Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Eminent Women: Christiane von Goethe and Roseinia Sylvester Jarvis: Part 2

Eminent Women: Christiane von Goethe and Roseinia Sylvester Jarvis: Part 2

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - February 21, 2012

One of James Sylvester’s dreams in life was to live in a warm climate. He and his young family left Sheffield, England, after joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and settled in Springville, Utah.

Late in the fall of 1861, James and Rebecca Sylvester and their children headed south. James and Rebecca planned to settle near their married daughter, Mary Birch, but during a temporary stop in Gunnison, the Apostle Orson Hyde asked them to stay and help build the settlement. They remained in Gunnison through severe floods and through the dangers of the Black Hawk War, but they still wanted to move south, so after a brief detour to Nephi, they headed south once again in 1868.

The Sylvesters settled in Bellevue, a place that might now be known as a “truck stop.” [1] Bellevue was halfway between Cedar City and St. George, a days’ journey from each settlement. As travelers travelled south from Cedar City or north from St. George, they could stop in Bellevue and stay overnight in a hotel run by Mary Ware Gates, a wife of Jacob Gates, one of the Presidents of the Seventy. One of the younger Sylvester children, Roseinia, recalled:

In winter time our house was seldom free from company, for it was always open to the poor who could not go to the Hotel next door, who refused shelter to all who could not pay, so we used to say that the Hotel Keeper took the money while father took the gratatude [sic] and blessings of the people, but some paid so we managed to live and was loved and respected by all. Some times, after many years men have called at our door and said “Mrs. Sylvester I called here when I was broke and hungry and you fed and warmed me and now I wish to pay you for it,” [M]other would have forgotten the circumstance, but they did not[. T]he fire and light was always free. If people had their own provision they were all right, if not, that too, was furnished.

When she was 13, Roseinia went to live with Mrs. Gates, who had several young children and was in poor health. “Roseinia (or Rose as she was usually called by her family and friends) was put to cooking and house work, and great pains she took to have everything just right, as her cooking was criticised [sic] by every member of the family from the Father down to the youngest child.”

Rose learned household skills from Mrs. Gates, but she also had many outside chores including feeding and watering four or five cows, and feeding the calves, pigs and chickens. It “was fine out-door exercise and she grew up strong and healthy. In fact, the roses in her cheeks were so perfect that she was accused of painting them, which greatly annoyed her.”

Brigham Young, Erastus Snow, and other church travelers stayed in the Gates Hotel on their way to and from St. George, and Rose always enjoyed the visits.

With few cultural opportunities, the musical Sylvester family provided their own entertainment. Rose’s father played several instruments, and he made a “dummy organ,” which he and Rose used to practice their fingering until they were able to get a real organ. When traveling musicians stayed with the Sylvesters, they would all enjoy a musical evening together.

Bellevue was too small to have a proper school. One day Rose was visiting with a church member from St. George who had come to Bellevue to plaster her sister’s house. When she mentioned her desire for an education beyond that which her parents could provide, the plasterer, English immigrant George Frederick Jarvis, invited Rose to spend the winter at his home in St. George. She took him up on the offer and became close friends with his wife, Eleanor Cannon Woodbury Jarvis, a niece of George Q. Cannon. Afterwards she returned to Bellevue to teach school.

The dedication of the St. George Temple several years later must have been a complex and emotional time for Rose, Eleanor, and George, since Eleanor had agreed to have George enter into plural marriage with Rose. George and Rose were married the first day that ordinances were performed in the temple. Rose was 19 years old, George was 29, Eleanor was 22, and George and Eleanor had two small children.

When the women of St. George gathered at the temple later that year to help Wilford Woodruff do the work for some Eminent Women of the world, they were able to get a good part of the work done, but a few days later Wilford Woodruff received word of Brigham Young’s death in Salt Lake City and he left to attend the funeral. The project was continued on February 20, 1878, and Rose Jarvis was one of the sisters who gathered in the temple to finish the work for the Eminent Women. She did the endowment for Christiane von Goethe.

Within three years of Rose’s marriage, when it must have been clear that she would not be able to have children, Eleanor named her third son Clarence Sylvester Jarvis, the middle name in honor of Rose’s family. The oldest Jarvis daughter, Ella, noted that Rose’s inability to have children was “a constant sorrow and regret to her, yet it did not deter her or keep her from doing for and showing to others that she was able to take a ‘mother’s’ part to others in need of such care, and she is remembered for her great love and kindness in this regard.” Eleanor later named her youngest daughter “Rose.”

The two wives lived in the same household for several years and got along well. Eleanor was a charming, friendly woman, and Rose was generous and easy-going. Since Eleanor suffered from a severe heart ailment, Rose “took a mother’s part to Eleanor’s children, and they looked upon her as a ‘Second Mother.’” When the children played their imaginary games, the characters in the play would include father, mother, and Aunt Rose.

Rose continued to attend school after her marriage. After several years, she became a teacher. She was very proud of her teaching certificate signed by Karl Maeser, James Talmage, and Joseph M. Tanner. Rose Jarvis taught an entire generation of schoolchildren in St. George and the surrounding communities.

Rose also served as President of the St. George Stake Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association for fifteen years. The St. George Stake encompassed a large area, and Rose traveled for weeks at a time to visit the different settlements. “During these visits, she met many young people who became very much attached to her, and often the young women…when coming to the Temple to be married, would stay with her at her home and she would accompany them to the Temple, which they appreciated very much.”

Rose lived through a number of great tragedies: the death of many of her siblings at a young age; the diphtheria that struck the Jarvis children and took one of them in 1881, just weeks after the death of George’s young brother Willie, struck by lightning on the steps of the St. George Tabernacle; and notably the 1884 murder of her sister Lovinia’s husband, William Shanks Berry, during his mission in the Southern States. His death at Cane Creek, Tennessee, was a great shock to the Sylvester family and the entire community.

When George was called on a mission to England in 1888, his wives were quite concerned about his absence. Catherine Cottam Romney assured Eleanor: “I do firmly believe that you will be abundantly blessed while George is away, that your health will improve, that Rosa and the children will enjoy good health, and that ways and means will be opened up, that together with your united industry and frugality will enable you to live quite comfortably.” [2]

While George was gone, Eleanor’s health took a sudden turn for the worse. A friend wrote a letter to Wilford Woodruff and requested that George be sent home. George had just started to see some success among his family members in London when he received a telegram that he was released as a missionary and should return home immediately. It was a great shock to him, and the shock was compounded when federal marshals arrested him under the provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act against polygamy. He suffered what his niece called a complete nervous breakdown. He may have had a series of strokes, and almost lost his sight.

George was too ill to travel to court in Beaver, but the marshals had subpoenaed Rose and two Jarvis children, Orin and Ella, and they traveled the hundred miles to court. Ella wrote:

My brother Orin, a lad of twelve years of age, and inexperienced at driving a team acted as teamster, driving a pair of young animals fresh from the Range, and with Aunt Rose’s Assistance at driving, we finally arrived in Beaver, after many exciting experiences. Once can imagine the chagrin and embarrassment of appearing before a room full of men—the Grand Jury, who quizzed and questioned all sorts of “flings” at her as well as to each of us in turn but alone in the room with the Jury. It was surely a very trying time, and we all tried to forget it as much as possible, but the memories are still as fresh in my mind now as it was then at that time.

George had to travel to court a year or two later. He was released with a fifty dollar fine after telling the court that Rose had lived in a separate home, but while he was in England, she had moved back into the family home to tend to Eleanor:

…during my absence my place as protector and provider for my sick wife and her little ones had been filled by this other noble woman whom I married with the full consent of my first wife….Never have I known of a cross word between the real and the foster mother. She had done as much for my children as any mother could, and in return has received a mother’s love. On my return she again took up her lonely abode, that we might show in truth that our religion teaches to honor, obey and sustain the laws of the land. This was doubly hard at the time, for the mother of my children had been bedfast many months, and for several weeks her life was despaired of. Together and in turns we watched beside the sick bed day and night, and when finally the mother’s health returned, my strength gave way, and for months this noble pair nursed me night and day. This palsied hand is the remnant of that illness, but rather than forsake the wife so true to me I’d willingly lose my other hand. Yes, Judge, she was and is my wife, beloved by me and mine. If renouncing her is the price of keeping me from jail, I am ready to be sentenced. But first remember that we both respect the law and for the past four years have wrung our hearts to live it. [3]

George’s illness lasted for several years. His mother noted almost two years after he was stricken, “Some of the friends and relatives of George are fasting and praying for George to be healed.” His niece wrote later, “He was taken to the Temple and there administered to, and tho’ he went in with his eyes bandaged, he came out without, being able to bear the light and from that time began to recover.” George’s mother noted, “I always [am] so thankful to my Heavenly Father that he has healed him.” [4]

After George recovered, he served as bishop of one of the St. George Wards. The family continued their financial struggle due to George and Eleanor’s long illnesses, and Rose was able to support herself and sometimes the entire family with her schoolteacher’s salary.

Rose later became ill with Addison’s disease and had to give up teaching. [5] She spent most of her final years doing genealogical research, writing histories of her family, and serving as an ordinance worker at the temple. Her health suddenly worsened, and she died on January 1, 1913, just 55 years old. [6] Her obituary noted that she was “a faithful and consistent Latter-day Saint and died in full hope of a glorious resurrection.”


[1] Bellevue was also written as Bellevue, Bellview, and Belview. The correct spelling became irrelevant when the United States Post Office contacted the community in 1925 and requested a different name, one that was not so common. The few remaining families in the settlement chose the name Pintura, Spanish for “painting,” a nod to the multi-colored hills surrounding the community.

[2] Eleanor corresponded for years with Catharine Romney, a wife of Miles Park Romney. The book Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife is rich with details about their lives and families. In her letters, Catherine always sent kind greetings to Rose.

[3] This account was by his son Orin W. Jarvis.

[4] George’s mother, Ann Prior Jarvis, kept a diary from 1884-1899. It is a valuable record of life in St. George, Utah.

[5] Addison’s disease is a disorder of the adrenal glands, which are hormone-secreting organs located on the kidneys. Addison’s disease tends to develop slowly. Symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, darkening of the skin, low blood sugar, and low blood pressure. As the disease progresses, there can be intense pain in the lower back or legs, severe vomiting and dehydration, and loss of consciousness. Doctors now treat the disease with steroids, but in 1908 St. George, the medical options were limited.

[6] Early 1913 was a difficult time for George Jarvis. He was already suffering from diabetes, and just days after he attended Rose’s deathbed, his beloved elderly father, George Jarvis, died, followed four days later by his mother, Ann Prior Jarvis. George died six years to the day after Rose died, and Eleanor lived fifteen years after that. In her later years, Eleanor lived in the home of her daughter, Rose Jarvis Thompson, who, in a quirk of fate, also had not been able to have children of her own.



  1. I’ve said this before, but you are doing the Lord’s work. Very interesting write-up…and a temple healing!

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 21, 2012 @ 8:00 am

  2. Pintura, Utah! Who’d have imagined such a place? I’ve driven past it dozens of times and never even noticed it–but a quick glance at Google Maps shows that it would be easy to miss. (But Street View shows that the exit sign indeed reads “Pintura.”)

    Those folks in St. George loved to pass their names along. Eleanor Jarvis had a daughter Eleanor who herself had a daughter Eleanor who is my personal connection to this story–she was widowed very young, and in her early 50s married my widowed grandfather.

    I suppose that means I’m just four degrees of separation from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe–but none of the poetry made it this far.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 21, 2012 @ 8:13 am

  3. Thanks, J. The gift of healing was very important to the Jarvis family, and they have many stories about that which I could not include here. (The post was already much too long!)

    Rose Jarvis is the only one of the Eminent Women to whom I have a family connection, since I am descended from one of George Frederick’s sisters. Unlike some of the other Eminent Women posts, this was a case of having too much information, rather than too little.

    Mark B., I forgot you also had a connection to this family. Eleanor Jarvis Seegmiller went by the name “Ella” — she was the daughter who accompanied Rose to court in Beaver.

    Comment by Amy T — February 21, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  4. I love reading biographies – short or long! It was also fun to realize a small connection as my great-great-grandfather’s brother, John H. Gibbs, was also killed with William Berry at the Cane Creek Massacre.

    Comment by Chocolate on my Cranium — February 21, 2012 @ 11:45 am

  5. Wonderful reading.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — February 21, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

  6. Thanks, all, for your kind comments on these posts. Learning about the lives of all these women is an endlessly fascinating project, and the inter-connectedness that ComC mentions is one of the very interesting parts of history.

    Comment by Amy T — February 22, 2012 @ 5:12 am

  7. fascinating account, thank you.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — February 22, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

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