Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball (1818-1898) is remembered chiefly as the generous young woman whose idea to sew shirts for men building the Nauvoo Temple led to the formation of the Relief Society.
Sarah’s family joined the Church when she was in her early teens; as a 15-year-old, she was one of the few women invited to study at the School of the Prophets in Kirtland. After emigrating to Deseret, she served as a ward Relief Society president for forty years, was for many years secretary on the General Relief Society board under Eliza R. Snow, and was the first president of the Utah Woman Suffrage Association.
She also played a role in the preservation of an important relic of Church history. In her own words:
Salt Lake City, 19th July, 1884
Mr. George Reynolds.
In response to your note asking me how I came in possession of the [Book of Mormon] manuscript, from Mr. [Lewis] Bidaman [Emma Smith’s second husband], now in the hands of President Joseph F. Smith, I will say:
Last year I visited friends in the States of New York, Ohio, Michigan, and the northern part of Illinois. On my way home I went down from Burlington to see the old landmarks in and around Nauvoo. I arrived there on the 7th of September. After visiting what was once our family home, and the place where the beautiful Nauvoo Temple once stood, I rode through Parley, Mulholland and Main streets, and felt like weeping over the desolation.
I asked the lady friend with whom I was riding to call with me on Mr. Bidaman, a former acquaintance; after learning where I was from, he recognized me and seemed pleased. We talked a little of times that were, and of persons gone. He made inquiries about Salt Lake City and its inhabitants. I referred to his home which is a temporary four-room building on the southwest corner of the foundation laid for the Nauvoo House. I asked why the heavy and extensive foundations around him were being torn up. He replied, that he had bought the premises, and the rock was torn up to sell, as he was poor and otherwise would not have been able to build.
I said, I am interested in this foundation because I remember there were treasures deposited under the chief corner-stone. He said, yes, I took up the stone box and sold it to Mr. — (I do not remember the name.) It had been so long exposed to the wet and weather that its contents were nearly ruined. I gave the coin to Joe (Joseph [III]) and told him he could have the pile of paper. He said it was the manuscript of the Book of Mormon; but it was so much injured that he did not care for it.
While we were talking Mr. Bidaman’s wife brought a large pasteboard box and placed it on my lap. It contained a stack of faded and fast decaying paper. The bottom layers for several inches were uniform in size. They seemed to me larger than common foolscap. The paper was coarse in texture, and had the appearance of having lain a long time in water, as the ink seemed almost entirely soaked into the paper. When I handled it, it would fall to pieces. I could only read a few words here and there, just enough to learn that it was the language of the Book of Mormon.
Above this were some sheets of finer texture folded and sewed together. This was better preserved and more easily read. I held it up and said, “Mr. B., how much for this relic?” He said, “Nothing from you; you are welcome to anything you like from this box.” I appreciated the kindness, took the leaves that were folded and sewed together, also took two fragments of the Times and Seasons, published by Don Carlos Smith. I send with this a fragment dated January, 1840, for your acceptance, containing the pathetic lamentation of P.P. Pratt, while chained in prison.
SARAH M. KIMBALL