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Eminent Women: Isabell Hill Romney Platt and Charlotte Lengefeld von Schiller

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - April 16, 2012

When newlyweds Miles Park Romney and Hannah Hood Hill Romney said goodbye to each other as Miles left on a mission to England, they didn’t know that Hannah was expecting their first child, and they didn’t know that that child, Isabell, would be three years old before she first met her father.

When Miles left, Hannah moved into the home of her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Romney Taylor, whose husband was also serving a mission. Elizabeth was also expecting a child. The two women gave birth two weeks apart: Annabel Romney Taylor was born on February 18, and Isabell Hill Romney was born on March 3, 1863. Isabell was named for her grandmother Isabell Hood Hill, a Scottish-Canadian convert who had died at Winter Quarters.

It was not an easy life for the two young mothers. Hannah noted: “I had to work very hard to earn what little money I got. I would wash all day from sunup to sundown for a dollar. Missionaries’ wives had to work very hard to support themselves in those days.”

Shortly after Isabell turned one, she and her mother moved into the home of Hannah’s father, Archibald Newell Hill. Hannah wrote:

My husband arrived home on the 28th of October, 1865, being gone three years and a half. I can assure you that was a happy meeting. When our little daughter was put on his knee he could hardly realize he was the father of a child so large. He was very proud of her and she wanted to go with him wherever he went.

Hannah and Miles Park Romney established a happy, hardworking home, enjoying each others’ company, sorrowing over the loss of their second daughter, until Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young requested that Miles take a second wife. He did, and thus began a period of deep hardship for the family. Hannah wrote years later that the second wife, Caroline Lambourne, “was quite a pretty woman but had a temper. She was very jealous of me. She wanted all my husband’s attention. When she couldn’t get it there was always a fuss in the house. He, being a just man, didn’t give way to her tantrums. We lived that kind of a life until her second baby was born, a girl. I took care of her and her children and did all I could to keep peace in the family, but she was not satisfied. She finally went to President Brigham Young and asked him to send her to her parents in Salt Lake which he did.”

The family had moved south to help colonize St. George, experiencing all the hunger and hard work of life there.

In 1873, Isabell served as chaperone when her father travelled to Salt Lake City with Catharine Cottam, so the two could be sealed in the Salt Lake Endowment House. Hannah, meanwhile, was at home, pregnant, stressed, trying to make all the arrangements to welcome another wife into the family. “I had such a hard time with his other wife that I feared I would have the same kind of trial again, but when I came to live with Sister [Catharine] it was quite different. She was considerate of my feelings and good to the children.”

Miles Park Romney was called on another mission, and returned home about the time the St. George Temple was dedicated. Isabell, now fourteen years old, went to the temple to receive her endowment two months after the temple opened. Several months later she helped Wilford Woodruff and the women of St. George do the temple work for the Eminent Women. Isabell did the work for Charlotte von Schiller, the wife of the great German writer, Friedrich Schiller.

Just as the Romneys were getting established in St. George, they were called on a mission to help settle the Little Colorado River area of Arizona. They moved to the town of St. Johns. The Romneys lived in crowded conditions while they were finding work and building homes from lumber which they had to haul forty or fifty miles from the White Mountains. The home became even more crowded when young Will Platt, the mail driver, began boarding with the Romneys. Will and Isabell had probably known each other in St. George, but they had a chance to get to know each other even better in St. Johns and Nutrioso, a small town in the White Mountains, where they both lived and worked for a time, Will on the ranch, and Isabell milking the cows and taking in sewing and laundry.

In the spring of 1882 Isabell was staying with her mother in Nutrioso when her father, a lawyer, left for St. Johns to represent someone at court. Miles had not been gone long when Hannah miscarried twins at three months and almost bled to death. She later wrote:

I told Isabel not to let me go to sleep for I knew if I did I would not have strength enough to rally. Poor girl, she was nearly frantic, seeing her mother in such a condition and being unable to do anything for her. Finally, Isabel got a man to go after her father…As soon as the man told him of my condition he knelt down and prayed. He pled with the Lord to spare my life. He got a fresh horse and came to Nutrioso as fast as it would take him. When he got there I was still very low. I told him if he would administer to me I felt I would get well…Through his faith and the blessings of the Lord I was able to get up and take care of him and my dear children, with the assistance of my girls.

In October of that year, Isabell Romney and Will Platt left to travel what historian Will Barnes later called the Honeymoon Trail: the trip from the Little Colorado Settlements through the harsh desert to the St. George Temple. Will’s brother and sister-in-law, Henry and Angie Platt, went with them.

Isabell and Will were sealed in the St. George Temple on January 4, 1883. They spent some time in St. George before they returned to St. Johns with Henry and Angie, and Will’s parents, Henry and Almeda Platt, who were moving to St. Johns. The travelers arrived in St. Johns full of news about the family and friends they’d left behind in St. George. Isabell’s father’s second wife, Catharine Cottam Romney, wrote, “I nearly tired Angie and Isabell out, with asking questions the first two or three days.”

Isabell and Will settled into married life in St. Johns and began their family.

The Romneys and other polygamous Mormon families in the Little Colorado settlements suffered greatly due to the anti-Mormon faction in the area, having to spend months on the Underground hiding from federal marshals. Finally the church sent Miles Park Romney and some others to establish colonies in Mexico. Miles and his three wives and their unmarried children moved down to the area now called Colonia Juárez. It was the last that Isabell saw her family until 1899, when she took a trip to Mexico.

Isabell’s husband, Will, had not had an easy life. He was one of seven children, but by 1890, he and his sister Alice Platt Richey and their father Henry Platt were the only members of the family left alive. His brother, Henry, died in 1888, leaving Angie with five children, and his mother died in 1889. In addition, Will and Isabell had five children in the first years of their marriage, but they lost three of the children as infants or toddlers.

Combined with some natural talent in healing, these experiences with death may have helped form Will’s resolution to become a doctor.[1] A granddaughter noted that, “Will was interested in chemicals and got a job working in the drug store. He was very good at this and soon had people asking him for help with different ailments. St. John’s [sic] did not have a doctor at that time and Will and Isabelle [sic] felt there was a real need for a doctor.” Will took Isabell and their two surviving children and moved to Kansas City to attend medical school.[2]

After finishing medical school, the Platts returned to St. Johns, then moved south to Safford, Graham County. They must have hoped that life would be easier, but in the next few years, they experienced the deaths of their daughter Hannah, Will’s sister Alice, Isabell’s father, Miles Park Romney, Will’s father, Henry Platt, and their daughter, Maud Platt Wish.

Other than the many deaths and a bad house fire, life was pretty stable for the Platts. Will worked as the doctor in Safford and also sat on the boards of two local banks. He provided decades of medical care to the people of Graham County.

The Platts were active in the Church. Isabell served as president of the Layton Ward Young Ladies M.I.A. The surviving Platt children attended school and started to marry and raise their own children. Isabell’s mother lived nearby for a while after leaving Mexico.

In 1919, Isabell suddenly became ill and died. The Graham Guardian noted on its front page:

Mrs. Isabell Romney Platt, aged 56 years, beloved wife of Dr. W. E. Platt, died Sunday, June 8, 1919.… Her death came as a great shock to the entire community. Her illness lasted only a few days and it was hard to realize that she had been sick. She will be deeply mourned by many who have known her as a good friend and neighbor. She was a devoted mother and loving wife, her whole life being wrapped up in her family. She was a true and faithful member of her church: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them…” [3]

* * *

Isabell Hill Romney was fourteen years old when she went with the women of St. George to work at the temple. She performed the proxy endowment for Charlotte von Schiller, geb. Lengefeld.

Charlotte became part of the famous literary circles at the court of Weimar at a fairly young age. When she first met Friedrich von Schiller, he was a penniless, young poet and playwright. It would be years before he wrote his best-known work, “Ode to Joy,” the lyric poem used in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Friedrich and Charlotte married in 1790, after a courtship memorialized in letters and poems. Early in their courtship, Charlotte wrote, “And when I think of it all, now that I know you love me, with your knowing I love you, with our souls closely woven into each other forever—then I feel at peace, and look serenely into the future…”

Charlotte is frequently remembered mainly for her cruelty to Christiane Vulpius, Goethe’s long-time mistress and wife, but her life was much more complex than that single relationship. The women of the Weimar literary circles were discouraged from literary endeavors—Goethe is said to have dismissed their efforts at writing poetry as “harlotry” (Frauenzimmerlichkeiten). Although none of Charlotte’s works were published during her lifetime, she left an extensive collection of letters, poems, ballads, short stories, and sketches for novels. Her letters were published after her death, and scholars have recently given her writings more attention.

Charlotte and Friedrich had four children: Karl Ludwig Friedrich, Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm, Karoline Luise Friederike, and Emilie Henriette Luise.

Friedrich von Schiller died in 1805, and Charlotte von Schiller died in 1826, survived by her four children.

__________
[1] W. E. Platt’s medical career is described in two journal articles, which I have not been able to read: A. D. Stevens, “William E. Platt, M.D.” Ariz. Med., 1969 Aug 1969, Vol. 26, No. 8:663-5; and M. Buchanan, “William E. Platt, M.D. Healer of the West,” Ariz. Cattlelog, July 1961, Vol. 17, 4-9. If anyone has a copy of these articles, probably available at the University of Arizona library, I would love to see them.

[2] The journal articles mentioned in the previous undoubtedly answer the question of where Will attended medical school. There were eight medical schools in Kansas City in the 1890s: Kansas City Homeopathic Medical, Kansas City Hospital College, Kansas City Medical College, Medical College of Kansas City, Medico Chirurgical College, University Medical College, Western College of Chiropractic, and the Western Eclectic College of Medicine and Surgery.

[3] After Isabell’s death, Will remarried a twice-divorced woman from California, Blanche Murdy Paul. Blanche took her three children with her to Safford, and she and Will had four children, including two daughters who died tragically in 1930 at ages three and five. Will and Blanche lived in Arizona until Will’s death in 1941.

The picture of Isabell Romney Platt is from Thomas Romney, Life Story of Miles Park Romney, 310.



8 Comments »

  1. I forgot to add the standard disclaimer about the church’s long-time policy of not doing temple work for famous people and other non-relatives, with very few exceptions.

    The history of Wilford Woodruff’s Founding Fathers and Eminent Men and Women temple work project has been discussed in previous Eminent Women posts. Previous posts are listed in the Topical Guide, which is linked in Keepa’s top left corner.

    Comment by Amy T — April 16, 2012 @ 7:55 am

  2. Thanks for that explicit reminder, Amy. Yesterday our bishop read again the recent letter from the First Presidency reiterating that policy. I would hope all of Keepa’s readers understands that your series recognizes the women of the St. George area who responded to a particular call issued in that time and place. We have a different assignment now.

    And I love reading about the lives of those St. George women who, at such considerable effort, considering the temple time involved (all day, not two hours) in a time and place where the work of survival was never quite done, as well as learning which historic women were considered “eminent” enough for this particular project. Thanks for all your work on this series!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 16, 2012 @ 8:08 am

  3. Thanks, Ardis.

    Some more notes…

    I think I said in the post about Rose Sylvester Jarvis that she was my only relative in the project. Somehow I forgot about Isabell Hill Romney Platt, who was a niece of my 3rd great-grandmother, Rebecca Hood Hill Pettit, and is named after my 4th great-grandmother, Isabell Hood Hill, the Scottish-Canadian convert who died at Winter Quarters.

    Hannah Hood Hill Romney left an autobiography. I wish there was a copy available online, because it is an amazing story.

    Another wonderful resource for this project was the book Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife (ed., Jennifer Moulton Hansen, 1992) which provides some detailed insights into the life of the Romney family. While working on this biography, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the author (Jennifer, not Catharine!), and she provided some additional resources and kind encouragement.

    Comment by Amy T — April 16, 2012 @ 8:14 am

  4. Another terrific entry in this series. Thanks Amy!

    But it would have been so much more interesting if you had been able to meet Catherine Cottam Romney while doing this research–now, that would have been a blog post to beat all blog posts.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 16, 2012 @ 8:45 am

  5. A day or two ago I requested a picture of Isabell’s grave marker on Find a Grave, and a kind local volunteer took a picture and put it online (here) and also provided pictures for Will’s grave marker, and for his second wife, Blanche.

    If you’re not familiar with Find a Grave, it’s a great resource. You can add information, stories and photos, request photos, and volunteer to provide photos for local graveyards.

    Comment by Amy T — April 16, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

  6. Genealogists are some of the kindest people I know, as a class — it’s as if volunteers like this have their hearts turned to everybody’s fathers and mothers, not just their own.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 16, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

  7. A few days ago, a distant cousin contacted me after googling my blog. He had found Hannah Hood Hill Romney’s photo album and wanted to post the pictures online to gather identifying information about the people in the pictures, many of whom are not identified.

    What a find! Of course I agreed to post the pictures.

    One of the first pictures he sent was an unidentified one- or two-year-old girl holding a little doll, and since I had just written this history of Isabell Romney Platt and was familiar with the circumstances of her early life, and since the picture was taken by Savage and Ottinger photography studio in Salt Lake City which operated from 1863 to 1872, and since it looked like Isabell, the second identification was made. (The first was a picture of her grandfather and uncle while they were serving missions in England.)

    Comment by Amy T — May 9, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  8. Sigh. I meant to add a link to the picture. Here.

    Comment by Amy T — May 9, 2012 @ 10:11 am

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