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A Day in the Life of a Sister Missionary in London, 1852

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 19, 2008

Often the first calling of a 19th century convert in Britain was as a local missionary. Women filled such roles as well as men – Johanna Tippett Porter and her mother were two such early sister missionaries on the Isle of Wight. In contrast to the numerous personal writings and periodicals chronicling the work of “elders from Zion” working in European countries, we seem to have few primary records and know precious little about the activities of local missionaries. The only study that springs to my mind is Polly Aird, “Without Purse or Scrip in Scotland,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39:2 (Summer 2006), 46-69 (download .pdf); if anyone else can suggest other studies, please comment.

Elizabeth Jefford Drake (Ballam Davis Roundy) (1830-1916) was a 21-year-old unmarried woman when she joined the Church in 1851. Soon after her baptism, she was called to be a “tract missionary” in London, working alone to distribute tracts that she purchased from her own pocket. This mission continued for three and a half years, during which time she was married (to a non-member) and began bearing children.

The following reminiscence was written in 1910, when Elizabeth was 80 years old, a long-time resident of Salt Lake City, disabled, and still an inveterate missionary who subscribed to church publications and sent them to acquaintances at home and abroad. Her story:

“While living in Holloway, London, in 1852, I left a tract at the residence of the Rev. Robert Mckenzie, the Vicar of Holloway Church. When I went the next week to exchange it, the servant told me the master wanted to see me in his library. I went to the room indicated by the servant, when I saw before me three ministers of the Episcopalian Church. One of them, the Rev. Charles McGuire, the great anti-Catholic Lecturer, the other the Rev. George Brooks, who had held discussion with Apostle John Taylor three nights. These two were visiting Mr. Mckenzie.

“As I entered, Mr. Mckenzie said, ‘Young woman, did you leave a tract with the nefarious doctrine of Joe Smith?’

“I said, ‘No, sir! I left a tract containing the principles of life and salvation as revealed by the Lord and His Son Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, the Prophet.’

“He answered in a most contemptible manner, ‘Joe Smith, the horse thief, the money digger.’

“I said, ‘Did you ever know him? I am glad to find someone who really knew him.’

“Mckenzie said, ‘I did not know him.’

“Then, I said, ‘how do you know he was a money digger or horse thief?’

“‘Why,’ he said, ‘everyone knows it; the papers all say so.’

“I replied, ‘Well, sir, if I presented myself in court as a witness in the DeLaRue murder case (that was then on trial), and if the judge asked me what I knew about the case and I answered, “I know Hocking killed DeLaRue,” and when asked if I was an eye witness, I would say, “No, sir, but everybody knows it; all the papers all say so,” would my testimony be taken in any civilized court?’

“The Rev. Charles McGuire said, ‘Her point is well taken, Brother Robert.’

“Mckenzie then asked, ‘Well, what are the principles you speak of?’

“I explained the first principles of the gospel.

“Young woman, it is false doctrine; baptism is not essential to salvation, for the thief on the cross with our Lord went straight to heaven with Jesus.’

“I said, ‘I beg pardon, sir, but according to the creed, the thief went straight to hell. Do you, sir, believe the Apostolic Creed?’ I then repeated, in part, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, begotten of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell and the third day He rose again and ascended into heaven,’ etc. ‘Now, sir, Jesus said, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise,” and according to your own creed He went to hell that day to preach to the spirits in prison, who were disobedient to the Lord in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared,’ and I said, ‘Jesus took the thief with Him that he might hear the gospel preached with the rest.’ I then quoted chapter and verse so that they could find it and read it for themselves.

“They were honest enough to say they had never seen that, or been cognizant of this statement in their creed until then.

“I told them they were some of those whom Isaiah spoke of when he said darkness would cover the whole earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. ‘But,’ I said, ‘as soon as the light of the Holy Spirit is received through obedience to the principles of the Gospel as revealed through Joseph Smith the Prophet, the eyes are opened and you can see that truth.’

“I was there in discussion with them three hours, and when I left the Rev. Charles McGuire walked to the door with me. He said, ‘You are very young in years to know the Lord as you do. I would give all I possess if I knew the Lord as you do with the assurance you have.’

“I answered, ‘Well, sir, the Lord is no respecter of persons. You can obtain the same light and knowledge and have more power with God.”

He asked, “How can I obtain it?’

“I said, ‘By giving up your so-called holy orders, humbling yourself as a little child, and entering into covenant with the Lord by being baptized by one commissioned of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, then having the hands of the elders laid upon your head that you may receive the Holy Ghost.’

“He bowed his head and said, ‘May the Lord bless you.’

“I never saw him after. I had many very interesting discussions with ministers of different denominations.

“It is fifty-nine years since I was baptized; the gospel is true and just as dear to me, and if possible more dear. The Lord has preserved me through all the troubles and trials I have been called to pass through, and he will preserve and bless all who live worthy, pay their tithes and offerings, and who will cultivate the faith that was once delivered to the saints.”



14 Comments »

  1. Smackdown at the Vicarage! You go, Girl!

    Comment by Mark B. — August 19, 2008 @ 7:53 am

  2. Ha! I wish I had thought of that as a title for this! Maybe I should change it?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 19, 2008 @ 8:53 am

  3. Fine by me. I haven’t got the copyright.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 19, 2008 @ 10:22 am

  4. I love this post! She was so excited about the gospel and so logical. Thanks.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — August 19, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

  5. Ah! Can you update a certain encyclopedia entry to reflect this awesome work?

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 19, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  6. As to information on Missionaries, I have been meaning to get a copy of Rex Price’s 1991 dissertation, “The Mormon Missionary of the Nineteenth Century.” I don’t know anything about it but I have wondered if it gets into this sort of stuff.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 19, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  7. Didn’t think of that, J.; will do.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 19, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

  8. My grandmother claimed she and her companion were the first sister missionaries to what was then (1932?) the European Mission, which included England. I always viewed her claim with a mixture of “Wow, that’s cool!” and “Are you sure?” It is good to know the Church wasn’t as sexist as her claim made it appear.

    Comment by BruceC — August 19, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  9. Re: 5 & 7

    Don’t be so coy, folks. What encyclopedia entry?

    Comment by Mark B. — August 19, 2008 @ 3:49 pm

  10. :) Paul Reeve and I are editing an encyclopedia of Mormon history for ABC-Clio; J. wrote a lengthy history of missionary work for us, among other entries.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 19, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

  11. Bruce, that is surely not the case. Shortly after the 1898 policy change to call women as regular ministers of the Gospel, Amanda Inez Knight and Lucy Jane Brimhall were called to the British mission. Sisters made up a sizable portion of the early twentieth century proselytizing force.

    Of course, note that missionary wives frequently labored in the missions with their husbands since the 1830’s.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 19, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  12. I LOVE this story!

    Comment by m&m — August 19, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  13. Ardis, have I told you lately that you are my hero? If so, I won’t repeat it here.

    Comment by Ray — August 19, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

  14. BTW, I can see my paternal grandmother acting exactly like Sister Drake. I had to chuckle in appreciation and admiration at her lack of guile and direct manner.

    Comment by Ray — August 19, 2008 @ 10:37 pm

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