Wells, Emmeline B.


Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born on 29 February 1828 in Petersham, Massachusetts to David and Deiadama (Hare) Woodward. While attending a select school for girls and living with an older sister, she learned of her mother’s conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Emmeline returned home the following year and was baptized in March 1842. She married James Harris, also a member of Church, in July 1843 at age fifteen.

Emmeline and James, along with his parents, moved the following spring to Nauvoo, Illinois, where James’ parents abandoned the Church sixteen months later. James left Nauvoo to find work to support Emmeline and their newborn son, Eugene, but never returned. Emmeline learned only several years later that James had died while employed as a sailor on the Indian Ocean.

After the death of her son, and seemingly deserted by her husband, Emmeline found herself alone in Nauvoo. In February 1845, she wed Bishop Newel K. Whitney as a plural wife and immigrated to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848 in the Heber C. Kimball Company. She bore two daughters before Newel’s death in 1850.

Emmeline wed again in 1852 to Daniel H. Wells, a prominent Church leader. Since he had six other wives, in addition to heavy Church responsibilities, Emmeline rarely saw him. She devoted herself to their three children, and in 1872 began her long association with the Woman’s Exponent. Five years later she became its editor, which position she held for thirty-seven years.

Complementary to her involvement with the Exponent, Emmeline was an important participant in the campaign for women’s suffrage. Most notably she spoke as the representative for the United States at the London meeting of the International Council of Women. Emmeline also developed friendships with other suffrage leaders, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Emmeline had served as the general secretary of the Relief Society for more than twenty years when, in 1910, she was called as the Relief Society’s fifth general president. She continued the grain storage program she had begun in 1876 and during World War I sold 205,000 bushels of wheat to the U.S. Government. Upon her death on 25 April 1921, a marble bust of Emmeline was placed in the Utah State Capitol and engraved “A Fine Soul Who Served Us.”


Beecher, Maureen Ursenbach. “The Diaries of Emmeline B. Wells: A Preliminary View.” In Dedication Colloquiums, Harold B. Lee Library, March 15–March 17, 1977, 57–69. Provo, UT: Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, 1978.

Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia.Vol. 2. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1914.

Madsen, Carol Cornwall. “A Mormon Woman in Victorian America.” Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1985.

_____. “ ‘The Power of Combination’: Emmeline B. Wells and the National and International Councils of Women.” BYU Studies 33, no. 4 (1993): 646–673.

_____, and Mary Stovall Richards. “Wells, Emmeline B.,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow. New York: McMillan, 1992.

Peterson, Janet, and LaRene Gaunt. Elect Ladies: Presidents of the Relief Society. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990.