The Girl Who Washed the Prophet’s Clothes


He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart … shall receive the blessing from the Lord (Ps. 24:4–5).

In the 1830s, missionaries baptized Mary Grimshaw and her family into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Grimshaws immigrated to the United States and made their home in Nauvoo.

Mary was given the assignment of helping Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, with her laundry each week. Mary and Emma worked side by side in the Smiths’ kitchen.

“I’m so glad that you have agreed to help me,” Emma said as she lifted a large tub of water onto the black coal stove.

“I’m glad that I’m able to help,” Mary answered while she put dresses and shirts into the water to simmer and soak.

The kitchen air soon became hot and moist, and it smelled of strong lye soap. Mary wiped the perspiration from her forehead. She dipped a wooden spoon into the water and pulled out a shirt. Kneeling beside another tub of sudsy water, she scrubbed the shirt up and down the washboard. When the shirt was scrubbed clean, Mary handed it to Emma.

Emma rinsed it first in one tub of cool, clear water, then in another tub of clear water. The last tub had a few drops of bluing added to the water to make the shirts whiter.

After each article of clothing was washed and rinsed, it was pulled through a hand-turned wringer, which looked like two rolling pins hooked together with a crank on one end to turn them. The ringer was attached to another tub. As the clothes went through the ringer, the squeezed out water ran into the tub to be reused. The clothes were then hung neatly on the clothesline to dry.

“Thank you for your help,” Emma said.

“Oh, it was fun. I enjoy having an excuse to come to your home,” Mary told her.

Mary did enjoy helping on laundry day at the Prophet Joseph Smith’s home. For five years Mary faithfully returned each week.

Then one sad day the Prophet Joseph Smith was shot and killed. Wanting to go and comfort Emma in some way, Mary said to no one in particular, “Sister Emma needs me more today than ever.”

As she walked to the Smiths’ house, she smoothed the braids that hung from both sides of her head, straightened the apron tied around her waist, and forced on her best smile.

She thought of how different the day felt. The very air was filled with sadness and uncertainty. She wondered about her future and the future of the Church. Stepping onto the porch, she knocked on the wooden door.

Emma looked pale and lonely, and her eyes were red and swollen.

“I’m so sorry,” Mary heard herself say. “Do you still want my help today?”

“Yes,” Emma replied. “I was hoping that you would come. Please go into the kitchen and get started.”

As Mary began to sort the clothes, she jumped back unexpectedly. On top of the pile of clothes lay a man’s shirt. The left side was stained with blood, and there was a small hole singed by gunpowder. The sight of it made Mary feel weak. She fell to her knees and sobbed uncontrollably.

At the close of the day, Mary wrote in her diary, “Today I washed the shirt the Prophet Joseph Smith was shot in.”

Mary’s faith in the gospel grew. She sustained Brigham Young as the new prophet. Later she crossed the plains with the other pioneers and made her home in Smithfield, Utah.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett