Working the Divine Miracle
by Richard D. Poll
Stan Larson, editor
Alberta and Henry
[p.44] Clara Alberta Wright did not spend the first twenty-seven years of her life waiting for Henry Moyle. She had her own place to make. In the hierarchy of early-twentieth-century Utah society, her family was not quite up with the Moyles and Dinwoodeys. But Charles Henry and Clara Mae Scoville Wright were both willing and able to support their oldest daughter in her quest for education, social standing, and artistic excellence. She pursued these goals on two continents, and by the time Henry faced her across the marriage altar in the Salt Lake temple, he knew that he had made a good match.
Charles and Clara Wright were of pioneer Mormon stock. He learned merchandising in his father’s clothing and dry goods store in Ogden—W. H. Wright and Sons—and later went into the women’s furnishings business on his own. She learned homemaking as the big sister to six younger brothers and so was well prepared-and probably strongly motivated—to marry when she was just eighteen. Clara Alberta arrived four years later, on 24 July 1892. She was named for her mother but meant to be called by her second given name. A brother, William, had preceded her into the world; the four other Wright children—Vera, Elliott, Ruth, and Gordon came from seven to fifteen years later. Alberta thus had a niche of her own—the first and for quite some time the only daughter. She made that niche a launching platform.
The Wrights moved into a new home on Ogden’s Jefferson Avenue soon after Alberta’s birth. It was a spacious but unpretentious place, particularly remembered by the children for the flowers that scented the [p.45]out-of-doors and Clara’s baking that did the same inside. As business recovered from the depression of the mid-1890s it became possible to add such refinements as a phonograph and a grand piano, and music assumed a growing importance in the family.
Next door lived Alberta’s—and Henry Moyle’s—Aunt Edith and Uncle Will. Edith Dinwoodey Wright was Alice Dinwoodey Moyle’s half sister; William Wright was one of Charles Henry Wright’s five brothers. Educated and affluent, Edith took a lively interest in the pretty and talented young Alberta. She also told her from time to time about her nephew Henry. But if the two children ever met, it left no permanent impression in the mind of either.
Before she graduated from Weber Academy, the LDS high school in Ogden, Alberta had become so accomplished a pianist that she was in constant demand. She played at school for singing groups and when the students in those regimented days marched in and out of the building. On Sundays she sometimes performed during three or four meetings.1 She also became a central figure in a group of musically inclined teenagers who gathered occasionally at Lila Eccles’s splendid home to sing and sup and then whisper of other things when the lights were lowered. Alberta’s first beau was Lila’s brother, Joseph. He would buy complete opera scores and vocalize the several parts while Alberta played the accompaniments.
To become an accomplished musician in those days meant study in Europe. Aunt Edith encouraged the idea and Alberta’s parents assented. So it came to pass that while Henry Moyle was studying engineering at Freiberg, Alberta Wright and her brother William were studying music in Paris-she piano and he voice. They also studied French and took frequent weekend sightseeing trips. When the Paris Branch of the Mormon church was organized in 1912, Alberta played the piano. When Henry Moyle’s parents visited the French capital about the same time, James remarked to Alice that Alberta Wright would be a good wife for Henry. What the two young people thought of each other when they—met in Frankfurt has already been reported.
Back in Ogden Alberta resumed her place in musical society, dated without becoming seriously involved, and gave only a little thought to the self-confident Henry, away at law school somewhere. If there were [p.46]any letters, they have not survived. Contact was made soon after Henry moved into his father’s law office in Salt Lake City. But forty miles was a formidable barrier to a serious courtship and so was the uncertain state of his prospects. Like his father, Henry Moyle did not plan to marry until he could support a wife. Determined not to become a war bride, Alberta took a job as a secretary and resolved to wait. Henry knew that he was leaving an attractive and congenial friend behind when he left for the Presidio, but subsequent events showed that no commitments had been made. When Alberta went to see Henry in San Francisco after the San Diego happening, it almost certainly helped to refocus his thinking.
Once he had left the army, reopened a law office, and renewed his contract with the University of Utah, Henry Moyle lost no time in courting. He drove to Ogden in a borrowed car and dropped in on the Wrights. It was late and Alberta was getting ready for bed. He persuaded her to change her plans and together they drove up Ogden Canyon. There he asked her to marry him. Two weeks later, on 16 October 1919, LDS president Heber J. Grant performed the ceremony that made them husband and wife. A beautiful reception followed at “Berthana,” the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association social center in Ogden Canyon. Alberta and Henry made a handsome couple on the dance floor, as they do in the wedding pictures that commemorate the event.
Autumn was at its fairest as the newlyweds—still in a borrowed car—drove to the Moyle cabin at Brighton. What they later shared with their children about that honeymoon week were vignettes. He learned that she could cook expertly on a wood-burning stove. She learned that he was an indefatigable worker by watching him build a fence around the cabin. It convinced her that he was destined to make a mark in the world. Both knew as they drove down the canyon just ahead of a mountain storm that they were very much in love with each other.
It is a safe assumption that compatibility did not come automatically to these two independent-minded and broadly experienced people. If Alberta is correctly remembered as having said that she “did not want a lot of church or a lot of children,” then she made some substantial adjustments for a husband who wanted both. She bore four daughters and three sons, and the last came seventeen years after the first. She saw Henry through to positions of great ecclesiastical responsibility, and she sustained him all the way. She was socially ambitious, and some of the directions of her husband’s life restricted those aspirations. So she made [p.47]Henry’s life the focus of her own. In return he gave her both tangible and intangible evidence of his appreciation and love. He was certainly the head of the household that they created together. But it was hardly such a household as he facetiously described in a 1923 letter to a friend from missionary days: “You may be surprised to know that I am now the proud father of three children, to say nothing of my … rights in my wife. She objects very much to my even thinking that I am her boss, but whether she thinks it or not I am, and ruling with an iron hand as I do, we have no marital difficulties, I having my own way at all times. …”
Because there was no way to dominate the indomitable Henry Moyle, Alberta asserted her personal autonomy in several interesting ways. She liked nice things and Henry liked giving them to her. During the early money-stretching years he might remonstrate when she bought a dozen pairs of shoes for herself and the girls on a single shopping expedition. But he was an impulse buyer himself, so it was never possible to impose a rigid budget on the Moyle household. He simply worked harder to support his family in the manner to which he and Alberta believed they were entitled.
Alberta set a high standard as a homemaker. Some of Henry’s untidy bachelor habits received her early attention and she apparently prevailed. The girls were expected to help with such household tasks as doing dishes, but because there was usually domestic help the assignments were not onerous. “You girls will have to do it soon enough,” she told Virginia. She took correspondence courses in interior decorating and applied the new knowledge as circumstances permitted. She canned hundreds of quarts of fruits and vegetables each summer, partly because it was thrifty, partly because she made uncommonly good jellies and preserves, and partly because her husband became a key spokesman for the Mormon welfare concept that every family should store a year’s supply of food.
Alberta also liked to cook. The delicacies that graced the Moyle table contributed to the weight problem that plagued both Henry and Alberta during their years together. Once in a while she would go East to a fashionable reducing salon and return refreshed in body and spirit. As for Henry, he lost hundreds of pounds on diets of one kind or another but was always too busy—and too vulnerable to gourmet temptations—to maintain the discipline that chronic angina and high blood pressure required.
Entertaining in style was another of Alberta Moyle’s forms of self-expression. At first her style was cramped by want of space, time, and [p.48]means. Because she would not throw a party casually, the Moyle social calendar was nor crowded then. As Henry’s income increased, the home added space and furnishings and the parties became more frequent and fashionable. Henry enjoyed them, too. Indeed, he often suggested them. Before there was money to hire helpers, he helped. But they were Alberta’s projects, and her graciousness as a hostess is well remembered. Before one big party she told her friend, Belle Spafford: “I haven’t the slightest idea how many Henry has invited, but I’ll see that the caterer can handle them.”
Alberta also liked to get away occasionally—to do her own thing. The letters show that Henry missed her, but he let her go. Whether it was California, New York, or Europe, he saw that she went in class. Often he found a business reason—or excuse—to accompany her to her destination or to meet her on the way back. Absence might not always make the heart grow fonder, but in Alberta’s view it was a chance worth taking.
She had a few other maverick tendencies. She ignored some of the constraints of the Mormon Word of Wisdom and she ignored Henry’s occasional lectures about it. She readied the children for their Sunday meetings, and when one of them performed, she usually went. When
Henry’s assignments required a partner, she accompanied him, and when later as an LDS general authority he took her to interesting places, she attended the meetings and made the short talks that were expected. That she handled these assignments well will be noted in another chapter.
She was a committed Latter-day Saint, but after the girlhood experiences already noted, routine church-going was not a high priority component of her adult commitment. Some people commented, but what Alberta gave as wife, mother, homemaker, social manager, friend, and sweetheart was enough for Henry Moyle.