Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney
For Pioneer Day, we visited the Kimball family plot where Heber Chase Kimball, Newel Kimball Whitney, and many of their family members are buried. I collected information about these two men from the Internet and we took turns reading about them. I was intrigued by the fact that Heber and his wives and children were buried there and Newel was there with his children, but his wife Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney was not there. I have seen her grave at the SL Cemetery. I went home to do some research on her and discovered an incredible woman that I need to share with you.
She was called Ann and she was born in Connecticut. She and her aunt set out to Ohio to make a life for themselves, which was a very unusual thing to do, and this is where she met Newel, who was a successful fur trader and businessman. They settled in Kirtland and ran a very profitable store there.
They were searching for religion at this time and joined the Campbellites. About this time, Ann and Newel shared a vision where the heavens opened and they heard a voice telling them to prepare for the true gospel. Soon after, Joseph and Emma drove up in a sleigh, Joseph ran into the store and said, “Newel K. Whitney, thou art the man. You’ve prayed me here, what do you want of me?” This was their first introduction to one another and they became fast friends.
Soon the Whitney’s would set out for Missouri, but never make it because the mobs were “persecuting in a most shocking and terrible manner:. As the Whitney’s had shared their home with the Smith’s in Kirtland, the Smith’s shared their home with the Whitney’s when they finally arrived in Nauvoo.
Elizabeth Ann was one of the original members of the Female Relief Society, when it was organized in 1842, and became Emma’s counselor. “The Prophet foretold great things concerning the future of this organization, many of which I have lived to see fulfilled; but there are many things which yet remain to be fulfilled in the future of which he prophesied, that are great and glorious; and I rejoice in the contemplation of these things daily, feeling that the promises are sure to be verified in the future as they have been in the past. I trust the sisters who are now laboring in the interest of Relief Societies in Zion realize the importance attached to the work, and comprehend that upon them a great responsibility rests as mothers in Israel. I could say much to my sisters on this subject, for it is one in which I am deeply interested. I have been a living witness to the trials, sacrifices, patience and endurance of thousands of them, and my heart goes out to all those who are seeking to walk the narrow way and keep fast hold of the iron rod. The Father has great blessings in store for his daughters; fear not, my sisters; but trust in God, live your religion and teach it to your children.”
In 1843, she was the second woman, after Emma, to receive the temple ordinances. Joseph Smith officiated in the rites, which were performed in the upper room of his store, since the temple was not yet completed. In January 1844, Elizabeth Ann gave birth to the first child “born heir to the Holy Priesthood in the New and Everlasting Covenant.” She was among the first women to perform temple ordinances in the Nauvoo Temple when it was completed in 1845, working daily during the winter of 1845-46 to enable worthy Saints to receive their endowments before leaving for the West.
The following words come from Ann:
“During the ensuing summer a fearful and continuous storm of persecution raged, until it led to the massacre of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. After this horrible tragedy, the people sorrowed and mourned for their Patriarch and Prophet. Indeed, the terrible grief and consternation which were the result of the untimely death of these noble men was beyond description. At this time the people were energetically at work upon the Temple, and President Brigham Young and his brethren were pushing everything forward towards completing the Temple, in order to obtain certain blessings and confirmations. The people were most of them poor, and they denied themselves every comfort they possibly could to assist in finishing the Lord’s house. In the latter part of the fall of 1845 we commenced work in the Temple. I worked in the Temple every day without cessation until it was closed. We were making preparations to leave Nauvoo and go into the wilderness. I had a large family, and my household cares and my many other duties were indeed arduous; I worked constantly day and night, scarcely sleeping at all, so great was my anxiety to accomplish all that was necessary and go with the first company who left in February, 1846, crossing the Mississippi River on the ice.”
In 1850, just two years after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Elizabeth Ann was left a widow with nine children. She dealt with her grief through service in the Endowment House when Brigham Young called her to take charge of the “woman’s department.” Only when her health failed late in life did she discontinue her ministrations there. When the first general presidency of the Relief Society in Utah was organized in 1880, Elizabeth, then eighty years old, was called to be Eliza R. Snow’s counselor. She served until her death two years later.
One of the most revered Mormon women of her time, Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney, endearingly known as “Mother Whitney,” was also called “the comforter” by those who received blessings of peace and healing at her hand. At the first patriarchal blessing meeting held in the Kirtland Temple, she received the gift of “inspirational singing,” as songstress of Zion” and promised her that if she remained faithful, she would never lose the gift of singing in the pure Adamic tongue. Just a year before her death, she sang for her friends, exercising that spiritual gift for the last time.
Ann died thirty-two years after Newel did. Sadly, she was buried across the city from her eternal mate. I can just picture Newel resurrecting and taking a flying leap over to the SL Cemetery to welcome his dear, wonderful wife.
(This information comes from Carol Cornwall Madsen, as well as portions of an autobiography series from the Woman’s Exponent (Woman’s Exponent 7 (November 15, 1878): 91; 7 (December 15, 1878): 195; 7 (January 1, 1879): 115; 7 (February 15, 1879): 191)