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New book focuses on Mormon suffragist Emmeline B. Wells

“An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells, 1870-1920”

One of the first Mormon women to take a prominent role in society was Emmeline B. Wells, who fought for suffrage alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Wells worked to correct misconceptions about women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and establish a respected Mormon presence in American life.

In honor of her life and work, BYU Press and Deseret Book have released a new publication, “An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells, 1870-1920.”

After 25 years of research, Carol Cornwall Madsen, an emeritus professor of history and emeritus research historian with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at Brigham Young University, has published the first of two volumes on the life of Wells. This volume focuses on her public life as a suffragist and Mormon liaison with national women’s organizations.

“Emmeline Wells was the most influential and well-known LDS woman of her time, particularly outside the Church, and one of the most lauded and beloved within the Church,” Madsen said.

For 37 years Wells edited the “Woman’s Exponent,” a Mormon women's semi-monthly newspaper, and represented Latter-day Saint women in national women’s organizations. She courageously defended her religion in the halls of Congress and helped mitigate anti-Mormon sentiments, all before becoming Relief Society General President in 1910 at age 82.

“Emmeline Wells left indelible footprints not only in Utah—where she had a close working relationship with five Church presidents—but on the national stage, including interviews with four U.S. Presidents,” said Ronald Esplin, Joseph Smith Papers general editor and president-elect of the Mormon History Association.

Madsen’s book shows how one woman played a significant role in controversial issues about the Church, LDS women and women in general. Wells said that she desired to do all in her power to help elevate the condition of the Mormons, especially women.

“Wells encouraged and inspired the women of her day,” Esplin said. “With Madsen’s eloquent retelling, Emmeline Well’s accomplishments may now inspire those of our own age, too.”

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Photo by BYU Studies

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