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Davis Journal

Daughters of Utah Pioneers president seeks to honor pioneers 175 years after their arrival

Jan 31, 2022 11:11AM ● By Julie Nichols Thompson

President Jeppson on the steps of the PIoneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City Utah.

This year marks the demisemiseptcentennial of the arrival of Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company of Pioneers into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. The wagon train that emerged from Emigration Canyon 175 years ago led to the settling and development of the area known as the “Proposed State of Deseret” which encompasses all of the current State of Utah as well as areas in each of the surrounding states. 

Ellen Taylor Jeppson of West Bountiful is the current president of the International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, and a fourth-generation member of DUP. The desk in her office in the Pioneer Memorial Museum on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City is covered with a variety of papers including current research on pioneer topics for the book of pioneer stories that is published by DUP each year, correspondence from DUP groups across the country, a few clerical items, as well as her famous homemade caramels which are an offering to any visitor to her work space.

“My great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother were all members of Daughters of Utah Pioneers,” she said. “I had heard about the organization all my life. As a person who has more than 40 pioneer ancestors, I was always hearing pioneer stories while growing up with my ten brothers and sisters. As a wife and mother of four while also being a school teacher in Davis District, I was too busy to join DUP. When I retired from 35 years of teaching, I joined my local camp (Wild Onion Camp of West Bountiful) in 2011 and soon began volunteering as a docent at the Pioneer Memorial Museum.”

She continued by saying, “ I loved it and after a year my mother joined me as a docent. We came every Wednesday morning and then went to lunch.  We had countless experiences in the Museum finding stories and photos of our own ancestors which always turned into tearful moments.  We also found joy in helping others have similar experiences. We learned so much about the history of the colonization, and we loved every minute.

“In 2012, I was invited by then-president Maurine Smith (also a Davis County resident) to join the international board as member of the lesson committee.  I have since served as lesson committee chairman, second vice-president, first-vice president, and now president of the organization.” 

Annie Taylor Hyde is credited with gathering the literal daughters of Utah Pioneers and organizing them into a society tasked with keeping the memory of their forebearers alive.  The objective of the organization has not changed in 120 years, “…to perpetuate the names and achievements of the men, women, and children who were the pioneers in founding this commonwealth:  by preserving old landmarks, marking historical places, collecting artifacts and histories, establishing a library of historical matter, and securing manuscripts, photographs, maps, and all such data as shall aid in perfecting a record of the Utah pioneers…” 

Since its inception in 1901, DUP has been organized similarly to the way the wagon trains and handcart companies were organized during the nineteenth century.  “Companies” designated by geographic locations are divided into smaller “camps” that are spread across the United States and north into Canada. 

Jeppson pauses and speaks in a reverent tone about the work of descendants of the pioneers, describing the unique feeling in the Museum which houses the offices of the International Board which governs the operations of the organization. The museum walls are lined with paintings and photographs of pioneer men and women. They seem to stand as sentinels watching over the hundreds of thousands of relics protected in the glass cases. To the question of what the original pioneers might say about the current efforts of DUP, she thoughtfully replied, “I honestly think they would be surprised and gratified that they are so highly revered and remembered for their courage, faith, and obedience in the face of the most unbelievably difficult circumstances. And I also think they would tell us that they would do it again because they had found the truth and would not deny it. I absolutely feel connected to them. They are my friends. They feel very close and I am constantly inspired by their experiences, their stories, and their hardships.”

Many may wonder what the actual definition of a Utah Pioneer is and from there, what is a daughter of a Utah pioneer? While the majority of Utah Pioneers were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who gathered from the eastern United States as well as many foreign countries, there are many who were not affiliated with the Church at all. By definition, a Utah Pioneer is anyone who came to Utah before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 9, 1869. To be considered a “daughter,” a woman must be at least 18 years of age and a direct descendant of a man or woman who meets the definition of Utah Pioneer. Women who are not direct descendants but are interested in pioneer history are welcomed to attend local camps and participate.  

A banner proclaiming “Daughters of the future; Keepers of the past” hangs prominently in the foyer of the Museum. Ellen Jeppson applauds the efforts of thousands of women who submit histories of pioneers, protect relics in satellite museums and cabins in multiple states, share pioneer stories with family and friends, lead lives of integrity and courage similar to their ancestors.  While the board of directors is located in Salt Lake, the real strength of the organization is felt in the outlying areas.  They are not just keepers of the past but fierce protectors of the legacy associated with it.

As far as the first half of the banner, Jeppson was quick to respond that many view DUP as “something my grandma did.” With 22,888 active members, 582 active members-at-large, and 495 active associates in 15 states and two countries, it is

far from a dying organization. More than 300 applications were processed during the fourth quarter of 2021.  A review of the leadership in many of the camps and companies would reveal that women of all ages step into the roles where they are needed.  It is not uncommon to have a woman in her 70s and 80s leading out.  They have not been put out to pasture but are hitting their stride. They have truly become daughters of the future as they have embraced every technology available to them during the pandemic. Holding virtual camp meetings and seminars over the internet pushed them out of their comfort zones, but they have risen to the occasion.  

Members of the board of directors, including the president, are unpaid volunteers. When asked about the lack of compensation for a time consuming job, Jeppson replied, “There is always a new history to read and a new name to find—the inspiration is endless and the benefits cannot be counted.”

For information on  joining Daughters of Utah Pioneers in your area, please call the Pioneer Memorial Museum at 801-643-2795 to find information on the nearest group.