FAIR Voice Episode #26: Wilford Woodruff Papers part 1
Steve Harper and Jennifer Mackley
Listen as our Executive Editor, Steve Harper, interviews Jennifer Mackley, our Executive Director and co-founder of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation. Together they discuss Jennifer's interest in Wilford Woodruff, why and how she decided to make this project her life's passion, and why President Woodruff's extensive record keeping gives us such a clear view of the Restoration of the gospel.
Jennifer Mackley and Steve Harper
Jennifer Mackley: Well, I think Wilford Woodruff’s message is as applicable and as urgent today, as it was in the 1800s.
Steve Harper: That was Jennifer Mackley, author of the book, Wilford Woodruff’s Witness, which is the story of his role in restoring the ordinances of the holy temple. Jennifer is also the co-founder of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation and the CEO of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. I'm Steve Harper, a historian of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and I shudder to think what it would be like if Wilford Woodruff had not lived or recorded daily journal entries for well over half a century. Whether you know a little or a lot about Wilford Woodruff and the restoration of temple ordinances, you'll want to know more, I'm guessing, and you will know a lot more soon.
Stay tuned as I interview Jennifer about her favorite subject. I'd like to know right at the outset here about your dedication of your book. You dedicated it to Alice Clarkson Turley, and I'm positive there's a story behind that.
Jennifer Mackley: All started with my mother's interest in Wilford Woodruff’s vision, but also her focus on the women.
Most people know the story of Wilford Woodruff's vision of the founding fathers when he was working in the temple in St. George, but few know of the list that he created included not only a hundred eminent men, but eminent women.
Steve Harper: Give us some of their names. I think listeners will be interested to know who these women are.
Jennifer Mackley: Well, it's an eclectic group because it includes writers and authors Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Jane Austin, Charlotte Bronte, but also controversial figures in world history, including Marie Antoinette. I began studying the lives of those women. My mother had read a book written about the men and the author had implied that the women also appeared to Wilford Woodruff.
I took that and just started reading their books, their poetry, the stories of the French Revolution. The question in my mind was why Wilford Woodruff. Why was this group focused on him? My training as an attorney is what led me to the primary sources, because I didn't want to know what someone else thought of his experience, but why he was the one in 1877 that the temple was focused on, and the work was focused on. I began to read his journals, and search for his letters, and read his discourses, and twenty-three years later here I am.
Steve Harper: Well, thank you. And I am thankful for Alice Clarkson Turley because she set you on this path, and I'm thankful for your training as a lawyer. It's a great benefit to me in my efforts to learn from the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project.
All the things you've gathered in a very systematic way that you go about collecting them, preserving them, and describing them. People will eventually become, through the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project, privy to the massive amounts of data and analysis that you have done on Wilford's papers. And there'll be the beneficiaries, as I have been of your great work.
Let's just recap for listeners who may not know. Let's recap, let's start just by his lifespan. When was he born? When did he die?
Jennifer Mackley: He was born March 1, 1807. And he died in September, 1898. The fascinating story of Wilford Woodruff’s connection to the Church and his life began when he moved to New York.
Steve Harper: When was that? The 1830s?
Yes, his older brother Ozem, had gone to work on the Erie Canal and invited his two younger brothers to join him in Richland County, New York. They moved there to buy property and start their own mill, which is what they'd been trained by their father. That put him within a few miles of John Taylor, Brigham Young, and Joseph Smith. Others may call it a coincidence but that was the first time in Wilford's own record that he said it was the hand of the Lord that changed his path in life. He followed that inspiration, and was introduced to the Church within a few months.
Steve Harper: Heard the gospel from some of the many traveling missionaries, gained a conviction of it, right? Joined the Church in 1834, is that right?
Jennifer Mackley: He was baptized December 31, 1833, Wilford and his brother. Parley P. Pratt came to the home and was recruiting for Zion's Camp, and spoke to both Wilford and his brother Azmon. Azmon did not choose to go and ended up not joining the body of the Saints for almost 50 years.
Wilford immediately settled his affairs. I compare it to the apostles Simon and Andrew, where they just dropped their nets and followed Christ. When Wilford got to Kirtland, he consecrated everything to the Lord. That included a box of books, a sword, a gun, the clothes on his back, and even his unsettled debts.
Steve Harper: From there, he goes to Missouri with the Camp of Israel and from Missouri does not return to Kirtland along with many of the others. Where does he go from Missouri?
Jennifer Mackley: He, along with others, stayed in Missouri and worked, but he also felt like he should serve a mission. He went to the Southern States and taught in Arkansas and Tennessee mainly and went through Missouri. The individuals that he met there on his mission ended up being pivotal for the rest of his life.
His first companion, Harry Brown, ended up as the father of one of Wilford Woodruff’s wives. Another family that he met also were the aunt and uncle of his future wife, Emma. Part of the mission experience was those who would be leading figures in the Church later, but it was also part of his own development.
Even in that mission experience, he had visions, had experiences that taught him the importance of the temple, and became a pivotal part of his Kirtland experience as well as other temple experiences.
Steve Harper: Interestingly, he missed the Kirtland temple dedication, and the visit of the Savior, and ministering angels in April of 1836, because of his mission South. But he returned, and with Joseph Smith, learned about and received ordinances at the temple in Kirtland. In 1837, [he] becomes a missionary, not too long after a Seventy, and a missionary off the coast of Maine. Marries Phoebe Whittemore Carter, one of the smartest things he ever did, and then becomes one of the Twelve Apostles. He learns while he's on his mission, by letter, from the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Thomas Marsh, that he has been called to the apostleship. He is ordained an Apostle on the site of the Far West Temple in Missouri.
And then, after witnessing the day of God's power, the Lord healing many of his people, at least temporarily, in and around Nauvoo, he is one of the apostles who serves the mission to England that changes so much, dramatic changes in the Church. It's re-energized and re-invigorated by thousands of thousands of first British and later Scandinavian and other converts, and then finally to Utah.
You are listening to the Wilford Woodruff Papers Podcast. I'm Steve Harper and Jennifer Mackley has been telling us Wilford’s story. She's about to tell how it relates to the holy temple. You're going to want to hear this, and if you want to check out the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project or support the foundation behind it, check out www.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org. Now back to Jennifer Mackley telling us how Wilford Woodruff received temple ordinances from Joseph Smith.
What are the intersections of Wilford and the temple?
Jennifer Mackley: The first ten years of Wilford's life in the Church were spent on missions. Just like in Kirtland, he missed the first solemn assembly in 1836. In Nauvoo, he was not present for the six weeks that Brigham Young was able to begin the administration of ordinances in the temple. His experience with temple ordinances in Kirtland were the second solemn assembly in 1837. He received his washings and anointings from Joseph Smith, along with other missionaries that were preparing to go out and preach the gospel.
He received his endowment from Joseph Smith in Nauvoo before the temple was completed. That was a theme that was part of his testimony for the rest of his life, including his last testimony in 1897. Because for Wilford, it was the power of God through the restoration, and that meant Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was the connection to the priesthood and the ordinances and particularly the temple, the endowments. Wilford and Phoebe participated in those ordinances as well as the sealing in 1843 and 1844. They went to England together and returned in 1845.
Steve Harper: There is in Wilford's journal, a beautiful entry where he describes an awful day that he and Phoebe had freezing, freezing cold. They're trying to stay warm. They make a fire; the house fills with smoke. They both get sick, their daughter tips over in a chair, and smashes her face.
After this long and an awful day, they go to a meeting and participate in the high and holy ordinances of the temple. He makes an elaborate design in his journal that day. Do you have anything you want to say about that? That's characteristic of Wilford's life and love for the temple. It's a mundane life in a telestial world, on one hand, and an exalted existence, looking forward to all the blessings of the temple covenants on the other hand.
Jennifer Mackley: You're right. That is a typical Wilford Woodruff entry or explanation. That's why his record is so remarkable, because there are many of us that can write at the end of our lives and say, I had a good life, I had some incredible experiences, but we're hitting the highlights. Wilford's journey was one of the process, the struggle, the faith that it took and the process of learning, going back to the Lord for more information, and being blessed with additional knowledge and instruction. The day to day struggle with that is the value in his record. It's a unique record because it takes you step-by-step through every stage of the restoration. Some of the most important messages that we have from that time in history are through Wilford Woodruff’s journal. Had he not recorded them as they happened, we wouldn't have Joseph Smith's words. We also wouldn't have the developing understanding and Wilford's focus on eternal life, on the ordinances that connected families was from the very beginning, from his first introduction to the gospel.
As I studied his life, that's what I understood. His focus on the temple meant others focused on him and his testimony of those experiences from the revelation, the restoration of the priesthood, the restoration of those ordinances, and why Joseph Smith is pivotal to all of those points in the process of restoration.
Steve Harper: That's well said, Jennifer, thank you.
I liked what you said a few minutes ago, too, about Wilford's emphasis on receiving the ordinances from Joseph Smith, the Lord's authorized servant. He knew that that was crucial, and he emphasized it very much. Let's tell the story about near the end of his life, when his son-in-law brings a phonograph machine into his office to show him the latest recording technology. What happened as a result of that?
Jennifer Mackley: He recorded a brief testimony, and it's amazing to hear his voice because it's the first record we have of any prophet’s voice. He hit three things. It was the same three things that he had emphasized throughout his testimony and conversion to the gospel. And it was the power of God, and the power of God being manifest through the priesthood, through the ordinances, particularly the endowments, and that connection to the power of God was through his prophet Joseph Smith. So, it was a personal witness. He was an eyewitness to those things. He said, “I received those ordinances under the hand of Joseph Smith. I received my endowments under the hand and direction of Joseph Smith. It was through the power of God.”
Steve Harper: Wilford wanted to document that very much. He documented it in writing many times. Finally, he lived long enough to put his voice onto wax cylinders, and we can still hear his voice bear that witness.
We've kind of told now the beginning of his temple trajectory and close to the end of it. He lived long enough to be the prophet who dedicated the Salt Lake Temple.
He was there from the very beginning, in some ways of the vision of the Salt Lake Temple. Let's pick up some parts of the middle of the story. Tell us a little bit about the few first few days in the Salt Lake Valley and the vision for the Salt Lake Temple.
Jennifer Mackley: In 1847, when the pioneer camp arrived, which was many of the apostles, they took a walk. As they were walking, Brigham Young said, this is the spot where we are going to build the temple.
I think one of the things that I learned in my study of his life was there were ordinances that were suspended for a time, or even discontinued. When you study church history, it might look like they had this step-by-step map that was drawn, but even the building of the Salt Lake Temple, the visions that they had are what sustained them through 40 years of trials in the Utah War, in the dispersion of the Saints throughout the territory, just the struggle they had to just feed themselves.
Steve Harper: When Brigham Young says, this is the spot for the Salt Lake Temple, it's Woolford Woodruff who marks the spot, and it's fitting, right. It's going to be Wilford who many, many decades, several decades later, is the prophet who dedicates that temple. As you've said, he's the one who receives the revelations and implements the ordinances, as we most know them today. A major part of that is Wilford's service in the St. George Temple. Will you tell us about the key things that happen with Wilford being appointed by Brigham Young to preside over the St. George Temple. It's more than just being the temple president there. He does major things that give us development in temple work as we know it.
Jennifer Mackley: Wilford Woodruff and Brigham Young went to St. George in November of 1876, to make the final preparations for the temple opening and dedication. There was a partial dedication in January, and they began the work for a few months before the full dedication in April. During that time, they recorded, for the first time, the ceremonies, the endowment, the other ordinances that would be administered in the temple.
The St. George Temple was significant because it was the first time that all the ordinances were available, not only for the living, but to be performed by proxy. Those things that Joseph Smith had taught in Nauvoo and understood had to wait until there were individuals who had received their own endowments, had received all the ordinances for themselves, and then could administer them to others. Part of that was recording those ordinances because that generation was, getting older.
Steve Harper: Brigham Young would pass away later in 1877, for example. Yes. This is a huge point you're making. Let's dwell on it for just a minute here. I think it may be little known to many of our listeners that Joseph Smith revealed all the temple ordinances, but the Saints did not practice all the temple ordinances for many, many years. They did not, for example, perform sealings for the dead. They did not seal many families together genealogically until much later and a major turning point in that is when Brigham Young appoints Wilford Woodruff to preside over the St. George Temple, and to record the ordinances for the first time, and to begin to do proxy sealings for families, and a much, ramped-up emphasis on endowments for the dead as well. Joseph Smith gives Brigham Young his endowment ordinances on May 4, 1842. He tells Brigham something vital about it and his future responsibilities. Will you tell us that story?
Jennifer Mackley: The initial group that received the endowment from Joseph Smith, it was in the upper room of the Red Brick Store in Nauvoo. Joseph must have had an understanding that he wouldn't live to see or participate in the temple when it was completed and just said, you know we've done the best that we can do, but it's up to you Brigham to adapt this to the circumstances of the temple. That's exactly what happened because Joseph Smith's death occurred when the walls of the temple were only a few feet high. It took a lot of work for another year and a half to complete the temple, enough to begin administering the ordinances there. Brigham directed the intense period of ordinance work in the Nauvoo Temple. It was a six-week period and they endowed over 5,000, but the sealing work, they only sealed seventy children to their parents. The focus was not on the family connections through the generations, in part, because they didn't have generations of connections.
They were individuals who had joined the Church, rather than families or multiple generations. So that work, Brigham's role in that, was conveying the temple ordinances, as well as the sealing power to a new generation and understanding that the Salt Lake temple would take decades longer to complete. They built the St. George Temple. That's where the temple work really expanded. But again, Brigham's role was to communicate and put in writing the ability for others to continue that work. The St. George temple record was what was used as the basis for training workers and administering those ordinances in the Logan Temple and in the Manti Temple, and then the Salt Lake Temple.
Steve Harper: The Lord gives Joseph Smith the commission to endow and seal the Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith does so, but hands off to Brigham Young, the responsibility to organize and systematize the ordinances and get them in the right shape. Brigham Young does much of that, but in the last year of his life, he hands that the same baton to Wilford Woodruff, who then carries it through the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple receiving, along the way, more important revelations. Of course, that same process continues into our own time here.
Will you continue, Jennifer, and tell us about a couple of more of those major developments that Wilford Woodruff received and implemented.
Jennifer Mackley: Yes, the St. George Temple was pivotal, again, for three or four main reasons. One is that the record was kept from that point on. The other was that Wilford Woodruff was alone. He didn't bring his family with him when he was in St. George for those months as the temple president. He had spent the years between the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple in the 1840s and the opening of the St. George Temple in 1870s, doing his research. He had over 3,000 family names. He was praying to know how he could accomplish that work.
First of all, as a man, he couldn't do the work for the women, but also just the overwhelming task of the baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, endowments, and sealings of all of those individuals. He received the revelation that was truly a revelation that we could help each other in this work. It was on his 70th birthday, March 1, 1877, that 154 women gathered in the St. George Temple and helped him with the temple ordinances for his female ancestors. That was something that allowed those who didn't have family, who had thought they would never be able to return to the temple because you go there first for yourself. The only way to return is either as an ordinance worker or as a proxy volunteer. The stories of those women and the blessing to them of being able to help others with the work is also an incredible testimony.
Steve Harper: I love that aspect of temple work. Thank you, Jennifer, for that. Let's fast forward now into the early 1890s, and Wilford Woodruff is now president of the Church, presiding over the completion of the Salt Lake Temple. The Saints have been assuming for about half a century some things that we no longer assume about sealings. In a nutshell, it's the idea that if your ancestors didn't already accept the gospel, you wouldn't want to maybe risk being sealed to them. You'd want to be sealed to somebody who you thought had a high likelihood of going on to exaltation. Many sealings have been done by adoption, as they called it. People would be adopted into families in the Church rather than sealed to their own ancestors.
Wilford receives an enormously consequential revelation where the Lord changes that assumption.
Jennifer Mackley: They had to adapt to the circumstances they were in. In 1844, like I said, they didn't have generations in the Church. They also didn't have the possibility of having enough people with the power to administer the ordinances and the place to do so. As things changed over the generations, it was not only the first generation had received their endowments and sealings, but the next generation had.
They had individuals who were living on the earth, who had been sealed and endowed, and received the priesthood. The concern, as you said, was those who, for example, somebody joined the Church in 1844, and their families disowned them. They not only didn't join the Church, but they were hostile against it.
The idea of being sealed to that person, even once the opportunity for proxy work began in St. George, was still a concern and Wilford Woodruff had the same concern. To adopt his father to Joseph Smith was a concept based on the fact that if you're going to connect the priesthood line all the way back to Adam, to God, then there's a problem with the space where there was an apostasy and no priesthood on the earth. So how do you bridge that gap? And that was through Joseph Smith and the restoration of the priesthood from John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John. It seemed a simple solution to seal or adopt into that priesthood. It all centered on Joseph Smith to bridge that gap back to Peter, James, and John, and to Christ.
1894 was a pivotal point because it was at that point that they had the generations within the Church and the proxy ordinances for those who were on the other side of the veil. The concern was then, what if my father didn't join the Church when he was on the earth, or what if my mother disowned me because I did join the Church.
Wilford Woodruff’s counsel was, we are to perform the ordinances and trust. We are not to judge. Those who had been adopted into another priesthood line, he said, we understand that the preaching of the gospel continues on the other side of the veil. He says, I don't think there's going to be that many, if any, who will not recognize the truth and accept it. He said, all we can do is our part to offer that opportunity. We need to offer it to everyone. That's when he said, this is the way to fulfill the mission of Elijah and accomplish what God intended when he explained this process to Joseph Smith. Truly, it changed the focus of temple work because now it was connecting families, not just providing these ordinances and opportunities for individuals, but to truly seal families, multi-generational families.
It's a concept that we look back on and we think every talk we hear, every Sunday school lesson is focused on how can we prepare ourselves for the temple and those blessings, because that will bring our families together, and death can't separate us. But that wasn't the focus of the temple work until 1894.
Steve Harper: I'm thankful for that, Jennifer. That was excellent. And it's so important. I think maybe perhaps not well known or understood, how we get from the beginning to where we are today with temple work and ongoing process of revelation. We see it in our very own time and we will continue to see it, but that's how it's always been. We can expect that's how it will continue to be.
I'm Steve Harper and you are listening to the Wilford Woodruff Papers podcast. Jennifer Mackley is the co-founder of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation, and the CEO of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. She's just about to tell us what that means, why it matters, and what you can do to ensure that Wilford Woodruff Papers become as easily available online as the Joseph Smith papers now are.
Can we transition and have you tell us about the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project? What kinds of papers exist? What do we mean when we say Wilford Woodruff Papers and give us just ballpark figures for how many pages of journals; how many letters do you think are out there?
Jennifer Mackley: He actually kept a summary each year of every letter sent and received as well as every discourse, every speech, every mile he walked. Following the breadcrumbs that he's left makes it easy to at least understand what's possible to find and to preserve. He kept a daily record from his baptism. He said, “this is an important time in the history of the world.” He encouraged others to record, as well, but he wrote 6,891 pages in his journal that was transcribed from daybook. In addition to those official journal pages, he also had hundreds of pages in daybooks. He wrote autobiographies for all of the apostles, as well as himself and his wife, Phoebe. He added up 13,308 letters that he sent to other people and 17,439 that he received. He recorded that he gave 3,559 discourses.
The goal of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project is to find everyone that has survived. We already have thousands, but there are more out there. Whether they're in private collections or historical societies, our mission is to find them.
Steve Harper: For a nerdy historian like me, that's this exciting talk, right there, to hear that. I hope even people who aren't nerdy historians will have some sense of excitement about what you're talking about. You're telling us that you and the people you're working with are going to make almost 7,000 pages of Woodford Woodruff’s journals accessible at a click, on a search engine, and easy to read, easy to search.
You can find your ancestors in Wilford Woodruff’s journals. You can find the day he gave them a temple recommend, or sealed them in the temple. You can access all kinds of information that is otherwise unavailable because it's in an archive in Wilford's handwriting and your work and the work of the Woolford Woodruff Papers Foundation is to make all that massive amount of information available at a search and a couple of clicks.
Jennifer Mackley: Yes, and it will take concerted effort. I mean, you compare the Wilford Woodruff Papers to the Joseph Smith Papers, and it's an exponential difference in the number of documents. Like I said, there's so much more that's accessible for Wilford Woodruff, in part because his life spanned decades, where there was better technology and record keeping.
Steve Harper: Jennifer, I worked for ten years on the Joseph Smith Papers Project. That project really got underway when Gail and Larry Miller came forward and began to make it financially feasible. It's a massive amount of work and a whole army of people are working on it. It is state-of-the-art. It's highly regarded by the national historical records, preservation people, as well as scholars in and out of the Church. I know that at the Wilford Woodruff Papers, you mean to do the same quality of work and the scale is much larger. Wilford Woodruff has so many more papers than Joseph Smith does largely because Joseph didn't love to write. He kept about 1,588 pages of journals or so, whereas Wilford has almost 7,000 pages and letters, even bigger disparity than that.
My point is, who's going to pay for all this? The answer to that is good people, all kinds of good people, are stepping forward to donate a little or a lot to the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project in the same way that Gail and Larry Miller have made the Joseph Smith Papers Project go. Do you want to talk about that?
Jennifer Mackley: Time costs money. The more people that get involved and help financially and personally, the faster it will be done. We have a very different structure than the Joseph Smith Papers. Because it's a private foundation, people can donate and the charitable deduction kind of thing. Also, because it's a private foundation, we don't have the resources of a major institution like BYU or the Church History Department.
It means that people, individuals, the funding comes from those who are dedicated to this work and getting the truth out in context and sharing Wilford Woodruff’s wisdom and testimony with those who are seeking truth and trying to understand the history, whether they're people within the Church or interested people outside the Church.
Steve Harper: Thank you, Jennifer. If I understand right, our project is more dependent than the Joseph Smith Papers, for example, on people being anxiously engaged in a good cause of their own freewill and bringing it to pass. This is one of those causes that people could feel good about and get behind in one way or another if they feel so inclined to do so.
We invite anybody who may be inclined to do so. Jennifer, thanks for your time and attention and your expertise. Your lifetime of devoted work to the Wilford Woodruff Papers, to the point of the Wilford Woodruff Papers, right? They're not an end in themselves. They are a means to the end of understanding the work of the Lord in the latter-days and especially of the temple and its exalting ordinances.
Thanks for listening to this podcast. Jennifer and I enjoyed telling you about Wilford Woodruff and the vital records that he kept. He did his part to document the sacred past. His efforts will have minimal impact, however, unless we have access to his records and make the effort to learn from them. If you want to help us transcribe and verify and publish President Woodruff's papers online and in print, or, if you want to donate to this cause, email Jennifer or I. She's at email@example.com, and I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit our site www.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org. Our whole team is working hard to put many of President Woodruff's papers there on that site by March 1, 2021, his 214th birthday. We invite you to visit the site often.
Tell everyone you know about it, and come join our team if you want to have a hand in the Wilford Woodford Papers. Thanks for listening.