Although she never had children of her own, Louie Bouton Felt influenced thousands during her lifetime. And children in the Church today still benefit from her service.
In 1878 Sister Felt became the president of the second ward Primary ever organized, and then in 1880, when the Primary was organized on a general Church level, she was called to be the first general president. She served in that position for forty-four years—until 1924—shaping the infant organization through her inspired leadership.1
Born 5 May 1850 in South Norwalk, Connecticut, Louie Bouton learned early the essentials of homemaking—as well as the New England activities of gathering maple syrup, digging clams, and dredging oysters. When she was fourteen, her father, Joseph Bouton, president of the Norwalk Branch, decided to take his family to Zion. But misfortune and sickness delayed the trip two more years, and Louie and two brothers eventually made the trip alone. The group leader of the wagon train was Joseph H. Felt, a young elder returning from the European missions. Attracted to the tall, graceful, golden-haired Louie, he married her that December.
The next fall, the Felts were called to help settle the Muddy Mission, now known as Moapa, Nevada. Their long, exhausting journey took them by way of St. George, Utah, through quicksand and over mountains that seemed nearly impassable. Once in St. George, a friend advised them that because of Louie’s frail health it might be wise to remain there, but Louie refused: “We were not sent to St. George; we were sent to the Muddy,” she told her husband. “You may do as you please; I am going on.”2
After arriving at the Muddy, they lived in a tent and a wagon box until a man cleaned out his chicken coop to give them a more comfortable home. When Brother Felt began building a home, Louie trampled the mud for the adobe bricks with her bare feet.
Conditions on the Muddy were extremely difficult for a young woman accustomed to New England. The temperature even at night was well above 100 degrees; the stinging sand and violent winds killed most plants and vines as quickly as they grew; the Indians, friendly but starving, picked the melons and squash before they were as big as walnuts; fire destroyed many of the homes; supplies were scarce.
“I never felt to murmur, but to stay as long as required,” Louie maintained.3 But she was happy to return to Salt Lake City when the mission was abandoned.
It was seventeen years later that Louie began her forty-four years of service to the Primary. Despite years of ill health as she grew older, Sister Felt gave her life to the Primary. Perceiving the need for a children’s magazine, she did not give up efforts to get the project going, even though the Church could offer no financial help and several businessmen advised against such a venture. In 1901 she finally received permission from President Joseph F. Smith, and, putting up her home as security, she published the first issue of The Children’s Friend.
Also concerned with the health of children, she instituted a hospital fund which led to the establishment of the Children’s Hospital during her years as general president.
Louie died on 13 February 1928. She had been described as “refined and spiritual, … buoyant and cheerful. … Whether presiding in gentle dignity over a conference of several thousands of parents and children, whether happily mingling in a reunion of cherished and appreciative friends, or whether in that closer, dearer circle, … her face is that of innocence and purity; her heart is an altar to her God; her life a monument to all.”4