with our people, especially with our sisters, the effects, as reported to us, have invariably been good. We have felt to encourage the Presidents of Stakes and the Bishops of wards in this labor because we believe it will be attended with most excellent effects, and many may thus be brought to the knowledge of the truth.

In California the work has been progressing also in a very satisfactory manner. The President of the California Mission wrote a letter to the First Presidency a short time since, and said there were three Elders there that would like to have their wives sent to them, as they thought they could do a good work. About the same time we received a letter from the European Mission, the Presidency of which suggested that where the Elders could take their wives with them, and they were prudent women, they might do a great deal of good. Just about those days a letter came from a president of a Stake, saying was a young couple in his Stake who were about to be married; but the young man had been called on a mission, and they delayed their marriage till they could ask some counsel. The young man and the young woman were both morally and physically capable of going on a mission, and they had sufficient means also. The question was asked, Would it be right for them to get married, and for the young lady to accompany her husband? The First Presidency wrote back, “Yes, if she is such a young woman as you describe; let her be set apart as a missionary and go with her husband and preach the Gospel as well as she can.” We said the same to the president of the California mission; we said, “Yes, if these wives are prudent women.” We do not want unwise women sent any more than unwise men, because they could do more injury than they could do good, But if they can get a recommend from their Bishops as wise, suitable women, we will set them apart and send them to their husbands, if their husbands can bear the expense of their transportation Since then two other ladies were going to Europe, and the application came up from the President of the stake and his counselors to know whether they could not go in the capacity of missionaries. They were capable young ladies; they had kindred in Europe, one a brother and the other an affianced, and the question was, what should be done about them, We sent word back, “Yes, if they are the kind you describe, set them apart and let them go as missionaries to preach the Gospel, as far as they can, to their own sex and to others who will listen to them.” It seems as though the Lord is preparing the way for the women of this Church to do some good in this direction. To some lands and under some circumstances suitable women might go with their husbands as missionaries and be able to do a great deal of good.

The Presidency of the European mission wrote to us of several sisters who had been there with their husbands, and they described the good they had done and the good influence they had carried. It was illustrated by a conversation that was had a short time ago at one of our social gatherings. Brother George D. Pyper and his wife had been East, and in the branch where they had visited there had been frequent expressions among [8] those who had not joined the Church to this effect: “Well, we have seen the Mormon Elders, but we have not seen the Mormon women; we would like to see some Mormon women, and see what kind of people they are.” There was one woman of some prominence that had not joined the Church, though her husband had; but she had expressed herself several times in this manner. Sister Pyper visited there, and became acquainted with this lady, and the lady was so pleased at meeting one of our sisters—an intelligent woman, and a woman that did not look as though she was a poor, downtrodden slave—that she entered the Church. No doubt, it was due to the fact that she had found that the women were as intelligent, as presentable and as ladylike in their sphere as the gentlemen were in their sphere. This is encouraging, and it no doubt will enlarge our field of operations to a very great extent. There will be an opportunity, doubtless, for women who are capable and who desire to do good, to go out, under proper conditions; not to go unattended and alone—that would not be prudent— but where they have husbands who are going, and they are suitable in other respects, it would seem as though there would be no impropriety, in their going and bearing their testimony. Of course, they cannot administer the ordinances. It is not their province to officiate in the ordinances of the Gospel. But they can bear testimony; they can teach; they can distribute tracts, and they can do a great many things that would assist in the propagation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, brethren and sisters, looking at all the work in its entirety, have we not cause to glorify God this day, at this Sixty-eighth Annual Conference? Sixty-eight years the Church has been organized. We look back to our sorrows, our tribulations and that which the Saints have endured, but for those who have been faithful to the truth there is no sorrow mingled with our contemplation of those scenes, There is no cause to regret being steadfast and maintaining our integrity until today. And how does the future look? Radiant with promise, bright with hope, everything to encourage us. …



George Q Cannon, Sixty-Eighth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1898 Apr 6 – 8, Conference Report, Apr 6, morning session, p 6-8 (2-9).

Disclaimer: the above is a first-draft transcript. I downloaded the OCR text and then read through once looking for obvious errors. I have not done a word-by-word check with the original.

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5 Comments

  1. The first sister (1898 Mar 27) was Harriet Maria Horsepool Nye, wife of the California Mission President and presumably one of the three California-mission wives.

    The unmarried women were Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight.

    I have not attempted to identify any of the other individuals.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — April 15, 2013 @ 12:09 am

  2. Fascinating and important stuff, Edje; thanks.

    Comment by Ben P — April 16, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

  3. Fascinating stuff!

    Comment by WVS — April 17, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

  4. Thanks, Ben and WVS.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — April 17, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

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