“Meeting the Women behind the Pulpit,” Ensign, February 2018
Our work on At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women was a sweet communion with our spiritual forebears, and many readers tell us they experience a connection as well.
While writing the book, we prayed for help to find women’s discourses that would work well in the collection, for guidance about which discourses to choose, and for direction as we researched and wrote introductions about the women who delivered each discourse. We felt that the women wanted to be found. And we wanted women and men today to feel a fellowship and recognize their responsibility in building the kingdom.
In response to our prayers, we received the help, direction, and guidance we had requested, sometimes in ways we didn’t expect.
One in particular, though, seemed a real mystery: E.G. Jones gave a beautiful talk on prayer at the Salt Lake City Eleventh Ward Young Women’s Association in 1882, printed in the Woman’s Exponent. The discourse was poignant and reflected a deep personal relationship developed with Heavenly Father through prayer.
But who was this E.G. Jones? She didn’t leave any personal papers that we could unearth. With the assistance of a volunteer, Chere Clarke, and a family historian, Judy Wight, we started on a trail of census records and discovered Ellenor Georgina Jones, living in the Salt Lake City Eleventh Ward in 1870. With a name, date, and location of birth, we traced Ellenor from Nashville, Tennessee, to Cincinnati, Ohio, born into a multiracial family and raised in the South during the practice of slavery and hostility toward free blacks.
She and her family became acquainted with the Church in Tennessee in the 1840s, and she was baptized in 1844. Ellenor moved back and forth between California and Utah and married three times, having children with her first two husbands. We found a letter she wrote to Brigham Young, seeking a meeting with him. She was a member of the Eleventh Ward Relief Society, and the minute book records her comments in meetings. She participated in temple ordinances for herself and her family members and donated to temple funds.
Ellenor left footprints of her commitment to the Church and her covenants. She had important doctrine to teach us about prayer, and we need to listen.
We started the research on Leone Jacobs by reading Leone’s obituary, which included the names of her children, and I immediately felt that I should call Geraldine, Leone’s daughter. The results were extraordinary.
At the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Leone lived in the Palestine-Syrian Mission with her two children and her husband, Joseph, who was mission president. The mission encompassed Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. She kept two diaries while she lived there and wrote articles about the mission for the Deseret News when she returned.
Geraldine was generous. She let us borrow and scan these priceless documents, so now digital copies are available for visitors to study at the Church History Library. Reading the diaries gave me a more intimate sense for who Leone was and what it felt like to help run the mission, and I tried to bring that to the introduction that I wrote.
When I read Leone’s promises that we can change our lives, “One of the most glorious principles of life is that we can always rise above our present level,” I imagined her in Beirut, helping with a program at her children’s school, teaching a young woman to play the organ, greeting Church members at the mission Christmas party that she planned.
Coming to know Leone through her diaries felt sacred.
Approaching the writing of this book through prayer and diligent research and study, we learned more and more about how to interpret spiritual promptings. We witnessed how God teaches us through the records that our fellow Latter-day Saints left behind.
Coming to know the authors of these discourses enriched our own ability to meet life’s challenges as we work to do our part in building God’s kingdom—from writing books about Church history to visiting teaching to doing simple acts of service. We return often to their words and we carry them in our hearts. With every encounter, they make us stronger.