A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Elmina Shepard Taylor
[p.43]For a young woman reared in a strict Methodist environment, joining the “unpopular” Mormon church represented a stark break from family and society. Already EImina Shepard had displayed independent tendencies by finding a place in a school 200 miles from her home. When she boarded near her new school with Mormon converts, the die was cast.
Elmina’s diary covers only one year, but using it as foundation, her daughter wrote her life history, which follows. According to Bitton’s Guide, Elmina returned home to Middlefield after declining a renewal of her teaching position. Although frustrated with having to depend on her parents, she nonetheless rejected one suitor: “As a friend I esteem him, and am convinced that he would prove one of the best of husbands, yet I think something more than this is necessary for my happiness” (352). Something more meant conversion to Mormonism in 1856 and marriage to George Hamilton Taylor.
Three years later the Taylors left for Utah. There Elmina assumed a leadership role in the Relief Society, later becoming president of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (1880) and attending the Second Triennial National Council of Women in Washington, D.C., in 1895 to represent them (Godfrey, 377, 424). The Taylors’ life in Utah was not without trauma; George spent 1886 in the Utah penitentiary for “unlawful cohabitation” with his second wife, Louie, who was also in danger of going to prison (Dredge, 136).
She was born in Middlefield, Otsego County, New York State on September 12, 1830. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized this same year. She was the eldest of three daughters born to David Spaulding Shepard and Rozella Bailey Shepard.1 They were well-to-do intelligent people and were very consistent adherents of the Methodist Church. So strict were they, that their daughters were never allowed to do anything on the Sabbath-day except read the Bible and go to Church. This training she received in her youth clung to her all through her life and was passed on into the lives of her children.
In childhood, she was physically frail, being a seven month baby, but she possessed a bright, active mind and early displayed an independent spirit and strong convictions which in later life made her an outstanding character.
She attended the schools of that day and so well-mastered the three “r’s” that she graduated from the Hardwick Academy at the age of sixteen. She became a school teacher and followed that profession until she was married. The custom in those days was for the teacher to board around in the homes of the pupils as part payment for their tuition. While this practice brought her in close contact with the home life of the children, it was not always so pleasant. She finally decided to seek new fields away from home where she might obtain remuneration sufficient to permit her to choose her own boarding place. From correspondence with a cousin who was teaching in a school in southern New York state, she obtained a school in Haverstraw, a beautiful village on the west bank of the Hudson river.
This took her two-hundred miles away from home; quite an undertaking in those days for one so young. This step led to very important changes in her life, which later put hundreds of miles between her and her family. It was here she met her future husband and first heard [p.45]the glad tidings of the Gospel restored in these last days thru the boy Prophet Joseph Smith.
On reaching Haverstraw, she found that she had been assigned to a different district from her cousin. They were fortunate in finding a pleasant boarding place with a family of one John Druce, where they could be together. Mr. Druce was a trustee of the school in which her cousin taught and he also was a Mormon elder.
Also living at the Druce home was a young man from Bloomfield, New Jersey, whom had come to this same town several years previously as an apprentice to a calico engraver. Thru the Druce family he had been converted to this new religion and had been a member of the Church for some time. He and the new school teacher had some very animated discussions on this new and unpopular Church. His earnestness and sincerity impressed her, but she told him that she would have to think and study before she could join anything so new and different. Then one night Mr. Druce gave her some Mormon books and asked if she would read them. She said she would as the Bible taught her to prove all things and hold fast to that which is good. She read those books with a prayerful heart and a sincere desire to be led aright and relying on the words of Jesus that if any man shall do His will, he shall know of the doctrine. She applied for baptism on July 5, 1856. On being confirmed she received a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. …
She taught school in Haverstraw for four years. When her name came before the trustees to continue another year, one of them voted against her. He objected to her on the grounds that she was Mormon. The other remarked that he did not care whether she was a Catholic, Protestant or Mormon, she had kept the best school they had ever had in that district. He won, but when the position was offered her she declined as she had other plans.
On August 31, 1856, she became the wife of the young man who had introduced her to the Gospel, George Hamilton Taylor. The Marriage ceremony was performed by Apostle John Taylor of Salt Lake City, later the third president of the Latter Day Saint Church.
Now was born in their hearts a strong desire to join the body of the Saints in Deseret, but they remained three years longer working and saving to get the money to take them to the Land of Zion in the Rocky [p.46]Mountains. Early in April 1859 they bade farewell to the beautiful town of Haverstraw and to all their friends and acquaintances.