Mary Wood Pratt
by Leah P. Call and Amy P. Romney
Mary Wood Pratt, daughter of Samuel and Margaret Orr Wood, was born June 18, 1818, in Glasgow, Scotland. She had a sister, Elizabeth, and three brothers, Samuel, James and John. Little is known of her early life, but we assume that she must have come from a very cultured, refined family who had instilled into the children the principles of thrift, industry, frugality, patience, kindness, gentleness and the love of truth. Mary was well-educated for that period, an accomplished seamstress especially skilled in men’s suits, women’s tailored clothing, millinery and all kinds of needlework. We learn more of her after she had taken up her abode in Liverpool, where she came in contact with the Latter-day Saint missionaries and was baptized March 29, 1839, in the Manchester Branch.
On April 15, 1840, a general conference of the Church was convened at Temperance Hall, Preston, Lancashire, England, in which thirty-three branches of the Church were represented, including a total of nearly 2,000 members. At this conference Parley Parker Pratt was chosen to be editor and publisher of a new monthly periodical to be called the Millennial Star. He repaired to Manchester to prepare for his new appointment. The first issue of this publication appeared in May, 1840. The hymn, The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee, was written especially for the introduction and appeared on its cover.
The foregoing paragraph seems a bit foreign to the subject of this sketch, but it does touch closely the life of Mary Wood. Parley was chosen in 1841 to preside over the mission where Miss Wood was an ardent member. Both resided in the same district, they evidently became fast friends. The following is an excerpt from a letter written from Nauvoo on June 27, 1843, by Parley P. Pratt too Mary Wood, entreating her to come to Zion as soon as possible:
Mrs. Pratt wishes me to say particularly that she wants you to live with us and have one of our upper rooms to follow your trade, which she thinks will be good here; and I think myself that it would give me great pleasure to see two spirits so congenial, so like each other, live so near as to enjoy each other’s daily society.
Mary Wood did come to America and to Nauvoo, March 1, 1844. On September 9, 1844 she became a plural wife of Parley P. Pratt. She endured the hardships and persecutions with the Saints in the mobbings and slaying of their Prophet and Patriarch. She was among the first to leave her home in that historic February. As her husband was one of the leaders, Mary had to be a minute-woman, ready to leave at any time. Parley p. Pratt had located a spot for a settlement and named it Mt. Pisgah and he had gone to locate other suitable places. His family was left to take care of itself, while traveling in the company of other Saints. On May 31, 1846, about one hour before they reached their destination, the wagon in which Mary was riding was halted for about half an hour, while Mary’s first born, a son whom they called Helaman, came into the world. They then resumed their journey and rejoined the company. The family wintered in Winter Quarters, leaving after the crops were planted in the spring. They reached the Great Salt Lake Valley September 19, 1847—with the second contingent to reach the Valley.
On September 5, 1848, Mary’s second child, Cornelia, came to gladden the home of the Pratts. Mary was blessed with two more children, Mary, born September 14, 1853, Mathoni, born July 6, 1856. Mathoni was the youngest son and next to youngest child of Parley P. Pratt. After the tragic death of her husband, Mary took over the full responsibility of rearing her four small children, the oldest being only ten years of age. Her training as a seamstress and milliner were invaluable to her at this time, as she provided for her family through this means. It is said of her that she was meticulous, being able to go to any drawer or cupboard and find what she wanted almost with her eyes closed. She instilled into her children these habits of neatness, thrift and industry; she also taught not only her own children but most of her husband’s daughters to sew and do fine needlework. A little home she built was located west on North Temple Street. Later she went to live in what was known as the Big Field (Forest Dale).
She is remembered as a very prim person, always neatly dressed in black, with a white apron, a little bonnet, her hair parted in the middle and smoothly combed, with a little bob in the back. She went about her work quietly but quickly, with precision in every move. She was very thrifty and independent. One of her favorite sayings was, patience is a virtue. Her ideals were always high, and although she was tolerant, she could not endure vulgarity nor obscene language. A favorite story handed down to her grandchildren is of a prominent man whose habit was to use a certain vulgar word; one day he used it in her presence. She looked at him squarely and said Brother, I have some good, strong soap, a scrubbing brush, and hot water. You had better use some of it to wash out your filthy mouth.
In her young widowhood she received many proposals of marriage from prominent men, but always the face of Parley came to her and she could see no other. She reared her two sons and two daughters, saw them married in the temple and all active, energetic church workers. Her life came to a close March 5, 1898, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her funeral was held in Forest Dale Ward, Brother George Q. Cannon being the chief speaker. Internment was in the City Cemetery.
[Our Pioneer Heritage, Kate B. Carter, comp., Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1974, 17:213–15]