Monday, November 25, 2013

Alice Caroline McLachlan

As I reviewed the names on the list of Sister missionaries I put together, I was looking primarily for the not just the first Sister missionaries, bu the first Sister missionary companionship. Many of the women who served missions did so because of the service of their husbands. Whether it be Mission President wives, or the wives of missionaries further down the chain of command, these sisters were not generally assigned another sister as a companion. Operating under this assumption, I started to pair sisters together by looking for overlaps in both where and when they were serving. I thought perhaps this might lead me to identifying additional sisters that might have been missed when the Southern States Mission Manuscript (SSMM) Index was created.

One sister who stood out right at first was Alice McLachlan. She was an early sister (May 1905-July 1906) and the first not specifically designated as called to serve in the mission office. There was some overlap with another Sister (Olga Mary Drumiler), but Sister Drumiler was married and served with her husband. There was no Elder McLachlan serving at the same time. I was intrigued, thinking there was something here to learn. 

A quick check of the SSMM revealed nothing about the nature of her service; her arrival, assignment to East Tennessee, and release date, nothing more. It was like she didn't exist while on her mission. I suspect this meant she fulfilled some service capacity in one of the branches in the East Tennessee Conference, instead of proselytizing, but the records I have to work with would not answer that question. It wasn't until I began to look for biographical information that another possibility presented itself.

Alice Caroline McLachlan was born on February 21st, 1869 to William Gilbert McLachlan (1840-1916) and Caroline Filer (1838-1913) at Salt Lake City, Utah.

One of the most notorious open secrets of turn of the century Mormonism were the existence of Post Manifesto Plural Marriages. Mission President Ben E. Rich was one of the more open of those secrets. President Rich's first wife Diana Farr Rich, had been with him in Chattanooga, and toured the mission speaking at conferences and serving as the mission Relief Society President until her release in March 1902 just before the formation of the Middle States Mission in May 1902. In June 1903, when the two missions were recombined, she did not return with him. Instead at least two of his plural wives received calls to serve in the Southern States, though not under his name. One of them was Alice McLachlan.

The SSMM is completely silent about her service. She did not speak publicly at mission conferences as some President's wived did (and do). If she was assigned a calling in one of the branches, it would not be in the mission record, but a branch history might tell a different story.

A manuscript collection (MSS7690) is held by BYU's Harold B. Lee Library which contains letters between Alice and Ben, newspaper clipping, and other things belonging to Alice. Some of it pertains directly to her time in Tennessee.

After Sister McLachlan returned home. She passed away on 24 March 1942


Anonymous said...

Great find. Did President Rich have more than one wife serving with him in the mission at the same time?

BruceAllen said...

How prescient of you. Yes, there was a period of six months where two of his wives were serving in the mission at the same time. Of course in the official mission record neither is identified as his wife.

Anonymous said...

Twentieth Century plural marriage in the Church continues to expand beyond the borders of cultural memory. Authorized polygamy practiced in Tennessee. Wow.

BruceAllen said...

That's not how I would have described it. "Authorized" doesn't convey the right idea for what was happening. And "practiced" implies that marriages were being performed in Tennessee, which they were not. But all the nuance aside, you are essentially correct.

Would other instances of polygamists living in Tennessee with only one of their wives count as well? If not, why not?

Anyway, I'm not sure our understanding of Post Manifesto plural marriages is broad enough to count as cultural memory, but I like the term.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bruce. I'm not sure how to label it but I agree with you clarification.