Leah Widtsoe

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Leah Eudora Dunford Widtsoe was an authority on home economics and lectured and taught in the United States and Europe. She was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Born on February 28, 1874, she was the daughter of Susa Young and Alma Dunford. After her parents divorced, she lived for a time with her father, where she suffered a lonely childhood. In her teens she lived with her mother and stepfather, Jacob Gates. She became a student at the University of Utah, and in the summer of 1893, she attended a session at Cambridge, where she met John A. Widtsoe. She also studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She earned a teacher’s certificate from the University of Utah in 1896, where she was also valedictorian. She then became the head of the Department of Domestic Science at Brigham Young University in 1897. Leah earned her bachelor’s degree in pedagogy from BYU in 1898. She and John married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1898, and they lived in Germany while he pursued his degree at the University of Gottingen. He began teaching at Utah State University in 1900 and served as president there from 1907 to 1916, and president of the University of Utah from 1916 to 1921.

While women of her generation spent their time rearing children and cleaning their homes, Leah hired students to assist her with scrubbing and cleaning so that she could pursue her professional interests of helping women with their health, the management of their homes, and the rearing of their children. She wrote articles and pamphlets on homemaking and regularly contributed to LDS periodicals, such as the Young Woman’s Journal, The Relief Society Magazine, and the Improvement Era. She coauthored (with her husband) The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation.

When her family moved to Logan in 1900, she worked to improve the lives of farmers' wives. She visited farms with her husband and taught the women about food, housecleaning, and health. She was instrumental in the passing of the Smoot Bill, which provided funds to states for research in home economics. She organized the first Agricultural College Women's Institute in 1903. In 1923, she attended the National Home Economics Movement Conference as the Utah representative.

She advocated the rights of women and was one of the founders of the Salt Lake City Federation of Women Voters, serving as president from 1919 to 1921. She also participated in the Salt Lake Council of Women, the National League of Pen Women and the Women's Legislative Council.

Even after her husband was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, she continued to advocate health in families and family science. Leah and John were the parents eight children, although only three lived to adulthood. She passed away on June 7, 1965.