It’s been over half a year since the last biography in the Eminent Women series, so here’s a brief reintroduction to the project.
After the St. George Temple was dedicated in 1877 and proxy endowments were done for the first time, Apostle Wilford Woodruff had a dream or vision about the Founding Fathers and learned that they wanted him to do their temple work.
He did their temple work with the help of the members of the church in St. George and surrounding communities. As part of the project he also compiled a list of some of George Washington’s ancestors and about fifty eminent men of the world. To compile the list of the eminent men, he used a two-volume work called The Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America.1 In the process of doing this project, it seems that his mother-in-law Lucy Bigelow Young suggested extending the project to include women. She may have been the one who compiled a list of work to be done for the women in the Washington family and as many of the wives of the eminent men as were mentioned in The Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America.2 Lucy Young also included some of her deceased family members, favorite literary figures such as Jane Austen, and a few others.
I had been interested for years in compiling biographies of the women whose temple work was done, but at some point realized the more interesting story was about the women who found themselves in Washington County, Utah, in 1877, working in the new temple.
Except for Lucy Bigelow Young and a few well-known Utah names such as Eyring, Snow, and Leavitt, most of the women are relatively or entirely unknown. Compiling their stories takes a surprising amount of effort, painstakingly piecing together clues from a variety of sources, but it has been a fascinating and rewarding adventure, and I find new insights into Utah history or Mormon culture or genealogical research with each story.3
So far the Eminent Women series has included stories of polygamy, hidden treasure, Italian revolutionaries, royalty, slavery, immigration, poverty, starvation, foreign missions, touching hospitality and generosity, frontier medicine, a woman who took her two young children with Zion’s Camp in 1834, and there are many more stories to come. As of today, I have 21 biographies done, with 132 to go.
Today I will present the story of an English emigrant, Jennett Potter Oxborrow, a woman who could have come straight out of a Dickens novel. Jennett and her husband found time and time again that generosity and hospitality and life can be complicated experiences. Jennett did the temple work for the woman sometimes called George Washington’s first love, British loyalist Mary Philipse Morris.
(Extra post) The Sylvesters: The Fire and Light Was Always Free
(Extra post) Behind the Scenes at the Eminent Women Project
- To be precise, it was called Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America. Embracing History, Statesmanship, Naval and Military Life, Philosophy, The Drama, Science, Literature and Art. With Biographies. The author was Evert A. Duyckinck. [↩]
- I have not yet figured out the source or sources for the members of the Washington family since biographies of Washington were popular in the 19th century and there were many of them available in the Territory — see the catalog of John M. Bernhisel’s Territorial Library for examples — but one possibility is Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington. [↩]
- “I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it.” (Pablo Picasso) [↩]