In the spring of 1899 Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight were busy packing their clothes for a trip to Europe. The two young women had been school friends at Brigham Young Academy (later Brigham Young University), and they were looking forward to a vacation together and a chance to see Inez’s brothers, who were missionaries in England.
In the middle of their vacation preparations, their bishop told the girls that he wanted to have a chat with them. Bishop Keeler asked Inez and Jennie not to go on their planned vacation but to continue packing their things and go on a mission instead!
Young Mormon women had never before been asked to go out and knock on doors and preach on street corners like Mormon men missionaries. However, after overcoming their surprise, Inez and Jennie willingly answered the call to serve as the first sister missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They went to Great Britain just a few weeks after they were called.
When they left their homes in Provo, Utah, Jennie and Inez didn’t know when they would return, because there was no “usual” time for sister missionaries to be gone. The length of their service might be several months, or it might be several years. They knew that the mission president in Europe had seen what fine work many women did in teaching the gospel, that he had requested that women missionaries be sent out as well as men, and that the prophet had agreed. Jennie and Inez also knew that they each had a testimony that they wanted to share.
When the young women disembarked in Liverpool, England, Inez’s brothers Ray and Will were there to meet them. After a brief but happy reunion, the young ladies were sent off on their own to preach the gospel in various towns.
Some of their first missionary experiences were at street meetings, during which a small group of missionaries would stand on a busy street corner and sing hymns or preach a sermon. As people stopped to listen, the missionaries talked with them and invited them to attend regular church meetings, or the missionaries made appointments to teach the people in their homes.
Inez wrote in her journal about one night when she helped at five different street meetings. She wrote that the Mormon elders, who wore tall silk hats and nice black suits, “stood like brave soldiers on the street, … telling people the Gospel truths. I was never prouder to know that I was numbered with the Latter-day Saints.”
The young women were effective in teaching the restored gospel. One man later wrote that when he heard Sister Jennie Brimhall speak as a missionary, he was an unbeliever and didn’t want to listen. But he couldn’t forget her sincere words and lovely expression. Finally, twenty years later, he investigated the gospel and became a member of the Church.
After serving eight months in England, Sister Brimhall was sent home because of poor health. Sister Knight, however, continued to work as a missionary for more than two years, and several more sisters were sent to England to labor with her.
The 1890s were not easy years to be a missionary in England. Some people there were telling false stories about the Mormons and stirring up trouble for the missionaries.
One night Sister Knight was out teaching a family with her new companion, Sister Chipman. A group of rowdies saw them and stirred up so much trouble with the neighbors by telling lies about the Mormons that a mob followed the sisters through the streets, calling them names and throwing rocks at windows and trash at the young ladies. Elder Ray Knight had been sent to walk them home, but the situation became so dangerous that three policemen had to escort the missionaries to the police station for their safety. Even though they were bruised and soiled with garbage, the sisters were not ready to give up. Instead, while they waited inside the police station for the crowd to go away, they discussed the gospel with the policemen. Later the chief of police helped the missionaries slip out the back door so that they could walk home safely.
Despite such trying experiences, Inez wrote in her journal again and again about the many friendships that she made with the English people. She was impressed with the many sacrifices the British members of the Church made to help the missionaries.
After their missions, both Jennie and Inez returned to Provo, married, and raised families. They remained friends and were active in the Red Cross and community political activities. They will always be remembered, because when they were called to serve the Lord, they served willingly and whole-heartedly.