Ellis Reynolds was born on January 20, 1847 in Davis Co., Iowa. Her parents were baptized when she was a child, emigrated west, and settled in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Her mother died when Ellis was young.
At the age of twelve, Ellis, while visiting a friend, saw a picture of a young gentleman. Jokingly, she said, “This is the man I intend to marry”. Several months later, this young man, Milford Shipp, was visiting Salt Lake City, from his home back east. Friends with her cousin, Milford was very polite to the young girl when they casually met at a family gathering.
Milford Bard Shipp was twenty-three years old at the time. He would often visit with family in the Salt Lake Valley, whenever Brigham Young called him into town. Pres. Young would eventually call him to fourteen missions.
She would occasionally ask her friend of news about “Milf”, and as some years passed, heard that he had married. While serving one of his missions, his wife became disillusioned with the church, and left him.
Sometime later, he returned to the Salt Lake Valley, bringing his mother, who wished to settle with the Mormons. He showed great interest in Ellis during this visit, but was called on another mission. Before leaving, Ellis heard him preach for the first time. She was mesmerized by his ease with preaching pure doctrine.
As Milf returned to his home in the east, Zebulon Jacobs began showing some interest in Ellis. Zina D. H. Young, his mother, took Ellis under her wing in the hopes the two would marry. Ellis had no real interest in Zeb, until she heard that Milf had married again. She began spending more and more time with the Young family, and they accepted her well. Their engagement was accepted, but Ellis finally decided she just couldn’t marry Zeb, so she returned his letters and broke the engagement.
Milf returned to the city, this time with his new wife, the following winter. Ellis watched from a distance and was surprised to see them sit apart, with family members sitting between them. There was a coldness between the couple which Ellis did not understand, yet hoped for. Shortly after, his wife made it known she had no desire to live the gospel, or with him, so once again, he was alone.
On his next visit, Milf made obvious his attention toward Ellis, and after a short courtship, they were married. She was nineteen and he was thirty years of age. Her autobiography expresses the happiness she felt at this time.
Soon after, Johnson’s Army was thought to be coming, so the family moved down to Fillmore for safety. One day he came home and announced he was taking a second wife. As shocked as she was, she resigned herself. Perhaps this was the real problem with the other wives. Ellis, however, knew her husband was faithful, and she herself chose to be obedient, so she accepted this new arrangement.
She gave birth to a second son. Her husband was gone for business when the child became sick. Not understanding the mysteries of disease, she was helpless. After the child’s death, she began a life-long “plan for self improvement—the humble prayer, the morning air, the thoughts I gleaned from books, all were jewels rare, becoming bulwarks of defense against all tendency to lose self control.” Waking up at four o’clock in the morning allowed her to study for three hours before her day’s work began. This pattern stayed with her for the rest of her life.
She and Maggie lived together many years as sister-wives. They grew to love one another and depend on one another while Milford was away. The way Ellis came to this place of peaceful acceptance was through her early morning quiet time, prayer and shared experience in desiring a peaceful union. “I pray that discord may never enter our home and that the calm peaceful influence of the spirit of God may richly dwell in each of our hearts; that our thoughts may soar beyond the trials and perplexities of this life unto the brightness and glory of an eternal world—that blissful home.”
She would eventually give birth to ten children. Her husband was gone often with business and missions. He eventually brought home two more wives. In her journal she wrote over and over again her mistakes at getting angry, feeling sorry for herself, feeling tired, being a better wife, getting all of her work done, etc.
It was her sister-wife, Maggie, who was sent to Philadelphia to begin a study of medicine. But after four weeks she returned because of loneliness and homesickness. On November 10th, 1875, Ellis found herself headed to Philadelphia to attend the Medical College. “Oh, Heavenly Father, give me strength to endure the separation from my loved ones, and power to succeed in my endeavors to gain a knowledge of Medicine—that my life may be noble and useful upon the earth. Into Thy hands, kind Father, do I commit my treasures, praying Thee to protect, preserve and bless them that we may all be permitted to meet again and rejoice in thy goodness.”
Following are excerpts from her journal and autobiography:
Jan 10th, 1876, “Another busy day in college. Enjoyed it.” 31 years old.
Feb 19th, “Rose early. Went to the College to work in the dissecting room as soon as it was light enough to see. All was still and quiet. I was the only occupant of that long cold hall save the four stiffened corpses stretched upon the marble tables upon all sides of me. Oh what thoughts chased each other rapidly through my brain, wondering who it was that once dwelt in these now vacant tenements. Thanks to the blessed principles of our gospel, this is not the end. The spirit dieth not, it is imperishable. At nine o’clock Dr. White demonstrated the thoracic cavity and I was still more impressed with the wondrous mechanism of man.”
August 21st, “Went with Dr. Logan to call on some patients. The first one we saw was a man suffering with hemorrhage from the lungs caused by the habitual use of intoxicating drink.”
Aug 24, 1877, “Was called to attend an obstetric case, my first.”
She went back and forth between Philadelphia and Utah. She even returned to Medical School with her newest baby in tow.
Oct 4, 1877, “Found me again in college halls and this time a candidate for graduation. Will I succeed, or will I not? Very much depends upon my own exertions—for there are many chances against me with care of baby and all. Had I only to depend upon my strength I should surely despair, but I am faithful. I know there is One who will aid and bless me.”
March 14, 1878, “Graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.”
She accomplished much in her lifetime. Besides being a Ward schoolteacher, and officer in the Retrenchment Association in her ward, “I was honored in filling important offices in the church of our Eternal Father, in the National Women’s Relief Society and the Young Ladies Improvement Association. I was called to go to Washington DC, with notable women, to represent the women of Utah in the National Council of Women, where I read a paper on the care and training of children. Here I made the intimate acquaintance of the greatest women of this generation, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth C. Stanton, Clara Barton, and a host of others, including women of high station from foreign countries. In later years, the privilege came to me of entertaining numbers of these notable women in my home; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clara Weeks Shaw, and others, while I was President of the Utah Women’s Press Club. “
“Quite early in my professional life I resolved a plan for teaching women the art of nursing and obstetrics, involving the primary essentials of anatomical and physiological principles.” In later life, she went to Old Mexico to teach medicine, taking some of her children along with her.
“One maxim I ever sought to impress. When called to maternal duty, pray unto God for His blessing. Pray in your soul as you hasten to your duty. I hastened through inclement storm, through blinding rain, deep snows and muddy trails, speeding up and down the steepest hills, my inmost being pulsating with fervent prayer. I sought my Father and my God! He it was who inspired me with the higher intelligence, helped me to know my duty in all of its details, enabled me to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint. And with these same principles I tutored all who sought usefulness, enabling them to usher a new life into this world—that life so precious to the suffering mother and most sublime in the sight of God. I never yet have been able to express my satisfaction in this part of my life work, for thus have I been enabled to give and give of my knowledge and yet have more remaining to give over and over again.
After a long and useful life, she died on Jan 31, 1939, in Salt Lake City, at the age of 92 years.
Information from Ellis Shipp’s autobiography, While Others Slept.
The picture above shows Dr. Shipp in the midst of a graduating class in obstetrics.