When Orson Pratt died in 1881, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff were the only two apostles remaining who had been called before the death of Joseph Smith in 1844. All the others had been released, died, or left the church. When John Taylor died in 1887, Wilford served for another 11 years and continued recording his daily history of the Restoration until his death in 1898.
This chronology is significant: Wilford Woodruff was an apostle or president for nearly 60 years of the early church, longer than any other individual at that time. This gave him a unique perspective and made him an exceptional witness to the revelations and doctrinal development, as well as the individuals who possessed the faith and courage to live according to those revealed doctrines. Above all, Wilford Woodruff prioritized the complete implementation of the temple ordinances introduced by Joseph.
This third of a four-part series to understand the legacy of Wilford Woodruff (click here to see part two), includes an explanation of our mission to collect, transcribe, publish, and digitally preserve Wilford Woodruff’s records to proclaim that Jesus Christ has restored his gospel and continues to reveal his will through his prophets.
Accomplishing our mission is a formidable and seemingly impossible task. Why? Because the Wilford Woodruff Papers consist of 31 daybooks and journals, totaling more than 10,000 pages, as well as the 13,308 letters written by Wilford Woodruff, and more than 17,000 letters written to him. He also shared his testimony in 3,559 sermons and discourses.
When we add approximately 1,000 genealogical documents, and 5,000 legal, personal, and business documents, the total number of pages exceeds 100,000. Unfortunately, not all of his papers and letters have survived, and not all of his discourses were written down or published. But every page of his journals were preserved and we have already located over 6,000 letters. We will continue to search for and digitally gather the remaining documents.
Making all of these records not only accessible, but understandable in the context of Church history is an immense undertaking. It will require not only locating and digitally preserving his documents, but transcribing them word by word, completing a second and third level verification of the transcriptions, and then conducting research on each person with whom Wilford interacted and corresponded.
This monumental task is being accomplished by a small staff supported by an exceptional Board of Directors and a wide range of advisors, including three descendants of Wilford Woodruff. Over 60 volunteers have already joined the effort.
How these individuals were brought together in less than one year and collectively represent the full range of academic, business, communications, and development skills that were necessary to begin this ambitious project is a remarkable story of faith.
The Beginnings of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project
Jennifer Ann Mackley, an attorney in the Seattle area, began researching Wilford Woodruff’s life and writings in the 1990s. Over the years, she has transcribed thousands of pages of his writings, written the monumental work Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine, and presented her findings to numerous audiences across the United States.
During this same time, Donald W. Parry was researching, transcribing, and publishing on the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other ancient writings. But he had other research interests including ancient and modern temples (which includes President Woodruff’s writings about the temple and its ordinances), and related topics. Years ago he approached a Church historian about the idea of creating a new, annotated edition of Wilford Woodruff’s journals. He was informed that the timing was not right because a considerable amount of the Church History Department’s resources were assigned to the Joseph Smith Papers Project. He understood the wisdom of this response and set the matter aside for a time.
Eventually, according to the Lord’s timing, circumstances changed and in August 2019 Donald and Camille Parry met with Jennifer to discuss the possibility of starting the Wilford Woodruff’s papers project. They began to comprehend that the Lord was working behind the scenes; it was not happenstance that brought them together. In the coming months, they developed a comprehensive plan for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation in order to make the papers available to both scholars and general audiences.
In October 2019, they began the search for a board of directors, one that would share their appreciation for the life and teachings of Wilford Woodruff. The first step was Brother Parry’s introduction of Jennifer to Jason Kotter, the president of the North Meridian Idaho Stake. Jason invited Jennifer to speak at a devotional on Wilford Woodruff’s role in the development of temple doctrine and meet with many potential supports who might share the vision and urgency of the project.
Two months later, on January 30th, Jason arranged a meeting with his brother and business partner, Matthew Kotter, from Fort Worth, Texas, and their friend Gregory Lake, an attorney from Mesa, Arizona. Greg agreed to serve as president of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation, with Jason as Vice President, Matt as Treasurer, Jennifer as secretary, and Don Parry as the fifth member of the Board. With the paperwork complete, the real work could begin.
February 20, 2020 was a significant day. The Board members gathered in Salt Lake City to meet with the leadership of the Church History Department and seek their blessing and support—Matthew J. Grow, Managing Director; Matthew S. McBride, Director of Publications; Matthew C. Godfrey, General Editor and Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers; and Jay A. Burton, the Church History Library archivist who co-directed the 6-year project to digitize Wilford Woodruff’s journals. They generously offered their assistance and support of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. Their breadth of experience, the insights gained from the Joseph Smith Papers, and the cooperation of the Church History Library staff has been essential to the successful first year of the Project.
That evening the Board also met with Steven C. Harper,professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University. Steve enthusiastically accepted the invitation to serve as the Project’s executive editor. His extensive experience in documentary editing and recent service as an editor of the Joseph Smith Papers has been key to getting the Project off to a running start and avoiding many of the pitfalls and costs associated with such an ambitious undertaking.
Another key member of the team, serving as the Chair of our Advisory Committee, is Richard E. Turley, Jr., recently retired from his position as Managing Director of the Church Communication Department. He spent much of his career in the Family History and Church History Departments, and he was also a member of the editorial board for the Joseph Smith Papers. The timing of his retirement coinciding with the beginning of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project was a blessing. Rick was thrilled to be a part of what he saw as the natural next chapter in telling the story of the Restoration in the nineteenth century.
McClain Bybee also joined the team that incredible week in February 2020. He had read Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine and discussed the possibility of publishing Wilford Woodruff’s papers with Jennifer following a presentation on her research. So he was excited to learn that the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation had been established to support the effort. Recognizing that the organization would need to raise substantial sums of money to fund the extensive work involved, he agreed to serve on the Advisory Committee and contribute his decades of experience as the Managing Director of the Philanthropies Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (formerly LDS Philanthropies).
The day before the public announcement of the Foundation’s official organization, Jennifer was introduced to Steve and Margaret Wheelwright. Steve, the former president of Brigham Young University–Hawaii and a retired professor at the Harvard Business School, was drawn to the project because he had read Wilford Woodruff’s Witness while he and his wife, Margaret, were serving as president and matron of the Boston Temple.
The role of President Woodruff in the development of temple doctrine so impressed them that they decided to not only assist in funding the project, but became personally involved. Steve Wheelwright serves as a member of the Advisory Committee and Margaret is an Editorial Assistant transcribing Wilford Woodruff’s letters and autobiographies. In addition, their incredible daughter Kristy Wheelwright Taylor, joined the Board of Directors and serves as the Board secretary.
The Announcement of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project
The next day, March 1, 2020, the annual gathering of the Wilford Woodruff Family Association was held. Mark B. Woodruff, Executive Secretary to President Russell M. Nelson, shared his witness of a living prophet and of continuing revelation provided from the Lord to lead His church on the earth. With the vital support of the Woodruff Family, Association President James Woodruff invited Jennifer to officially announce the commencement of the Project. The reception by the family was enthusiastic and many Woodruff descendants offered to share digital images of their treasured document to assist the Foundation in its mission to collect all extant records and make them accessible to everyone at www.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org.
Then the world came to a grinding halt.
But the miracles continued. In spite of the worldwide lockdown related to Covid-19, the Project continued to attract essential resources.
The Team Working on the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project
The manner in which the Lord has provided the individuals possessing the required skills at the right moment is remarkable.
First Jane Clayton Johnson, a mother of six and devoted student of the scriptures from Meridian, Idaho, joined the Board to start the Internal Affairs Committee and is currently serving as Outreach Coordinator for the Public Relations Committee. Next Joan E. Boren, a community leader and Institute teacher in Boise, Idaho, added her valuable experience with nonprofits and her ability to creatively marshal resources in a virtual, coronavirus world.
Then, like the Wheelwrights, Gary and Catherine Crittenden, made a personal and financial commitment to the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. Gary, the former CFO of American Express and Citigroup, joined the Board of Directors and serves as the Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee. He has provided a depth of experience in this role that few nonprofits of any size enjoy.
Diane Lefrandt Nelson, a strategic communications and social media expert, recently stepped up to lead the Public Relations Committee. Her committee’s work has heightened the awareness of the Foundation to a level unimaginable a few months ago. The effort to transcribe the previously inaccessible documents and make them available and searchable online is only worthwhile if a worldwide audience is aware of the treasures Wilford’s records contain.
Others who volunteered to serve on the Advisory Committee include: LaJean Purcell Carruth, who has devoted thousands of hours to transcribing nineteenth century documents for the Church History Department and other projects, and the only expert who can translate Pitman shorthand, Taylor shorthand, and the Deseret Alphabet; and Andrew H. Hedges, a professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, who was the lead editor of two volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers and served as Managing Historian of the project from 2012 to 2013.
The Project was also blessed when Sherilyn Farnes, presently a PhD candidate in history, who worked with the Joseph Smith Papers Project and the Edward Partridge Papers, was hired as the Managing Editor. Brenda Homer signed on to help build the Foundation’s financial framework and accounting system. Lorin Groesbeck, a three-year veteran of the Joseph Smith Papers, took on the difficult job of Lead Editorial Assistant. Krystyna Hales is our dedicated Operations Manager. And the creative duo behind the Project’s incredible website are Jon Fackrell, a software engineer at The John Hopkins University and online adjunct instructor at BYU-Idaho, and Jeff Turner, a PhD candidate in American history and instructor at the University of Utah.
The Project would not be possible without the involvement of Woodruff family members. The leadership of the Foundation includes three great-great grandsons of Wilford Woodruff. Steve Woodruff Owen, former Young Men General President of the Church, and Mark B. Woodruff serve on the Advisory Committee. Jordan Woodruff Clements agreed to serve on the Board of Directors shortly after his release as Stake President of the Murray Utah Young Single Adult Stake. The timing of Steve’s release from the Young Men presidency in April 2020 and Jordan’s release as stake president in August 2020 seemed providential to us.
To learn more about these individuals and their reasons for supporting the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project please visit Meet The Team on our About page.
The Future of the Project and How to Join the Team
The growth and progress of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation is miraculous. Less than a year ago, the Foundation had no money in the bank and no personnel. Just an ambitious and hopeful plan. The faith and prayers of a passionately committed team of volunteers and supporters has resulted in the windows of heaven being opened.
Even with an exceptional cadre of board members, advisors, and volunteers, the task before us is daunting. The documents recently made available at www.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org are just a fraction of Wilford’s expansive archives. We need your help to complete the project.
To allow scholars, historians, and anyone seeking additional truth to search Wilford’s records by word, topic, and name will require tens of thousands of hours and the funding to build and maintain the online resources. To create the visual depictions of the records, make the geographical and chronological connections, and research biographical information on every individual mentioned will require immense human and financial capital.
The rewards of participating in this historic effort will be an increased understanding of not only the faith and sacrifice of the early Saints, but a reminder of the devotion and faith of this generation.
Wilford’s eyewitness account of the Restoration will provide faith-building experiences for our children and grandchildren. The truth in the context of his life, his relationships, and his experiences will be recognizable in our own lives. We hope you will find yourself in the history we all share.
If you would like to be the first to know when new content is added to the site, please visit our website at www.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org and subscribe to our monthly email updates.
If you are able to volunteer your time and talents and be a part of this historic undertaking, visit ourvolunteer page to learn more about current opportunities.
If you know of any Wilford Woodruff documents that we might not be aware of, please let us know using this Documents link.
We invite you to visit www.wilfordwoodruffpapers.org and take part in the ongoing Restoration.
Jordan Woodruff Clements is a great-great-grandson of Wilford Woodruff and co-chairs the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation board. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University and graduated from the J. Reuben Clark Law School. Jordan is a co-founder of Rock Creek Capital, a private investment firm, and he also serves as the Chairman of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He and his wife Julie presided over the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission from 2011-2014.
Donald W. Parry is a co-founder of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation and serves as a co-chair of the Board of Directors. Don is a professor of the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls at Brigham Young University; he holds the Abraham O. Smoot Professorship. He has been a member of the International Team of Translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls since 1994; he is also a member of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation Board of Directors. He has authored or edited forty books and written more than eighty articles. His most recent work for scholars is titled Exploring the Isaiah Scrolls and Their Textual Variants (E. J. Brill, 2020), and his most recent book written for Latter-day Saint audiences is 175 Temple Symbols and Their Meanings (Deseret Book, 2020).