Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith’s 1893-94 Diary: What it Reveals about Lucy, her Husband, and Ourselves, Part I
With the increased attention to George Albert Smith since his turn in the line-up of Prophets for the 2012 Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum, President Smith has captured the imagination of LDS members for his vulnerability, his personal struggles with chronic mental and physical illness, and his perceptibly gentle and compassionate nature. Indeed, his very flawed humanness has made him recently a kind of accessible hero-prophet—one with whom some Mormons feel a more intense kinship. With that keen interest, it’s timely to talk about his wife, Lucy.
On January 1, 1893, Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith began a diary—most likely a New Year’s resolution—to document her time as the missionary wife of George Albert Smith. Soon after their marriage in the Manti Temple in May of 1892, George and Lucy were called to serve in the Southern States Mission under President J. Golden Kimball. George spent five months in the proselyting field until he returned to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he worked in the mission office. Lucy joined him in November of 1892, living in the mission home. Lucy kept her diary for just over a year, during which time she revealed herself to be a curious tourist in an area notoriously hostile to Mormonism in general. For that reason, I found imminently useful her subtle dance between healthy homesickness for Utah and her genuine fascination with the culture, people, religions, history, and race relations of the South. In so many ways, Lucy’s one year of cultural immersion mirrored how Mormons today might insert themselves into the very modern challenges of how to find acceptance while also struggling to accept others.
While Lucy offered comment on many areas of mission life, from receiving newly-arrived elders, to visiting local parks, cemeteries and Civil War sites, she also provided interesting and complex views of race. On Sunday, Jan. 22, Lucy reported simply, “. . . . A negro boy tried to get in the house.” Inserted so innocently within tedious descriptions of household duties and periodic headaches that kept her bedridden, the statement might have been lost in importance. But it masked a more sinister racial attitude that underlay Lucy’s brief time in the South. One week later, while on a walk during some nice weather, Lucy “entertained myself with some little niggers that were so dirty they could scarcely see.” How easily she appeared to engage the racialized language and stereotypes
of early 1890s America. This was especially surprising for one so cloistered as she had been during her growing up years in Salt Lake City. I’m willing to accept, as Paul Reeve recently argued here, that we can’t take responsibility for the racial attitudes of our Church leaders, or, I would add, average members– if we can include Lucy as such– considering that she was the wife of a future prophet and the granddaughter of another one. Still, it’s painful to hear the words of one of our own, so unapologetically prejudiced, because we want them to be better than that. We often look to the past to find examples of progressive notions—no matter how isolated—that reinforce our own ideals, that forge a needed connectivity, and that help us not feel so alone. That said, I also found a hope in an inner struggle that played her racism against her compassion.
Racial tensions in Chattanooga came to a terrible culmination in February of 1893. On February 14th, Lucy confessed that she had been “sick & nervous all night.” The reason: “A negro committed an awful outrage on a white woman.” The next day, Lucy wrote, “Didn’t get up until late. I felt so badly. Remained in the house & read correspondence. The negro was lynched on the river bridge.” That Lucy would be an accidental witness to a very famous and public example of Lynch Law in the South is an important intersection of Mormonism and race within the larger narrative of American history. Indeed, lynching had reached an all-time high the year before, with 161 blacks killed.
The accusation in this case was typical for Jim Crow South. One “Alfred Blount” had entered the home of Mrs. M.A. Moore, a 51-year-old widow, asked for something to eat, and attacked her. When Mrs. Moore fainted, Blount committed the rape while she was unconscious and then fled. Certainly lynching was not completely unfamiliar to Lucy, as Reeve as clarified, there were “. . . seven lynchings in Utah between 1882 and 1903 (another historian estimates twelve total), [but] . . . the majority of victims were white in Utah.” While I don’t have the space to go into the details of Blount’s case here, still, the case carried certain characteristics common to race-based lynchings in the South. He was accused, denied a trial, taken from jail, and tortured and hanged by an extralegal mob in a very brutal and public fashion. Most importantly, like many black men who were accused of raping a white woman in the late-19th century, his guilt was not certain, the accuser “could not identify him as the culprit,” and there “was ample proof of his innocence.” Blount’s own widow later sued the sheriff “for allowing her husband to be mobbed and killed.”
Lucy says no more on the subject, but I’m fascinated by her initial reaction. Did she feel “so badly” only because the woman was purportedly raped, or because a man had been brutally lynched? It’s hard to say. She also doesn’t say whether she viewed the lynching personally. I prefer to think that she felt some conflict over knowing such a violent crime had been committed against the accused. In fact, this event did not deter Lucy from altogether interacting with blacks. When, just a few days later, a storm caused the Tennessee River to flood its banks, washing away dozens of houses—mostly of African-Americans who lived along the river, she lamented, “My its [sic] terrible how the poor suffer.” And during the flooding, Lucy and a friend “took a walk down in negro town and they all run out to see us.” These interactions were certainly not carried out with a feeling of equality, but they also exposed a refusal to dehumanize blacks entirely. And yet, when she and George made a Sunday afternoon visit to a “negro Methodist revival,” she sneered that “a description here is unnecessary it will ever be fresh in my memory. Never saw anything so funny in my life.” A few months later, she had a similar experience at a “negro meeting down the hill.” “We were only there a few minutes when a girl got religion and how she did rant around. It frightened me and made me sick.”
What emerges as most amazing in these racialized comments peppered throughout Lucy’s diary is how easily she inserts herself—and by default, her religious community—into the larger narrative of white hegemony in 1890s America. Perhaps in marginalizing and stereotyping blacks as she does, she’s innocently unaware of how outsiders perceived members of her own religion. As Reeve has described, Mormon polygamist wives were themselves racialized as part of a national fear “that polygamy was giving rise to a new ‘race,’ filthy, sunken, and degraded.” Thus, the true irony for someone like Lucy Smith in Chattanooga in 1893, was that some critics of Mormonism had called for a “solution . . . to start lynching Mormon missionaries after ‘the black men are all lynched.’”
My intent is not to excoriate the wife of a beloved LDS prophet, especially because I hope to present a more complex and hopeful picture of her in an upcoming post. Still, I find in Smith’s 1893 experience in the South a parable for a similar struggle that the Mormon community feels today. At once marginalized for our doctrines that are unacceptable to mainstream Christianity, our troubling historical episodes and marital practices that are skewered by critics on both the left and the right, we have not achieved mainstream acceptance, even in spite of a claiming a high-profile presidential candidate. At the same time, our own social and cultural rigidity causes us to marginalize, whether it’s on hot-button issues like gay rights and foreign immigration, or even how we accept diversity of political and religious belief within our own ranks. Perhaps like Lucy, we sometimes don’t see our own hypocrisies and how we can, at the same time, be both unfairly excluded while also unfairly excluding. But, also like Lucy, we are bundles of complexity, working through our fitness for a more productive and positive engagement in the wider world. I continue to have hope for the latter.
 Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith (1869-1937), Diary, 1893 Jan.- 1894 Feb., Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Smith Diary, 22 January 1893, p. 7.
 Smith Diary, 31 January 1893, p. 9.
 W. Paul Reeve, “Mitt Romney, Blackness, and Brigham Young, Part II,” at http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2012/02/16/guest-post-mitt-romney-blackness-and-brigham-young-part-ii/
 Smith Diary, 14 February 1893, p. 12.
 Smith Diary, 15 February 1893, p. 12. Blount was lynched on the Washington Street Bridge, also known as the “County Bridge” to locals.
 Chattanooga Times, 15 February 1893, p. 1.
 For the detailed story of Blount’s crime and murder, see http://www.darkfiber.com/tomb/johnson/blountlynched.html
 Cleveland (OH) Gazette, 8 July 1893.
 Cleveland (OH) Gazette, 8 July 1893.
 Smith Diary, 19 February 1893, p. 13.
 Smith Diary, 20 February 1893, p. 14.
 Smith Diary, 26 February 1893, p. 15.
 Smith Diary, 6 August 1893, p. 64.
 Reeve, “Mitt Romney, Blackness, and Brigham Young, Part II.”