Wilford Woodruff: Wikis


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Wilford Woodruff in 1889.
Wilford Woodruff
Full name Wilford Woodruff, Sr.
Born March 1, 1807(1807-03-01)
Place of birth Farmington, Connecticut
Died September 2, 1898 (aged 91)
Place of death San Francisco, California
LDS Church President
Ordained April 7, 1889 (aged 82)
Predecessor John Taylor
Successor Lorenzo Snow
LDS Church Apostle
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Ordained April 26, 1839 (aged 32)
Reason for ordination Replenishing Quorum of the Twelve[1]
End of term September 2, 1898 (aged 91)
Reason for end of term Death
Reorganization at end of term Rudger Clawson ordained
LDS Church General Authority
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Start of term April 26, 1839 (aged 32)
End of term April 7, 1889 (aged 82)
End reason Became President of the Church
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Start of term October 10, 1880 (aged 73)
End of term April 7, 1889 (aged 82)
End reason Became President of the Church
President of the Church
Start of term April 7, 1889 (aged 82)
End of term September 2, 1898 (aged 91)
End reason Death

Wilford Woodruff, Sr. (March 1, 1807 – September 2, 1898) was the fourth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1889 until his death. Woodruff's large collection of diaries provide an important record of Latter Day Saint history.

Woodruff was one of nine children born to Aphek Woodruff, a miller working in Farmington, Connecticut. Wilford's mother Beulah died of "spotted fever" in 1808 at the age of 26, when Wilford was just fifteen months old. As a young man, Wilford worked at a sawmill and a flour mill owned by his father.

Woodruff joined the Latter Day Saint church on December 31, 1833. At this time, the church numbered only a few thousand believers clustered around Kirtland, Ohio. On January 13, 1835, Woodruff left Kirtland first full-time mission, preaching without "purse or scrip" in Arkansas and Tennessee.

Woodruff was always known as a conservative religious man, but was also enthusiastically involved in the social and economic life of his community. He was an avid outdoorsman, enjoying fishing and hunting. It is quite likely that Woodruff was the first fly fisherman in the Rocky Mountains. As an adult, Woodruff was a farmer, horticulturist and stockman by trade and wrote extensively for church periodicals.


Marriage and family

Like many early Latter Day Saints, Woodruff practiced plural marriage. He was married to five (possibly six) women; however, not all of these marriages were concurrent. His wives were:

  • Phoebe Whittemore Carter, m. 13 April 1837
  • Mary Ann Jackson, m. 15 April 1846 (later divorced)
  • Emma Smoot Smith, m. 13 March 1853
  • Sarah Brown, m. 13 March 1853

Woodruff's wives bore him a total of thirty-three children, with thirteen preceding him in death.

Among Woodruff's children was the LDS Church apostle Abraham O. Woodruff. His daughter Phoebe was a wife of Lorenzo Snow; Snow succeeded Woodruff, his father-in-law, as president of the LDS Church.

Church service

Woodruff and his brother Azmon were baptized by missionaries of the Church of Christ on 31 December 1833 in Richland, New York. Other members of the Woodruff family, including Wilford's father, joined the church in 1839. Shortly after his baptism, Woodruff accompanied Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum in a journey from Kirtland, Ohio to the Missouri as a member of Zion's Camp. In 1838, he led a party of fifty-three members in wagons from the Maine coast to Nauvoo, Illinois.

In 1839, at the age of 32, Wilford Woodruff became a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He became a member of the Nauvoo city council, and served as chaplain for the Nauvoo Legion, a local militia. Woodruff was also a member of the Anointed Quorum and Council of Fifty, and received his Endowment from Smith in the Red Brick Store prior to the completion of the Nauvoo Temple. Woodruff and Pheobe were sealed by Hyrum Smith in Nauvoo but, due to a loss of records, this ordinance was later repeated by Heber C. Kimball in Salt Lake City. After the death of Joseph Smith, Woodruff was an active participant in the westward progression of the LDS Church. He was a member of the first pioneer company of Latter Day Saints to arrive in Utah's Great Basin in 1847.

In 1856, Woodruff began serving as church historian, and served in this position for thirty-three years. A religious conservative, he offered charismatic sermons during the period of Mormon Reformation in 1856 to 1858. During his time as the president of the St. George Utah Temple, Woodruff standardized temple ceremonies under the direction of Brigham Young. He was baptized for the dead on behalf of the signers of the United States Declaration of Independence and other American Founding Fathers after he claimed to visitation from the departed spirits of these men in a vision.


Missionary service

Woodruff became noted for his success as a missionary, completing several missions during his lifetime. As a missionary, Woodruff baptizing thousands of converts. The church sent him to Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky (1835–1836), and to the Fox Islands, Maine (1837). As a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, he was assigned to England as a missionary (1839), to England as president of the church's European Mission (1844), and finally to the eastern United States (1848).

Woodruff's greatest missionary success resulted from his work among the 600 members of the United Brethren in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. In his own estimation they baptized "all the United Brethren save one." He also baptized clergy from other churches, and even a constable who was sent to arrest him.

On missionary work, Woodruff wrote:

When you go into a neighborhood to preach the Gospel, never attempt to tear down a man’s house, so to speak, before you build him a better one; never, in fact, attack any one’s religion, wherever you go. Be willing to let every man enjoy his own religion. It is his right to do that. If he does not accept your testimony with regard to the Gospel of Christ, that is his affair, and not yours. Do not spend your time in pulling down other sects and parties. We haven’t time to do that. It is never right to do that.[2]

Actions as church president

With the death of John Taylor in 1887, Wilford Woodruff assumed leadership of the church as the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Woodruff spent years as an apostle evading territorial marshals on the Mormon "underground," escaping prosecution for polygamy, and was unable even to publicly attend his first wife's funeral. On behalf of the church, Woodruff courted the favor of prominent Republicans Leland Stanford and Isaac Trumbo.

Woodruff was in Sanpete County, Utah, in hiding from federal agents seeking him on anti-polygamy warrants, when he learned of Taylor's death. He returned to Salt Lake City in secret to take charge of the church, and was not seen in any public meetings. Two years later, when he was 82 years old, Woodruff was ordained as president of the church. Woodruff had never expected to become president, as Taylor was the younger man.

During his tenure, the church faced a number of legal battles with the United States, primarily over the practice of plural marriage. The church faced a real possibility of being destroyed as a viable legal entity, as it was faced with disfranchisement and federal confiscation of its property, including temples.[3]

Under great political and financial pressure, Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto which ended the church's official support of plural marriage in the territory of the United States and directed Latter-day Saints to only enter into marriages that are recognized by the laws in the areas in which they reside. He wrote in his diary, "I have arrived at the point in the history of my life as the president of the Church ... where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the Church".[4] Some historians consider the 1890 Manifesto to be Woodruff's most important contribution to the church. Other historians like B.H. Roberts never seemed to come to terms with it. Roberts, also part of the First Council of the Seventy, refused to sign the Manifesto and was suspended from ecclesiastical office. Roberts, believing such a requirement was a basic infringement of his civil rights, capitulated just hours before a deadline of March 24, 1986, signed the manifesto, wrote a letter of apology to the First Presidency, and was reinstated. [5]

Despite the Manifesto, historians D. Michael Quinn, B. Carmon Hardy, and Richard S. Van Wagoner have asserted that Woodruff continued to secretly encourage, or at least allow, new plural marriages to be performed in Mexico, Canada, and upon the high seas. The church would not fully renounce the practice of plural marriage until Joseph F. Smith's Second Manifesto of 1904.

During his tenure, Woodruff announced a specific policy of sealing individuals only to their direct ancestors. It had been a previous practice to have members sealed to church leaders by adoption. This change was closely connected with Woodruff's founding of the Genealogical Society of Utah and is a contributing factor to the modern family history program of the LDS Church.

The church faced severe financial difficulties during Woodruff's tenure, some of which were related to the legal problems over plural marriage. Although he instituted a number of sound financial practices, he was unable to completely solve these difficulties during his time as president. However, the church completed and dedicated the Manti and Salt Lake Temples during his tenure. Woodruff also established Bannock Academy in Rexburg, Idaho, which later evolved into Brigham Young University–Idaho.

Woodruff died in San Francisco, California and was succeeded as church president by his son-in-law Lorenzo Snow. During his life, Woodruff had observed significant growth in the church, and at his death, he was the leader of more than 250,000 adherents.

Diarist and historian

Many historians consider Woodruff's journals his most important contribution to LDS Church history. He kept a daily record of his life and activities within the LDS Church, beginning with his baptism in 1833. Matthias F. Cowley, editor of his published journals, observed that Woodruff was ...perhaps, the best chronicler of events in all the history of the Church. These meticulous records provide insights into not only church doctrines and the daily actions of church leaders, but also into the social and cultural aspects of early Mormonism. Several significant actions and speeches of early church leaders are known only through these diaries.

Some recollections were recorded in his journal years after the events, which have caused some historians to question the complete reliability of certain events, as they were not recorded contemporarily. However, in his Comprehensive History of the Church, B. H. Roberts wrote:

President Woodruff rendered a most important service to the church. His Journals, regularly and methodically and neatly kept and strongly bound, …constitute an original documentary historical treasure which is priceless. The church is indebted to these Journals for a reliable record of discourses and sayings of the Prophet of the New Dispensation — Joseph Smith — which but for him would have been lost forever. The same is true as to the discourses and sayings of Brigham Young, and other leading elders of the church; [and] for minutes of important council meetings, decisions, judgments, policies, and many official actions of a private nature, without which the writer of history may not be able to get right viewpoints on many things — in all these respects these Journals of President Woodruff are invaluable.[6]

Woodruff was an Assistant Church Historian between 1856 and 1883 and was the church's eleventh official Church Historian between 1883 and 1889.

Historical Summary

Grave marker of Wilford Woodruff.
Grave marker of Wilford Woodruff.
  • 1807, March 1; Wilford Woodruff is born in Farmington Hartford County, Connecticut, to Beulah Thompson Woodruff and Aphek Woodruff
  • 1808; June 11; His mother dies at age 26.
  • 1821; Begins work as a miller.
  • 1832; Moves with his brother Azmon and Azmon’s wife to Richland, Oswego County, New York, where they purchase a farm.
  • 1833; Baptized and confirmed by Zera Pulsipher.
  • 1835; Leaves Missouri for his first full-time mission, preaching the gospel in Arkansas and Tennessee.
  • 1837, May 31; Leaves Kirtland, Ohio, to serve a mission in the Fox Islands, off the coast of the state of Maine.
  • 1839, August 8; Leaves for a mission in England.
  • 1847, participated in Vanguard company's exploration of the Mormon Trail to the Salt Lake Valley.
  • 1887, assumed leadership of the Church as the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles upon the death of President John Taylor.
  • 1889, ordained as President of the Church.
  • 1890, October 6; Members of the Church attending general conference unanimously sustain the revelation President Woodruff received regarding plural marriage.
  • 1894, November 13; Oversees the establishment of the Genealogical Society of Utah.
  • 1898, September 2; Dies in San Francisco, California, after a brief illness.


See also


  1. ^ The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not had twelve members since 1837-09-03, when Luke S. Johnson, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson were disfellowshipped and removed from the Quorum. Since that time, William E. M'Lellin and Thomas B. Marsh had been excommunicated and removed from the Quorum; David W. Patten had been killed; and John Taylor and John E. Page had been added to the Quorum. The ordinations of Woodruff and George A. Smith brought membership in the Quorum of the Twelve to ten members.
  2. ^ The Contributor, August 1895, pp. 636–637.
  3. ^ Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. United States, 136 U.S. 1 (1890).
  4. ^ Wilford Woodruff Diary, 1890-09-25.
  5. ^ , Ostling, 1999/HarperSan Francisco:Mormon America, The Power and the Promise, pp.83.
  6. ^ 6:354–355.


External links

Religious titles
Preceded by
John Taylor
President of the LDS Church
April 7, 1889–September 2, 1898
Succeeded by
Lorenzo Snow
Preceded by
John Taylor
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 10, 1880–April 7, 1889
Succeeded by
Lorenzo Snow
Preceded by
John Taylor
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 26, 1839–April 7, 1889
Succeeded by
George A. Smith


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Wilford Woodruff (March 1, 1807September 2, 1898) was the fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), from 1889 until his death in 1898.



Baptism for the dead for historical figures

  • I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, "You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God." There were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.

Character of Joseph Smith, Jr.

  • When brother Brigham and brother Joseph Young went up to see the Prophet, they found him chopping wood; for he was a labouring man, and gained his bread by the sweat of his brow. They made themselves acquainted with him. He received them gladly, invited them to his house, and they rejoiced together in the Gospel of Christ, and their hearts were knitted together in the spirit and bond of union.

External links

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