Christina Olsen was a Norwegian convert to the Church who emigrated to Zion before the arrival of the railroad. She was in her early 30s when she married the legendary Orrin Porter Rockwell, a man more than 20 years older than she was. Christina began her short married life by dividing her time between an isolated ranch in Rush Valley, Tooele County, and a home in Salt Lake City.
Rockwell had been widowed shortly before his marriage to Christina, and Christina probably helped to raise some of the young children of the earlier wife, in addition to her own children.
We have a glimpse into the domestic life of the Rockwell household in a letter written by a casual acquaintance many years later:
“My last visible picture of [Rockwell] is that of a wiry oldish man, ‘teeterin’ his youngest grandchild [actually, his own young son Stephen] on the toe of his boot, while other devoted youngsters huddled around his big rocker, then cuddling and patting them with utmost impartiality in the big dining room.”
Christina regularly attended Salt Lake City’s 14th Ward Relief Society. The minutes note steady contributions made by Christina to the charitable efforts of the Relief Society – 25 cents one month, 95 cents another month, some carpet rags another time.
The Rockwell home was designated by the 14th Ward as part of “block 5” for purposes of visiting teaching. The ward kept very detailed records of the visits made. “Block 5” was consistently overlooked by the visiting teachers:
In July 1872, the assigned teacher “wished to be excused because she was not at home the previous month.” During that previous month, Christina’s first child had been born and died.
In June 1873, Christina’s teacher had not done her visiting, and so had not called on Christina and her newborn daughter Elizabeth.
Christina had a difficult time during 1878 and 1879, and perhaps would have welcomed the aid of the Relief Society in June 1878 when her husband died; in October 1878 when the widow gave birth to Ida, her last child; and in November 1879 when her four-year-old son Stephen died. Yet month after month, the sister assigned to visit Christina’s block neglected to do her visiting teaching.
Christina devoted her life during the 1880s to raising her two surviving children. She had a home and some income from her husband’s estate, but she had to defend her right to that estate through constant lawsuits. Porter Rockwell had had two families before marrying Christina, and some of her stepchildren were older than she was. Some of those stepchildren were impatient to draw on their father’s estate, and Christina found herself pushed into negotiations that left her with less and less security. These negotiations must have been very difficult for her, perhaps increased by language difficulties, because as her daughters grew up they became Christina’s chief spokesmen in legal matters.
By the 1890s, Christina found herself with more time to devote to the Relief Society, and she became a visiting teacher herself. Her reports in the monthly teachers’ meetings were considerably different from those of the sister who should have been visiting Christina during the 1870s: Month after month, Christina reported her visiting teaching as having been faithfully completed. She reported charitable donations received from the sisters, and occasionally named one sister or another who needed help.
In addition to her regularly assigned block, Christina also took responsibility for all the Scandinavian sisters in the ward, calling on them and reporting their welfare to the Relief Society.
Month after month, year after year, ward records note Christina’s steady attendance to her assignment. They also provide evidence that her visits were more than mechanical completion of a duty: not only are the needs of individual sisters noticed and taken care of, but on the rare occasions when Christina was away from home, she arranged for a substitute to visit in her stead.
The public is understandably fascinated by the exploits of Christina’s famous husband, while Christina’s quiet, homely service is easily overlooked. But when the records – on earth and in heaven – are opened, Christina and many another faithful sister will be remembered and honored.
This appeared on Times and Seasons in October 2006.