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Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff was the fourth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church. He was known for his missionary work, the formation of the Genealogical Society, and for writing the manifesto that officially prohibited plural marriage within the Mormon Church. Wilford Woodruff was born on March 1, 1807, in Connecticut. His mother died when he was only fifteen months old, but his father remarried three years later and his stepmother raised him. He grew up on a farm, went to school, and helped his father run his sawmill.Wilford pondered religious things and became convinced that the Church of Christ was not upon the earth.  He said:

Wilford Woodruff MormonI could not find any denomination whose doctrines, faith or practice, agreed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the ordinances and gifts which the Apostles taught. Although the ministers of the day taught that the faith, gifts, graces, miracles and ordinances, which the ancient Saints enjoyed, were done away and no longer needed, I did not believe it to be true, only as they were done away through the unbelief of the children of men. I believed the same gifts, graces, miracles and power would be manifest in one age of the world as in another, when God had a Church upon the earth, and that the Church of God would be re-established upon the earth, and that I should live to see it. These principles were riveted upon my mind from the perusal of the Old and New Testament (”History of Wilford Woodruff,” [from his own pen], Millennial Star, XXVII, 182).

My soul was drawn out upon these things. In my early manhood I prayed day and night that I might live to see a prophet. I would have gone a thousand miles to have seen a prophet, or a man that could teach me the things that I read of in the Bible. I could not join any church, because I could not find any church at that time that advocated these principles. I spent many a midnight hour, by the river side, in the mountains, and in my mill … calling upon God that I might live to see a prophet or some man that would teach me of the things of the kingdom of God as I read them (Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols., 4).

When he was 26 years old, Wilford Woodruff heard a sermon given by one of the Mormon missionaries. President Woodruff knew he had found what he was looking for. He was baptized as a member of the Church on December 31, 1833, just two days after hearing the sermon.

In 1834, Wilford Woodruff was sent on the first of the six missions he would eventually serve. His call was to the Southeastern U.S. He returned home from his mission in 1836 and recorded that he had traveled over 9,800 miles, held over 300 meetings, organized 4 branches of the Church, baptized 70 people and confirmed 62, performed 11 priesthood ordinations, and healed 4 people by the laying on of hands, and that he had been delivered from the hands of 6 different mobs.

President Woodruff was ordained as an elder in 1835 and then as a Seventy in May 1836. Just a year after his return from his first mission, he served another full-time mission to the Fox Islands off the coast of Maine. During this mission he found a people searching for the truth and baptized over a hundred people. Also while on this mission, Wilford Woodruff received a letter from Thomas B. Marsh. The letter informed him that he had been called to be an apostle and that he would be asked to serve a mission in Great Britain.

President Woodruff was ordained an apostle on April 26, 1839, and just a short time later left for Great Britain. When Wilford Woodruff returned home, he helped the Saints travel to the Salt Lake Valley. He was with Brigham Young and the first company of pioneers. Once the Saints were finally settled in Utah, President Woodruff was not sent on any more missions. Instead he was sent to check on different Mormon settlements across the West including Arizona and Idaho.

The entire time President Woodruff served as an apostle (1856-1883) he also filled the role of Church Historian. He loyally kept a journal, and keeping a record of the Church’s history came naturally. On July 25, 1887, President John Taylor passed away; President Woodruff was then the presiding officer and felt the burden of leading the Church. He wrote in his journal:

This places me in a very peculiar situation.  It is a position I have never looked for during my life. But in the providence of God it is laid upon me, and I pray God my Heavenly Father to give me grace equal to my day. It is a high and responsible position for any man to occupy and a position that needs great wisdom. I never expected to outlive President Taylor. . . . But God has ordained otherwise. . . . I can only say, marvelous are Thy ways, O Lord Almighty, for Thou hast truly chosen weak instruments to perform in Thy hand Thy work on earth. May Thy servant Wilford be prepared for whatever is required at his hands by the God of Heaven (Preston Nibley, The Presidents of the Church, 13th ed., p.129).

On April 7, 1889, Wilford Woodruff was ordained as the President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When Wilford Woodruff was ordained as the prophet, the Mormon Church was being penalized by the U.S. government for practicing polygamy. The situation made President Woodruff ponder the issue constantly. He finally went to the Lord for help in the matter and was told that the Saints should finally stop the practice. He issued a statement to the members of the Church as well as the world explaining that the practice would be stopped within the Mormon Church on September 24, 1890. President Woodruff continued to lead and guide the Church until he passed away on September 2, 1898.

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