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New Harmony: Ellis Shipp: keen mind, hard worker

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 24 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Chapter 1. Shipp, Ellis, Mss. C.

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The saga I'm about to share with you began with the second verse of the hymn, "Father, Cheer Our Souls Tonight."

It reads:

Calm the surges of the soul;

Bid the dark waves backward roll.

Let us all thy mercies feel

Through the power thou doest reveal.

I was thumbing through the hymnbook last week when the words caught my eye. They were written by Ellis Reynolds Shipp — who, I assumed, was either a British upper-cruster or a New England dandy.

It turns out Ellis R. Shipp was a sturdy, pioneer mom of nine.

And, as I was soon to learn, she was much, much more.

The words of her hymn reminded me of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" (one of my favorites) and the line in "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" that says, "The clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break, in blessings on your head."

I felt Sister Shipp was not only a kindred spirit to the authors of those hymns — Wesley and Cowper — but her soul had chimed in harmony with my own.

I decided to hit the books — or, better, hit the Internet.

I learned that Ellis Reynolds came to Utah in 1852 when she was 5. She spent time at the Beehive House, and Brigham Young quickly saw how gifted she was. He asked Karl G. Maeser, the legendary Mormon mind, to tutor her.

As age 28 — sick, broke and pregnant — Ellis decided to become a medical doctor. She went back to Philadelphia to study.

She graduated with honors.

After returning to Utah, she practiced medicine for 60 years. She was the original Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

In that time, she had nine children and delivered 6,000 others.

Armed all with this info, I shared a few thoughts about her last Sunday and led the congregation in her hymn "Father, Cheer Our Souls Tonight," which we sang to the tune of "Jesus Once of Humble Birth."

That evening, Carrie Reynolds Jolley came by our home with a book of Ellis' poetry and more details.

What began as my fascination with a line in a hymn had blossomed into a quest.

Today, as I am writing this, I sit in Dr. Ellis Reynolds Shipp Park on 4th Avenue just below 600 East in Salt Lake City. There is playground equipment here, a couple of benches, a half dozen tress and a plaque and picture of this remarkable woman.

I have since learned that a local health clinic and a dorm at BYU were named after her.

I have learned she served on the Relief Society General Board, the board of Deseret Hospital, that she trained hundreds of nurses and published a book of poetry in 1910 that is filled with the clear, tight verse found in "Father, Cheer Our Souls."

And if you think hard work will kill you, keep in mind Ellis Reynolds Shipp lived to age 92.

She may have felt surges of the soul and dark waves rolling inside of her at times, but she also found, in the words of her hymn, a beaming, holy light that kept her from falling into the abyss of despair.

Here's hoping her example can help us all do the same.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times. Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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