The First Sister Missionaries

Digital Only: Stories from Saints, Volume 3

The First Sister Missionaries

The following is an excerpt from volume 3 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, which was released in the spring of 2022.

First Full-time sister missionaries

As her ship steamed into the port of Liverpool, England, twenty-one-year-old Inez Knight spotted her older brother William on the docks, waiting in a crowd of fellow missionaries. It was April 22, 1898. Inez and her companion, Jennie Brimhall, were coming to the British Mission as the first single women set apart as “lady missionaries” for the Church. Like Will and the other elders, they would be preaching at street meetings and going door to door, spreading the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.1

In past decades, Louisa Pratt, Susa Gates, and other married women had served successful missions alongside their husbands, though without official mission calls. Leaders in the Relief Society and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association [now known as Young Women], moreover, had been good ambassadors for the Church at venues like the World’s Fair of 1893. And many young, unmarried women had gained experience teaching and leading in YLMIA meetings, preparing them to preach the word of God.2

After reuniting with Will, Inez walked with him and Jennie to the mission headquarters, a four-story building the Saints had occupied since the 1850s. There they met President McMurrin. “I want each of you to understand that you have been called here by the Lord,” he said. As he spoke, Inez felt for the first time the great responsibility resting on her shoulders.3

The next day, she and Jennie accompanied President McMurrin and other missionaries to Oldham, a manufacturing town east of Liverpool. In the evening, they formed a circle on a busy street corner, offered a prayer, and sang hymns until a large crowd formed around them. President McMurrin announced that a special meeting would be held the following day, and he invited everyone to come and hear preaching from “real live Mormon women.”

As he said this, a sick feeling crept over Inez. She was nervous about speaking to a large crowd. Still, as she stood among the missionaries in their silk hats and black suits, she had never been prouder to be a Latter-day Saint.4

The next evening, Inez trembled as she waited for her turn to speak. Having heard terrible lies about Latter-day Saint women, people were curious about her and the other women speaking at the meeting. Sarah Noall and Caroline Smith, the wife and sister-in-law of one of the missionaries, addressed the congregation first. Inez then spoke, despite her fear, and surprised herself by how well she did.

Inez and Jennie were soon assigned to labor in Cheltenham. They went door to door and frequently testified at street meetings. They also accepted invitations to meet with people in their homes. Listeners usually treated them well, although occasionally someone would mock them or accuse them of lying.

Inez and Jennie hoped to see more women serving missions. “We feel that the Lord is blessing us in our attempts to allay prejudice and spread the truth,” they reported to mission leaders. “We trust that many of the worthy young women in Zion will be permitted to enjoy the same privilege we now have, for we feel that they can do much good.”5