In Our Lovely Deseret: Two women who personify that elusive something called greatness

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

How can we define that elusive something men call greatness?

Terms such as the following are often used: one who gives of self, who does what needs to be done and understands the dignity of work. One who serves others in such a way that he leaves them better than he has found them. One who possesses a light within, as well as the quiet consistency of faith.

On Jan. 20 we marked the birthday of Ellis R. Shipp and on Jan. 21 was that of Eliza R. Snow. All of the above apply abundantly to both of these extraordinary Mormon women.

Ellis Reynolds gave of herself to her family after the early death of her mother. She served in faith, hoping the day would come when she would be able to fulfill her own cherished goal of obtaining an education — and it did. Through the encouraging invitation of Brigham Young, she came to live in his Beehive House as one of his daughters, and received the inspired instruction of Karl G. Maeser. She drank in the wisdom and goodness of this remarkable man’s spirit as well as the knowledge his lessons imparted.

After marrying Milford Shipp and growing deeply involved in the bearing and rearing of children, Ellis yet persisted in her efforts to educate both her mind and her spirit. Many entries in her journal such as the following reveal that fact:

I am still following out my plan of early rising and constant study whenever circumstances will permit — from four to seven will be my principle time and perhaps all that I can spare from other duties. ... Oh how I long for knowledge and wisdom” (see "Early Autobiography and Diary," p. 87).

Against all odds (which included her husband’s reluctance, a lack of financial resources and serving her last year as a student while pregnant with her sixth child), Ellis Shipp graduated with honors from the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia in March of 1878, at just 31 years of age.

Then she returned home, gathered her little ones around her and contrived to live the life of a wonder woman. A year and a half earlier the doctors at the college had examined her and told her that her heart was actually skipping beats and she may not live six months longer. Now she proceeded to give her heart and soul to the work, relying only upon the one power she had come to know and trust.

Earlier in her life she had written: “I must become more energetic in my religion, and press onward with a stronger and firmer determination than ever. I desire to overcome, and I know this can be accomplished save but one way — by the power and spirit of my Father and God, and this I will seek for with all my might, mind and strength. It may take years and perhaps a lifetime for me to arrive at that state of perfection that I desire.”

Ellis gave birth to three more children, and buried three. She practiced medicine and taught nursing for 60 consecutive years, helping, teaching, lifting — always serving a little above and beyond, often with scanty compensation or none at all.

Her own life did not become easier nor her burdens lighter, but she pressed on with faith in the pursuit of “that state of perfection” which she desired. Near the end of her life she wrote: “Reverently unto God I give my gratitude for the successful practice of medicine for the span of more than 50 years. For more than 6,000 times have I felt the exquisite bliss of seeing the mother’s smile when for the first time she clasped her treasure in her arms” ("Late Autobiography," Ellis Reynolds Shipp, M. D., p. 282).

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