Meeting Martha Cragun Cox, a woman after my own heart.


I have been reading a wonderful book called Women’s Voices:  An Untold History of the  Latter-day Saints 1830-1900 by Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey Godfrey and Jill Mulvay Derr.  It is filled with journal entries and first person accounts of women who lived fascinating and difficult lives.  This week I read Martha Cragun Cox’s words.  She is a woman after my own heart.

Here are a few parts (with my own highlights) of a long and beautifully detailed overview of Martha’s life and memories which was written by Lavina Fielding Anderson.  You can find this complete review here:

https://rsc.byu.edu/supporting-saints-life-stories-nineteenth-century-mormons/martha-cragun-cox

Martha Cragun Cox
A “Salt of the Earth” Lady
Lavina Fielding Anderson

Martha James Cragun Cox was born into a Salt Lake family on 3 March 1852, married into a polygamous St. George family on 3 December 1869, had eight children, buried three, and died 30 November 1932. To support her family she taught school all over the southern end of the Mormon corridor in the small towns of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. She went to Mexico in time to be expelled by the Revolution. She loved history, and her narrative gift found expression in Church periodicals. She spent her last years in temple work in St. George, Manti, and Salt Lake City.

Why is she important? Because she left a handwritten autobiographical record just over three hundred pages long, written in 1928. It is because of this autobiography that she is more than a name on the family group records of her hundreds of Latter-day Saint descendants. She claims neither unusual beauty, power, intellect, wealth, nor influence, though she seems to have been above average in her hunger for knowledge, her energy, and her loyalty. But her autobiography, by its very existence, transcends the limitations of her time and place to show her struggling towards a sense of self, struggling to make sense of the world, and struggling to make sense of her life. In her autobiography, she performs the labor which is the distinctive work of that genre; and by so doing, she has stocked the toolshelf and provided cheerful companionship for scholars of first-generation Utah, of second-generation Mormonism, and of future generations. It is a record, quite simply, of a strong, uncomplicated woman, a lady who was the salt of the earth. Like salt, she both seasoned and preserved what she touched. And like salt, her influence was subtle, not compelling or dominating.

Her autobiography sets one goal for itself in the first two sentences: “There are few lives so uneventful that a true record of them would not be of some worth, in which there are no happenings that can serve as guide or warning to those that follow. It is to be hoped that in the pages that follow there will be some things found that may be taken as good lessons to those who read.” [1] Because she has perceived shape and direction in her own life, she is a reliable guide. . . .

One senses in her pages both the pleasure in recollection that is one of the joys of reminiscence and also an urgency to record, to make an island of permanence in an ocean of evanescence. Thus it is also a vivid and little-mined scrapbook of small-town life along the Mormon southern corridor—dances, courting, Indian relations, diet, and doctrinal understanding are all there. . . .
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I feel the same urgency to record my own simple but true record that might someday be of worth or a guide to someone after I am long gone from here.  Every day I fill pages in my journal.  I doubt my family now will ever read what I write, but someday, in some distant future, I think my words will be of value to someone, including the children and grandchildren of my own kids.  They will wonder what it was like for me here and now, in this day and age, when all of our world seems to be falling apart around us.

There may be some who will wonder why and how I believe what I believe and how I feel permanence in the tempest around me.  My words will stand as a testament that I find peace in Christ and in His teachings.  I am grateful every day for Him and for His gifts to me as I continue writing my fingers to the bone.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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