Diantha Morley Billings (1795-1879)

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(This is a bonus chapter excerpt from the eBook Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume 1: 1778-1820.)


Biographical Sketch

Diantha Morley was just shy of her twentieth birthday when she first set foot on Ohio sod with her parents, Thomas and Editha Marsh Morley, and some of her siblings. Born in the township of Montague, Franklin County, Massachusetts, on August 23, 1795, Diantha was the seventh of nine children. Her older brother Isaac and his wife, Lucy, had previously established a farm near the rural village of Kirtland, Ohio. Here Diantha met and married Titus Billings; they both became members of Sidney Rigdon’s Reformed Baptist congregation.1

In November 1830, Diantha and Titus, with Isaac and Lucy Morley and many others in Rigdon’s congregation, heard of and joined the Church of Christ, later renamed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.2 As the first woman to be baptized in the Kirtland area, Diantha set her course to follow her heart’s yearnings and never wavered in devotion to her family, her brothers and sisters in the gospel, or her God.3

At the time of her baptism, Diantha was thirty-five years old and had five living children under the age of twelve; she had buried three others as infants. She first became acquainted with Joseph and Emma Smith when the Smiths settled in Kirtland in February 1831.4 In August of that year, Joseph Smith sent Titus to Missouri to aid in the gathering of the Saints in Jackson County.5 There Diantha gave birth to her last child and assisted in the births of several other children as a well-respected midwife.6 In 1835 the Billings family returned to Kirtland to work on the building of the temple there. Diantha, with her beautiful singing voice, was part of the choir that sang for the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in March 1836.7

Diantha and her family had returned to Missouri and were living in Far West when the Saints were driven from the state. They settled near Quincy, Illinois, and established a home as part of the Morley Settlement. By 1842 they were living in Nauvoo, Illinois, where Diantha became a member of the Female Relief Society and Titus worked on the Nauvoo Temple.8 Their youngest child died in Nauvoo at the age of ten.9 In January 1846, Diantha helped with the administering of ordinances in the Nauvoo Temple. Later that spring, she and her family joined the exodus across Iowa to Winter Quarters. Then, in the spring of 1848, they began their trek farther west, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in September of that year.10

At the October 1849 general conference of the Church, Diantha was surprised to hear the names of her brother and husband read over the pulpit to lead a group south to settle what would become known as the Sanpete Valley.11 It took them three weeks to make the journey, and they arrived in what became Manti, Utah, in November, just as winter was setting in.

For the next fourteen years, Diantha and Titus lived in Manti, where Diantha continued to practice midwifery and participated in the first Relief Society in that area.12 Around 1864 they moved to Provo to be near their son Alfred and his wife, Deborah Patten. There Titus died in 1866. Diantha lived as a widow for thirteen years, until her death on May 14, 1879. She was buried in the Provo, Utah, cemetery.

_________________________

1. Milton V. Backman et al., “Marriage Records for Geauga County, Ohio,” in A Profile of Latter-day Saints of Kirtland, Ohio, and Members of Zion’s Camp, 1830–1839 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1982).

2. Mark Lyman Staker, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2009), 57–60; Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper, eds., Manuscript Revelation Books, facsimile edition, vol. 1 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), 77; Susan Easton Black, “Name of the Church,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:979.

3. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, “Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7 (November 15, 1878): 91.

4. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 38–40.

5. Doctrine and Covenants 63:39.

6. Lucinda Snow, “Eliza Ann Carter Snow: A Biographical Sketch,” Woman’s Exponent 25 (April 15, 1897): 134–35.

7. Melvin Billings and Randy Shaw, “Titus Billings” (unpublished manuscript, 1990), p. 14, Americana Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, hereafter cited as BYU Special Collections.

8.. Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, March 24, 1842, p. 16, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, hereafter cited as Church History Library.

9.. Fred E. Woods, “The Cemetery Record of William D. Huntington, Nauvoo Sexton,” Mormon Historical Studies 3 (Spring 2002): 145.

10.. “Diantha Morley Billings,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database, 1847–68, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed November 9, 2011, http://mormontrail.lds.org; William Burton, Diaries, 1839–1851, September 24, 1848, Church History Library.

11.. Eunice Billings Snow, “A Sketch of the Life of Eunice Billings Snow,” Woman’s Exponent 39 (September 1, 1910): 23.

12.. Snow, “Sketch of the Life,” 23; “In Memoriam,” Woman’s Exponent 8 (June 1, 1879): 251.

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