Martha Jane Knowlton Coray (1821-1881) was an early convert to the Church, a member of the Nauvoo Relief Society, and the woman who took dictation from and helped Lucy Mack Smith write her History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother. She and her husband Howard Coray emigrated to Salt Lake City, then moved on to Provo, where Martha became the first woman to serve on the board of trustees of Brigham Young University. She was a mother, a teacher, a student of natural medicine, an advocate for women, and many, many other admirable roles.
One of her daughters, Harriet Virginia Coray (1846-1872) married Wilson H. Dusenberry, one of the brothers who operated the school that eventually became BYU, and who was also mayor of Provo. Harriet – called “Hattie” – died shortly after delivering her fourth child, a girl who died soon after birth, named for her mother. I don’t know the circumstances of Hattie’s death beyond its connection with childbirth, although the following letter suggests incompetence by her midwife – if any reader knows more of the circumstances, please share that.
Martha responded to the condolences of Brigham Young regarding Hattie’s death, with a note that channeled her own sorrow into a request that other young mothers be spared Hattie’s suffering by providing for the professional training and examination of midwives:
Prest B. Young
I thank you for your interest [in] my dear Hattie and as I have daughters and so have many others lik[e]ly to suffer in the same way by an ignorant attendant I ask you to reestablish the council of health and for the sake of suffering Mothers cause some women to be qualified for accoucheurers who shall if they practice be required to answer correctly questions which shall prove their ability. I think there is few such so women die daily and children are made motherless. I firmly believe that a class of students, women, suited in mind and temper to the calling should be established in every settlement
Your sister with deep regard for yourself and office
Mrs M J Coray