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Sarah Day Hall: Southern Mother in Israel (Redux)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 11, 2008

American Southerners have been joining the Church since the 1830s. The Southern States Mission became the most successful mission field in the Church in the last generation of the 1800s. During those years when southern LDS meeting halls were burned and elders and even members were murdered, many thousands of Southerners responded to the gospel.

Two elders knocked on a farmhouse door in Lowndes County, Alabama, on a spring day in 1896. The door was opened by Sarah Day Hall, holding her six-month-old baby. Sarah believed the gospel message instantly, recalling later that “it was like taking a drink of water when I was very thirsty.” Her husband Lewis was at work in the fields so Sarah could not invite the elders into the house, but neither could she let them leave: She stood in the doorway for almost two hours, her sleeping baby heavy in her arms, asking questions, accepting the answers, and extracting repeated promises from the elders to return when her husband was at home. They returned, Lewis also responded and the couple was baptized later that month.

Lewis and Sarah Hall

Although many of their relatives in Lowndes County joined the Church, no branch was organized there. The Halls held a home Sunday School and warmly welcomed the occasional visits of traveling missionaries. Lewis and Sarah did their best to raise their growing family as faithful Latter-day Saints and relied on the Lord to help them through difficult times.

Daughter Lella became so ill with diphtheria that the doctor declared she would die. He told Sarah he would stop by the house the next morning to make out a death certificate. That evening the elders returned unexpectedly to the Hall home and blessed Lella, who was immediately and completely healed. When the doctor’s knock came the next morning, mischievous Sarah sent Lella to open the door for a startled doctor.

The gospel improved their lives in unexpected ways. Sarah struggled to read the pamphlets brought by the missionaries and encouraged her children to excel in school so they could read the scriptures. The parents were only marginally literate, but their daughters became school teachers. Lella, still in her teens, received part of her pay by boarding with the parents of her students; one evening she returned to the home where she was boarding to find a Protestant minister come “to set the Mormon school teacher straight.” Sarah’s daughter had learned the scriptures so well that she held her own in the ensuing debate.

The Halls began planning to emigrate to the West. But Lewis was a sharecropper; cash was scarce and babies came along regularly until Sarah had borne a dozen children. Her desire to move West became urgent as her children grew into their teens, because there were no Latter-day Saints for her children to meet and marry at home. World War I brought carpentry work for Lewis in the Mobile shipyards, and the family finally came to Utah in 1919.

Of their first years in the West, daughter Mabel wrote, “Except for Mother’s courage and determination, we might have gone back to the South where our peculiarities in dress and dialect would not have been peculiarities.” Lewis died in 1923, leaving Sarah to support six children still at home in Manti. Sarah took work in the pea factory, did laundry and ironing for neighbors, and cleaned the temple on Friday and Saturday nights despite crippling arthritis.

When Sarah died in 1946, Apostle Charles Callis, once president of the Southern States Mission, spoke at her funeral:

“I wish I were eloquent enough to pay a tribute to this good woman and her departed husband as they deserve. She was really a mother in Israel, and her husband was adamant in his advocacy of the glorious Gospel. They were built upon the testimony of Jesus Christ. And if the elders that have visited their home in Alabama could hear of her passing, they would shed many tears. God bless this good and faithful woman!”

photograph: Lewis and Sarah Hall, with unidentified missionaries, in Lowndes County, Alabama, circa 1904. Children (left to right): Lewis, Jessie, Claudia, Lella, Vernon.

This sketch about my great-grandmother was posted on Times and Seasons in October 2006.



18 Comments »

  1. This really is a wonderful sketch. Deeply moving. I’m sure that my grandparents would have known her.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 11, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  2. These are simply wonderful stories, Ardis. This one hits particularly home, given our years in Alabama.

    Comment by Ray — May 11, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

  3. I had forgotten this story. Thanks for re-posting.

    Comment by Edje — May 11, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  4. What a nice Mother’s Day post. Having a number of ancestors and uncles that served missions in the Southern States, I always find the topic interesting. Thanks for sharing this story.

    Comment by Amy T — May 11, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  5. Thank you, J., Ray, Eje, Researcher. I plan to repost this collection of LDS women’s stories on Sundays for the next couple of months, hoping that they’ll find a new audience with readers who have come to the blogs in the last year or so. Comments like yours that show they are being read will, I hope, spur me into finding more.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 11, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

  6. Then may I use my comment as an encouragement for more? I adore reading about the pioneers, and the pioneer women in particular! And your writing style is so marvelous and flowing, your posts are such a pleasure to read.

    At the risk of being greedy…MORE! MORE! (Please?)

    Comment by Keryn — May 11, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  7. Heh, heh, Keryn — who can resist a plea like that? More it is! (Thanks.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 11, 2008 @ 5:51 pm

  8. My mother’s maiden name is Hall. I have no idea if there’s any connection whatsoever. Regardless, this was a great read. Thanks for posting it.

    Comment by danithew — May 11, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

  9. What a beautiful tribute, and inspiring woman. Keep them coming!

    Comment by Erin — May 12, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

  10. Thanks, Erin. I’ve heard my grandmother (Lella) tell some of these stories many times as I grew up. Others I learned only much later by searching out documents.

    daniethew, my Halls were in Alabama since about 1830, and South Carolina before that. If your mother’s family or ancesters were from the South, I’d be glad to compare notes with you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 12, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

  11. Ardis, what part of SC? My son is attending Winthrop, in Rock Hill. Should I ask if he knows any Halls in the ward?

    Comment by Ray — May 12, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

  12. I served my mission in the South in the 1960s and met people who lived out in the country who had joined the Church in the early part of that century. They loved the “elders” to come by and eat with them. They were sorry that the regular wards were too far away to attend. In one case, in Alabama, we met a woman that had not seen “any one from the Church” for thirty years. We baptized her great granddaughter in a small creek near the house and of course had supper with them.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — May 12, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

  13. Jeff, you reminded me of something I picked up and stashed away, and I’ve been looking for it all day. Found it. It was a missionary visit to a woman who told her history: “Those who joined when she did went to Nauvoo, Ill. She had never heard an Elder preach sence 1848 untill we preached to day … she has always held to our faith & still does ” — this visit occurred in 1898.

    I’ll have to find out more about this woman and write up her story, in honor of those like her that you met.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 13, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  14. Jeff’s story reminds me of one of the most amazing days from my mission in northern Germany.

    We only had access to a car for one day every six weeks when the ZLs came to visit. That was the day we set aside to visit the referrals that were too far out to get to on bicycle. We had a referral that sounded pretty good, but it was forty-five miles out of town. When we got there, the woman hummed the tune to Oh, My Father, then asked us of that song belonged to our church. She had never been baptized, but when she was a little girl, her nanny was member, and would sing that song as a lullaby. For forty years she had had the words to our hymn running through her head.

    Comment by Mark IV — May 14, 2008 @ 8:01 am

  15. #14 – Mark, that is incredible – absolutely amazing.

    Comment by Ray — May 14, 2008 @ 8:03 am

  16. Mark IV, were you a journal-keeper as a missionary? I would dearly love to have a copy of that day’s entry, even if it doesn’t record as much detail as you tell here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 14, 2008 @ 9:05 am

  17. Ardis,I just happened to discover your blog. I’m impressed. I love all of your stories, but I especially like the women’s stories. I look forward to reading more of them.

    Comment by Maurine — May 15, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

  18. Thanks, Maurine. For a struggling new blog, your encouragement really matters.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 16, 2008 @ 4:26 am

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