“Wilford Woodruff,” Church History Topics
Wilford Woodruff served as the fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1889 and his death in 1898. A native of Connecticut, he was baptized in 1833. He participated in the Camp of Israel expedition and served numerous missions.1 After being ordained an Apostle in 1839, he served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve for more than 50 years. His regular, detailed diaries remain one of the key sources on the early history of the Church.
Woodruff married Phebe Whittemore Carter in 1837. In the 1840s he accepted the practice of plural marriage taught by Joseph Smith, and between 1846 and 1877, he married at least seven other women. He was the father of 34 children.2
In 1877 Woodruff became the first person to serve as a temple president when the St. George Utah Temple was completed. He served as the president of that temple until 1884. After John Taylor’s death in 1887, Woodruff led the Church as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and about two years later he reorganized the First Presidency and was sustained as the President of the Church.3
After seeking revelation on the future of the Church in 1890, Woodruff received inspired direction to issue a document called the Manifesto, which initiated a transition away from the practice of plural marriage.4 Following a revelation in 1894, he introduced changes in the Church’s sealing practices, teaching the Saints to seal themselves to their ancestors even when their ancestors had not joined the Church. This replaced the tradition of sealing oneself or one’s ancestors to missionaries or to Church leaders through adoption sealings. To support this work, Woodruff launched efforts to advance genealogical research, including the founding of the Genealogical Society of Utah. President Woodruff also directed the first mission calls to single women, opening a new era of sister missionary service.
For more information about the life of Wilford Woodruff, see the Prophets of the Restoration videos on history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org and in the Gospel Library app.