Emily H. Woodmansee
Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee was a poet and hymn writer. Her hymn “As Sisters in Zion” was included in the 1985 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More of her hymns were included in previous editions of the Church hymnbook.
She was born on March 24, 1836, near Warminster, England. “When but a mere child I was much concerned about my eternal salvation and felt that I would make any sacrifice to obtain it. I asked all kinds of questions of my mother and sisters, seeking how to be saved, but could get no satisfaction from them nor from the religious body (Wesleyans) to which they belonged. Hungry and thirsty for truth, I searched the Scriptures, invariably turning to the lives of ancient apostles or to the beautiful writings of the Prophet Isaiah. I was never weary of reading his prophecies, the glory of a Latter-Day Zion that burthened his inspirations possessed for me a charm irresistible. Truly I was waiting for something, I knew not what came to me sooner than I expected.”
When she was twelve years old, her cousin Miriam invited the family to come to her new church. No one in the family was interested except for Emily, and the family agreed to send her. Rather than just return to her family and report about the cousin’s new church, Emily was converted and yearned to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her parents allowed her to be baptized when she turned 16. Her sister Julia had also been baptized, but their parents did not permit them to emigrate with the Saints. But they were determined to gather to Zion.
They sailed with the James G. Willie Company and pulled handcarts across the country with the Willie Company.
Historian Glenn Rawson wrote of her:
- Then, Sunday, October 19, 1856, about noon, howling winter storms caught the Willie Company on one of the most exposed portions of the trail. They were completely out of food and hundreds of miles from Salt Lake. Then three men rode in announcing that rescue wagons and supplies were just a couple of days ahead.
- As the rescuers were preparing to ride on in search of the Martin Company, one of them, Joseph A. Young, saw among the sufferers someone he knew—Emily Hill. He burst into tears.
- “Why do you cry Brother Young?” she asked.
- “Oh, because you look so starved and the provision wagons are miles away.” With that he gave her what he could—an onion. Rather than eat it, Emily held on to it. That night she saw a man near the fire who appeared to be dying. Emily gave the onion to him. That onion saved his life.
- Emily and Julia made it to the Valley. In time they both married. Then when Emily had one child her husband [Dr. William G. Mills] went on a mission leaving her to fend for herself. Four years later he wrote back announcing that he was not coming home.
- Significantly, Emily said, “All that I had hitherto suffered seemed like child’s play compared to being deserted by one in whom I had chosen to place the utmost confidence.”
- It was now the winter of 1863-64. The Civil War had driven prices up. Survival was difficult. Emily’s house was sold out from under her. One night when she was so weary with overwork and anxiety, pondering what to do, words came into her mind so clear as if audibly spoken. “Trust in God and thyself.’ She got up, penned her heart in poetry, and went to work.
“Immediately after this my way opened up before me, almost within the week I secured another home, which if not very commodious had for me the satisfying charm of being my own.”
In 1864, Emily became a plural wife to Joseph Woodmansee. They had eight children together, two of whom died in infancy. She wrote many poems and hymns and her works were published in the Improvement Era, the Young Woman’s Journal, and the Women’s Exponent. She was awarded a gold medal for the Sunday School Jubilee Prize Poem in 1899. She is recognized as one of a handful of foundational Mormon writers by contemporary scholars who have anthologized her work.
She served as the treasurer for the Women's Cooperative Store and was involved in the Women's Suffrage Movement. Woodmansee was involved in the real estate business
A compilation of Woodmansee's poetry was published in 1986.
Prior to being baptized in March 1852, Emily was given a blessing by John Halliday. “Brother Halliday blessed me and confirmed upon me the promise that I should write in prose and in verse and thereby comfort the hearts of thousands.” That blessing continues to be fulfilled.