Wilford Woodruff

From Academic Kids


Wilford Woodruff (March 1, 1807September 2, 1898) was the fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from 1889 until his death in 1898.

Woodruff was one of nine children born to Aphek Woodruff, a miller working in Farmington, Connecticut. Wilford's mother Beulah died of spotted fever at the age of 26, when he was just fifteen months old. Aphek later married Azulah Hart. As a young man, Woodruff worked at his father's mill. He was always known as a religious man, but was also enthusiastically involved in the social life of his community. He was an avid outdoorsman, enjoying fishing and hunting. As an adult, Woodruff was a farmer, horticulturist and stockman by trade, but also wrote extensively for church periodicals.

Wilford Woodruff lived during the period that the LDS church authorized plural marriage, and was married to a total of five women; however, not all of these marriages were concurrent. His wives were:

  • Phoebe Whittemore Carter, m. 13 April 1837.
  • Mary Ann Jackson (later divorced)
  • Emma Smoot Smith
  • Sarah Brown
  • Sarah Delight Stocking

These women bore him a total of thirty three children, with thirteen preceding him in death.

Church Service

Wilford Woodruff, along with his brother Azmon, was baptized by missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on December 31, 1833 in Richland, New York. Other members of the Woodruff family, including Aphek, joined the church in 1839. Wilford became noted for his success as a missionary, completing several missions during his lifetime. The church sent him to Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky (1835-1836), to the Fox Islands, Maine (1837), to England as an proselyting missionary (1839), to England as President of the Church's European/English mission (1844), and finally to the Eastern United States (1848).

Shortly after his baptism, he accompanied Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in a journey from Kirtland, Ohio to the Missouri, as a member of Zion's Camp. In 1838, he led a party of fifty-three new converts in wagons from the Maine coast to Nauvoo, Illinois. In 1839, at the age of 32, Wilford Woodruff was ordained a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by Brigham Young. He became a member of the Nauvoo City Council, and served as chaplain for the Nauvoo Legion, a local militia. After the death of Joseph Smith, Woodruff was an active participant in the westward progression of the LDS Church. He was a member of the first pioneer company of Latter Day Saints to arrive in Utah's Great Basin in 1847.

In 1856, Woodruff began serving as church historian, and served in this position for thirty-three years. During his time as Temple President over the first completed temple in Utah, the Saint George, Utah Temple (1877), Woodruff standardized temple ceremonies. He was baptized for the dead in behalf of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and other founding fathers, after he claimed to receive a vision, visitation or manifestation of the departed spirits of these men.

Many historians consider Woodruff's journals his most important contribution to LDS history. He kept a daily record of his life and the church's activities, beginning with his baptism in 1833 until his death. These meticulous records provide insight into not only church doctrines and the daily actions of church leaders, but also into the social and cultural aspects of early Mormonism. Several significant actions and speeches of early Church leaders are known only through these diaries.

Actions as Church President

Wilford Woodruff became President of the LDS church in 1889 with the death of John Taylor. He was eighty-two. Woodruff had never expected to become president, as Taylor was the younger man.

During his tenure the church faced a number of legal battles with the United States, primarily over the practice of plural marriage. The church faced a real possibility of being destroyed as a viable legal entity. President Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto which ended polygamy or plural marriage in the Territory of Utah and directed Latter-day Saints only to enter into marriages that are recognized by the laws in the areas in which they reside. He wrote in his diary, I have arrived at the point in the history of my life as the president of the Church...where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the Church.... (Wilford Woodruff-Diary, Sept. 25, 1890). Some historians consider this policy statement his most important contribution to the stability of the church.

The church under Woodruff also faced severe financial difficulties, some of which were related to the legal problems over polygamy. Although he instituted a number of sound financial practices, he was unable to completely solve these difficulties during his time as president. Woodruff was the LDS president who organized the Genealogical Society of Utah and dedicated the Salt Lake Temple. He died in San Francisco, California in 1898, and was succeeded in office by Lorenzo Snow.


  • Allen, James B. and Leonard, Glen M. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1976. ISBN 0-87747-594-6.
  • Ludlow, Daniel H., Editor. Church History, Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992. ISBN 0-87579-924-8.
  • Nibley, Preston. The Presidents of the Church. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1974. ISBN 0-87747-414-1.

Preceded by:
John Taylor
President of the LDS Church
April 7, 1889September 2, 1898
Succeeded by:
Lorenzo Snow
Preceded by:
John Taylor
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 10, 1880April 7, 1889
Succeeded by:
Lorenzo Snow

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