One of the great women of the Restoration was Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney. She had the kind of faith that opens the heavens and gently settles among members of the Church with the glorious presence of undeniable spiritual gifts.
Elizabeth Ann Smith (always known as Ann) was the eldest child of Gibson and Polly Bradley Smith.1 Born on December 26, 1800, in Derby, New Haven, Connecticut, she grew up in a home full of love, tempered with responsibility. Ann was well educated by her father and trained by her mother in all the necessary homemaking skills of the day: spinning, dying, weaving, embroidery, sewing, and even dancing.
At eighteen years of age, with permission from her parents, Ann set off with a maiden aunt for the wild frontier of Ohio. At the time, it was unusual for two women to travel alone, but it was not out of character for this strong-spirited young woman.
In Ohio Ann met a young entrepreneur by the name of Newel K. Whitney. He “accumulated property faster than most of his companions and associates. Indeed, he became proverbial as being lucky in all his undertakings.”2 They were married October 20, 1822, in Kirtland, Ohio, and settled themselves there with a little store. In search of spiritual direction, Ann attended a meeting that advertised a “golden bible.” She immediately sought baptism.
In Kirtland, Ann’s home housed the Prophet Joseph Smith and his family and was a gathering place for the Saints. The upstairs rooms of the Whitney store were used for the School of the Prophets and receiving revelations. Later, in Nauvoo, while living in the upper rooms of Joseph Smith’s red brick store, Ann once again shared space with the site of important meetings, including the organization of the Relief Society.3
Called as a counselor to Relief Society president Emma Smith in Nauvoo, Ann presided at some of the last meetings of the Nauvoo Relief Society and kept the organization together as Emma found it more and more difficult to attend on account of illness, travel, and internal struggle over Joseph Smith’s introduction of plural marriage.4
Ann was the second woman to receive her endowment in this dispensation, after Emma Smith, who was the first.5 Ann’s tenth child, whom Joseph Smith blessed and named Mary, was the first born in the covenant. Ann gave birth to eleven children, the last one on the trail as her family journeyed west.
In the Salt Lake Valley, Ann continued her work in the Relief Society. She traveled with Eliza R. Snow and Zina D. H. Young, organizing Relief Societies, bearing testimony of Joseph Smith, and serving faithfully as a counselor to Eliza until her death in 1882, at the age of eighty-two. Ann, tested through many sacrifices and sufferings and blessed with the glorious revelations she bore testimony of, never lost the faith.
1. Sources for this biography can be found in a series of articles written by Elizabeth Ann Whitney entitled “A Leaf from an Autobiography” and published in Woman’s Exponent 7 (August 1, 1878): 33; (August 15, 1878): 41; (September 1, 1878): 51; (October 1, 1878): 71; (November 1, 1878): 83; (November 15, 1878): 91; (December 15, 1878): 105; (January 1, 1879): 115.
2. Whitney, “Leaf,” 41.
3. Before living above the red brick store, the Whitneys lived in a cottage owned by Joseph Smith. Whitney, “Leaf,” 91.
4. Editorial Note, Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, The Joseph Smith Papers, p. 87, accessed December 1, 2011, http://josephsmithpapers.org.
5. Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1992), 55.