Sarah M. KimballSarah M. Kimball
Jill Mulvay Derr

on the cover:
Sarah M. Kimball
Strong minded and warm hearted, she was a Relief Society president for forty years and a formidable advocate for women’s rights.
Jill Mulvay Derr

The Sarah M. Kimball home, site of the March 1842 organization of the “Ladies’ Society,” precursor of the “Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.”

title page:
Sarah M. Kimball
Jill Mulvay Derr
Reprinted by permission
Signature Books

copyright page:
Copyright Utah State Historical Society, 1976
Reprinted by permission
Signature Books

Cover photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sarah M. Kimball

Strong-minded and warm hearted, she was a Relief Society president
for forty years and a formidable advocate for women’s rights.

Sarah Kimball settled on the wooden seat and sat as always arrowstraight, wisps of white hair straying from her tight top knot. This was 1883 and certainly not the first time Sarah had taken the train; she had made trips north of Salt Lake City for Relief Society matters, south to St. George for temple work, and west to California to visit her brother, Farley Granger. But this was to be a trip east, back east to Nauvoo and Kirtland, and to New York-almost a retracing of the route that had brought her to Utah years earlier.1 Thirty-two years earlier to be exact, 1851. She had come to the Salt Lake Valley a young mother with two sons; her husband, Hiram, had joined her later. Now three sons were grown; the youngest, twenty-nine-year-old Franklin D., was traveling with her. Hiram had been dead for twenty years.

Sarah’s adopted daughter, Elizabeth, was likely at the depot, and perhaps Eliza R. Snow was there. Sarah and Eliza had been together in the first Female Relief Society at Nauvoo and had been close friends ever since. Now Eliza was general president of the Relief Society and Sarah was her secretary. Sarah need not worry about the record-keeping during her extended leave; there would be few conferences and little traveling for the Relief Society officers that summer. Certainly some Fifteenth Ward sisters were at the depot. Sarah had been their Relief Society president for twenty-five years, “longer than any president living,” she boasted, and she would serve another fifteen. She was a judicious administrator who had always delegated responsibilities, so she could comfortably leave the hall, the granary, and the poor of the Fifteenth Ward with the assurance that all would be cared for. Goodbyes and baggage were probably limited: Sarah Kimball was a woman careful with words and means.

A phrenologist once said that if Mrs. Kimball were “seated in a railway carriage with parties on one hand discussing fashions, and politics to be heard on the other, she would turn to the discussion of politics.”2 She may have rattled the way back to New York in political discussion with her son Frank who, unable to share his mother’s allegiance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shared her enthusiasm for local and national politics. In the 1870s Sarah had served as a member of the territorial committee of the People’s party and she was a member of the constitutional convention that drew up Utah’s unavailing petition for statehood in 1882. In 1891 she would head the Utah Woman Suffrage Association and travel to Washington, D.C., as Utah’s delegate to the NWSA. Frank Kimball was later to manage the campaign of Utah’s first state governor, Heber M. Wells, and then to run for several public offices on his own, always without success.

On the train in 1883 the Kimballs probably found extended time for political caucusing and ample subject matter. A series of attempts at more stringent antipolygamy legislation had resulted in passage of the Edmunds Act in 1882. Thousands of Mormons were already feeling the sting of disfranchisement, and within three years anti-Mormon abuses under the Edmunds law would become so intolerable that Sarah Kimball would head a women’s committee petitioning Congress against outrages inflicted upon Utah women by federal deputies.

The conversation between mother and son was undoubtedly lively, but there must have been considerable space for reflection in that long stretch from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Phelps, New York. Probably Sarah’s thoughts moved with the train toward Phelps, toward family beginnings. With the dedication of the St. George Temple in 1877 Sarah had committed herself to searching her own lineage, and from the trip to Phelps would come the names and dates necessary to complete the temple work for her kindred dead.

Sixty-five-year-old Sarah Kimball, with her head full of family, church, and politics, is representative of her generation of Mormon women, a sisterhood eager to make their influence felt in a wide sphere. Whatever restrictions they may have felt from the priesthood-dominated LDS church structure, Sarah and women like her found room within that system for a broad scope of activity and expression. From her New England roots to her fruitful years in Salt Lake City, Sarah Kimball evolved as a woman-shaped by but also shaping women’s rights and responsibilities within the LDS church and the Utah community.

Sarah Melissa Granger was born December 29, 1818, in Phelps, Ontario County, New York, a small town midway in the near twenty miles betwen Palmyra and Seneca Falls-a fortuitously appropriate beginning for a woman so committed to the gospel restored by Joseph Smith, Jr., and the principle of the equality of the sexes. She was one of eight children of Lydia Dibble and Oliver Granger and grew up as part of an even larger extended family. Sarah’s grandfather Pierce Granger had arrived in Phelps in 1789 with his brother Elihu. The two young men barely out of their teens had erected a small log house and prepared the land for planting, readying the tiny settlement to which their father and stepmother moved the following spring.3

Sarah never knew her great-grandmother Sarah Pierce for whom she was named, but well into her own old age she remembered her greatgrandfather Elisha Granger “leaning upon his staff, bowed by the weight of many years.” She always pictured him trying to lead sinners to repentance. His son Pierce was a licensed Methodist preacher. Under Pierce Granger’s direction a schoolhouse had been built in Phelps, and Sunday classes gathered to hear sermons from Seneca Lake circuit preachers. Later he had furnished the site and part of the materials for the first meetinghouse in Phelps.4 His wife, Clarissa Trumbull Granger, was five years his senior. She married at age twenty-six and bore nine Granger children, the last just three years before her death in 1813. Oliver Granger, the second of seven sons, married Lydia Dibble in the month following his mother’s death.5

Young Sarah Melissa was part of the second generation of Grangers born in Phelps. Her family was prominent-her father Oliver served for some time as Ontario County sheriff-but they were restless, and late in the 1820s they began to scatter, some to faraway Michigan and others north a few miles to Sodus, Wayne County, New York. It was in Sodus that Oliver Granger was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like his father, Oliver had been a licensed exhorter for the Methodist church, and shortly after his baptism when he was ordained a Mormon elder by Brigham and Joseph Young he devoted his time to active missionary work. In 1833 he moved his family to Kirtland, Ohio, to gather with the Saints.6

Sarah was barely fifteen years old when the family arrived in Kirtland. By this time she, too, had doubtless been baptized a Latter-day Saint, and what a city was Kirtland for an inquisitive young mind! The Saints were publishing their own newspaper, first the Evening and Morning Star and later the Messenger and Advocate, filled with explications of the doctrines and revelations of Joseph Smith. Sarah was interested in what she read and discussed religion with her father. At his suggestion or upon her own request she attended the School of the Prophets, an irregular gathering of the priesthood-bearing elders to study the gospel and gospel-related topics. In later years she proudly reminded her sisters that she had attended the school, perhaps to underscore the importance she placed upon doctrinal study among LDS women.7

Emmeline B. Wells, Woman’s Exponent editor, remembered Sarah Kimball as a “deep religious thinker, and reasoner, and a student of the Bible, Book of Mormon and other Latter-day Saint books of a similar kind.” Sarah grew fond of the sermons and writings of Parley P. and Orson Pratt, apostle brothers whose works sometimes tended toward doctrinal intricacies and speculation. Wells further commented that Sarah was “an advanced thinker fond of diving into the unknown, or soaring upward to sublime heights In her writings she was abstruse and inclined to be mystical, and yet she was so strong-minded, and wellbalanced that she would never be the least likely to go beyond her depth.”8 Actually she saw little beyond her depth or that of her sisters.

“Does all knowledge come through the Spirit of the Lord?” seventyfive-year-old Sarah posed as a discussion question for her Relief Society sisters. “Our Sixth Sense, or the Sense of Spiritual Understanding,” she titled an address she gave in 1895 in Washington, D.C., at the Triennial Council of Women, an address in which she saw women “received into communion with the Infinite Father and Mother” and

permitted to enter hallowed mansions to attend the school of the Prophets, and, by advancing steps to reach the school of the Gods, where they learn the processes by which worlds are organized … the uses for which worlds are called into existence; the manner in which they are controlled, and the laws of progression by which all beings and animate things are perfected, and glorified in their respective spheres.9

Some nineteenth-century women may have been content with the piety proffered them by religion, but in Kirtland Sarah had grasped an intellectual and spiritual challenge that excited her throughout her life.

For Sarah, Granger family memories would always center in Kirtland where the Grangers lived for almost ten years. From there Oliver Granger set off on several missions for the church to Ohio and New York. There he served on the church’s high council, and when Kirtland collapsed financially Joseph Smith designated Oliver his fiscal agent with responsibility for settling a substantial debt. Though Oliver attempted to move his family from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri, late in 1838, anti-Mormon mobs forced him back. The Grangers joined the Saints in Nauvoo for a year, but the Prophet Joseph sent them back to Ohio so Oliver could exchange remaining land there for land further west.10

Sarah’s 1840 return to Kirtland was short-lived. Her twenty-first year had been spent in Nauvoo where her intelligence and charm had attracted the attention of thirty-four-year-old Hiram S. Kimball, a prosperous non-Mormon merchant. Hiram and Sarah were married in Kirtland with her parents’ blessing in September 1840, and the newlyweds made their home in Nauvoo. There Hiram was making handsome profits selling everything the growing city was buying: land, lumber, and bricks. His holdings in livestock, merchandise, and real estate made him one of the wealthiest men in the city, and one of the most prominent. He was as conspicuous in city politics as he was in business, and was well respected by the LDS church hierarchy, even though he was not a Latter-day Saint until 1843.11

Sarah M. Kimball became an affluent young matron whose home, often the site for social and religious gatherings of church leaders and their wives, was remembered for its elegance long after the city of Nauvoo faded. Hiram’s prosperity must have delighted his young bride, but she was at times frustrated that she as wife owned nothing. Later in life she confessed that she had not wanted to ask her nonmember husband for funds to contribute to the church for the building of the Nauvoo Temple. When she bore their first son, she asked his father if she owned half of the boy. When Hiram said yes, she inquired as to the boy’s worth, posing $1,000 as a reasonable estimate, and Hiram agreed. Sarah declared she was contributing her half to the church. When Hiram related this conversation to Joseph Smith, the prophet told him he had “the privilege of paying [the church] $500 and retaining possession, or receiving $500 and giving possession.” Mr. Kimball paid the church in land, but Mrs. Kimball maintained that the contribution was hers.12

It was in Nauvoo that Sarah Kimball developed the concern for Mormon women that would characterize her life. In 1842, when her seamstress offered to make shirts for Nauvoo Temple workers if Mrs. Kimball would provide the material, Sarah suggested that other women might similarly like to pool means and efforts. She then set about organizing a “Ladies Society.” After their first gathering, the group asked Eliza R. Snow to write their constitution which was submitted to Joseph Smith who responded: “Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and He has something better for them than a written constitution.” On March 17, 1842, Joseph Smith organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, the name and officers being selected by the eighteen women present, and he explained that “the Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.”13

Sarah Kimball attended that first meeting and the weekly meetings that continued in Nauvoo until just before Joseph Smith’s martyrdom in 1844. By that time some 1,200 women were involved. These sisters shared their feelings about the restored gospel, sewed clothing for the poor and the temple workers, visited troubled and needy Saints, and at one point petitioned the governor of Illinois “for protection from illegal suits pending against the Prophet Joseph Smith.”14 Early meetings were frequently addressed by Joseph Smith; Sarah, later counseling Relief Societies in Utah, would quote him profusely regarding Relief Societies’ obligation to improve property and conduct business and woman’s obligation to gain intelligence.

One phrase especially did Sarah accept as prophetic: She heard Joseph Smith declare in 1842 that he was turning the key in behalf of woman “in the name of the Lord,” and that knowledge and intelligence would flow down from that time henceforth. And in her lifetime she saw women given significant educational, economic, political, and religious opportunities and responsibilities. Sarah, by her own definition a “woman’s rights woman,” traced the suffrage movement itself to this “turning of the key,” asserting that “the sure foundations of the suffrage cause were deeply and permanently laid on the 17th of March, 1842.”15 Just six months before her death in 1898, as Sarah addressed her sisters in the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society, she surveyed the property buying and building, silk manufacture, grain storage, cooperative mercantiles, publications, medical study, and political activity in which Mormon women had become involved, as well as the gains of American women generally and “spoke of the breadth of meaning contained in the statement made by the Prophet Joseph Smith ‘I now turn the key for women.'”16 For over fifty years that statement colored Sarah Kimball’s perception of woman’s changing sphere.

Hiram and Sarah Kimball did not leave Nauvoo with the main body of the Saints in 1846. Apparently Hiram’s business interests kept him traveling in the East and required stationing his family in Nauvoo. Though a number of Saints remained in Illinois, Sarah was anxious to join her friends in the West. “0 Sister Hyde,” she wrote in 1848 to one close friend who had journeyed west as far as Council Bluffs, Iowa,

how I wish you could visit me during my husband’s absence. I shaH feel verry lonesome indeed. I sometimes flatter myself that I shall see you all next spring. Mr. K talks of haveing me take the children & mother & go on next spring & leave him to close his business & follow. I dont want to leave him but shall do as he thinks best.17

Ultimately this was the plan the Kimballs followed, but not until 1851. That spring business complications detained Hiram in New York City, and according to Sarah by that time he “had become financially much embarrassed.” She with her two sons and widowed mother journeyed by wagon to the Salt Lake Valley where she exchanged the traveling outfit for a small comfortable home. Hiram Kimball arrived a year later “financially ruined and broken in health.”18

To support the family, Sarah began teaching school in Salt Lake City’s Fourteenth Ward. Franklin D. was born in April 1854, and by June Sarah had resumed teaching, not, however, without opposition. Emmeline B. Wells indicated that Sarah taught “under very trying circumstances, and while thus engaged in teaching she became even more than ever convinced of the need of changed conditions for women engaged in work that came in competition with men, and determined to push the matter to the utmost.” It is clear that Sarah was not hired to teach in the ward school. When her private students became too numerous for her own sitting room, she asked her husband and sons to haul timber from the canyons and build her a schoolroom.19

By 1857 Hiram Kimball was again prospering in business. Fifteenth Ward records indicate that he was able to purchase more shares for building the ward storehouse than any other man in his ward.20 Sarah’s life became increasingly centered in ward activities when in February 1857 she was named president of the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society, a position she held until her death. At Brigham Young’s suggestion ward Relief Societies had been reorganized in the early 1850s, but their activities were cut short by the Utah War and the subsequent move south in 1858. The local organizations were not fully revived until the end of 1867.

During that ten-year interim Sarah’s life changed dramatically. Her mother, Lydia Dibble Granger, died after having lived with the Kimballs for twenty years. Hiram was killed in a steamship explosion while traveling to the Sandwich Islands as a missionary. Sarah adopted a young daughter, Elizabeth; and the oldest Kimball son married. When Brigham Young called upon bishops to reorganize Relief Societies in their wards, Sarah M. Kimball eagerly assumed her position. She was forty-nine years old, committed to service in the LDS church and to the burgeoning movement for woman’s rights. The last thirty years of her life would be public rather than private years during which her work with the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society would make her realize the value of her own strong opinions and administrative talents and motivate her to prod other women to likewise discover their personal resources and make their influence felt.

“Mrs. Sarah M. Kimball vvas essentially an organizer,” wrote Susa Young Gates in describing Relief Society beginnings in Utah. And so she was. Almost immediately “Presidentess” Kimball drew up a description of the duties of Relief Society officers, a listing slightly revised by Eliza

R. Snow and used by her in organizing Relief Societies throughout the territory. The organization included a presidentess, two counselors, a secretary, and a treasurer; a council of teachers with a presidentess and a secretary whose responsibility vvas visiting the sisters in the ward, caring for the needy and collecting donations; deaconesses to prepare the meeting place; messengers to run errands; superintendents of work to provide for the handwork; a board of apprizers to assess donations; and a commission merchantess to sell or exchange what the society received or made.21

In Salt Lake City’s Fifteenth Ward that organization was quickly put to work with tremendous success. In reporting on the society’s first year of activity Sarah Kimball told President Brigham Young and Eliza

R. Snow that the poor, the sick, and the sorrowful had been looked after “so far as we had the means and power to relieve and comfort them.” “We soon found an increasing treasury fund which it became our duty to put to usury,” Sarah proudly informed her superiors. That money was invested in a small lot 2 1/2-by-3 rods on which the society planned to build a hall, the first Relief Society hall in the church.22 The laying of the cornerstone for this hall in November 1868 was no small occasion, at least for Sarah Kimball who was provided with a silver trowel and mallet and an assembly of Fifteenth Ward men and women with whom to share her vision of woman’s work. Her speech was carefully recorded:

I appear before you on this interesting occasion on behalf of the Female Relief Society to express thanks to the Almighty God that the wheels of progress have been permitted to run until they have brought us to a more extended field of useful labor for female minds and hands.

With feelings of humility and gratitude I stand upon this consecrated rock, and contemplate the anticipated result of the completion of this unpretending edifice (which I will here call “Our Store”), the upper story of which will be dedicated to art and science; the lower story to commerce or trade. I view this as a stepping stone to similar enterprises on a grander scale.23  

Fifteenth Ward Relief Society Hall where hand-made items were sold to help fund the group's varied programs. --Utah State Historical Society collections.Fifteenth Ward Relief Society Hall where hand-made items were sold to help fund the group's varied programs. --Utah State Historical Society collections.In fact Sarah’s vision was accurate: by 1888 Mormon Relief Societies owned land and buildings valued at $95,000; and by the tum of the century Relief Society halls had been constructed throughout Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, and in Canada and Mexico.24

In 1895 when Anna Howard Shaw and Susan B. Anthony visited Utah, Sarah Kimball, then Utah honorary vice-president of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, reminisced about reading Anthony’s feminist articles in the Revolution in the 1860s. She explained that at that time she “would not have dared to say the bold, grand things that Miss Anthony said, … and as time rolled on we were very careful.”25 When the Fifteenth Ward hall was under construction in 1868-69, Mrs. Kimball encountered some opposition and attempted to negotiate with the brethren in the ward for the women’s increased activities. “We know there is strong prejudice existing in the minds of many against female organizations, and we regret to acknowledge there is cause for this prejudice,” she said, indicating that she did not subscribe to the feelings of the women calling “for a place in the senate and all public offices and responsibilities, neglecting her first and highest duty, that of making home happy.” In essence, Mrs. Kimball promised that she and her sisters would assume only such powers as were delegated to them by the ward’s priesthood leaders, but these powers the women must assume or be doomed with the “unprofitable servant.” “In relation to the storehouse being erected,” she added, “the echo has reached our ears that the society wished the brethren to do all the work, and for them to have the credit of it. We do not know where the sound originated, but we wish to inform all present that it is entirely a mistake.”26

In the years that followed, the woolen cloth, carpet rags, spools of cotton, baby stockings, crewel and braid, dried fruits, valentines, buttons, shoes and moccasins made by Fifteenth vVard members and sold on a commission basis by the sisters in their store helped pay for the building. These funds combined with what the sisters collected in monthly donations were extensive enough to furnish the hall; purchase shares for the ward organ; build a granary and stock it with grain; contribute to funds for Perpetual Emigration, the Salt Lake and Logan temples, and the Deseret Hospital; provide a carpet for the ward meetinghouse; and purchase a knitting machine and set up a tailoring establishment within the ward. Such contributions would have been typical of Relief Societies throughout the church that also provided food, clothing, and quilts for the poor, and temple and burial garments for church members in the 1870s and 1880s.27In addition, Fifteenth Ward sisters engaged in some less typical Relief Society activities: sending assistance to those who suffered in the Chicago fire, mailing the Woman’s Exponent to English sisters too poor to subscribe, beginning a ward kindergarten and financing the teacher’s professional training as well as paying tuition for poor children, founding a ward library, and sponsoring quarterly parties for the ward’s widowed and aged. These were profitable servants putting their delegated powers to usury.

Remarkably complete minutes of Fifteenth Ward Relief Society meetings are extant for the years between 1867 and Sarah Kimball’s death in 1898. They reveal something of her concerns and expertise as a leader. Sarah, “who had been both rich and poor, [who] had moved in all grades of society, had always seen much good and intelligence in woman.” She was constantly striving to help her sisters exercise their minds. A few months after the hall was dedicated and the sisters were settling down to regular meetings, Sister Kimball said she “wished the sisters to come to the society meetings prepared to entertain each other with reading, speaking, or singing, and not spend all the time in work.” This they did, the society gathering to sew carpet rags and quilts while members took turns reading from the scriptures, Parley P. Pratt’s Key to Theology, and some contemporary books and periodicals such as Woman and Her Era and the Phrenological Journal.28

Mrs. Kimball attempted to vary the curriculum, placing heavy stress on the study of physiology in 1872-73. She told her sisters that “human bodies were not forlorn, disagreeable objects, and should not be subjected to the causes that would make them such.” Accordingly, she preached dress reform, declaring that “tight lacing was a sin against humanity.”29 She did not limit her scope of concern to her own ward but suggested the setting up of physiology classes among the Relief Society and Young Ladies MIA organizations throughout the church.

In 1881 the Fifteenth Ward society attempted to center weekly discussions on basic gospel principles, and Sarah became frustrated when attendance dropped off. On April 14, 1881, the secretary recorded:

Pres. S. M. Kimball said that we were eternal beings and that there was a germ within us that was eternal. Said the glory of God was His intelligence and that our glory hereafter was our intelligence. Said we came together to learn our responsibilities to ourselves to God and to all the world. Said if these meetings were not interesting to the sisters we would return to work again.

They returned to work and for some time “the ever faithful basket of carpet rags was brought forth and distributed among the sisters.” But not indefinitely. By 1884 the sisters were taking turns presiding and designating topics for discussion such as the Word of Wisdom, prayer, the Constitution, and the Atonement.30

Sarah Kimball later maintained this same emphasis on woman’s education in her “vork with the Utah ‘Woman Suffrage Association. As soon as she was elected in 1890, she suggested that each woman read over the Constitution six times and that county chapters take up the study of municipal government. “This would lead to our advancement and the enlargement of our capacities,” she said. Fifteen hundred members of the UWSA participated in classes in civil government during 1890-….91, forming mock legislative assemblies to help women understand the billpassing process. Woman, said Mrs. Kimball, must “intelligently assert her selfhood in a manner that will enable her to labor more effectively for the general good of humanity.”31

Convinced that each vvoman should have a sense of self, President Sarah Kimball delegated significant responsibilities to the Fifteenth Ward sisters and did not intrude upon such assignments. Elizabeth Duncanson was president of the Relief Society’s teachers quorum or visiting committee for almost as long as Sarah was Relief Society president. This committee held separate weekly meetings and kept separate minutes. Sarah was usually present, but did not take charge. When Brigham Young encouraged home manufacture among LDS women, Sarah Kimball designated six women to oversee everything the ward sisters were producing, from feather brushes to temple clothing. She was interested in developing leadership skills in women besides herself, and her efficient administration in the Fifteenth Ward left her free to pursue other political and church activities.

And she served as a first-rate example of confident, capable womanhood. Emmeline B. Wells recalled that Sarah’s ideas were independent and original and that “in public measures her plans were well-matured before she presented them, and therefore the more convincing.” vVells added that Sarah’s “decidedly positive manner” was construed by some as aggressive, but others appreciated her straightforwardness. vVhen her Relief Society considered building a granary in 1876, Mrs. Kimball approached the ward bishopric and spelled out three alternatives. A brother had proffered space in one of his buildings. The Relief Society could sell stock subscriptions and purchase the vacant lot behind their store. Or, if the ward would help in the construction of a fireproof granary and stock it with 350 bushels of wheat, Sarah would donate some of her own land. in the ward for the site. A decision was not reached immediately, but Sarah’s preparation raised the pertinent issues and one of the brethren present noted that “he was always pleased with a plain statement of facts such as had been presented by Sister Kimball.”32

Though Sarah Kimball indicated that she was somewhat reluctant to express her views on the equality of the sexes as early as Susan B. Anthony did, she apparently lost all hesitation as soon as it was clear that there was a place within the Latter-day Saint scheme for a woman’s rights advocate. Sister Kimball was never one to go against the brethren, but when the territorial legislature granted the right of suffrage to Utah women in 1870, Sarah affirmed “that she had waited patiently a long time and now that we were granted the right of suffrage, she would openly declare herself a woman’s rights woman.”33 In the years that followed, Sarah’s oft-expressed opinions on woman’s equality gained her a reputation for being strong-minded. “She was a woman one liked to talk with even if one could not always coincide with her views, and one was pretty sure to learn something by conversation with her,” recollected one associate. “Even if one was worsted in an argument, she was certainly well worth listening to, and excellent in debate.”34 Writing to the Deseret News editor to disagree with his comments about woman’s right to hold public office, admonishing Relief Society sisters to honor women as well as the brethren, petitioning the governor to appoint women as university regents, or telling younger women that maternity meant schooling the child in “social, moral and political purity and majesty,” Sarah Kimball “never hesitated in giving her opinion upon equality of the sexes.” And no one who knew her doubted the strength of her convictions.

Although remembered by Utahns as the state’s pioneer suffragist, Sarah M. Kimball waged her most ardent campaign for woman’s rights during the 1870s and 1880s when Utah women were exercising their elective franchise. She geared her efforts at awakening women to their responsibilities and possibilities. The real struggle for suffrage came after 1887 when the Edmunds-Tucker Act disfranchised Utah women. During the urgent campaign of the 1890s aging Sarah Kimball was not as active in organizing local suffrage auxiliaries and communicating with national suffrage leaders as were younger proponents of woman’s suffrage, most notably Emily S. Richards. But Sarah’s endorsement of the goals and programs of the local movement was unwavering; and her sanction, as one of the older generation and an established advocate of woman’s advancement, undoubtedly helped to gamer support for the cause.35

Sarah M. Kimball, standing right-center holding handkerchief, participated in national woman suffrage groups such as the one above that met in Utah. --Courtesy LDS church.By choice, it seems, Mrs. Kimball refused to allow her involvement with public weal to usurp her vital concern for individual men and women. Perhaps it was this concern that kept her so occupied with her work in the Fifteenth Ward. Though she was active in territorial politics and suffrage activities and served with the general Relief Society presidency and board for almost twenty years, much of her life continued to center in her own ward where as Relief Society president she was called upon to administer to the wants of the needy. The ward bishop, Robert

T. Burton, praised her for her “heart full to overflowing with love and kindness to [her] fellow creatures,” and Fifteenth Ward minutes reveal her as a leader sensitive to the personal problems of the brothers and sisters in the “ward family”:

Sister Kimball felt that Sister Ruth had a claim on us. Said she was a great sufferer in her feeling, and if we can comfort her in our prayers it would be a great blessing to her and us. Also spoke of Sister Ann. Said her case was to be [considered]. Said she was one of us. She did not know what was best to do for her. Also spoke of Father Andrews. Said he had grown old amongst us. She thought he had a claim on us as a ward. She thought the sisters had earned a blessing in what they do. She thought the people responded good in giving. She felt to say God bless the people, God bless the poor, God bless the society.36

And even when the sick and poor were cared for there were other needs to attend to. “This year I am happy in believing that the needy poor in our city are supplied with a reasonable abundance of fuel, food and raiment,” Sarah wrote church leader John Taylor one Christmas. “But there are other hungers besides that for food,” she continued, “and the question is, Shall we take cognisance to these other legitimate hungers and try to supply the requisite nutriment that we may have joy in witnessing the best developments of our home talents?” She was writing in regard to a young woman who hungered for “musical advantages,” asking the church leader to help finance study for one who had unselfishly shared her musical talents with church members.37

Sarah showed an awareness of individual needs as women related to one another in groups. When she sensed that disagreements in Relief Society discussions were alienating some members she pleaded with the sisters to recognize that “when we grow old we get very sensitive,” reminding them that “we should govern our sensitiveness with judgment.” She thought sisters “tried and wounded each others feelings, but not knowingly,” and should work to cultivate good feelings toward each other. It would seem the Relief Society sisters celebrated their successes in this area since the secretary once proudly recorded: “The wool was picked without the merits or demerits of neighbors being discussed.”38

Sarah Kimball celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday by sponsoring a special dinner for the widows and aged women in her ward. “The ladies came and went in carriages at her expense,” the Woman’s Exponent reported. Whenever personal support was needed Sarah Kimball seemed willing to give it. She constantly admonished her sisters to pray for their leaders, be they men or women leading the church, the state, or the nation.

Sarah's home [back cover art]During 1897-98 Sarah attended her Relief Society meetings less frequently. Her health declined rapidly, and not infrequently the society officers met with Sarah in her home. At one of the last meetings she was able to get out to attend, plans for a new Relief Society hall were discussed and President Sarah M. Kimball announced that “she desired to give the funeral sermon of our old hall.” She reviewed the history of the hall and the Fifteenth Ward society, “and the work of progress intellectually as well as attending to the wants of the poor and needy.”39 She was proud of the society of sisters in her ward, a society that many said “prospered beyond any branch in Zion.” In Salt Lake City’s Fifteenth Ward she had seen in microcosm the effects of Joseph Smith’s “turning of the key” and the subsequent “extended field of useful labor for female minds and hands.”

Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball died December 1, 1898, on the eve of her eightieth birthday. “What an amount of interesting history you have helped to make,” George Q. Cannon had scribbled to Sarah in her book of autographs in 1892. “Now you stand venerable in appearance, your head silvered, if not by age, at least by the trials you have endured, in an important station and as a representative woman among your sex.”40 Because her life encompassed a broad spectrum of Mormon women’s concerns and activities-from family to theology, from commission stores to politics, from the needs of the poor in her ward to the rights of women-Sarah Kimball is representative of her generation of Mormon women. If she was exceptional it was not because her options were significantly different but because her own strong-mindedness and charity made her exercise of those options exceptional, and often exemplary. “The liberal shall be blessed,” she had told her sisters at one Relief Society meeting, and that statement seems a fitting tribute to her ideology and works.


Miss Mulvay is a historical associate in the Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This paper was awarded first prize in the 1976 Utah Bicentennial Biographies Contest, professional class, jointly sponsored by the Utah State Historical Society, the Utah American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, and the Salt Lake Tribune.

1. See “Editorial Notes,” Woman’s Exponent, July 1, 1883; “Notes and News,” Woman’s Exponent, August 15, 1883.

2. Augusta Joyce Crocheron, Representative Women of Deseret (Salt Lake City, 1884), p. 28. This collection of essays contains an autobiographical sketch by Sarah M. Kimball.

3. Helen Post Ridley, When Phelps Was Young (Phelps, N.Y.: Echo, 1939), P. 106.

4. This meetinghouse was completed just a few years before the Methodist Genessee conference gathered there in July 1819. The stirrings of that conference prompted young Joseph Smith, Jr., to his religious search in nearby Palmyra. See Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Awakenings in the Burned-over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision,” Brigham Young University Studies 9 (1969): 301-20.

5. Family group sheet for Pierce Granger, Genealogical Archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.

6. Obituary for Oliver Granger taken from the “Journal History,” August 25, 1843. The “Journal History” is a scrapbook collection of newspaper clippings and relevant diary and journal excerpts surveying the history of the LDS church kept in the Archives Division, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereinafter cited as LDS Archives.

7. See Fifteenth Ward, Riverside Stake, Relief Society minutes, 1874-94, vol. 5, April 11, 1894, manuscript, LDS Archives. In direct quotes from these minutes and others, spelling and punctuation have been standardized.

8. Emmeline B. Wells, “L.D.S. Women of the Past,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1908.

9. Sarah M. Kimball, “Our Sixth Sense, or the Sense of Spiritual Understanding,” Woman’s Exponent, April 15, 1895.

10. Obituary for Oliver Granger; “Journal History,” October 18,1840.

11. Jenson dates Hiram’s baptism July 20, 1843. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, 1901-36),2:372. At the end of 1844 Hiram received a patriarchal blessing, an ordinance usually reserved for church members. Patriarchal Blessings, vol. 9, December 25,1844, manuscript, LDS Archives.

12. Crocheron, Women of Deseret, pp. 25-26.

13. Ibid., pp. 26-27.

14. Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. Brigham H. Roberts, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1902-32), 5: 140-41.

15. Woman Suffrage Leaflet (Salt Lake City, January 1892), p. 3. ,.

16. Relief Society Minutes, 1874-94, vol. 5, June 9, 1898.

17. Kimball to Marinda Hyde, January 2, 1848, holograph, LDS Archives.

18. Crocheron, Women of Deseret, p. 27.

19. Emmeline B. Wells, “President Sarah M. Kimball,” Woman’s Exponent, December 15, 1898; Sarah M. Kimball’s remarks, “Weber Stake of Zion,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1879.

20. Fifteenth Ward, Riverside Stake, Historical Record, 1849-59, May 15, 1857, manuscript, LDS Archives; see also Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900 (1958; reprint ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968), p. 164.

21. Fifteenth Ward, Riverside Stake, Relief Society Minutes, 1868-73, vol. 1, loose sheet titled “Duty of Officers of F. R. Society Written by S. M. Kimball, revised by E R Snow,” manuscript, LDS Archives.