Of all the women whose stories have been told in these pages, Ora Johnson Dalton would probably be the most astonished to learn that her life could be honored as a model of faith. Her children would not be surprised, though – they had always been able to count on her.
Ora was born in Payson, Utah, in 1894, and married Patrick Dalton in 1917, in the Salt Lake Temple. The couple moved to Tucson, Arizona, where their first child was born, then moved to Salt Lake City where Ora would live the rest of her life. She became the mother of seven in rapid succession, although the last two, twins, died at birth in 1928.
Ora was widowed in 1939, her five living children still teenagers, and for the first time in her life Ora was forced to find paying employment to support her family. World War II came and went, and in 1946 her son Grant asked to serve a mission, among the first of his generation allowed to serve a full time mission rather than make himself available for military service. By then Grant was 21 and working to support his mother and younger brother. Ora agreed that he should serve as a missionary, and she returned to work in order to support him in the field.
Grant went to England and worked hard. In 1948, he and his companion contacted a gentleman who was willing to talk with them. One of the man’s first questions was “How much does your organization pay you for doing this work?” He could hardly believe that the missionaries received no pay, and that in Grant’s case his mother was working to pay his expenses. The man said sarcastically. “If I ever reach the United States, I’d like to call on your mother and find out just why a woman should work to support a man!”
Grant told the man he would save him the trouble and asked his mother to write a letter explaining why she was willing to support her missionary son.
Ora’s reply to the man’s question was this:
“It seems that you are in doubt that any woman would give her time, money and strength to keep a strong, healthy young man in the service of an unpopular church.
“I am very glad that you are interested enough to request an explanation from me.
“Loving our Heavenly Father, and willing to keep His commands, is it any wonder that we are more than willing to assist Him in the vast work of calling His children to repentance? Can you sincerely doubt that a mother, desiring to repay Him for His watchful care, would gladly give her time, money and strength to assist her son in carrying out the commandments of God?
“Yes, I am working, working gladly, with a song of praise to my Heavenly Father for the wonderful blessing He has given me of having a son worthy and capable of teaching the truths of the Restored gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the lands of England and Ireland.
“My son has been gone one year, the happiest and most prosperous year of our lives. His mission has strengthened his testimony of the Gospel, cemented the love of his brothers and sisters toward him, opened the doors of employment for me, and enabled me to send him the means necessary to pay his expenses two years in your land.
“Open your eyes and your ears. Let your heart be filled with the wondrous truths that the peace that comes only through the knowledge of truth may fill your heart and soul.
“May God bless you and quicken your understanding and help you to know of a surety that the things His Elders teach you are true.
Ora Johnson Dalton
(Elder Grant Dalton’s Mother)”
Impressed, the man did continue to investigate the Church; it is not known whether or not he was baptized.
Grant returned from his mission in 1948. He lived near his mother in Salt Lake, while the rest of Ora’s children scattered to surrounding states. Ora passed away in 1983.
17 Comments »
Comment by Ugly Mahana — 3/8/2007 @ 11:38 pm
That letter is extraordinary. Very moving.
Comment by J. Stapley — 3/9/2007 @ 1:11 am
J. Stapley is right, the letter is extraordinary, and so is she. However she is not uncommon. People like her can be found in every ward and branch in this church. That is the truly amazing thing.
Thanks once again, Ardis, for allowing the light of these unknown saints to shine.
Comment by Mark IV — 3/9/2007 @ 1:49 am
Comment by Edje — 3/9/2007 @ 1:55 am
A wonderful letter! As Mark IV says, she is one in an ever expanding host.
One question: how on earth do you dig up gems like this? (And God bless you to dig up many more!)
Comment by Mark B. — 3/9/2007 @ 11:29 am
Comment by Kevin Barney — 3/9/2007 @ 12:42 pm
Again, thank you!
I agree with Mark IV in #3 that another miracle is that this is common — which leads me to repeat a question: why do some people say that our beliefs are unscientific when the experiment yields the same results, conversion/a change of nature/the “mighty change of heart”, multitudinously in all cultures around the world ? ? ?
Comment by manaen — 3/9/2007 @ 2:27 pm
Thank you, all. We all probably do know somebody just like Ora — maybe some of us are Ora — and we usually don’t recognize anything extraordinary about such a life until it’s pointed out by being put in a frame like this.
Mark B., I have the sweetest little racket going. People actually pay me to read mountains of records, looking for the little pieces they need to complete their arguments or add sparkle to their articles. If they knew how much fun I had doing it, they’d probably charge me for the privilege! Along the way, I watch for gems like Ora’s letter, then do a little research to fill out the picture. In this case, you see it’s nothing more than what could be found in an obituary or in the minutes of a ward Relief Society. In other cases, it takes a lot more work. But Ora is so perfect in her simplicity and candor that she needed only the plainest frame to make us see her beauty.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 3/9/2007 @ 2:55 pm
Thanks for the warm glimpse of an individual’s experience in sacrifice for the faith.
Comment by smb — 3/9/2007 @ 5:56 pm
Hi, Ardis! It’s been a while.
Thank you for sharing the story of my grandmother\’s support for my father while he was on his mission. She truly was quite a woman.
I’m curious, though, to know where you found the letter. I thought the original was in our family\’s hands, and I’m wondering from what archive or repository you obtained it or a copy of it. Please email me through the Association for Mormon Letters if you feel you can\’t be that specific here.
AML executive secretary
Comment by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury — 4/22/2007 @ 6:31 pm
I’ve written to Kathleen directly, but there’s no reason not to reply here, too.
Sister Dalton’s letter was published in the Millennial Star soon after it was written — evidently Elder Dalton shared it with more than the man it was written to, and the Star staff recognized how effective it might be for a wider audience.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/22/2007 @ 7:37 pm
Thank you for the quick response, Ardis.
My sister came upon this posting while looking for articles my father had published in the MILLENIAL STAR while he was on his mission, but we had no idea that the letter had been published there as well.
To add a few details, my father went on his mission after WWII because he had served in the air force, training to be an aerial gunner, during the war.
My grandmother served a mission herself in the late 50s, after all of her children were grown and raising their own families. I remember being able to read her letters from her mission (she served in the Kansas/Missouri area, though I’m not certain what the mission was actually called at that time–guess I’ll have to look it up), even though she wrote in cursive and I was supposed to be too young to be able to read cursive.
When I was an adult, she told me a story from her mission that I think you all might enjoy.
She said she and her companion had gone to teach a woman and found that the woman had invited another woman to be present during the discussion. This woman apparently intended only to heckle, because she started out by asking my grandmother and her companion how they liked being “concubines.”
My grandmother asked the woman if she knew what a concubine was, and the woman made some remark about polygamy.
My grandmother then looked her right in the eye (she showed me the look, as she told me the story) and said, “A concubine was a woman given to a man ’till death do you part’.” Then she pointed to herself and said, “I was married to my husband for time and all eternity. I am a wife.” She pointed to the heckler. “You are a concubine.”
The woman was stunned into silence, and my grandmother and her companion went on to give their prepared lesson.
Comment by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury — 4/23/2007 @ 12:51 pm
A few more things about my grandmother.
She was a granddaughter to Benjamin Franklin Johnson, associate of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Her father, Heber Franklin Johnson, took his family to Mexico where they lived in the Mormon colonies a while, and then further south towards Chihuahua.
When Pancho Villa went on his anti-Gringo rampages, she and her family had to flee north and had a narrow escape from an encounter with some of Villa’s soldiers. That is an interesting story of its own.
Her husband, Patrick Daly Dalton, was born in Colorado and orphaned as a boy. His aunt in Salt Lake County took him in, but was unable to handle him and planned to send him to an orphanage. He had made friends with children of the Fox family and they persuaded their mother to give him a home. He and Grant Fox served in an artillery unit in World War I, and when he died in 1939, it was from complications from gas poisons he was exposed to in France.
I just want to stress that my father did not serve his mission “rather than make himself available for military service.” He followed his father’s example and joined up as soon as he was old enough, even though WWII ended before he was actually able to go overseas. His mission came after that.
Comment by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury — 4/23/2007 @ 1:03 pm
Kathleen — Thanks for all this. Your grandmother sounds like quite a woman, and lucky for you, a storyteller!
My own clarification of the remark about men making themselves available for military service. During World War II, virtually no men were permitted to serve missions — the government required that, if they were fit, they were candidates for military service. When the war was finally over and men were free to plan their own lives again, your father didn’t choose to do something focusing on himself and his own future (i.e., he didn’t immediately go to school, or focus on building a career, either of which would have been understandable of any man after so many years of not being able to control his life) — instead, your father was among the first in that new era to volunteer to serve a mission. That was intended as a compliment to him. I did not say that he shirked military duty by becoming a missionary, and I’m sorry that you apparently read it that way.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/23/2007 @ 2:07 pm
Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury’s comments raise a few more research questions for you, when you get distracted in the library from your paid work.
1. My father, who like Bro. Dalton and, more famously, Elder Maxwell, is a WW2 veteran who served a mission after his military service. He said that there was counsel from church leadership that those who had served in the military did not need to feel themselves obligated to serve missions, because of the already long interruption to their young lives caused by the war. Is there documentary evidence (a 1st Presidency letter, for example) of this counsel?
2. Were there any women who did the same? (Which raises another question: how many LDS women were there who served in the auxiliary services–WAC, WAAF, WAVES,–or as nurses in the Medical Corps?)
3. Since 2 would require a lot of work, I’d be willing to settle for some anecdotal evidence. Or else we’ll have to get T&S bosses to take up a collection to pay you for it.
Comment by Mark B. — 4/23/2007 @ 2:16 pm
1. Interesting question, and shouldn’t be that hard to solve, since such advice, if given, would have needed to be more or less public, perhaps published in the Improvement Era?
2. My (LDS) mother was first a WAAC and then a WAC; I sometimes still wear her service ring, although the gold has worn so smooth that it’s hard to recognize if you don’t already know what it was. I wonder how many others were with her? In all her stories, she only ever mentioned one other WAC whose LDS-ness figured in the story.
3. No need to wait for someone to take up a collection, Mark B; send your own donation directly! 😉
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/23/2007 @ 3:14 pm
Oh, I wasn’t offended, Ardis, though I appreciate your clarification.
I just wanted to make it clear that he had served in the military because he was quite proud of having done so, and he would have wanted that known.
You all know about the book and documentary SAINTS AT WAR, I hope.
I don’t know if this will accept a link, but it’s a Covenant book
about LDS soldiers in WWII. I have a copy around here somewhere, but I don’t remember if there were any women included.
I believe the authors are still collecting information and have a book on the LDS soldiers in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Robert Freeman also has one on 19th century LDS soldiers.
Comment by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury — 4/23/2007 @ 7:42 pm
This appeared on another blog on 8 March 2007