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19th Century Mormon Women and Work in the West, Part II

Practically all women in Utah following the establishment of a Mormon settlement near Salt Lake would have worked extremely hard to support their families through basic agriculture, such as farming and ranching. Yet the circumstances of Mormon women were often unique. While a non-Mormon woman in the 19th Century might need to support herself and her family while a husband recovered from an accident, or after he left the family, Mormon women were often deprived of their husbands for other reasons. Many women, such as Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee and Mary Haskin Parks Richards were left at home while their husbands served missions. Emily Woodmansee, a noted poet and hymnwriter, described the period of her first husband’s mission as follows:

“I had striven hard to keep out of debt, determined to do my part as a missionary’s wife, that when my husband came back he might not be hampered on my account. Nevertheless ‘hard times’ stared me in the face, and I was almost overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control. During the winter season of 1863-4, (owing to the war [Civil War] and many circumstances combined) provisions and other necessaries commanded almost fabulous prices, and I could not see how I should ever be able to keep ‘the wolf from the door.’ To add to my trouble,the house I occupied (and to which I had been led to believe I had some claim,) was sold over my head and thus I had the prospect of being homeless, at a time when rents were going up double and treble” (From her autobiography, available offsite at this link–I take no responsibility for its maintenance).

Woodmansee would return to the workforce again in 1865 when her husband’s business ventures failed. She posted the following notice in The [Deseret] News’ Supplement of June 7, 1865, which is unfortunately not a digitized segment of the Deseret News in BYU’s digital collection. woodmansee_add_News_supplement_jun_7_1865


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