Elizabeth Claridge McCune
Elizabeth Ann Claridge McCune was the wife of affluent businessman Alfred William McCune, mother to nine children, and she cared for her family in the McCune Mansion in Salt Lake City. But her influence was felt beyond her home life.
She was born on February 19, 1852, in Hemel, Hempstead, England. Her parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the year she was born, and they immigrated to be with the body of the Church in Utah. They settled in Nephi, Utah, and Elizabeth found many ways to serve in the community and in the Church.
Like many children and youth in that time period, she lived with her family on a homestead that required her to help. In addition to learning how to sew, knit, crochet, and spin yarn, she helped milk cows. When she was fifteen, her bishop asked her to learn how to be a telegrapher, and she ran a switchboard in Mona, Utah. Church president Brigham Young called her father to help settle Nevada’s “Muddy” (desert of southern Nevada) so she left her telegraph operator job at age 17 and moved with the family.
She married Alfred McCune at age 20. Her husband’s business allowed her to be generous in many ways. Utah governor William Spry appointed her a trustee of the Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) in 1905 and she served in that position for ten years, the last two were as vice president.
Elizabeth wrote faithfully in her journal and devoted her energy to genealogy research. She worked in the temple from 1893 until her death in 1924. She was instrumental in opening the door for women to serve as missionaries. In 1897, she traveled to Europe with her husband and four youngest children for an extended tour. She had planned to do genealogical research and asked Lorenzo Snow, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for a priesthood blessing. In part he said, “Thy mind shall be as clear as an angel’s when explaining the principles of the gospel.” She had that blessing fulfilled when she went with the missionaries to street meetings. Her son was serving a mission in Great Britain, and she invited him and the missionaries to stay with their family. Joseph McMurrin of the European mission presidency called on her to speak to a large gathering of people. Although she was nervous, she was able to speak clearly to help correct a false message that a former member of the Church had spread, in part, about the oppression of women in the Church. She said:
- Our husbands are proud of their wives and daughters; they do not consider that they were created solely to wash dishes and tend babies; but they give them every opportunity to attend meetings and lectures and to take up everything which will educate and develop them. Our religion teaches us that the wife stands shoulder to shoulder with the husband.
She was asked to speak in several other missionary conferences and branch meetings. Not only did the experience teach her that women could make important contributions to missionary work, President McMurrin noticed too, and wrote a letter to the First Presidency saying “if a number of bright and intelligent women were called on missions to England, the results would be excellent.” Her experience resulted in the calls to Amanda Inez Knight and Lucy Jane "Jennie" Brimhall as the first single female proselytizing missionaries in April 1898. They were called to the European Mission.
Elizabeth later experienced heartache when her husband immersed himself in his business affairs and distanced himself from the Church. She remained true to him and to the Church.
The McCune’s moved to California in 1920 and they donated their mansion to the LDS Church. They moved back to Utah in 1923 and began building another home. On a trip to Bermuda, she fell ill and returned to Utah. She died on August 1, 1924.