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A Woman's Blessing

by EmilyCC and her grandmother, Aileen Clyde

In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to share the story of my great-great grandmother, Sarah Ann Eliza Brockbank Hales’ blessing by Susa Young Gates.*   

Sarah Ann Eliza’s faith had been tried already when her husband was called to Mammoth, Utah in 1896.  Her husband had been called on a mission to New Zealand two years after they had married, leaving her with their sickly toddler.  Soon after he left, she had to move in with her family, working whatever odd jobs she could get.  Then, she found out she was pregnant.

She writes, “When I learned I was to have another baby, I felt so blue and alone.  I had a sick baby, no income, no bright future, etc.  Well, I thought I could not possibly go through with it, but I did.”  This baby was born 8 months after her husband left on his mission; he wouldn’t return for another 3 years. 

After her husband returned from his mission, he was called to organize and lead the Saints in Mammoth, Utah, a booming mining town (today, it is deserted).  Sarah Ann Eliza and her husband, George, were reluctant to go to this town with their three young boys.  After they moved, a daughter, Tryphena, was born there. 

My grandmother said, “As a mother, she always felt dependent on the Lord because there was such limited medical help in that mining town.”

Tryphena died when she was ten months old of pneumonia.

Soon, Sarah Ann Eliza had another daughter, Leah.  It was a difficult labor and delivery.  Two doctors told her that she probably wouldn’t have any more children.

In 1900 or 1901 (it’s tricky to figure out the exact date here), Susa Young Gates came as a “general officer of the Church” to Mammoth.  At the time, Sarah Ann Eliza was the Relief Society President.  Meetings had been arranged for Sister Young’s important visit, but Leah got sick.  Sarah Ann Eliza sent word that she would not be attending the meetings so that she could care for her daughter.

At the end of one meeting,  Susa Young Gates came to Sarah Ann Eliza’s home and said, “Sister Hales, where is your faith?  Why haven’t you come to your meetings?”

Sarah Ann Eliza explained that she had already lost one daughter, the doctors had told her that she probably would not have any more children, and so she had decided to be with her baby daughter while she was sick.  She said, “This baby is ill.  I’m not going to take her with me.  I’m not going to leave her.”

Susa Young Gates asked, “Would you like me to give you a blessing?

My great-great-grandmother replied that she would.

Susa’s blessing was full of specific and unique promises.  She said that Sarah Ann Eliza “had all the children that she had designated to her in the premortal life but that there were other children whose parents had rejected them.”

Susa continued, “These children will come to your home.  Some will be musically-talented and there will be others with special gifts.  You will have 6 more children.”**

I was dumbfounded when I heard this story.  My great-great-grandmother was a woman of great faith, a smart, obedient, and self-sacrificing lady.  As I listen to other stories about her, I suspect she was more orthodox in her Church beliefs and practices than I am, and I wonder what she’d think of all of us feminists as part of her progeny.

She told this story to my grandmother during on an ordinary day in the 1950’s.  She emphasized the great peace and comfort she felt from this blessing and acted as if such a blessing was perfectly commonplace, though by the 1950’s it wasn’t. 

I wonder how things would be different in my life, in the Church in general, if this was still commonplace.  Since this isn’t the case, I’m so glad that my grandmother told it to me on an ordinary day last year. 

What stories do you love about the women in your family?  How does your family keep such stories alive?

*Want to read more about Susa Young Gates?  Read this fabulous piece by Louise Plummer (this is also where the picture is from).

**Sarah Ann Eliza did, indeed, go on to have six more children.  Agnes, the youngest, had a beautiful singing voice and trained in New York City.  And, Helen, another child, could play piano when she was four or five and was always able play by ear.

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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18 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Wow, this is very cool. Susa Young Gates was quite a powerful and accomplished human being. I read some of her stuff in Claudia Bushman’s class on Mormon women.

    What strikes me about your story is how Gates confronted your great grandmother about her faith for not attending the meeting. That seems so brash, seeing as she didn’t know the circumstances. But I like how she seems to have quickly accepted your ggma’s explanation and then offered her help.

    And what an amazing blessing. It’s hard to wrap my mind around someone being so in tune that she could predict the number of future children.

    I’m glad your gma told you this story too. How things have changed…

  2. Deborah says:

    Love love love. Thanks for sharing this story!

  3. mraynes says:

    This is wonderful, I’m so glad you shared it with us. I, unfortunately, don’t know that much about my female ancestors. Apparently poor journal keeping is a genetic trait. 🙂 My children, however, are related to Patty Bartlett Sessions and you can bet I will tell them all about her.

  4. mb says:

    Some of our family members were also living in Mammoth when your Sarah was there and left us with fascinating stories of life then. One of them wrote an autobiography in which she recounted the pleasure of having a branch of the church formed, made possible by the arrival of the Hales family.

    She also recorded her memories of the dedication of the church building there (after a few years of meeting in the local dance hall) which she says happened in 1896 or 1897 and which Susa Young Gates attended. She wrote, “Sister Gates spoke in tongues, and promised the saints many great blessings if they would prove faithful, even though they were forced to work in the Mines on Sunday. The Mammoth Branch was organized into a ward with George Hales as Bishop.”

    Speaking in tongues too. Interesting.

    Thanks for the glimpse of Sarah’s experiences in that small town.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    Caroline, I thought the same thing! Susa’s approach was a different approach than I think we would see from a Mormon woman today, marching right in and almost demanding an explanation. This is a sweeping generalization, but it makes me wonder if Mormon women acted with more authority and forthrightness when they had more authority in the Church.

    Deborah, thanks!

    mraynes, ah, the poor journal gene! I think it has hit most of the women in my family. How neat to be related to Patty Bartlett Sessions! In the theme of women giving blessings, I must link to her diary excerpt reprinted in Sunstone 1996: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/101-80.pdf

    mb, what a small world! Does your family have any stories of life in Mammoth?

  6. Swisster says:

    Loved it, Emily. I’m glad to see this story is something you wrote together with your grandmother, Aileen H. Clyde. Listen, I have had a long letter of appreciation to your grandmother written in my head for years. She doesn’t know me, but I have always wanted to tell her the many small things about her that impressed and influenced me. I google her name once in a while just to pick up any shreds of info about her! Don’t you think she needs to publish a biography or at least a very long interview? I turned 18 the year her RS presidency was sustained. They will always be the defining presidency for me — real leaders — and years later I realize that they “stand out” NOT just because they were my first. Please tell me how to send a letter her way, or through you — whatever. Thanks.

  7. Swisster says:

    I’m at juddandjoanne at juno dot com

  8. EM says:

    Great story, which begs the question: why can’t women give blessings today? What really has changed? Did men feel threatened that they felt it necessary to take away that privilege of blessing from women? I’m no feminist, but I really feel that women have a deeper sense of spiritual matters than most men. Sad really.

  9. mb says:

    Emily,

    Lots and lots of Mammoth stories. Saloon fights, deaths in mine disasters, epidemics, romances, dry-farming, explosions, business struggles, school days. Two of the women in our family who lived there at the turn of the century wrote a fair amount about their experiences there. I skimmed through them to see if I could find more references to the Hales family, but came up empty-handed.

    But that answers you question about how our family keeps stories alive. The women in that particular branch of the family were determined women and the stories of what they stood up for took action on as well as how their men navigated the milieu of a rather rough mining town have been passed down to the succeeding generations. Though some of it gets passed down orally, a couple of the living members of our family keep making more copies of those autobiographies and memoirs for the next generation. The older those writings get the more we treasure them for the glimpses they afford us.

  10. Aimee says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, Emily! The sacrifices your great grandmother made reinforce what I’ve always known about what a poor pioneer I would have been!

    I myself was raised on the stories of my heroic pioneer great-grandmothers. I spent years pouring over their journals which were chock full of descriptions of speaking in tongues, blessing the sick and seeking, expecting and receiving astonishing personal revelations (much more so than their husbands did–at least according to the records they were keeping). With these heroines at the forefront of my religious mind since early childhood, their own sense of spiritual power, autonomy and purpose which could be righteously exercised at will has made them my default for understanding what power a faithful woman in the church can access and administer. Thanks for helping bring more of these stories to light through this post. We all need them.

  11. Angie says:

    Thank you for the story from your family history!

    I was a 19-year-old college ward RS president in 1992, the year of the RS Sesquicentennial. I am like swisster – Sister Jack, Sister Clyde, and Sister Okazaki are so important to me. They were a huge influence on me. Sister Clyde spoke once in the Marriott Center about being “adults of God”, in addition to being children of God. I still quote her.

    Thank you for this timely reminder if how much I love Relief Society!!!

  12. EmilyCC says:

    Swisster, thanks for your kinds words. I just sent you an email.

    EM, I’m right there with you, friend. Hopefully, you’ll find Deborah’s links helpful.

    Deborah, thanks for the links! I’m excited to read them!

    mb, my grandmother alluded to the roughness of Mammoth but didn’t have much more detail beyond that. It sounds like you’re a family history expert. I’d love to have you submit a guest post at ExponentblogATgmailDOTcom.

    Aimee, how neat that you got to read actual journals! I’m going to bug you to do a post, too–you know, because EXII doesn’t take up much of your time already 🙂

    Angie, how nice! Thanks for sharing your memories.

  13. Jessawhy says:

    Emily,
    I don’t know how I missed this, but it’s beautiful.
    Thank you for sharing this. You are lucky to have a history in your family.

  14. mb says:

    Emily,
    Thanks for your kind invitation. The writing I do tends to be too long for the brevity needed in a guest post. But if, one of these days, I turn out something that seems that it might be pithy, thoughtful and shorter I will.

  15. Constance says:

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  1. March 23, 2010

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