A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Laura Farnsworth Frampton Owen
[p.17]Born to Congregationalists in Vermont in 1806, Laura Farnsworth moved around with her parents, landing in Ohio. There, at age eighteen, she married Nathaniel Frampton, who was an alcoholic. She found solace in reading good books. Of four children, William alone survived. Taking her husband’s advice, she returned to her father’s home. Her friends took it upon themselves to apply for a divorce in her name. For the next five years, she supported herself by teaching and sewing, much as Louisa Barnes Pratt and Martha Spence Heywood (her contemporaries) did.
In 1837 she married O. A. Owen in Indiana. Both converted to Mormonism and moved to LaHarpe, Illinois. Their happiness was short-lived as Laura’s husband rejected the LDS church. Former Mormons such as Sidney Rigdon and Jamees J. Strang1 sometimes visited their home, but Laura’s faith was unswerving. O. A.’s turn from the church was complete, however, and he abused her even to the point of kidnapping their children and stealing their possessions. Nonetheless, she remained with [p.18]him as they moved to Burlington, Iowa, adjacent to the Mormon Trail. There, he convinced her to head for Utah: “I have tried it long enough and I cannot be a Mormon and I cannot live with a Mormon wife and I am satisfied that you will never be any thing else and it is better for us to part and when the children can take care of themselves I will fit them up and send them to you if they wish to go.”
Laura’s faith took her to Utah in 1852. A woman alone, she reverted to self-sufficiency in Utah, settling south of Salt Lake City in Pleasant Grove and teaching. The following excerpt from her autobiography demonstrates the trials of unhappy marriage for a nineteenth-century woman and the limited options open for self-sufficiency. Teaching was one.
My Father moved his family to Burlington, Laurence County, Ohio, 1820. We were a happy family and enjoyed the blessings of health and peace. May 25th 1824, I was married to Nathaniel Frampton from Pennsylvania. He had been a citizen of our village one year, having relatives living in the place that were among our best citizens. They introduced him into society. This was the beginning of sorrow in my Father’s family for we soon found that although he had been steady and attentive to business during our acquaintance, he was addicted to drink and other vices that follow in their train. I often pleaded with him but to no purpose; at times he seemed to possibly realize that such a course would be his ruin and make promises to do better. I soon felt that all my future prospects were blasted and as far as this world was concerned I had nothing to hope for. I had ventured everything and all was lost and if I had any enjoyment it must come from a higher source. I took pleasure in reading good books and tried to do the best I could. I had 4 children by him, Adaline, Sarah, Adolphus, William. The 3 first died in infancy which made me truly desolate. Times of sorrow and affliction of the deepest die were my portion while I lived with him. In the summer of 1831 he spent most of his time in drinking and gambling—became deeply involved. I was taken sick in August and confined to my bed, not expected to live. September 20th, my [p.19]son William was born. I was not able to sit up much till the 1st of January. My husband told me I would have to go home to my Father’s as soon as I was able to ride for he was going to run away to keep from going to jail. [I] said he should go back to his native country and quit drinking and do better and make some money and come to my Father’s as quick as he could. As soon as he was gone, I knew that I had a great undertaking before me and must muster all the resolution I could to prepare for my journey. My sister Caroline was with me and had taken care of me through my sickness. I sold what few necessaries I had and hired a man to take us to my Father’s and before I was able to take care of my child, we started a journey of 300 miles in a wagon on the 14th of January. Although rough for an Invalid, I stood the journey much better than I expected, my health gradually improved and I was able to take care of my child and work with my needle so as not to be a burden to my friends. Eight months passed away and no news from my husband. I had heard him speak of his first wife’s Father living near Pittsburgh. I wrote to him to know if he knew or had heard any thing of him. I received a letter informing me that he had been there and had been drinking and gambling and that I had nothing to look for from him. He advised me as a friend as I valued my own happiness to have no more to do with him. He had been the means of the death of his daughter by his neglect. After some reflection upon the subject, I concluded not [to] trouble myself any more about him. By this time I had recovered my health and was able to take care of myself and child. My friends wished me to get a divorce from him. I told them I did not care anything about one for I did not intend ever to marry again but they applied and got one in Franklin County, Indiana, April 1832. Thus I was lawfully freed from one who had been being destroyer instead of a protector [and] for this I ever feel thankful. I supported myself and child comfortable by my needle and teaching school till August 30th 1837, I was married to Mr. O. A. Owen. He was a man of steady habits. I enjoyed life much better than with my first husband. He was attentive to his family. I had 3 children by him.
1. When Joseph Smith died, several leaders contended for the presidency. When Brigham Young was voted the leader, Sidney Rigdon and James Strang formed splinter groups (Arrington and Bitton, 89). The only offshoot to rival the LDS church in terms of size was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which followed the son of Joseph Smith—Joseph Smith III. The RLDS church has admitted women to the priesthood.