Monday, November 4, 2013

Tennessee's Sister Missionaries

Not so long ago, due to the change in the missionary age for women, there has been a shift in the number of young women who are serving missions. In the Tennessee Nashville Mission, this has manifested itself in having more Sister missionaries serving than Elders. In fact starting this week my ward will have two sets of Sisters and one set of Elders. In our litigious, hyper-sexualized society, that means our split calendar just got more complex.

In the spirit of these changes, this post was going to be about my search for the first sister missionaries to serve in Tennessee. I had been mulling over the mechanics of such a search and was not looking forward to the process. The Church keeps a nice record of the missions to which people are called but they do not keep an official record of what areas within the mission they served in. So I believed I could probably find the first Sister missionary to serve in the Southern States Mission, but I thought I would have a hard time tracking down the first one to Tennessee.

Then I took a closer look at the Southern States Mission record. Actually it was the index that helped me out. Someone "bless their soul" included in the index not only every missionary with their start and release date, but the date of each transfer and where they were sent. All I had to do was comb through 427 pages for the missionaries with female sounding names and look for where they served. (as a side note, I am still marveling at the number of Elders with names that sound feminine to the 21st century ear. Sometimes the indexer took the time to make a note of "Elder" or "Sister" when a name was ambiguous. Even with that help I lost count of the number I had to look up on family search just to make sure I had guessed the sex correctly.)

Over the next few weeks I plan on posting biographies of the women I found and digging a little deeper into the complexity of their lives. There were  mission presidents' wives (like Patten & Rich), unofficial visitors (like Church & Haws), genealogy missionaries (like Young & Young), office workers (like Hyldahl & Stokes), and full proselytizing missionaries. And sometimes those distinctions blurred and come to mean nothing. In asking the question myself and reading through the lives of some of these women I have come to learn that there were complex social, economic, and political considerations involved in decisions of these sisters to serve in the way they did.

Who was first? The earliest on the list is obvious, but who you consider the first true sister missionary will probably reveal more about yourself than about the missionary.

For today, I'll start with the names of the women I have found. If any of you know the families of these pioneering women feel free to raise your hand and let me know. As I post stories about them I include a link here. So in roughly chronological order these are the Sisters missionaries to Tennessee from 1836 to 1929.

Phoebe Ann Babcock Patten
Sarah Ann Arterbury Church
Athalia Rose Clayton Haws
Rhoda Byrne Jared Young
Francis Gibson Young
Diana Farr Rich
Althea Hyldahl
Rose M Hardy
Eugenia Neff Stokes
Alice McLachlan
Olga Mary Drumiler
Eliza Ann Jackson
Laura Bowring
Sarah Jane Rich Miller
Margaret Smith Jensen
Syrina Elizabeth Keddington
Emilie Sophia Osterloh
Grace Elizabeth Pack Callis
Martha Smith
Dulcia May Webb
Helen Agnes Carlton
Susan Fern Magleby
Nellie Rindlisbacker
Anna Elizabeth Forslund
Ethelene Foulds Varley
Mable Jane Pettit
May Porritt
Odessa Allred
Estella Grace Tolman
Ellen Lavina Maxwell
Norma Vance
Elna Jane Johnson
Eva Eudora Ekins
Hattie Mae Knutti
Myrl Goodwin
Stella Elizabeth Seeley
Violet Taylor
Sarah Elizabeth Chipman
Zelma May Westover Beck
Haddie Jensen
Martha Marie Burmester
Lillie Rebecca Clark
Bertha Artelle Noble
Mabel LaVern Randall
Lilly Virginia Bunot
LaPreal Sabin
Ellen Lunt
Reva Lorene Sheffield
Erma May Hansen
Hilda Louise Breckon


Amy T said...


Except for Sarah Ann Arterbury Church, I don't recognize any of these women although many family names are familiar.

And speaking of Sarah Church, she is on the short list of women whose biographies I'll be writing soon for the Eminent Women project, after I wrap up a few other things. Did I ever mention how she started the whole Eminent Women project?

BruceAllen said...

I recall when you mentioned Sarah Church the first time

In a way, it is sad the names of these women aren't as well known as that of their husbands, fathers or brothers; something I am sure you ran across in your Eminent Women Project. That is even reflected in the historical record which sometimes only referred to these women by their husbands' name (Sister Patten or Sister Haws). I had to go to an external source to find their full name.

I am not expecting my biographies to be as delightful as yours have been, but I do hope this small sample from Tennessee will add another dimension to our understanding of how far the work of Sister missionaries has come.

Ardis said...

Sarah Jane Rich was married to John Tobin before she married Tom Miller. Tobin is better forgotten, except that Sarah Jane overcame his blight on her life and that speaks well of her. I wrote about them in a 2005 UHQ article, "Pursue, Retake, and Punish."

I'll keep an Pete out for the early 20th century sisters.

Ardis said...

Er, that "an eye out." Stoopid autocorrect.

BruceAllen said...

Thanks Ardis. By any chance is this the same Sarah Jane Rich that was Ben E. Rich's sister?

Ardis said...

Same father -- I'd have to look them up to know if they had the same mother. (Only in Mormon history ...)

Dale Topham said...