Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
Abraham Owen Woodruff
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Abraham Owen Woodruff was born on 23 November 1872 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, to Wilford Woodruff and Emma Smith. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on 3 May 1881. Abraham grew up working on the family farm and received his early education in the public schools and Latter-day Saint College of Salt Lake City. Of these experiences he later remarked that he "was a thick-headed scholar and more mischievous than studious. "1 In his youth he also enjoyed fishing, hunting, and all manner of outdoor activities. In 1891 he obtained employment first as a collector and later assistant bookkeeper at the Zion’s Saving Bank and Trust Company.
On 11 December 1893 Abraham received a call to serve as a missionary for the LDS Church in the Swiss and German Mission. He left for Europe the following month, arriving in Bern, Switzerland, on 18 February 1894. He was first assigned to labor in Frankfort, a city only recently opened by Mormon missionaries. There he mastered the German language and worked with local members of the Church to preach the gospel. He enjoyed this work and strived to convince people of the necessity of being converted to the Church; on 22 April 1894 he recorded his first two baptisms. Abraham often showed his gratitude to God in his journal for the opportunity to serve as a missionary, on one occasion after bearing testimony remarking, "I feel to thank the Lord with all my heart. "2
On 4 October 1894 he was transferred to Dresden where he served as branch president. Here he experienced persecution from the government and often dressed in disguise to avoid being expelled from the country. A final transfer came seven months later when he was made president of the Berlin Conference. While in Europe Abraham took the opportunity to visit many European cities, including Paris, Pompeii, Rome, London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. "After having with all the integrity of his heart for over two years faithfully performed his duties as a Servant of God, " Abraham was released from his missionary duties on 10 April 1896.3 Two day later he delivered his "parting words of thanks, encouragement and warning " to the members of the LDS Church at Berlin, after which he journeyed home.4
Upon arriving home Abraham resumed working at the bank and on 30 June 1897 he married Helen May Winters in Salt Lake City. Four children, Wilford, Helen, June, and Rhoda, were born of this union. On 7 October 1897 he was ordained to the office of apostle in the LDS Church at the young age of twenty-four and became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As such he oversaw Church-sponsored colonization efforts in Mexico, Arizona, and the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, and served on the general board of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. He also became a director of the Zion’s Saving Bank and Trust Company. A contemporary of his remarked, "Scrupulous honesty, simplicity, implicit faith in God, industry and a total absence of ostentation are the endowments of Apostle Woodruff. "5
In January 1901 Abraham married Eliza Avery Clark in polygamy; she bore him one daughter, Ruth. In 1904 Abraham visited the Mexican Mission of the Church in Mexico City with his first wife, but both he and Helen fell sick with smallpox. She soon passed away and two weeks later, on 20 June 1904, Abraham himself succumbed to the disease. He was remembered as being "humble yet perfectly confident in the favorable outcome of every responsibility assigned him in the connection with the work of the Lord, for he is possessed of a strong and abiding faith. "6
1 Matthias Foss Cowley, Prophets and Patriarchs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Chattanooga, Tenn.: B. E. Rich, 1902), 301.
2 Abraham Owen Woodruff, “Diary, 1894,” 2 April 1894. VMSS 777, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
3 Release, 10 April 1896. VMSS 777, LTPSC.
4 Woodruff, “Diary, 1895-1896,” 12 April 1896. VMSS 777, LTPSC.
5 S. A. Kenner, Utah As It Is: With a Comprehensive Statement of Utah As It Was (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904), 378.
6 Cowley, 305.
Biographical Record of Salt Lake City and Vicinity Containing Biographies of Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present. Chicago: National Historical Record Company, 1902.
Cowley, Matthias Foss. Prophets and Patriarchs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Chattanooga, Tenn.: B. E. Rich, 1902.
Flake, Lawrence R. Mighty Men of Zion: General Authorities of the Last Dispensation. Salt Lake City: Karl D. Butler, 1974.
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 1. Salt Lake City: The Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901-1936.
Kenner, S. A. Utah As It Is: With a Comprehensive Statement of Utah As It Was. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904.
Lives of our Leaders: Character Sketches of Living Presidents and Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1901.
Our Prophets and Principles: Writings on our Articles of Faith and Prophets Who Made Them Live. Salt Lake City: Instructor, 1956.
Woodruff, Abraham Owen. "Papers, 1894-1904, " VMSS 777, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.