Isabella and Joseph Horne knew immediately that the earnest strangers were speaking the truth—as did Leonora and John Taylor and many others in their Toronto, Canada, neighborhood who had come to hear the Mormons one June day in 1836.1 The occasion was a fulfillment of prophecy: “Thou shalt go to Upper Canada, even to the city of Toronto, the capital,” Heber C. Kimball had said to Parley P. Pratt in an April 1836 blessing, “and there thou shalt find a people prepared for the fulness of the gospel, and they shall receive thee, and thou shalt organize the Church among them, and it shall spread thence into the regions round about, and many shall be brought to the knowledge of the truth and shall be filled with joy.”2
For the Hornes, their introduction to the gospel was truly a new beginning. Married only weeks earlier, the young couple would dedicate their lives to building the kingdom and serving the Lord. And Isabella, then seventeen, would bear and nurture many children, provide valued leadership as a prominent and respected woman in the Church, and would yet enjoy the company of prophets.
Mary Isabella Hales was born to Stephen and Mary Ann Hales on 20 November 1818 at Rainham, Kent County, England. The Hales and their family of five sons and two daughters emigrated to York (later renamed Toronto), Canada, where Isabella met Joseph Horne at a Methodist camp meeting in 1834. They were married two years later (9 May 1836), joined the Latter-day Saints, and offered their home as a residence for the elders and a meeting place for investigators.3
“I first met the Prophet Joseph Smith,” writes Isabella, “in the fall of 1837, at my home in the town of Scarborough, Canada West. When I first shook hands with him I was thrilled through and through and I knew that he was a Prophet of God, and that testimony has never left me, but is still strong within me. … While in Canada he visited all the branches of the Church, and gave the saints instructions. … Brother and Sister Taylor, my husband, and I enjoyed the privilege of accompanying the Prophet on these visits. … I heard him relate his first vision when the Father and Son appeared to him: also his receiving the Gold Plates from the Angel Moroni. … While he was relating the circumstances, the Prophet’s countenance lighted up, and so wonderful a power accompanied his words that everybody who heard them felt his influence and power, and none could doubt the truth of his narration.”4
March of 1838 found the Hornes, together with a small company of Saints, on the road to Far West. Isabella carried in her arms “a little baby girl in very delicate health and was herself far from strong,” being about five months pregnant and “so exhausted at night that it seemed as though nature would yield.”5 The tiny settlement of Huntsville, a hundred miles from Far West, became their new home, where “they lived in wagons with the exception of one week, when Mrs. Horne was sheltered at a neighbor’s house where her son Henry James was born.”6 In August they joined the larger body, of Saints at Far West.7
Mob persecution was a constant menace to the Saints during this time, and in less than a year the Hornes and others had been forced to leave their homes for the shelter of Plattsburgh, Missouri, some twenty miles distant. Here, recalled Isabella, they had an interesting encounter with the townsfolk:
“At first the people threatenend to mob us, but upon becoming acquainted with us, finding us peaceable and industrious urged us to settle among them. They said if they had known we were intelligent people they should not have disturbed us. … While [we] were there, the Prophet and his brethren were removed from Richmond to Clay Co. and passed one night at Plattsburgh. The citizens flocked to see them, seemed astonished to see such fine looking intelligent men, and so joyful.”8
By May of 1839 the little family had emigrated to Quincy, Illinois. Here “they had to begin at the beginning. Mrs. Horne earned considerable with her needlemade shirts for the men in the printing office; they stayed there for three years. Mr. Horne also earned money teaming, etc. … Here another son was born, and this baby and their oldest daughter died.”9
Isabella met the Prophet again in Quincy; this time he was only a few steps ahead of the mobsters. “Bro. Joseph Smith and several of the brethren and sisters came to Quincy,” she recalled. “They came to [my] house, partook of refreshments and scattered. Bro. Joseph was in the best of spirits. He said laughingly: ‘Sister Horne, if I had a wife as small as you, when trouble came I would put her in my pocket and run.’”10
On another occasion, Isabella recorded that “the Prophet Joseph, in company with a number of the brethren, came to Quincy, and the Prophet laid the condition of the affairs of the Church before Governor Carlin.
“On his return from his visit to Governor Carlin, the Prophet sent the brethren ahead on their return trip, telling them he would follow later. When he reached Lima, where they intended to remain over night, he found officers of the law awaiting him. They arrested him and brought him back to Quincy. … About noon the next day the Prophet came to our house and said, ‘Sister Horne, the Spirit always draws me to your home.’ ‘Brother Joseph,’ I said, ‘you are always welcome. But how is it you are here when I thought you were almost home?’ ‘Haven’t you heard that I have been in court all morning?’ he asked. … ‘I told the officers that I would be forthcoming at any hour in the morning they might name, if they would let me go, so here I am. What am I to do? They won’t let me have my trial in Nauvoo, but are going to take me to Walla Walla. I thought I should be at home by this time where my wife would look after my clothing. …’ ‘I will wash your clothing,’ I answered. ‘Indeed, Sister Horne, you do not look able to do it.’ I insisted, and he finally consented, as I told him my Saturday’s work was all done. I prepared his clothing that afternoon, so that he was ready for his journey in the morning.”11
In March 1842, Joseph and Isabella and their family moved to Nauvoo and commenced building a house about half a mile east of the temple. When their home was completed, Joseph went into the mercantile business.12
Isabella soon became a member of the newly-organized Relief Society, and later recalled President Emma Smith’s instructions: “She exhorted us to faithfulness in the discharge of our duties and especially to humble ourselves and not ask God to humble us as He might do it in a way that would not be very pleasant to us. These remarks made a lasting impression on my mind.”13
Nauvoo was home for four years, in the midst of hardship and persecution. Then it was time to begin the long, arduous journey that would ultimately end in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Closing their business in February of 1846, they crossed the Mississippi River and camped at Sugar Creek in the snow. Progress was slow in the face of freezing temperatures, illness, and scarcity of supplies, and it was late spring before they arrived at Winter Quarters. A daughter, Elizabeth, was born to Isabella along the way.14
In their eleven years of marriage, Isabella had given birth to seven children. Two sons and a daughter had died. Now, in June 1847, they began the trek toward Salt Lake with sons ages nine, five, and three, and young Elizabeth.
Isabella tells of an incident that occurred on their journey west. “In the month of July, when camped on the north side of the Platte River, we saw a large band of Indians located on the other side about half a mile ahead. In the morning Apostle John Taylor had invited my husband to drive on before the company to meet the Indians who were swimming over the river to trade. One Indian brought a pony to my wagon and wanted to trade for my baby girl fourteen months old. I said, ‘No trade.’ He brought a second and third pony and indicated that he was very determined to have my baby. She was born in a wagon while we were traveling through the Pottowattamie nation of Indians when coming from Nauvoo to Council Bluffs. Sister Hoagland, who rode with me, was very much excited for fear he would snatch her from my arms and run off. While he had gone for the fourth pony, the main body of the train came up. I had no further trouble with him.”15
The wagon train arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on 6 October 1847; it was evening, and “we traveled in the dark, having no guide but the flickering light of the campfires on Pioneer Square,” Isabella writes. “Our tent was soon pitched, and we felt thankful to our Heavenly Father for preserving us on our long and arduous journey of four months, and that we had arrived at a place of rest. We lived in a tent until logs could be obtained from the canyon for a house.”16
As the Saints grew in numbers, President Brigham Young “found it advisable to organize a Relief Society.”17 Isabella Horne was appointed first counselor to President Phoebe Woodruff in the Fourteenth Ward; the leadership was reorganized in 1867 with Isabella as president. Thus began her remarkable tenure of leadership among women of the Church.18
Ten years later, by unanimous vote, Mary Isabella Horne was sustained as “President of the Relief Society of Salt Lake Stake of Zion.”19 She held this office until the stake was divided into six stakes when she was eighty-five years old in 1903—twenty-six years.
In the fall of 1869, Isabella was issued another challenge. President Young, touring southern Utah with other Church leaders, was troubled by the fact that wherever they went, great preparations were made for their entertainment. The sisters even stayed at home instead of going to meeting. When he arrived in Gunnison, where Isabella was visiting her son, he spoke with her about the matter. “Sister Horne,” he said, “I am going to give you a mission to begin when you return to your home—the mission of teaching retrenchment among the wives and daughters of Israel. It is not right that they should spend so much time in the preparation of their food and adornment of their bodies, and neglect their spiritual education.”20
Isabella took the president’s concern seriously. Upon returning to Salt Lake, she, together with Eliza R. Snow and Margaret T. Smoot, visited with President Young and received further direction. Following a series of informal meetings with ward representatives in her home, the Senior Retrenchment Association was organized on 10 February 1870 with Mary Isabella Horne as president and Sarah M. Kimball as secretary. Afterward, “Mrs. Horne carried out the theory of the meeting by seating the entire company at a neatly spread Retrenchment Table, consisting of good bread and butter, with stewed dried apples, one kind of cake, blancmange and cream and preserves and cold water.”21
Brigham Young’s idea of retrenchment extended to the younger generation, as well. In late November 1869, he called his daughters together at home and organized them into a Junior Retrenchment Society. Later, at their first meeting as an organization, Sister Horne met with them to help establish guidelines and refine the organization, which was a forerunner of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association.22
The Senior Retrenchment Association apparently functioned separately from the Relief Society, although Isabella served as the Retrenchment president for thirty years (1870–1900) and as stake Relief Society president for twenty-six years (1887–1903).23
But her labors were not confined solely to religious endeavors. She served as a member of the Deseret Hospital committee for twelve years; as a counselor to Zina D. H. Young in the Silk Association; and as president of the Women’s Cooperative Mercantile and Manufacturing Institution.24
Active in the suffrage movement, Isabella was chairman of the “Mormon Women’s” Mass Protest Meeting held in the Salt Lake Theater on 6 March 1886 at which “the dense but orderly multitude thronged into the building, which was soon packed from pit to dome.”25 The meeting had been convened “to protest against the indignities and insults heaped upon the wives and daughters of ‘Mormons’ in the District Courts, and also against the proposed disfranchisement of those of their sex who are innocent of breaking any law.”26
At a general Relief Society meeting held in the Fourteenth Ward Assembly Hall on 19 July 1880, President John Taylor set apart the officers of the newly-called Central Board. (The name was later changed to General Board.) Eliza R. Snow was named general president. Mary Isabella became treasurer, a position which she held until 1901 when, at the age of 83, she asked to be released. Even so, she continued on the board until her death in 905.27
Emmeline B. Wells, also prominent among Utah women and a long-time friend and associate of Isabella in civic and religious endeavors, said of this remarkable woman: “[she] was a born leader, a sort of General among women, and indeed in this respect might surpass most men. … —A woman of great force of character, and wonderful ability, such a one as might stand at the head of a great institution and carry it on successfully. … Even President Young once nominated her for Justice of the Peace, and in character and ability to judge, she was not unlike Deborah of old, or Queen Elizabeth of modern time. … Sister Horne can appropriately be called a stalwart, a champion for the rights of her own sex, and indeed for all mankind. … Sister Horne had a fine presence on the platform, or in the pulpit, spoke with great earnestness and was wise in her utterances, prophetic in nature, familiar with the scriptures and handled her subjects well. Like others of her time, she was undoubtedly a woman of destiny.”28
This “woman of destiny” who had borne fifteen children, including three sets of twins, was a much-loved mother and grandmother.29 From the Journal History, as well as from the journal of her granddaughter, Elizabeth Horne Durrant, we learn that on 10 November 1893, her seventy-fifth birthday, a surprise party was given her in the Fourteenth Ward Assembly Hall. “Among the invited guests,” reads the account, “were the First Presidency of the Church, members of the council of Apostles, Presiding Bishopric, Presidency of the Salt Lake Stake, the Bishop and his counselors of the ward in which she now resides and where the gathering took place, the local officers of the Stake and National Relief Societies and a large number of other prominent persons.”30 The hall was beautifully decorated with bunting, flowers, and plants, and a place in front was reserved especially for the Horne family. Words of praise and gratitude flowed.
Mary Isabella Hales Horne received the honors as graciously as she had lived her life.