Wilford Woodruff

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Wilford Woodruff
Wilford Woodruff 1889.jpg
Wilford Woodruff in 1889.
4th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
April 7, 1889 (1889-04-07) – September 2, 1898 (1898-09-02)
Predecessor John Taylor
Successor Lorenzo Snow
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 10, 1880 (1880-10-10) – April 7, 1889 (1889-04-07)
End reason Became President of the Church
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 26, 1839 (1839-04-26) – April 7, 1889 (1889-04-07)
Called by Joseph Smith
End reason Became President of the Church
April 26, 1839 (1839-04-26) – September 2, 1898 (1898-09-02)
Called by Joseph Smith
Reason Replenishing Quorum of the Twelve[1]
at end of term
Rudger Clawson ordained
Personal details
Born (1807-03-01)March 1, 1807
Farmington, Connecticut, United States
Died September 2, 1898(1898-09-02) (aged 91)
San Francisco, California, United States
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
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Spouse(s) Phoebe Whittemore Carter
Mary Ann Jackson
Sarah Elinor Brown
Mary Caroline Barton
Mary Meeks Giles
Emma Smith
Sarah Brown
Sarah Delight Stocking
Eudora Young Dunford
Children 34
Parents Aphek and Beulah Woodruff
Signature of Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff Sr. (March 1, 1807 – September 2, 1898) was an American religious leader who served as 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 provides an important record of Latter Day Saint history, and his decision to formally end the practice of plural marriage among the members of the LDS Church in 1890 brought to a close one of the most difficult periods of church history.

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

Woodruff joined the Latter Day Saint church on December 31, 1833. At that time, the church numbered only a few thousand believers clustered around Kirtland, Ohio. On January 13, 1835, Woodruff left Kirtland on his 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. Woodruff learned to fly fish in England, and his 1847 journal account of his fishing in the East Fork River is the earliest known account of fly fishing west of the Mississippi River.[2] 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 nine women (some historians claim 10–12);[3] however, not all of these marriages were concurrent. His wives:

  • Phoebe Whittemore Carter (8 March 1807 – 10 Nov 1885), m. April 13, 1837
  • Mary Ann Jackson, (18 Feb 1818 – 25 Oct 1894) m. Aug 2, 1846 (later divorced)
  • Sarah Elinor Brown, (22 Aug 1827 - 25 Dec 1915) m. Aug 2, 1846 (left after 3 weeks)
  • Mary Caroline Barton, (12 Jan 1829 - 10 Aug 1910) m. Aug 2, 1846 (left after 3 weeks)
  • Mary Meek Giles Webster (6 Sept 1802 – 3 Oct 1852) m. March 28, 1852
  • Emma Smith (1 March 1838 – 4 March 1912) m. March 13, 1853
  • Sarah Brown (1 Jan 1834 – 9 May 1909), m. March 13, 1853
  • Sarah Delight Stocking (26 Jul 1838 – 28 May 1906) m. July 31, 1857
  • Eudora Young Dunford (12 May 1852 – 21 Oct 1921) m. March 10, 1877 (later divorced)[4]

Woodruff's wives bore him a total of 34 children, with 14 preceding him in death.[5]

Woodruff met his first wife, Phoebe Carter, in Kirtland shortly after his return from his first mission through Southern Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Woodruff came to Kirtland on November 25, 1836, along with Abraham O. Smoot. He was introduced to Phoebe by Milton Holmes on January 28, 1837. She was a native of Maine and had become a Latter Day Saint in 1834. Woodruff and Phoebe were married on April 13, 1837, with the ceremony performed by Frederick G. Williams.[6] Their marriage was later sealed in Nauvoo by Hyrum Smith.[7] In the late 1840s, Phoebe was set apart as a missionary and served with Woodruff as he presided over the Eastern States Mission. Phoebe was later numbered among the "leading ladies" who helped organize the Relief Society in Utah Territory in the 1860s through the 1880s.[8]

During Woodruff's time as president of the LDS Church, his wife, Emma Smith Woodruff, accompanied him to public functions, and she was the only wife he lived with after Phoebe's death in 1885.[9] She was a niece of Abraham O. Smoot. Although she married Woodruff, then age 46, when she was 15, she did not have the first of her eight children until she was 20. Emma was involved in the Relief Society, serving as both a ward and stake president for that organization. She also served as a member of the Relief Society General Board from 1892 to 1910.[10]

Among Woodruff's children was the LDS Church apostle Abraham O. Woodruff. Woodruff's daughter, Phoebe, was a wife of Lorenzo Snow, and Snow succeeded Woodruff as president of the LDS Church.


Woodruff operated a farm and orchards in Salt Lake City. He also had extensive livestock herds. On multiple occasions, his products won prizes at the Utah Territorial Fair.[11] Woodruff served for 14 years as head of the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society. In 1855 he became president of the Utah Territorial Horticultural Society.[12]

Political offices

Woodruff served multiple terms in the Utah territorial legislature. He was a member of the legislative house from its formation in 1851 until 1854, and then served in the legislative council from 1854 until 1876.[13]

Woodruff served as a member of the 1862 Utah Constitutional Convention and as a member of the committee that drafted the appeal to the U.S. Congress to approve the constitution and grant statehood for Utah. This attempt to join the Union failed.[14]

Woodruff served as a member of the Provo City Council in 1868 and 1869.[15]

Church service

Woodruff and his brother, Azmon, were baptized by missionaries of the Church of Christ on December 31, 1833, in Richland, New York. Other members of the Woodruff family, including Woodruff's father, joined the church in 1839.

Shortly after his baptism, Woodruff accompanied Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, on a journey from Kirtland, Ohio, to Missouri as a member of Zion's Camp. Woodruff remained in Clay County, Missouri, until January 1835, when he was sent by Edward Partridge to preach in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Woodruff's original companion was Harry Brown, who later went to be with his family in Kirtland. Most of the mission was spent preaching in small towns and villages in western Kentucky and Tennessee.[16]

On May 30, 1837, a month after his marriage to Phoebe, Woodruff left Kirtland along with Jonathan Hale and Milton Holmes to serve a mission in New England. According to their accounts, the main places they preached were The Fox Islands, Litchfield County, Connecticut and York County, Maine. Phoebe joined Wilford in Farmington, Connecticut on July 16, where he baptized some of his relatives. Although Phoebe did not accompany him on all of his journeys over the next year and a half, she stayed at various locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, locations that he to some extent made his base of operations.[17] In 1838, Woodruff led a party of fifty-three members in wagons from the Maine coast to Nauvoo, Illinois.

In 1839, at the age of 32, 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 Phoebe 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 Mormon pioneers. 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 33 years. A religious conservative, he offered charismatic sermons during the period of Mormon Reformation from 1856 to 1858.

Missionary service

Woodruff became noted for his success as a missionary, completing several missions during his lifetime. As a missionary, Woodruff baptized thousands of converts. The church sent him to Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky (1835–1836) and to the North Haven, 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. By his own estimate, they baptized "all the United Brethren save one."[18] He also baptized clergy from other churches and even a constable who was sent to arrest him.[18]

On missionary work, Woodruff wrote:

St. George Temple President

Beginning in 1877, Woodruff was the first president of the St. George Temple. This was the first temple in which the endowment ordinances were performed for the dead as well as for the living. Under the direction of Brigham Young, Woodruff was key in implementing this program[clarify] in the temple, in standardizing the ceremonies, and in giving various sermons to encourage broader understanding of the program. Woodruff's main aide in this endeavor was John D. T. McAllister, who served as first counselor in the temple presidency and later succeeded Woodruff as temple president in 1884.[20]

During his time as the temple president, Woodruff was baptized on behalf of the signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers. He stated in a September 16, 1877, discourse that he had been visited by the departed spirits of these men:

Many of the proxy baptisms for the Founding Fathers had been done previously in Nauvoo and in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City but the proxy endowments for these men were first done in the St. George Temple.[22]

President of the Church

With the death of John Taylor in 1887, 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 in the Mormon "underground" to escape 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, 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 but was not seen in any public meetings. Two years later, when he was 82 years old, Woodruff was ordained as the church's president.

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.[23]

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 enter only into marriages recognized by the laws in the areas in which they resided. 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".[24] Some historians[who?] consider the Manifesto to be Woodruff's most important contribution to the church.[citation needed] Some Mormon historians, such as B. H. Roberts, never seemed to come to terms with it.[25]

Despite the Manifesto, some Mormon historians 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.[26][27][28] The church did not fully renounce the practice of plural marriage until Joseph F. Smith's Second Manifesto of 1904.

Woodruff's funeral in the Salt Lake Tabernacle

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 became Ricks College and Brigham Young University–Idaho.

Woodruff died in San Francisco, California, and was succeeded as church president by his son-in-law, Lorenzo Snow. Woodruff was buried at the Salt Lake City Cemetery. During his life, Woodruff had observed significant growth in the church, and at his death, he was the leader of more than 283,000 adherents.

Diarist and historian

Woodruff's journals are a significant 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."[29] 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 contemporaneously. However, in his Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts wrote:

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

Millennialist beliefs and apocalyptic prophecies

Throughout his life, Woodruff believed that the Second Coming of Jesus and a cataclysmic end of the world was imminent.[31] On August 22, 1868,[32] Woodruff preached a sermon in which he famously prophesied that New York City would be "destroyed by an earthquake"; Boston would be "swept into the sea, by the sea heaving itself beyond its bounds"; and Albany, New York, would be "destroyed by fire".[33] Speaking afterwards, church president Brigham Young stated that "what Brother Woodruff has said is revelation and will be fulfilled."[33]

In Woodruff's journal entries in the 1880s, "year after year his conviction that the Millennium was imminent intensified."[34] Woodruff's intensifying belief in the 1880s was in part due to the fact that in January 1880, he received a revelation referred to as the "Wilderness Prophecy", which emphasized that the Second Coming was "nigh":[35]

[T]he hour of God's judgement is fully come and shall be poured out without measure upon the wicked .... [P]repare ye for the coming of the Son of man, which is nigh at the door. No man knoweth the day nor the hour; but the signs of both heaven and earth indicate His coming, as promised by the mouths of my disciples. The fig trees are leaving and the hour is nigh.

Upon presenting the revelation to the First Presidency and his fellow apostles, it was accepted as "the word of the Lord."[35] As an apostle, Woodruff frequently declared in sermons that there were many alive in Utah Territory who would "see the son of God come and many would not taste death".[35]

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 and mill on Grindstone Creek.
  • 1833 - Baptized and confirmed by Zera Pulsipher.
  • 1835 - Leaves Missouri for his first full-time mission, preaching and proselytizing 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 - Participates in Vanguard company's exploration of the Mormon Trail to the Salt Lake Valley.
  • 1877 - Presides over the St. George Temple.
  • 1887 - Assumes leadership of the church, as the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, upon the death of John Taylor.
  • 1889 - Ordained as president of the LDS Church.
  • 1890 - October 6: Members of the church attending general conference unanimously sustain the official declaration Woodruff issued 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.
  • 2006 - Woodruff's teachings as an apostle were the course of study in the LDS Church's Sunday Relief Society and Melchizedek priesthood classes.


  • Woodruff, Wilford (1946). G. Homer Durham, editor., ed. The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff. Bookcraft, Inc. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1881). Leaves from My Journal. Juvenile Instructor Office.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1964) [1909]. Matthias F. Cowley, editor, ed. Wilford Woodruff, Fourth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: History of His Life and Labors as Recorded in His Daily Journals. Deseret News. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2004). Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> LDS Church publication number 36315.

See also


  1. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not had twelve members since September 3, 1837, when Luke S. Johnson, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson were disfellowshipped and removed from the Quorum. Since that time, William E. McLellin 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. Wixom, Hartt (2006). Fishing: The Extra Edge. Cedar Fort. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-55517-867-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  4. Mackley 2014, p. 376.
  5. Mackley 2014, pp. 374-375.
  6. Alexander 1993, pp. 51-52.
  7. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  8. Relief Society 1966, pp. 30–31.
  9. Alexander 1993, p. 267.
  10. Relief Society 1966, p. 52.
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  13. "Territory of Utah Legislative Assembly Rosters: Twenty-First through Thirty-First Sessions", Research Guides, Utah State Archives Research, archives.state.ut.us/research, Utah State Archives, Division of Archives & Records Service, Utah Department of Administrative Services, State of Utah<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Alexander 1993, p. 206.
  15. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  16. Alexander 1993, pp. 34-37.
  17. Alexander 1993, pp. 55-60.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Woodruff, W. (1865) "History of Wilford Woodruff". The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, No. 22, Vol. XXVII, Saturday, June 3, 1865, p. 344.
  19. The Contributor: 636–637. August 1895. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  21. Woodruff, W. (1878) [September 16, 1877]. "Gathering of the Spirits of the Dead". Journal of Discourses. 19. Recorded by G. F. Gibbs. Liverpool, UK: William Budge. p. 229.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  23. Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States, 136 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1890).
  24. Woodruff, Wilford (25 September 1890). Wilford Woodruff's Journal: 1833-1898, Typescript Volumes 1-9, Volume 9, pp. 113-114. Edited by Scott G. Kenney, Signature Books, Midvale, Utah 1983.
  25. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  26. Cannon II, Kenneth (January–March 1983). "After the Manifesto: Mormon Polygamy, 1890-1906" (PDF). Sunstone: 27–35.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Quinn 1985, pp. 9–105.
  28. Hardy 1992.
  29. Cowley, Mathias F. (1909), Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labours, Preface.
  30. Roberts, Brigham H. (1930), A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:354-355, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  31. Staker 1993.
  32. Kenney, Scott G. (1984). Wilford Woodruff's Journal: 1833-1898 Typescript, Volume 6. Midvale, UT: Signature Books. pp. August 22, 1868.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. 33.0 33.1 Church Educational System (2002). "Section 84: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood". Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Erickson 1998, p. 189.
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Erickson 1998, p. 190.


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  • Ludlow, Daniel H., Editor. Church History, Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992. ISBN 0-87579-924-8.
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  • Quinn, D. Michael (Spring 1985). "LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 18 (1).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Further reading

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External links

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
John Taylor
President of the Church
April 7, 1889–September 2, 1898
Succeeded by
Lorenzo Snow
 President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles 
October 10, 1880–April 7, 1889
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 26, 1839–April 7, 1889
Succeeded by
George A. Smith
Preceded by
Junius F. Wells
Superintendent of the
Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association

Succeeded by
Lorenzo Snow