Missionary wives served missions of their own

Though today's LDS missionaries are mostly young, unmarried men and women, for more than a century the Church called married men on missions, requiring them to leave their wives to shoulder the burden not only of caring for but providing for the children at home.

The unsung sacrifice of these "missionary wives" was the focus of a lecture July 8 by Chad Orton, archivist at the Church History Library. His was the first in a five-lecture series on women's history in the Church, sponsored by and presented at the library through November (please see accompanying box for a schedule of the four remaining lectures in the series).

"While the mission call was issued specifically to the husband, the wife received, in effect, a mission call of her own," Brother Orton said. "While missionaries would suffer hardships and privations, the women who remained home frequently faced a mission more trying than those experienced by their husbands. The wife's mission was to keep the family going while the husband, the family's breadwinner, spread the faith."

To accomplish her mission, the wife usually had to add her husband's responsibility to her already heavy duties, Brother Orton said, and with greatly diminished resources.

"Given the wife's responsibility, it is not surprising that one returned missionary would publicly declare that 'he would rather be a missionary than a missionary's wife, since they have the hardest mission to fill,'" he said.

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