A Day in the Life of Provo 4th Ward, 1910
Contributor: timothygcross Created: 7 months ago Updated: 7 months ago
It was the Sabbath, May 1, 1910.
Members of the Provo 4th Ward had come to their ward house in Provo to worship in the regular monthly fast and testimony meeting.
At 1:00 that afternoon, Bishop Alfred L. Booth called the meeting to order.
It was only the third fast and testimony meeting that William Ashworth had ever recorded. He had been sustained as ward clerk the previous February, replacing James A. Oliver, who had served in the position for over a decade.
Ashworth, 65, was still trying to find his own style. Oliver had jotted down notes and then typed them out after the meeting was over on loose pages of lined legal-sized paper. Ashworth never typed out his minutes. He was, nevertheless, a sturdy speller and a man of administrative talent. Born in industrial Lancashire, Ashworth emigrated to Utah while he was still a child. His family settled in Beaver. He later returned to England as a missionary, and after returning to Utah, made a living superintending the Beaver Woolen Factory. In those days, the largest wool factory in Utah was in Provo. It made sense that Ashworth would want to move up. In the early 1890s he moved up the road to Provo, where he became manager of the Provo Milling and Manufacturing Company, over which a young Reed Smoot, the future apostle, was president.
Ashworth wrote his minutes in ink in a flowing cursive hand. He wrote on the same paper Oliver used and adjoined his pages with Oliver’s typed pages. Together, these loose pages were later bound together as part of a running record of the ward’s activities.
Ashworth’s method seemed fine with Bishop Booth, a Provo attorney. Booth, 45, was married to Ashworth’s daughter, May. The two men understood one another; Booth could see no reason why Ashworth could not imprint his own style onto the minutes.
One thing remained constant between the two clerks. Oliver often wrote a line or two summarizing what each of the testimony bearers said every month. Ashworth carried on the tradition. The lines weren’t so much a summary of the content as an expression of the heart or spirit of the person. It said a lot about a person simply to note that they stood and bore testimony of the Gospel.
May Ashworth Booth, the bishop’s wife and the clerk’s daughter, was the first to stand that day. Ashworth’s spare minutes read: she “bore her testimony, was thankful for the blessings of hearth enjoyed [by] herself and family.” That was the entire summary. (He wrote "hearth" but may have meant "health.") He lavished no more attention on preserving his daughter’s words than he did anyone else’s in the ward.
Mary Ann Anderson, 35, stood next. A widow of two years, she had her hands full in raising five young children alone. She must have been grateful for all the church was doing to help raise these children. She “was also glad to be present,” Ashworth wrote, “and wondered if we appreciate the privileges and blessings we enjoy. We should be more sympathetic toward each other—and encourage each other more.” One wonders if there was any regret in these words. Did Anderson wish she had said more encouraging words to husband before he died suddenly at the age of 48?
William Buckley, 71, an old-time British emigrant who lived on 9th north and Academy (later University) Ave, wanted to “corroborate” the testimony of Sister Anderson. “We should always do good,” he said, “and show acts of kindess to our fellow man.” The congregation knew Buckley as a man who loved to sing the hymns. On another occasion, he told the ward that he took “great pleasure” both in reading the “songs of Zion” and in singing them. He thought the Psalms, in particular, were “the most beautiful sentiments.”
Then it was the turn of the aged sister from Wales. Ashworth may not have known her first name; he simply called her “Sister Monk.” She was, in any case, “thankful for the knowledge she had of the Gospel.”
James A. Oliver, the former clerk, stood next. By day he worked as the superintendent of the Utah County Infirmary. Oliver “desired that he might enjoy the spirit of the Lord. He rejoiced in the Gospel and encouraged all to be faithful and live worthily of the blessings of the Lord.”
During this period of Mormon history, it was not customary for children and youth to stand in fast and testimony meeting, as they do today. Only adults bore testimony on this day. Hugh Holdaway, 23, was the youngest speaker. A newlywed of 8 months, he was also a student at BYU, which was then located exclusively on the Academy (now Provo City Library) block of Provo but was soon to expand to its present location on the crest of what locals called "Temple Hill." Holdaway spoke as a young man whose faith was growing and whose life was just beginning to take off. He “bore his testimony and hoped to continue faithful.”
By this point, Ashworth had caught the spirit of the meeting and felt moved to stand up and say a few words. There may have been a lag in the testimonies, prompting Ashworth to step in the fill the space. “Bro. Wm Ashworth,” he wrote of himself after he sat down, “felt desirous of appreciating the blessings of health enjoyed.”
By 1910, temperance reform was a topic on the lips of many people. Many U.S. states had already gone dry, and some people in Utah—most vociferously Apostle Heber J. Grant—argued that it was an embarrassment that the Beehive State had not done the same. The state legislature had just finished months of heated debate on this issue, with the local option position—that communities should make their own prohibition laws—winning out. It would be another half dozen years before Utah would pass statewide prohibition as a run-up to nation-wide prohibition.
William Ashworth’s testimony reflected these debates. He clearly favored temperance reform, though whether the local option or statewide prohibition is not clear from the minutes. (Latter-day Saints were divided on this issue.) He “said how much better the world of mankind would be providing they were all as good as the Latterday Saints [at] present are (with all our weaknesses and they are many). There would be no saloons, no houses of ill fame and other faults practiced by the people of the world.”
After Ashworth sat down, Sarah Baker, 55, came to the front. She, like Ashworth, was an English convert and an emigrant. She was also a widowed mother of ten. She appears to have held nothing against God for her lot. Ashworth said she spoke “of the goodness of the Lord unto her.”
Elias Gee, 41, spoke next. Ashworth had Gee saying that he “rejoiced in the work of the Lord." Gee and his wife Frances were both second-generation Mormons who had been born and raised in Provo. They had known tragedy, but like many Mormons their age, they had known less of it than their parents' generation had. Gee had steady work as a clerk at the church's mercantile outfit (ZCMI). He “did not think there was another [people] in the world that were more comfortably situated as a whole than were the Latter-day Saints,” he said on another occasion.
Elias and Frances were the parents of seven children, just one of whom had already died (at the age of 2). As scientists found vaccinations for age-old epidemics like small pox and diphtheria, younger families like the Gees were beginning to see fewer childhood deaths. The Gees' other six children were all under eighteen and still lived with their parents. It was must have been a very busy time for the Gees. Elias Gee “was glad,” he said, that “he had received such good counsel he had received [sic] from his parents.”
William Ashworth did not record what that counsel was. Gee's parents, George and Sophina Gee, were longtime Provo residents who would have been known to many in the audience. Moreover, Frances' parents, James and Harriet Bean, were members of the Provo 4th Ward. Elias Gee's reference to "parents" may have encompassed both sets of parents. His reference to the "good counsel" he had been given was a public tribute to the older generation who had shaped the man he had become.
Mormon wards in this period often sang a hymn in the middle of testimony meeting, breaking up the testimonies, which tended to go on longer than the usual hour and ten minutes allotted to the meeting today.
On this day, the rest hymn seems to have come rather late. After the congregation sang “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning,” Emma Westerman Ashworth arose. She was the last testimony of the day.
Emma Ashworth was William’s wife. Like her husband, she was born in England, in Nottingham, converted to the church, and emigrated to Zion.
Emma Ashworth was not, however, the mother of May Ashworth Booth, the wife of Bishop Booth. Emma Ashworth was the second of William’s two wives; May Booth had been born to the first. William and Emma had married in Utah in 1884, after the federal government had stripped Mormon women of the right to vote and made “unlawful cohabitation” (code for Mormon polygamy) a crime punishable by fine and jail sentence. By 1884, Mormon leaders thought of new plural marriages as a sign of loyalty to the church. Five years later, Ashworth would be indicted and convicted of unlawful cohabitation in a Beaver court.
Many polygamists, including high Mormon leaders, continued to cohabit and bear children with their plural wives after the Manifesto of 1890 signaled the beginning of the end of plural marriage. William and Emma followed this course. William’s first wife, Mary Elizabeth Shepherd, bore her last child in 1892. Emma bore children in 1891, 1893, and 1894.
William had made marriage covenants in holy places with these women, and in his mind the sacredness of these vows trumped—and indeed, preceded—what he could only have thought were the unjust laws enacted by prejudiced men. But he would have to suffer the consequences for fidelity to these covenants. In 1894, seven months after Emma had given birth to their child, William was again arrested—this time with Emma—by a deputy marshal in Provo and charged with adultery, a more severe charge than unlawful cohabitation. The outcome of the case is unknown; after 1890, other such cases were often dismissed by friendly judges.
William's reference to the problem of "houses of ill fame" in Utah can be read as a lament that the old Mormon order had disappeared. Many nineteenth-century Mormon sermons argued that polygamy made prostitution unnecessary and that "houses of ill fame" arose because Americans had not adopted the Mormon marriage system. Whether the argument was valid or not, people like William would not have used such terms arbitrarily. William believed he had done right to follow God's law; "houses of ill fame" were Satan's counterfeit.
William Ashworth's two wives lived next door to another on 5th North in Provo. The 1910 census listed William living in the same household (167 West) with his first wife, Mary Elizabeth Shepherd, along with the four children they had still living at home, ages 17 to 24. Emma Ashworth, meanwhile, was listed as the head-of-household (155 West) of four children ages 17 to 23. All told, William’s two wives bore him 13 children.
Emma Ashworth struck others as a strong woman. At the time of this fast and testimony meeting, she was then serving as head of Religion Classes in the ward. Her title was "superintendent." That meant that she was in charge of all the after-school religious instruction for every child in the ward. The Mormon seminary system was still a few years off, and the Religion Classes were precursor to seminary, only for grade school and older children alike. The program was phased out a few decades later when Primary and Seminary were deemed sufficient organizations for after-school instruction.
“The Lord knows our hearts and desires,” Emma Ashworth said as she took the stand, according to the minutes kept by husband William. “If we were judged by our outward appearance she feared we would come short of our expectations.”
It was comforting for Emma to know that the Lord could see into her soul and on this basis judge her fairly, even if members of her ward did not.
Sister Ashworth’s testimony seemed like a good place to end the meeting. Bishop Booth stood and brought the services to a close by asking the choir to sing “If the Way Is Full of Trials.” The benediction was then offered by Oscar Russell.
With that, William Ashworth’s job was done for the day.
“Wm Ashworth clerk,” he signed at the bottom.
Sources: Minutes, May 1, 8, June 12, 1910, Provo 4th Ward, General Minutes, 1909-12, LR 7224 11, v. 19, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; “Personal,” Salt Lake Herald, Jan. 15, 1884; “Beaver Court,” Salt Lake Herald, Sept. 10, 1889; “Milling and Manufacturing Company,” June 7, 1892; “Charged With Adultery,” Jan. 12, 1894, Salt Lake Herald [Utah Digital Newspapers]; “Emma Ashworth Passes Away,” Provo Evening Herald, Feb. 10, 1936 [Newspaper Archive]; Family Search.