Wilford Woodruff kept a journal from the time of his baptism at the close of 1833 until his death in 1898, saying, “I have ever been impressed . . . of the deep importance of keeping a journal and record of the dealings of God with his people.” His 65 years of records comprise more than 115,000 written pages (26,000 of which have been located), left to us as journals, letters, discourses, autobiographies, and personal papers. These records document a large part of the early Restoration of the gospel and reveal the process of faith and dedication that was required to establish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Building Latter-Day Faith Conference
Three years ago, Jennifer Mackley and Donald W. Parry started the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation, whose mission is to digitally preserve and publish Wilford Woodruff’s eyewitness account of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It seeks to make Wilford Woodruff’s records universally accessible to inspire all people, especially the rising generation, to study and to increase their faith in Jesus Christ. In celebration of the scholarship derived from these newly transcribed and published documents, the Foundation is hosting its first conference: Building Latter-day Faith. The Conference will be held at the Hinckley Center on the campus of Brigham Young University on Saturday, March 4, 2023, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The website wilfordwoodruffpapers.org was launched on March 1, 2021, and in the last two years the Foundation has published more than 12,000 of the 26,000 pages identified and cataloged. These documents are indexed with links to the biographical sketches of thousands of people Wilford Woodruff encountered, the places he lived and preached in, and the hundreds of topics he wrote about. Making these documents with their contextual information universally accessible has introduced a valuable resource for those who are interested in expanding their personal study, writing a talk or preparing a lesson, or researching an academic subject. Publishing these records expands access to Wilford Woodruff’s first-hand account of events in nineteenth century American and Latter-day Saint Church history. The Conference is aimed at seekers of truth who want to be instructed, inspired, and motivated by Wilford Woodruff’s witness of the Restoration.
Arts Competition and Artifact Display
The event will begin at 11:00 am with an art gallery and artifacts display. The artifacts include several of Wilford Woodruff’s personal items dating from the 1840s to the 1890s, including the trunk discovered by Woodruff descendant Carolyn Woodruff Owen. It contained Wilford Woodruff’s journals and other personal papers lost to history for almost 80 years. In addition to the artifacts, original images of Wilford Woodruff, his wives and children, and Church leaders will be displayed.
In conjunction with the Conference, the Foundation hosted an arts contest with submissions in visual art, literature, dance, digital art, and music from high school students, college students, and pre-professionals. All entries will be featured at the Conference and the winners of each category will receive the Carol Sorensen Smith Award. In addition to student art inspired by Wilford Woodruff’s writings, works by artists Kendra Burton and Vicki Walker will be showcased at the Conference.
Watching by Vicki Walker (see vickiwalkerart.com)
Original Art Inspired by Wilford Woodruff’s Life
At 11:15 am commissioned paintings by two professional artists will be unveiled. The first artist, Julie Rogers, created two works inspired by Wilford Woodruff’s experiences with the conversion of 600 members of the “United Brethren” religious group in England and his recordkeeping. She shares, “I love to record the simple things people do each day and capture the emotion of the moment. I love to paint light as it dances around a subject, especially the human figure. It is my desire to not only paint the physical being, but the personality and sense of the soul.”
I Asked God’s Help by Julie Rogers (see julierogersart.com)
The second artist, Sam Day, created a piece inspired by Wilford Woodruff’s baptism in the frozen waters of Grindstone Creek, sharing that his work is a declaration of his faith.6 Some of the artwork on display will be available for sale in an online auction, with all proceeds benefiting the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. You are invited to view the art in person on March 4th and support the Project through the auction, which will close on March 11, 2023. For more information please visit 2023.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org.
Recognizing Jesus by Sam Day (see samday.com)
Keynote Speaker Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
At noon, the Conference will open with lunch and an introduction from the Foundation’s Executive Director and Co-Founder, Jennifer Ann Mackley, author of Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine. After studying Wilford Woodruff for the last 25 years, Jennifer says, “He not only recorded the daily process of revelation and the Restoration, but the strength it took to find joy when enduring loneliness, separation, and heartache. His testimony of God’s love and forgiveness is timeless.”
Following Jennifer’s introduction, the keynote speaker, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, will share her insights gleaned from studying Wilford Woodruff’s writings. Laurel is known for the quote, “well-behaved women seldom make history” and she has spent her career ensuring that the “the silent work of ordinary people” is recorded. In Laurel’s book A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835–1870, she describes the strength and influence of Latter-day Saint women, relying heavily on Wilford Woodruff’s journals and letters as primary source material. She will address the depth of his records and what we in the twenty-first century can learn from them.
Presentations on Nineteenth Century Missionary Experiences
Other speakers will include student winners of the Carol Sorenson Smith Literature Awards, Ellie Hancock and Hovan Lawton. Both are recent college graduates who have studied and researched Wilford Woodruff’s life. Ellie will speak on the topic of missionary faith in persecution. Eager to present her research based on Wilford Woodruff’s writings, she shares her excitement about a topic she believes in not talked about enough in Church history. Hovan Lawton will discuss the sacrifices of those called to serve, drawing from his experience transcribing letters sent in response to mission calls in the 1890s. Hovan shares, “One thing that struck me about the mission acceptance letters was the variety of challenges and obstacles faced by the nineteenth-century missionaries. How they addressed these challenges is something that can help missionaries today.”
Steven C. Wheelwright, former president of BYU–Hawaii and an advisor to the Foundation, will also address the Conference. He will explore how Wilford Woodruff’s missionary service prepared Wilford to become the future prophet. Dr. Wheelwright shares, “The more we get to know Wilford Woodruff as a husband, father, priesthood leader, and all of the things that he was, the more we admire him, and the more I think other people would be blessed by knowing him and how he lived his life.”
Presentations on the Impact of Wilford Woodruff’s Records
Amy Harris, BYU history professor and Director of the Family History Program at BYU, will offer insights related to the world of British converts. Dr. Harris has found inspiration in her extensive study of British families during the period young Elder Woodruff served in England, saying, “The most rewarding part about studying history and genealogy is the sense of the humanity of people in the past, that they’re real people making real choices in their time.”2
Along with Dr. Harris, biblical scholar and BYU religion professor Joshua M. Matson, will give a presentation on “Decoding Wilford Woodruff’s Journals.” Dr. Matson shares, “Participating in a conference dedicated to the Papers of Wilford Woodruff is a dream come true for me. I have been fascinated with Woodruff’s Papers since I was an undergraduate at BYU and many of the resources to study his life were inaccessible at the time. Today these papers are becoming more accessible by the day and re-introducing them to the public through this conference is a magnificent opportunity and privilege.”
Author and historian Steven C. Harper, volume editor of The Joseph Smith Papers, and Executive Editor of the Wilford Woodruff Papers, will conclude the Conference and moderate a Q&A session with Dr. Ulrich and three student historians. Of Wilford Woodruff’s contribution to Church history, Steve said, “Wilford Woodruff largely made the glasses through which we see the [Latter-day Saint] past.” The Wilford Woodruff Papers Project has benefitted from Dr. Harper’s insightful leadership, and decades of experience.
Invitation to Come and Learn
Between sessions, attendees will have the opportunity to browse various booths featuring the Foundation’s partners, including the Church History Museum, the Church History Library, the Joseph Smith Papers, FamilySearch, FAIR Latter-day Saints, Meridian Magazine, Book of Mormon Central, Mormonr, The Interpreter Foundation, and the Come, Follow Me Foundation.
Wilford Woodruff shared that “as wickedness increases in the world, we should increase in righteousness, in faith, and in knowledge.” The research and scholarship presented at the Conference through the speakers and displays will give us the opportunity to increase in faith and knowledge. You are invited to join the celebration of new scholarship and art at the Conference on March 4, 2023 and be inspired by the legacy and testimony of Wilford Woodruff.
Registration is now open at 2023.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org. One hundred student scholarships providing free admission to the Conference are available through a grant provided by Carol Sorenson Smith. For questions please email co*****@wi*******************.org.
Maddie Christensen is the Public Relations Manager for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation. She is from Missouri and is currently a student at Brigham Young University working towards a degree in Public Relations with a minor in Global Studies. Maddie has always loved learning about Church history and loves to read the words of Wilford Woodruff. She is passionate about sharing those words with everyone and is grateful to be part of such an incredible work.
Kristy Wheelwright Taylor is the Board Secretary for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation. She earned a master’s degree in Humanities from Brigham Young University. She spends much of her time in volunteer work, Church service, and writing for various websites and publications. Along with serving on the Board, Kristy volunteers as a transcriptionist of the Wilford Woodruff Papers. She has loved getting to know Wilford Woodruff better through his writings and is always inspired and surprised by his dedication, tenacity, personality, hard work, and faith.
 This video of Carolyn and her son Stephen explains the discovery of the trunk and Wilford Woodruff’s documents: “Treasure Box,” filmed by James Dalrymple, featuring Stephen Woodruff Owen and Carolyn Woodruff Owen, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/treasure-box.
 “Blessings of the Righteous,” Journal of Discourses 11 (January 1865): 64, lib.byu.edu//journal-of-discourses.