Memoir of Romania B. Pratt, M.D.

Salt Lake City, Utah

To the oldest female descendant living April 1930 (Edna Sutherland)

Dr. Romania B. Pratt, daughter of Luther B. Bunnell and Esther Mendenhall Bunnell, was born in the town of Washington, Wayne Co. Indiana, August 8th 1839. My mother embraced the gospel when I was three years old–my father three years later. My parents gathered with the saints in 1846 just before they left Nauvoo, and traveled with them into Winter Quarters, but on account of the very delicate health of my mother, father returned to the settlements. I well remember of investigating with childish wonder and eagerness the mysteries of the Nauvoo Temple from the white marble font on the backs of white marble oxen in the basement to the wondrous bell in the belfry.

I was the only child living at this time, my sister Josephine was born when I was seven years of age.

While in Nauvoo father, mother and I received our Patriarchal blessing from John Smith, uncle of the prophet Joseph. Great things were promised us all which if we live for them we will receive. My father finally returned to the home of his father, where he purchased a farm, upon which he placed mother and her children and then went to California during the Gold fever prevailing at that time. He died there just as he contemplated returning home.

All my childhood days, until I was sixteen years of age was spent in school, when my mother in 1855 again gathered with the saints. I attended the Female Seminary in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and no doubt had I remained, I should have obtained a very finished education; but my blooming womanhood began to draw around me admirers which warned mother to flee from Babylon before I became fastened by Gentile bonds. I do not remember of having any other faith than that of the true and everlasting gospel. I was not baptized until we were on our journey to Salt Lake City, May 1855.
The journey across the plains with ox teams was a summer full of pleasure to me;- the early morning walks-gathering wild flowers, climbing the rugged and oftimes forbidding hills-the pleasant evening gatherings of the young folks by the bright camp fire while sweet songs floated forth on the evening air to gladden the wild and savage ear of the red men or wild beasts as well as our own young hearts. But the day of joy was the one when we arrived in sight of Salt Lake City. I well remember how I sped up the east side of the Little Mountain with fleet footsteps and anxious heart to get the first peep at the great city of the saints. With lightening glances I rapidly swept the whole valley north and south but no city could I find; my disappointment was extreme. I looked for bristling spires and flashing metallic cupolas which I had been accustomed to see when first coming into sight of other cities. After a long but fruitless search for the city some one came to my relief and called my attention to a small collection of black spots indicating houses. At last the train was camped on Union Square; where today is being erected the University of Deseret. The year we arrived was one of famine and tis needless to recount the sorrows and disappointments common to all. Through the blessing of our Father who has promised to care for the widow and the fatherless we did not suffer from hunger. Now for the first time in my life did I face its stern realities. But without a thought of murmuring or of turning back for the leeks and onions I contented myself with whatever I found to do.

After my father’s death a guardian was appointed to take care of the property left us, and he not believing in the Latter Day work would not let us have any means “to come among the Mormons” saying they would at once take it all from us and thus we were in a measure penniless when we arrived. I taught school the greater portion of my time.

It has been a matter of great satisfaction to me to remember how fully and easily I received all the principles of the gospel even from my earliest recollection. I can truly say I do not remember when I did not believe. Even the principle of plural marriage seemed a most rational and eternal truth. I never opposed the principle when practiced with singleness of heart as commanded. Were it lived according to the great and grand aim of its author, though it be a fiery furnace at some period of our life, it will prove the one thing needful to cleanse and purify our inmost soul of selfishness, jealousy, and other mundane attributes which seem to lie closest to the citadel of life. With these uncongenial attendants we never can enter and remain in the Celestial Kingdom of our Father, therefore if we can use this as a refining element let us accept it as a means of salvation. Plural marriage is the platform upon which is built endless kingdoms and lives and no other or all combined principles revealed can be substituted as a compensation. It is only our want of knowledge, that we do not hail it as our greatest gift, and be stimulated to fight the warfare of this earthly life and prove ourselves conquerors to march onward in the upward scale of eternal lives. It is not a part of the plan of creation for man to have gratuitously bestowed upon him the fruits of great energy and labor, but our agency is given us and the wide world full of opportunities by which we can prove our worthiness in the future and all are left without excuse. Upon natural principle it has become a trite but true saying that “There is no excellence without great labor”. God virtually says to each of us The world is before you, be as good and great as you will and I will assist you. Much legislation is arrayed against the principle of plural marriage and always has been. In 1857 General Johnson with an army traveled all the way across the arid plains to destroy us for living this principle. The long weary road bordered by the graves of our loved ones who perished by the way and the bleaching bones of our faithful animals found no avenue to their hearts, suggesting to them that surely such sacrifices must be only for the love of the true God.

Coming to the everlasting hills which form the chambers of the Lord for the protection of his children in the last days they were met by a handful of men who were in possession of the mountain passes and were kept in abeyance for several months until the saints were removed from Salt Lake City and everything prepared to destroy it in the event of our enemies taking possession. But God did not permit the burning of our homes for our enemy was harassed and their efforts anticipated until they made a treaty to pass quietly through the city and form a camp called Camp Floyd. There is at present a permanent camp called Camp Douglas on the bench east of the city with their field pieces of cannon covering the city thus as it were hanging the sword continually over our heads. They do not know as well as we do that they are in the hands of God and that he environs them with a wall of adamant though invisible to their physical senses. For several years congress has been sorely puzzled to know how to deal with this perplexing problem and their efforts have been very determined against us, but the “bit is in their mouths” and our Father holds the reins so that they go just so far every effort and no farther. The officers sent to rule over us have generally been of the scum of the earth–the last governor made a cowardly stroke at woman’s franchise and many threats have been made to disfranchise all men practicing or even believing in the principle of plural marriage.

Woman’s Suffrage is now assuming dimensions of importance and by some it is considered only a matter of time until women have the ballot and freedom of election to office. Many noble women are battling zealously for this great privilege. The women of Utah, deluded and down trodden as they call us, have long enjoyed the ballot and it has in no wise been dishonored- but given women an opportunity of showing their appreciation of their ability of making use of it as a blessing.

I was married to Parley P. Pratt, Jr. son of the apostle Parley-February 23rd, 1859, and to us were born seven children:
Parley P. Pratt, Jr. born Dec. 7, 1859
Luther B. Pratt “ Dec. 16, 1861 – d 19, Dec. 1861
Louis Leon Pratt “ Aug. 15, 1865
Corrine Thankful Pratt “ Jan. 7, 1867 – d 15 Nov. 1868
Mark Caslin Pratt “ Feb. 24, 1869
Irwin Elson Pratt “ Apr. 11, 1871
Roy Beecher Pratt “ Mar. 11, 1873

December 1873 I left my children with my mother and went to New York City, with the intention of studying medicine. The first six weeks in New York was spent assisting Mr. Pratt proof reading his father’s autobiography. After it was ready for the press I entered a Medical College. It was late in the winter and I merely learned that term how to proceed in my studies. Of course I took a back seat but all my faculties were on the “qui vive” to learn all I could. I shall not soon forget my extreme confusion on being asked a question during a quiz by a professor who for the moment forgot I was a new student–, nor the mischievous smiles of the students, but my revenge was more than complete at the beginning of the next term in witnessing their astonishment because of my advancement. During the summer vacation while they were recreating, seabathing and visiting with friends, I daily plodded studiously up the rugged hill of knowledge; reciting as a private student every day to the professor of physiology. I also took lessons in opthalmology of Dr. Wm. Little, nephew of Prof. H. D. Noyes,-also a course under Dr. P.A. Calla and finally by special permission I joined a class taught by Prof. H.D. Noyes in Bellevue College. Dr. Little said I was the first woman ever admitted to Bellevue.

I was well prepared to enter the winter term of 1874 and 5, and made rapid progress in my studies.

During the whole sixteen months I was in New York City, I regularly attend the eye clinic of Prof. Noyes at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

The summer vacation of 1875 & 76 I returned to Salt Lake City and once more had the joy of the society of my children and the Saints. I was not wholly deprived of hearing the sound of the Gospel while in New York for there was a branch of the church in Williamsburgh to which I repaired every Sunday to partake of the sacrament for I felt it gave me more strength and power to perform my daily duties. While at home that summer vacation I was appointed president of what was at that time known as the Young Ladies Retrenchment Association, of the 12th Ward; but now known as the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association. The object of these associations was to draw the attention of the young girls to the principles of the gospel and to suppress the growing evil of vanity and extravagance of dress which was rapidly on the increase, as the fashions of Babylon were more and more brought into our midst. These societies are now organized throughout all Zion, also societies of the same kind for the young men and primary associations for the young children. The first suggestion of a primary society was given by sister Amelia Rogers of Farmington, daughter of Elder Orson Spencer. The great good to be derived from such organizations was at once apparent and sister Eliza R. Snow Smith, and many other sisters with full permission of those in authority have been very active in organizing these associations as well as the young ladies and relief societies, all over the territory.

In the fall of 1875 I started for Philadelphia to enter the Medical College for women, to finish my medical education. I spent this winter as the one before in attending lectures, clinics, and dissecting. The days all seemed so much alike that it was as one long day.

After the spring term a situation in the New England Hospital for women and children in Boston was proffered me which I most gladly accepted. The practical experience I gained while there has been of incalculable value to me. I experienced the greatest pleasure in my duties. I was ever ready to do extra work that I might hold to my store of knowledge. My earnestness and diligence won the esteem of all the physicians who were all women, both resident and attending, insomuch that they held a counsel as to the propriety of sending me to Europe after my graduation. I believe the fact of my being a Mormon decided the one case against me.

With the autumn leaves came the opening of another winter term in college and I hastened back to Philadelphia to enter upon my last course of lectures. This was a winter full of work for in addition to the regular studies I had my thesis to write.

At last the winters days were over and those who successfully passed their examinations stood on the heights of the rugged hill we had been climbing waving joyfully the flag “Excelsior”. On March 15, 1877 one of the most eventful days in my life arrived–my graduation day. Dressed in black and with throbbing hearts we repaired to Association Hall–the house was crowded full of interested friends and spectators, but alas! Few were mine. A stranger in a strange land, beside being almost a “hiss and a by word” on account of my religion. Nevertheless after we had received our diplomas and a present of the code of Medical Ethics, I received two beautiful bouquets and a book from friends.

Now that I had really passed the golden gate, stern reality and responsibility began to rudely stare me in the face,- but I was not yet ready to begin practice. I had not yet learned enough about the eye and ear, for I designed to prepare myself as a specialist in this department. I remained in Philadelphia and attended two courses on the eye, one at Wills Hospital situated on 18th and Race Streets, under the tuition of Dr. McClure and the other course at the Philadelphia Dispensary taught by Dr. Heyl, also the daily clinics of both places. I also attended a course of lectures on the Ear given by Dr. Burnett and attended his daily clinic. After finishing these courses of study I went to Elmira Water Cure by special request of John W. Young, son of Pres. Brigham Young. I remained at Elmira about a month and then I set out for Bloomington, Indiana where my sister resided, who was near her accouchement and I had promised to attend her. I remained with my sister nearly two months when at last my face was turned homeward.

On my route from Elmira to Bloomington I visited all the noted Water Cures with letters of introduction, and Niagara Falls. At Clifton Springs the most noted as well as most extensive, I was very cordially received by the proprietor and lady assistant. I spent a week at Clifton and during the time Mr. Foster, the proprietor, asked me if I knew I was near “Mormon Hill”; With a surprised delight I said I did not, when he turned to the lady assistant and proposed a visit to the hill saying his carriage was at our disposal. With many thanks we accepted the visit and next morning early found us on our way. After a pleasant ride of nine miles we came to a lone bluff or immense mound in the midst of a plain. After placing our horse and buggy in the hands of a farmer living at the foot of the Hill, we commenced what was to me a sacred journey. How can expression be given to the sacred awe pervading the soul as one nears the hallowed ground, where of a certainty we know that angels trod,–perhaps your foot may press the very footprint of a celestial being. Slowly and deeply impressed I ascended the sacred mount accompanied by the other ladies who had no impression of awe or solemnity of the occasion. As we neared the summit a flock of sheep were grazing quietly but fled at our approach and soon we stood on the top of that memorable hill which has been the theater of many a severe conflict, physically between mortals and spiritually between the angels of light and darkness.

As we sat on the brow of the hill I mentally offered up a prayer asking our Father to so bless me that I might fully appreciate the privilege I then enjoyed and also the great privilege we enjoyed by possessing the Book of Mormon. We are yet so nearly children that we scarcely begin to realize what great things the Lord has done for us in these last days. Oh! that we could arise and shake off this mantle of darkness that we might commune with the angels of light that our onward and upward stride might be swifter.

I had now been from home nearly two years and none except those having experience can know my joy when I felt I really was homeward bound. The journey was long and wearisome though of only a few days. I arrived home September 18, 1877 and found my home still, quiet and empty,- but hearing voices in the orchard I wandered back and found my dear faithful mother and two youngest children gathering fruit. My heart was pierced with sorrow when my little ones opened wide their eyes in wonder and with no token of recognition of their mother. I wept bitterly that I had been forgotten by my babes. Very soon all my dear children were gathered around me and we soon renewed old acquaintances and affections.

After a short rest I began giving free lectures in the Exponent office to all ladies interested in medicine. I also was soon called into practice when care and responsibility was my portion.

After my return home I was rebaptized according to the counsel to all the saints by the late Pres. Brigham Young who had died a short time before I arrived home. I had long ago received my endowments and second annointings in the House of the Lord.

In the spring of 1878 I taught a class in Anatomy and Physiology and soon after I commenced teaching classes in Obstetrics by urgent request of the presiding sisters who traveled much among the settlements and knew the great lack of knowledge in this branch of medicine–and I have steadily taught class after class until the present time and expect to continue so long as it is needful. My last two classes were examined before a board of physicians and received their certificates of competence as midwives.

After my final return home I again resumed the presidency of the Y.L.M.I.A. but soon found the duties of my profession so frequently preventing my attendance that I was forced to resign. From this time my life was that of a busy practitioner and teacher of medical classes. I frequently visited and lectured to the young ladies of the different wards and once I lectured to an audience of ladies in the Theatre for the benefit of a young lady east studying medicine.

Thus, I have been enabled to maintain my family in comfort and send my little boys to school and I most anxiously hope they will all grow to be men who emulate the example of their grandfather Apostle Parley P. Pratt, Sen. and his brother Apostle Orson Pratt.

I cannot close without making mention of the many spiritual feasts and pleasant reunions enjoyed by the sisters from time to time. One was held in an upper room of the house of Mrs. Emeline B. Wells, Editor of the Exponent. The ladies present were as follows: Eliza R. Snow Smith, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Mrs. M. I. Horne, Mrs. Zina D. Young, Mrs. Bathsheba Smith, Mrs. Sarah M. Kimball, Mrs. Hannah Z. King, Mrs. S. M. Heywood, Mrs. Elizabeth Howard, Mrs. Emeline B. Wells, Mrs. Lydia Wells, Mrs. Hannah Pidwek and myself. I never witnessed such a rich flow of the spirit of God as was manifested on that occasion. Sister Snow Smith spoke in tongues. Sister Zina Young gave the interpretations of all. Each lady present spoke (not in tongues) by the power and spirit of the Holy Ghost and we truly had a time of feasting the soul and rejoicing.

Again about the same company met at a sister Fisher a few miles out in the country and another feast of fat things spiritually was afforded us.

On the anniversary of sister Eliza A. Whitney’s 80th birthday nearly the same company assembled to celebrate the day and to cheer and bless her for she had been quite ill. Again the spirit was with us and the day was spent with pleasure and profit. Many of these reunions are enjoyed by the sisters and the Lord is ever ready to pour out his blessings upon them.

Who, after tasting the truth as revealed in these last days, could go back into the darkness of the world? It is better to brave all the ills the flesh is heir to in the light of the gospel than to possess all the world in its darkness.

In 1881 I was elected treasurer of the Y.L.M.I. association of the Salt Lake Stake of Zion, Mrs. Mary A. Freeze president.

I enclose with this memoir and article I wrote to my Alumnae Association Philadelphia, entitle a medical Report from Utah, and also a cabinet picture of myself.

I will close, hoping I may live to witness the opening of this Jubilee Box and rejoice with my children and children’s children and all the Saints of the Most High God. (She was alive.)

Salt Lake City,
March 19th, 1881

The following was handwritten on the original memoir by Edna Pratt Sutherland:

She was married to Charles W. Penrose as his third wife.

She had an inquiring mind and was interested in numerous things as is evidenced by the answers she wished to know, “From what event do the Jews count time? What acid is in tomatoes? I know of citric in lemon and malic in apples? At what point does the equator cross Africa? Who was the father of Richard, the Third?”

James D. Talmage (Apostle) spoke at her funeral and mentioned this as her trait, saying that she would ask him about different subjects.

This history came into my possession in 1930 as she indicated it was to be given to her eldest female descendant.

Edna Pratt Sutherland

[courtesy of Pat Bishop and William C. Sutherland, May 2006]


Return to histories of Romania Bunnell