Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: The Young Woman’s Journal Reacts to the First Sister Missionaries
 


From the Archives: The Young Woman’s Journal Reacts to the First Sister Missionaries

By: Edje Jeter - May 02, 2013

Two weeks ago I posted an excerpt from GQ Cannon’s announcement of the decision to formally call female missionaries. Today I look at the response in The Young Woman’s Journal (YWJ). [1] The first official, female, Mormon missionary, Harriet Nye, was set apart on 1898 March 27; Inez Knight and Jennie Brimhall followed on April 1 and Cannon’s speech was on April 6. I looked for references to the call of the first sister missionaries in Volume 9 of the YWJ, which ran January to December 1898 and was edited by Susa Young Gates. [2]

Both the January and February issues contain articles defining just about any desirable activity as a form of missionary work. [3] The February issue also printed a speech by Church President Joseph F Smith that mentioned female missionaries:

“We have, since the Church was organized, followed the practice of sending out Elders to preach the Gospel to the children of men. And for a great many years we followed in a rut—calling only men to perform this labor. We have thought that men only were able to preach the Gospel. But in later years, we have come to understand that the presence and testimony of an intelligent, faithful sister has, in certain cases, more weight than the testimony of many Elders. … Now, I have advocated for years that we send out some of our sisters with their husbands as missionaries. Whenever our women have gone with the spirit of the Gospel in their hearts they have done a very great amount of good.” [4]

The next mention of female missionary service—and the first acknowledgment from YWJ of the policy change—that I have noticed comes in the May issue, with an editorial note under the heading “Girl Missionaries”:

“Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight were called on a mission to Great Britain and set apart on the evening of April 1, 1898, in Provo, under the hands of Presidents Partridge, John and Smoot of the Utah Stake of Zion. These young ladies left the next day for their field of labor; they will write an account of their travels and experiences for the Journal. In the next number we will give sketches and portraits of these young girls. Another woman missionary is a Miss Dewey of Box Elder Stake who married a Brother Campbell of Star Valley, and the two left Salt Lake City just after the April Conference. Sister Campbell will also write us occasionally. Later we shall try to secure a picture and sketch of Sister A. W. McCune, whose work in England, although not done under the direct call of the Presidency of the Church, was done so efficiently and effectively that the foundation of this missionary work was laid, in a measure, through her efforts. All these sisters will contribute a vivid chapter of experience for the future historian of woman’s progress.” [5]

The June issue opened with full-page images of Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight and the July issue had a similar image of Elizabeth Claridge McCune (see below). [6]

Jennie Brimhall (l), Inez Knight (c), and Elizabeth McCune (r), from The Young Woman's Journal, 1898 June and July

The lead story for June was a biographical sketch of Brimhall and Knight. This sketch, or at least its bibliographic information, is somewhat “famous” as the nearest source of the phrase “our wise and prudent women.” [7] McCune’s sketch was broken into three parts, appearing in July, August, and September. [8] The YWJ also published letters from both Brimhall and Knight in July, Brimhall in August, and Knight again in September. All the letters were addressed to “Aunt Susa.”

All together, I find nine text pieces and three images specifically related to the start of formal female missionary service. [9] In the five months in which they appear, these pieces fill about 15% of the journal. [10]



[1] The YWJ was the official church organ for “young” women—which seems to have included women from early adolescence to at least their late twenties. Susa Young Gates founded the journal in 1889 and was still the editor in 1898. The journal appeared monthly, and, if I understand correctly, as of 1898 was still entirely (read: incompletely and erratically) funded by subscriptions.

[2] I have not read the ninth (or any other) entire volume. I relied on computer text searches for <missionary> and <missionaries> only within 1898. My analysis is thus vulnerable to OCR mis-reads, discussions of missionary work that do not use the key words, and the lack of familiarity that comes from old-school source reading. I did skim through the April and May issues so that I could be more confident that I had found the first mention.

[3] Encouraging readers to persuade others to subscribe: “This is the best of missionary work, girls, therefore labor with all the zeal of which you are capable.” “With the Editor,” YWJ 9 (no 1, 1898 Jan): 44. “Permit me, therefore, to use the word missionary in its broadest sense and to include in this noble phalanx of men and women all who have labored concientiously [sic] for the amelioration of the sufferings of humanity, and in that heaven-inspired work—the salvation of immortal souls. … In this liberal sense, then, we all are missionaries, each having a special mission to perform.” Emma Goddard, “The Missionary,” YWJ 9 (no 2, 1898 Feb): 58 (57-59).

[4] Joseph F Smith, “Remarks of President Joseph F Smith, Seventeenth Ward Y.L.M.I.A November 30, 1898,” [1898 is a misprint; presumably, it should be 1897], YWJ 9 (no 2, 1898 Feb): 84 (82-86). Smith’s phrase, “intelligent, faithful sister” makes me think of the “faithful, discreet sisters” in at least one early missionary call letter.

Smith’s speech addressed the viability and purpose of the YWJ; the paragraph on female missionaries supported the idea that the YWJ readership should use the YWJ as a missionary tool. A fuller excerpt of Smith’s discussion of female missionaries is: “We have, since the Church was organized, followed the practice of sending out Elders to preach the Gospel to the children of men. And for a great many years we followed in a rut—calling only men to perform this labor. We have thought that men only were able to preach the Gospel. But in later years, we have come to understand that the presence and testimony of an intelligent, faithful sister has, in certain cases, more weight than the testimony of many Elders. The testimony of women concerning their own condition accomplishes more good than that of a hundred men. Because the world has accepted and believed for years that our women are dominated and ruled over by men; that they are slaves, dupes, tools and toys of the men. They think they are vulgar, low and ignorant. Now, I have advocated for years that we send out some of our sisters with their husbands as missionaries. Whenever our women have gone with the spirit of the Gospel in their hearts they have done a very great amount of good. Doors have been opened to them, and they have gained a hearing in places where an Elder would not be permitted to set foot. The influence of an intelligent woman is attended with beneficial results. Elders who have gone out on missions often meet with the remark: ‘Oh, we know what you Mormon men think and what you say; but what about the Mormon women?’ Now, the sisters should solicit and secure sufficient advertisements and [85] contributions to enable them to publish the Journal so successfully that it can be used, not only at home, but abroad, as a missionary to all. Send your Journals to your fathers and friends in the missionary field, after you have read them yourselves. …”

[5] I do not notice any mention of female missionary work in the March or April issues. I don’t know when YWJ went to press, but I presume that for an understaffed, underfunded magazine, responding to an announcement in early April was unfeasible for the April issue. “With the Editor,” subheadings “What Women Are Doing” and “Girl Missionaries,” YWJ 9 (no 5, 1898 May): 237-237.

Brimhall and Knight were set apart by their stake president; three years later when Amelia Carling went to the Southwestern States Mission, she was set apart by a General Authority—just like the male missionaries were. In Cannon’s announcement talk, he ascribed a significant role to McCune in the decision to formally call female missionaries. Cannon also spoke of an affianced couple wishing to begin their married life as missionaries; I have not checked, but perhaps the Dewey/Campbells were that couple.

Earlier in the May issue, eighteen-year-old Tena Sorensen describes her life as an invalid and subsequent healing, expresses desire for what sounds like a formal mission: “I have wished to go to the nations of the earth to preach the true, the everlasting Gospel, but, perhaps, my Heavenly Father has a mission for me to perform elsewhere.” Tena Sorensen to “My dear sisters and friends,” Pleasant Grove [Utah], 1898 Mar 18, in “Our Girls” as “A Girl’s Testimony,” YWJ 9 (no 5, 1898 May): 219-220.

[6] In 1898 the YWJ reproduced twelve photographs as full-page prints, so three prints is prominent placement. Not every issue had a photograph, much less a full-page one. Overall there were about thirty images in the YWJ in 1898, about half of which were photograph-quality reproductions.

[7] Byline: “J.” “Biographical Sketches: Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight,” Young Women’s Journal 9 (no 6, 1898 Jun), 245 (245-9). Note that there is a defect in the lower right corner of page 245 and the lower left of page 246 that obscure a dozen or so words each.

The “wise and prudent women” quote comes from the opening sentence: “At a recent reception given by the General Board of the Young Ladies’ to the General Board of the Young Men’s Associations, President Geo. Q. Cannon said in the course of his remarks: ‘It has been decided to call some of our wise and prudent women into the missionary field.’” The quote shows up (not always accurately) in, for examples, Our Heritage (1996, Ch 8, p 92–104, fn 15); Women and Authority (1992, Maxine Hanks, “Sister Missionaries and Authority,” Ch 14, p318); History of Utah, vol 4 (1904, Orson F Whitney, “Inez Knight Allen,” p 610 (610-613); Ensign (1980 July, Diane L Mangum, “The First Sister Missionaries”); and Tally S. Payne, “‘Our Wise and Prudent Women’: Twentieth-Century Trends in Female Missionary Service” (in Carol Cornwall Madsen and Cherry B. Silver, eds., New Scholarship on Latter-day Saint Women in the Twentieth Century (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, 2005), 125-140).

[8] Susa Young Gates, “Biographical Sketches: Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune” [part 1], YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 291-298. Susa Young Gates, “Biographical Sketches: Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune” [part 2], YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 339-343. Susa Young Gates, “Biographical Sketches: Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune” [Part 3], YWJ 9 (no 9, 1898 Sep): 385-390. In Part 2 McCune reports that “…I told my daughter one day that I believed the time was not far distant when women would be called on missions.”

[9] For convenience, I have collected the twelve bibliographic references.

  • “With the Editor,” subheadings “What Women Are Doing” and “Girl Missionaries,” YWJ 9 (no 5, 1898 May): 237-237.
  • Jennie Brimhall [photo], YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 242-242.
  • Inez Knight [photo], YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 244-244.
  • Byline: “J.” “Biographical Sketches: Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight,” Young Women’s Journal 9 (no 6, 1898 Jun), 245 (245-9).
  • Elizabeth Claridge McCune [photo], YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 290-290.
  • Susa Young Gates, “Biographical Sketches: Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune” [part 1], YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 291-298.
  • Jennie Brimhall to “My Dear Aunt Susa” [Susa Young Gates], Manchester, England, 1898 Apr 26, letter printed under “News from the Missionary Field” under “Our Girls,” YWJ 9 (no 7, 1898 Jul): 315-317.
  • Inez Knight to “Dear Aunt Susa” [Susa Young Gates], Manchester, England, 1898 Apr 28, letter printed under “News from the Missionary Field” under “Our Girls,” YWJ 9 (no 7, 1898 Jul): 317-317.
  • Susa Young Gates, “Biographical Sketches: Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune” [part 2], YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 339-343.
  • Jennie Brimhall to “Dear Aunt Susa” [Susa Young Gates], Bristol, England, 1898 Jun 22, letter printed as “From Missionary Fields” under “Our Girls,” YWJ 9 (no 8, 1898 Aug): 366-369.
  • Susa Young Gates, “Biographical Sketches: Mrs. Elizabeth Claridge McCune” [Part 3], YWJ 9 (no 9, 1898 Sep): 385-390.
  • Inez Knight to “Dear Aunt Susa” [Susa Young Gates], Bristol, England, 1898 Jun 22, letter printed as “From Missionary Fields” under “Our Girls,” YWJ 9 (no 9, 1898 Sep): 414-417.

[10] Not counting the images, the pieces occupy about 36 pages out of 239 for a total, very approximate, word count of 13,000 words. A small note in November mentioned an event connected some missionary departures: “The entertainment given in our little corner of Zion in honor of President Elmina S. Taylor’s birthday was a decided success. As some missionaries, including President Zina Y. Card, were departing from our midst, a supper was prepared for them as well as a means of raising our contingent fund. …” “Our Girls,” “Annual Day, Cardston, Alberta,” YWJ 9 (no 11, 1898 Nov): 525. I presume the missionary is Zina Young Card, daughter of Zina Young Williams Card (aka “Aunt Zina”), and later the wife of Hugh B Brown.

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6 Comments

  1. I knew my grandmother, Lettie Dewey Campbell only a little and as her grandson was a pall bearer at her funeral in 1955 or so when i was a deacon in the afton wyoming first ward. She was a wyoming state representative from lincoln county, worked at what is now hillafb during ww2. She became pregnant some time after she and elder chester campbell arrived in England. She too her new baby, my aunt Victoria home on a ship that barely survived hitting an ice berg.

    Comment by bob campbell — May 2, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  2. faithful sister has, in certain cases, more weight than the testimony of many Elders

    Yeah, on my mission there were a few times we came across and investigator that *really* needed to talk with sisters instead of us Elders. (And they wouldn’t be around since they were few and far between.) I am *so* glad there will be more sisters percentage wise going forward.

    Comment by Joseph Smidt — May 2, 2013 @ 11:58 am

  3. Bob: Thanks for that extra information about Sister Campbell. Did your grandmother leave a mission diary?

    Joseph: thanks for your comment.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 2, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

  4. I’m a little late to the party, but a couple of comments. First, in 1898 the YWJ was actually just emerging from its years of financial instability, and the 1898 volume was the first to run from January to December, featuring more illustration and a redesign (this is all discussed in my JMH article about the business development of the journal). All peripheral to your points, I know.

    Second, Susa lived in Provo and undoubtedly knew Knight and Brimhall, so had a front-row view, as it were, to their calls, and that probably added impetus for her featuring them in the magazine. Elizabeth McCune became one of her best friends, but I don’t know what the status of their relationship was at this point.

    Around this same time, Susa must have begun writing her long, serialized “novel” that lightly fictionalizes her own mission experience in the Sandwich Islands. It was titled “The Little Missionary” and was published in the Juvenile Instructor throughout the 1899 volume. “The Little Missionary” is her daughter, Emma Lucy, who was 5-8 years old during their mission, so the story is written for a young audience (kind of), but the mother character/Susa gives a few speeches about how young girls can be involved in missionary work–mostly by keeping house for the men who are serving. Which is an interesting corollary to these glowing portraits in the YWJ. There is an extended episode at the beginning where the little girl preaches the gospel to an older man on board the ship en route to Hawaii. Perhaps the story is meant to instill in young girls the idea that they could serve someday.

    Comment by LisaT — May 9, 2013 @ 11:07 am

  5. Oh, and I meant to add that JFS’s comments about women missionaries in 1897 are interesting when read in light of his 1887 letter to John Taylor, in which he candidly assesses the value of having women serve with their husbands. That letter is in the Manuscript History of the Hawaiian mission, or I can send you a copy if you’re interested.

    Comment by LisaT — May 9, 2013 @ 11:10 am

  6. Lisa: Thanks for the comments.

    The YWJ’s financial shakiness is peripheral to my main point, yes, but still important to understand, I think, because it helps explain the “missionary” approach to subscriptions (footnote 3 above) and the timing of the first mention of sister missionaries (footnote 5).

    I did not know that Susa lived in Provo. Amelia Carling, whom I’ve written about in the SWSM series, also had a significant Provo-based connection to Knight and Brimhall that was important to her going on a mission. I wonder what, if any, network of relationships connects early sister missionaries to each other and to their ‘boosters’ (for lack of a better word)?

    I would like very much to receive a copy of that 1887 letter. I have a gmail account: edje dot jeter.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 9, 2013 @ 8:01 pm