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Lost recording of an interview with 1867 Mormon pioneer found

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Ruth May Fox accepts an award from a dairy executive in June 1957.

Deseret News Archive

SALT LAKE CITY — Getting to know an ancestor through journals, stories and old photographs is one thing.

It’s quite another to actually hear that ancestor’s voice.

A friend's recent discovery of a 1950s recorded interview gave Brittany A. Chapman the rare opportunity to listen to the voice of her 103-year-old pioneer great-great-grandmother, Ruth May Fox. How it came about is another classic example of how digging through family history can sometimes yield an unforeseen treasure.

“There is nothing like connecting with a person through photographs … but what did this person say when talking in real time, face to face? What would it have been like to just hear her words, her syntax?” Chapman said. “It was awesome to hear her speak about herself, her life experiences. To hear the sound of her voice was amazing … a very enriching experience.”

Ruth May Fox

Chapman is a historian in the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is also a co-editor with Richard E. Turley Jr. of the seven-volume series titled “Women of Faith in the Latter Days.”

For the past six years, Chapman has researched her ancestor’s life for two projects. One is an autobiography that will be published by the University of Utah press in 2015. Chapman has also been writing a chapter about her great-great-grandmother for Volume 3 of the “Women of Faith in the Latter Days” series, which is scheduled for release in May.

Ruth May Fox was born in England in 1853. Her family converted to Mormonism and immigrated to the United States in the 1860s. They traveled by covered ox cart and on foot to Salt Lake City in 1867.

In 1873, she married Jesse W. Fox. She experienced polygamy when her husband added a second wife 15 years later. (The LDS Church discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890.)

Fox delivered 12 children, with 10 living to adulthood. By her 100th birthday, Fox had 256 living direct descendants. There are more than 3,000 descendants living today.

Fox was active in women’s suffrage and other civic causes. She met Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw when they visited Utah in 1895.

Fox served in the general presidency of the LDS Church’s Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, including president, for nearly four decades.

In 1930, Fox wrote the hymn “Carry On.” She also loved poetry.

Members of the LDS Church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, as well as state and city officials, attended her milestone birthday parties. She was 103 when she flew on an airplane to her son’s golden wedding anniversary. She died in Salt Lake City at age 104 in 1958.

“She was on the forefront of things happening with women around the turn of the century,” Chapman said.

Kathryn Jones, a granddaughter, grew up in the same house as Ruth May Fox.

“Her eyesight declined, but she could always see whether we had too short of skirts or wore pants because she didn’t like that," Jones said. "She always noticed that."

What Jones remembers most about grandma Ruth is her memory. One time Jones was asked to go downtown and buy thread but she forgot.

“She shook her finger at me and said, ‘Kathryn, you’ll never forget if you learn to remember first,’ ” Jones said.

Fox wrote hundreds of poems and memorized each one. On her 100th birthday, she quoted a poem she had written at age 40.

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