Mary Jennette Stowe Harding
Personal information for this story was given by Mary's granddaughter Phebe Harding Jensen
daughter of Mary's oldest son Jesse Harding.
Mary Jennette Stowe was born 27 March 1827 in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England to a cloth millworker John Stowe and his wife Phebe Windell Stowe. [Several spellings exist for Mary's middle name and her mother's maiden name.]
Mary's mother nicknamed her Madge. Mary was a very charming young girl with a beautiful voice.
This would have been the baptismal font Mary Jennette Stowe was baptized in the St. James Church in Trowbridge.
Mary's family had many of the comforts of life in Trowbridge, England. Her mother never had to bake bread or cake. One could buy a cake or pie for a twopence. The bread was made by the baker and brought to the door.
Early 19th century families in England often lived in 'back-to-backs'. These were houses with three or sometimes two rooms, one of top of the other. The back of one house joined onto the back of another and they only had windows on one side.
It is unclear whether as a child Mary attended school, worked in her home or was employed as were many children in the cloth factories. The Industrial Revolution had created a huge demand for female and child labour. We do know Mary could read and write and this required some sort of training either in a school or at home.
Typical homes in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England mid-1800s
Although Mary's father was a mill worker, he was also a preacher of sorts for a non-conformist religious group. This religious open-mindedness in Mary's home probably prepared her for when the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approached her. She joined the Church at the age of 20 on July 6, 1847 despite opposition from her father.
Mary's future husband Samuel Harding, also of Trowbridge, joined the Church previous to her on March 10, 1847. Their association together in Church meetings facilitated their marriage on April 4, 1849. Mary claimed she used her lovely alto voice to help the missionaries in their street meetings.
The couple's first baby, a boy, was born July 16, 1850--they named him Jesse.
Soon the couple began preparing for emigration to the United States to live among the Saints in Utah. I have written much in a previous post about Samuel and Mary's voyage and their crossing of the plains. But the birth of her second baby, a girl they named Mary Jeanette, born on March 16, 1852 aboard ship behind a curtain separating her and a prayer meeting deserves a second mention. Mary must have had much discomfort and anxiety with this pregnancy crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The Lord blessed them and the baby grew to a beautiful woman with a large posterity of her own.
After reaching the Salt Lake valley, Samuel and Mary were not able as some to live with family members nor could they obtain a log cabin for the winter. The young couple did as others and dug a hole in a mountainside and with a wagon and wagon cover made their home for the first winter. One day when Mary was alone with her children, a large, black bear came into her area. The bear went through everything in sight looking for food. Mary was very frightened and since she had always believed in the power of prayer, she began to fervently pray for protection. Soon the bear left without harming any of them and Mary was very thankful.
They later moved to Provo, Utah and built a home in the Provo Third Ward where Samuel worked at various times as a weaver in the woolen mill, a farmer, a policeman and a butcher. Mary and Samuel had 13 children together, 7 boys and 6 girls. All but one son lived to adulthood.
Mary's granddaughter Phebe remembered Mary like a dainty Dresden china cup--small in stature, beautiful in her old age. She kept a tidy home and adorned her walls with the skill of her own hands. Mary made beautiful net shawls and doilies. She never had a sewing machine, but did all of her sewing by hand. Mary often said, "Run three or four stitches and then a backstitch."
"I must relate here an incident which happened on one of her birthdays while I was staying there. All of her daughters were in for tea and to spend the day with her. There was something in a gift box for Grandmother. I was just as anxious as Grandmother to see what was in that box. It was a beautiful, black straw bonnet covered with laces, ribbon and purple pansies. I was very thrilled over the bonnet The girls had chosen it because it was beautiful, and I think they had good taste. Grandmother tried it on and she said it looked nice, and thanked them all for the lovely gift.
But knowing her as I did, I felt no good was in store for that lovely bonnet I had a sick feeling inside of me. I could see she intended to do something dreadful to it. Sure enough, when the daughters were all gone, I watched her with a sinking heart. First, the scissors and then the hat, and I just had to cry out when the first clip was made. 'Grandmother, you won't spoil that hat, it is so lovely.' She said, 'Phebe, I know what I like better than you,' and snip, off came the lace, off came those gorgeous pansies, and in a short time the hat was fashioned to suit her taste, minus the pansies. I was really afraid of what the girls would think when they found out about it. But after all, it was her hat to do with as she pleased."
Mary would often pick a dress to pieces, turn it and put it back together again with a little bit of white lace in the neck and sleeves to brighten up a bit.
One day Mary said, "Phebe, I think I will do a bit of brightening up of my carpet." This carpet covered the one large room in the home which was the bedroom and living room combined. She mixed up some dye in separate colors. Her rug was painted with one green stripe, one yellow and one black. Phebe said, "Grandmother was delighted with the effect."
Mary was a great reader and when she had read all of her own books she then read her neighbor's books too.
One day Mary sent her granddaughter Phebe on an errand. She asked Phebe, "Will you take our paper over to Mrs. Colings, borrow their paper, take her bucket back, get the milk in our bucket, and ask her if she would change a glass of plum jelly for a glass of honey?" Phebe did not want to say and do all of that in front of all of the men that would be sitting around the stove at Mrs. Colings. She told her grandmother that she did not want to go, but her grandmother told her to march right along. Phebe did as she was told reciting the questions just like a poem. And it was just as she feared--everyone laughed at her.
Mary had an old, white cat. The cat would curl up between Samuel's legs when he lay asleep on the old, wooden couch in the kitchen. Samuel snored, the cat purred and the tea kettle on the stove sang loudly and long. When it all got too loud, Mary would say, "Father, wake up!"
Some said Mary was a proud, little woman. Phebe told, "Once she [Mary] was on a visit to her daughter Sarah's who lived in Garland. One day Uncle Will brought two Indians home to dinner, and asked Aunt Sarah to set a place for them. Grandmother was very insulted. She said, 'Will, you surely will not ask them to eat at the table with us.' 'Why, Grandmother, they are fine people.' So we all ate together. I could hardly blame her, because they smelled so badly."
Mary Jennette Stowe Harding
Phebe claimed, "Grandmother was a very religious woman. So much so that I owe much to her and the inspiring faith she had in the gospel and in the priesthood, faith in the healing of the sick. Grandmother was healed many times from terrible pain and she had received many blessings under the hands of Bishop Lewis, of the Fourth Ward. W.D. Lewis and Bishop Wride were also helpful. Grandmother would often say, 'Phebe, run over and get Bishop Wride.' I have seen her relieved almost instantly under his hands. These things have never left my mind. They have built a faith in me I will always have."
Both Samuel and Mary lived in Provo, Utah to an old age. Samuel died on 19 August 1904 at the age of 76 and Mary died almost five years later on 27 June 1909 at the age of 82.