Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “A Work for Them to Do”: The View from 1910

“A Work for Them to Do”: The View from 1910

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 10, 2013

The first single sister missionaries were called in 1898, and soon many of the missions in the U.S. and Great Britain were experimenting with “lady missionaries,” assigning them as proselyters, mission office help, teachers, and musicians. Some mission presidents struggled to find effective uses for them, or even to appreciate their presence at all. Others quickly became enthusiastic due to their experiences with the first to serve.

German E. Ellsworth, president of the Northern States Mission, falls in the “enthusiastic” class. I like this 1910 letter not only for what it says about women in the mission field, but also its hint of what mission service might mean for a woman’s future utility to the Church.

Office of
Church of Jesus Christ of latter-Day Saints
German E. Ellsworth, President
Chicago, Illinois

May 18, 1910

Pres. Joseph F. Smith
Salt Lake City, Utah

Dear Pres. Smith: –

In visiting the three cities where our lady missionaries are working I have made a little study of their work from every side, and feel prepared to say that it is good, and their conduct in every way has indeed been an example and their power felt for good. The number of real friends that our sisters have, and the quality of the same, equals that of the elders, and I feel that they are a real factor in reaching intelligent people. Some of our best converts the past year attribute their conversion to the influence of the lady missionaries.

If it meets with your approval, I should like to have four or five more pair for different cities where we have small branches of the church. Cities like Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Evansville and Joliet. In order to give those in the office a change, I should like two or three of these to have a knowledge of office work.

While at home, a number of our sisters asked for the privilege of coming out on a mission, and among those who asked, especially, was [names of two sisters and their circumstances].

Our sisters report such good treatment and exert such a splendid influence wherever they go that I am convinced that there is a work for them to do in the mission field, and a work that will prepare them for wider activities at home. We have had no trouble whatever with one of them in obeying the mission rules. They have every one been obedient and attended strictly to their work.

Ever praying for the welfare of Zion and her noble leader, I am,

Humbly, your brother,




  1. Having been a ward mission leader something like five (5) different times in the 39 years since I returned from my own mission, I have a definite preference for sister missionaries serving in whatever ward I happen to be in. I just find them more effective and more loving toward the investigators.

    Comment by bfwebster — October 10, 2013 @ 8:16 am

  2. Just seen in the Box Elder News (1917):

    “The sermons preached by five returned lady missionaries at the Tabernacle last Sunday, very pointedly illustrated the fact that the male members of the church have no monopoly on the gift of public speaking nor the ability to interest an audience. Each address was a gem in and of itself and the five taken together, made up one of the most interesting meetings that have been held in the Tabernacle in a long time.

    “The speakers were Florence Watkins, just returned from the Eastern States mission, May Davis, Laura Mathias, Edna Stohl and Ella B. Valentine. The remarks included missionary experiences, doctrinal discussions and each ended with a stirring testimony as to the divinity of the gospel…That the people were interested in what was going to take place, was evidenced by the increased number in attendance and no one went away dissatisfied.”

    Comment by Amy T — October 10, 2013 @ 10:50 am

  3. Loved your quick little intro, Ardis, giving good context to the letter.

    And what a great addition to the post, Amy T.

    It’s so fun (and funny) to read the surprised tone of these writers upon their realization that the “lady missionaries” are just as effective as the elders.

    Comment by David Y. — October 10, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

  4. During our summer trip back East this year, my family visited Church history sites on the way home and I was very impressed by the sister missionaries we met. Also, when my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was (unbeknownst to me at the time) reading the Book of Mormon and beginning to investigate the Church, a sister missionary at the LA Temple visitor’s center showed us the exact videos she needed to see to help her in her investigation. I will be eternally grateful to this sister for the help she gave in moving my wife toward accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Chris M. — October 10, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

  5. I’m certainly glad you discovered Keepapitchinin, Chris, and have become a Keepa’ninny. Your contributions to various recent threads is much appreciated.

    Your comment could be a post in itself, Amy, thanks. And thanks, bfwebster and David for your comments, too. I’m in agreement with the many people who expect/hope to see marvelously improved and increased participation to both the formal Church and the world in general by the explosion in numbers of sister missionaries.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 10, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

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