SISTERS IN ZION, Emily and Julia Hill

Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee

Emily was born in England in 1836. She grew up with an unusual interest in God. “I was much concerned about my eternal salvation,” she said, “and felt I would make any sacrifice to obtain it.” She asked questions, but no one could help her. She found answers and comfort in the scriptures. The Prophet who most fed her tender soul—it was Isaiah. “I was never weary of reading his prophecies,” she said, “the glory of a Latter-day Zion that burdened his inspirations possessed for me a charm irresistible.”

Then when she was twelve a cousin invited her to her new Church. No one in her family was willing to go. Then one of her sisters volunteered the willing Emily. “Yes, send Em. She will tell us all about it.”

Emily went and there witnessed the gifts and power of the Spirit poured out in a way she had never seen. She was converted. “It was indeed as though I had been brought “out of darkness into marvelous light,” she said, “and I could not shut my eyes against it.”

However when she announced her desire to get baptized, not only was that privilege denied but ever after that she was “closely watched lest [she] should be led away by a sect that was everywhere spoken against.”

Four years this went on. In time, her sister Julia found the faith, and the two of them were able to get baptized, but immigrating to Zion was out of the question. She was given a blessing that someday she would write in prose and verse and thereby comfort the hearts of thousands.

In May 1856, Emily and Julia ran away to Zion aboard the ship Thornton. In July 1856 they became a part of the Willie Handcart Company. It was a hard journey. Emily wondered how she would ever make it, yet somehow she determined that not only would she go on, but she would pull that loaded handcart a thousand miles and never ride a step.

Then, Sunday, October 19, 1856, about noon, howling winter storms caught the Willie Company on one of the most exposed portions of the trail. They were completely out of food and hundreds of miles from Salt Lake. Then three men rode in announcing that rescue wagons and supplies were just a couple of days ahead.

As the rescuers were preparing to ride on in search of the Martin Company, one of themJoseph A. Young, saw among the sufferers someone he knew—Emily Hill. He burst into tears.

“Why do you cry Brother Young?” she asked.

“Oh, because you look so starved and the provision wagons are miles away.” With that he gave her what he could—an onion. Rather than eat it, Emily held on to it. That night she saw a man near the fire who appeared to be dying. Emily gave the onion to him. That onion saved his life.

Emily and Julia made it to the Valley. In time they both married. Then when Emily had one child her husband went on a mission leaving her to fend for herself. Four years later he wrote back announcing that he was not coming home.

Significantly, Emily said, “All that I had hitherto suffered seemed like child’s play compared to being deserted by one in whom I had chosen to place the utmost confidence.”

It was now the winter of 1863-64. The Civil War had driven prices up. Survival was difficult. Emily’s house was sold was sold out from under her. One night when she was so weary with overwork and anxiety, pondering what to do, words came into her mind so clear as if audibly spoken. “Trust in God and thyself.’ She got up, penned her heart in poetry, and went to work. In time she would remarry, bear eight children, and by the things which she suffered, become gifted in business, cheerful in nature, a champion of women’s rights, and one of Zion’s great poets.

You may not know her name—Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee–but you will surely recognize these words she paid such a price to write.

“As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together…”

3 Responses

  1. Bro. Rawson, I, for one, so much appreciate your efforts to remind us of these faithful saints. I served a mission recently at the Willie Handcart Site and absolutely loved telling the stories of the passengers of the Thornton and then as they walked and walked. Since being home, I’ve given firesides and Relief Society presentations, choosing some of my favorite people on the trail to talk about. I tell of Emily Hill’s experiences, sharing how we as sisters in the gospel today can do hard things as well. Since serving in that mission, I cannot sing “As Sisters in Zion” without shedding tears. Again, thank you for all you do.

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