Wilford Woodruff was born on March 1, 1807, in Connecticut. His mother died when he was only fifteen months old, but his father remarried three years later and his stepmother raised him. He grew up on a farm, went to school and helped his father run his sawmill.
Wilford Woodruff pondered religious things and became convinced that the Church of Christ was no longer on the earth in its pure form. He said,
- I could not find any denomination whose doctrines, faith or practice, agreed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the ordinances and gifts which the Apostles taught. Although the ministers of the day taught that the faith, gifts, graces, miracles and ordinances, which the ancient Saints enjoyed, were done away and no longer needed, I did not believe it to be true, only as they were done away through the unbelief of the children of men. I believed the same gifts, graces, miracles and power would be manifest in one age of the world as in another, when God had a Church upon the earth, and that the Church of God would be re-established upon the earth, and that I should live to see it. These principles were riveted upon my mind from the perusal of the Old and New Testament, with fervent prayer that the Lord would show me what was right and wrong, and lead me in the path of salvation, without any regard to the opinions of man; and the whisperings of the Spirit of the Lord for the space of three years taught me that he was about to set up his Church and kingdom upon the earth in the last days ("History of Wilford Woodruff," [from his own pen], Millennial Star, XXVII, 182).
- My soul was drawn out upon these things. In my early manhood I prayed day and night that I might live to see a prophet. I would have gone a thousand miles to have seen a prophet, or a man that could teach me the things that I read of in the Bible. I could not join any church, because I could not find any church at that time that advocated these principles. I spent many a midnight hour, by the river side, in the mountains, and in my mill ... calling upon God that I might live to see a prophet or some man that would teach me of the things of the kingdom of God as I read them (Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols., 4).
When he was 26 years old Wilford Woodruff heard a sermon given by a Mormon missionary. President Woodruff knew he had found what he was looking for. He was baptized as a member of the Mormon Church just two days after hearing the sermon, on December 31, 1833.
In 1834, Wilford Woodruff was sent on the first of six missions. His call was to the Southeastern United States. He returned home from his mission in 1836 and recorded that he had traveled over 9,800 miles, held over 300 meetings, organized 4 branches of the Church, baptized 70 people and confirmed 62, performed 11 priesthood ordinations, and healed 4 people by the laying on of hands, and that he had been delivered from the hands of 6 different mobs.
President Woodruff was ordained an elder in 1835 and then as a Seventy in May, 1836. Just a year after his return, he served another full-time mission to the Fox Islands off the coast of Maine. During this mission he found a group of people searching for the truth and baptized over one hundred. Also while on this mission, President Woodruff received a letter from Thomas B. Marsh. The letter informed him that he had been called to be an apostle and that he would be asked to serve a mission in Great Britain.
- “When I arose to speak at Brother Benbow’s house, a man entered the door and informed me that he was a constable, and had been sent by the rector of the parish with a warrant to arrest me. I asked him, ‘For what crime?’ He said, ‘For preaching to the people.’ I told him that I, as well as the rector, had a license for preaching the gospel to the people, and that if he would take a chair I would wait upon him after meeting. He took my chair and sat beside me. For an hour and a quarter I preached the first principles of the everlasting gospel. The power of God rested upon me, the spirit filled the house, and the people were convinced. At the close of the meeting I opened the door for baptism, and seven offered themselves. Among the number were four preachers and the constable. The latter arose and said, ‘Mr. Woodruff, I would like to be baptized.’ I told him I would like to baptize him. I went down into the pool and baptized the seven. We then came together. I confirmed thirteen, administered the Sacrament, and we all rejoiced together.
- “The constable went to the rector and told him that if he wanted Mr. Woodruff taken for preaching the gospel, he must go himself and serve the writ; for he had heard him preach the only true gospel sermon he had ever listened to in his life. The rector did not know what to make of it, so he sent two clerks of the Church of England as spies, to attend our meeting, and find out what we did preach. They both were pricked in their hearts, received the word of the Lord gladly, and were baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The rector became alarmed, and did not venture to send anybody else.” (In Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 118.)
When he returned home, he helped Latter-day Saints travel to the Salt Lake Valley. He was with Brigham Young and the first company of saints. Once the Mormons were finally settled in Utah, President Woodruff was not sent on any more missions. Instead, he was sent to check on different settlements across the West including Arizona and Idaho.
The entire time President Woodruff served as an Apostle (1856-1883), he filled the role of Church Historian. He loyally kept a journal, and keeping a record of the Church’s history came naturally. On July 25, 1887, President John Taylor passed away. President Woodruff was then the presiding officer and felt the burden of leading the Church. He recorded in his journal
- This places me in a very peculiar situation. It is a position I have never looked for during my life. But in the providence of God it is laid upon me, and I pray God my Heavenly Father to give me grace equal to my day. It is a high and responsible position for any man to occupy and a position that needs great wisdom. I never expected to outlive President Taylor. . . . But God has ordained otherwise. . . . I can only say, marvelous are Thy ways, O Lord Almighty, for Thou hast truly chosen weak instruments to perform in Thy hand Thy work on earth. May Thy servant Wilford be prepared for whatever is required at his hands by the God of Heaven (Preston Nibley, The Presidents of the Church, 13th ed., p.129).
When Wilford Woodruff was ordained as the prophet, the Church was being penalized by the government for practicing polygamy. The situation made President Woodruff ponder the issue constantly, he finally went to the Lord for help in the matter and was told that the Church should stop the practice. He issued a statement to the members of the Church as well as the world explaining that the practice would be stopped within the Church on September 24, 1890. President Woodruff continued to guide and lead the Church until he passed away on September 2, 1898.
Quotes from President Wilford Woodruff
- "I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty."
- The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham, 1946
- "You may have the administration of angels, you may see many miracles; . . . but I claim that the gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon man."
- The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff
- “I well remember the first sermon I heard; my conviction was that I had learned more about God and the things of his kingdom than I had learned in all my previous life. I believed the gospel then, and I not only believe it now, but I know it to be true. Since then I have received much valuable instruction through the revelations of God that have been made manifest; and I have never yet heard a principle set forth, but I have been able to see beauty and glory connected with it.”
- Deseret News Weekly, Sept. 26, 1860
See also Quotes from the Prophets
- Modern Prophets
- Wilford Woodruff
- The Life and Ministry of Wilford Woodruff
- President Wilford Woodruff's Recorded Testimony
Wilford Woodruff—Part 1
Wilford Woodruff—Part 2