Pioneer Women, Candle Dipping, and Unity

I just love this LDS Activity Days idea, because it combines learning about our ancestors with an important spiritual message. Imagining the layers of a candle to represent the unity of a congregation is a beautiful analogy that your primary girls will think about every time they look at their candle.

I worked hard to find a variety of pioneer stories to share with the Activity Day girls, and even if you are not too keen on the candle dipping, you may want to look over the stories to see if you might want to use them for a different activity, or primary lesson.

Category: Learning and Living the Gospel

Duration: 1 session
  • Supplies for candle making – see this web page for complete instructions on making kid-friendly dipped candles. If you’re in a church building and figuring out how to heat the wax seems like a challenge, consider using soy wax, since you can melt it in the microwave (though I think you need to wait a little longer between dips).
  • Biographies of pioneer women- see below. You should also include any stories of pioneer women that have personally touched you, or stories from your ancestry. You may not have time to read all the stories in the time allotted, but these stories were just so inspiring to me, I couldn’t help but include them! You could make a copy for each girl to take home and share in Family Home Evening, or make it into a booklet for them to keep.


  • Get everything ready for candle making! May want to test it out to make sure you know what you’re doing.
1. While melting the wax for dipping, talk about how you will be making candles today and how it is just a little different from how pioneers would dip their candles. First, pioneers would use any empty can they could find, of all different shapes and sizes. Their wicks would be hand braided from any leftover cotton string they had lying around after making clothes. The “wax” was usually tallow, which was made from the fat of pigs or cows. They had beeswax, too, but it would be very rare and precious. After they were done dipping, they would hang the candles over a fence or tree branches to cool. Since pioneers did not have electricity, they used only candles and lamplight to light their homes, so they needed a large quantity of candles every year. They needed to store them in a cool, dark room, such as a closet or the cellar, in order to keep them from melting.
2. Start dipping the candles. Tell the girls that with each dip of the candle, another layer of wax is added on to the candle. A candle can be made only from many many layers of wax dipping, and the more the candle is dipped, the bigger it becomes and the longer it can burn.
3. Share this quote and discuss how the women of the church are like the layers of a candle:

“We are part of a grand whole. We need each other to make our sisterhood complete. When we reach out to clasp the hands of our sisters, we reach to every continent, for we are of every nation. We are bonded as we try to understand what the Lord has to say to us, what He will make of us. We speak in different tongues, yet we are a family who can still be of one heart.”

Elaine L. Jack, Relief Society General President
Charity Never Faileth,” April 1992 General Conference

4. Continue dipping the candles. Tell the girls that you are going to tell some stories about early pioneer women while they are dipping their candles. While you are telling their stories, you want them to think about how every dip of wax that adds to the candle, is like all these stories of pioneer women adding their strength and light to the Gospel.

5. Tell the stories of these pioneer women (see below). You may want to ask the girls to chime in their feelings about these women.

6. At the close of this activity, share this quote:

“Years from now your grandchildren will tell with amazement stories of your choices which changed their lives. You will be called their pioneers.

“Our prayer tonight is that every one of us will gain strength from the pioneering spirit. Look in the mirror tonight. You’ll see someone unique, strong, and courageous. A pioneer.”

Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society General President
“Finding Faith Every Footstep,” April 1997 General Conference

Bear testimony to the girls that, in the church today, they are all like layers of wax that contribute to the candle of the Gospel. The light of the Gospel burns more brightly when they are a part of it.

Pioneer Women:

Jane Elizabeth Manning James


Jane Elizabeth Manning James was among the first people of African descent to join the church. She was baptized in Connecticut in 1842. When denied passage on a ship, James and other family members walked more than 800 miles to Nauvoo.

Joseph and Emma Smith welcomed the travelers into their home and she lived with the Smiths for several months. James was the only member of her family to go west with the Mormon pioneers after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. She married Isaac James and had eight children.

When Jane died in 1908, the Deseret News published this tribute: “Few persons were more noted for faith and faithfulness than was Jane Manning James, and though of the humble of earth numbered friends and acquaintances by the hundreds.”

Persis Young

Persis was born in 1864 in Idaho. As a teenager, Persis worked as a nurse in Salt Lake City. She married and man named Levi, and became pregnant, but was injured in a horrible wagon accident and lost her child. She was never able to bear her own children because of this accident but used her pain as motivation to study medicine, so she could help others. She became a midwife, a woman who helps women during and after childbirth.

One day she was helping Helen Marr Kimball, who was sick after giving birth to her first child. Here is Helen’s account of Persis having the faith to give Helen a healing blessing in her time of need:

“She had been impressed by the Spirit to come and administer to me, and I would be healed; that she could not sleep, and she had come there in obedience to that Spirit. She had been so long under its influence that she shook as though palsied when she laid her hands upon my head with my mother. She rebuked my weakness, and every disease that had been, or was then, afflicting me, and commanded me to be made whole, pronouncing health and many other blessings upon me… From that morning I went about to work as though nothing had been the matter. Thus did the Lord remember one if His unworthy handmaidens and fulfill the promise that had been given by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost.”

Jennie Knight and Amanda Inez Knight

Lucy Jane (nicknamed “Jennie”) Brimhall Knight was engaged to a full-time missionary but wanted to stay busy.  While teaching at Brigham Young Academy in 1896, she dreamed of experiencing the world before becoming a wife and mother. So she set her mind to traveling around Europe with Amanda Inez Knight, her friend and future sister-in-law.

Jennie’s bishop encouraged the women to serve a mission in Europe instead of just going on a vacation. Single sisters were not called to serve missions during this time, so the women, taken aback, said that if they were formally called by the Church president, they would go. The bishop wrote to President Wilford Woodruff about the idea, and he decided to call Jennie and Inez to “serve in Great Britain as the first single LDS sisters to be proselyting missionaries.”

Jennie and Inez served as full-time missionaries in Chiltenham, Oldham, and Bristol, doing “all things required of male missionaries.” Jennie’s and Inez’s faith, vigor, and spirit made them special servants of the Lord. Thanks to Jennie and Inez, many sister missionaries have enjoyed the privilege of serving all around the world.

Presindia Huntington Smith

Presindia joined the LDS Church with her husband in 1836 in Kirtland, Ohio, after seeing visions of angels and and heavenly choirs testifying of the truth of the Gospel. Her husband left her shortly afterward, and Presindia became one of the wives of Joseph Smith in 1841. After the prophet Joseph died, she married Heber C. Kimball, and traveled west to Utah.

Presindia was a very busy woman in Utah – she became a school teacher, midwife, and healer! She had great faith in God’s healing power, and healed many little children and sick members of the church with her blessings and anointings. In Utah she felt very lonely at times but worked hard to serve those around her, and this helped brighten her spirits.

On February 1, 1892 Presendia passed away at the age of 81. In her autobiographical sketch she recorded, “Never in my life, in this kingdom, which is 44 years, have I doubted the truth of this great work, revealed in these, the last days. I have buried seven of my children, all in their infancy, but two living. I hope to honor My God, my religion and myself and be prepared to meet the many loved ones behind the veil.”

Martha Maria Hughes Cannon 

“Mattie,” as she was called, was also a physician, trained lecturer, women’s rights advocate and suffragist, a wife, mother and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!

As a teenager, Cannon worked as a typesetter for the Deseret News and worked for the Woman’s Exponent, a women’s newspaper. In time she enrolled at the University of Michigan School of Medicine and graduated in 1881. Then she moved to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania Auxiliary School of Medicine and was the only woman in her class. She graduated in 1882 with a degree in pharmacy.

She returned to Utah and married Angus M. Cannon to become the fourth of his six plural wives. She had three children with him.

After this, Cannon took an interest in local politics and women’s suffrage, which led her to run as one of five Democrats for state senator. She won, and she served two terms in the legislature with a specific interest in issues related to public health.

After leaving politics, she served as a member of the Utah Board of Health and as a member of the board for the Utah State School for the Deaf and Dumb. After her husband’s death in 1915, she settled in California and continued to practice medicine. She died in Los Angeles in 1932.

Emily Hill

Emily was converted to the Church when she was only 12 years old and was soon followed by her 15 year old sister, Julia. The Hill sisters worked hard and saved enough money to travel to America. They joined the Willie Handcart company and suffered through the starvation, weakness, and freezing cold that afflicted members of the company. Emily says:

My sister broke down and was unable to walk and I remember asking myself . . . if it was possible for me, faith or no faith, to walk twelve hundred miles further. The flesh certainly was weak but the spirit was willing. I set down my foot that I would try.

When the relief wagons found the company, she met with Joseph A. Young, who she had known from his mission in England. He cried when he saw Emily’s wasted condition and gave her an onion to eat. But she did not eat it, instead, she gave the onion to a man who was near death. The man would later say that her act saved his life.

Nellie Pucell

While on the trail, ten year old Ellen “Nellie” Pucell lost her parents. She and her sister Maggie continued with the handcart company until the two of them were so weak they collapsed. A handcart leader came by and put Nellie in the cart and had Maggie hold onto it and walk alongside.

Because she walked by the cart, Maggie did not get frostbite. Nellie was not so lucky. When they reached the Salt Lake Valley, her feet had to be amputated. But Nellie did not let this drag her down. Though she had to walk on her knees for the rest of her life, she married and had six children. Though she was in pain for the rest of her life, her husband recalls that “there was no trace of bitterness, [only] patience and serenity.”

Mary Murdoch

Mary Murray Murdoch, also known as Wee Granny, is a pioneer ancestor of my own. Mary joined the church in Scotland, and even though she was 73 years old, weighed 90 pounds, and was only 4 foot 7 inches tall (hence the nickname “Wee Granny”), she was strong in spirit and joined the Martin Handcart company to travel to Utah where her son, John, already lived.

But Wee Granny never made it to Utah. She became ill and died near Chimney Rock in Nebraska. Though Wee Granny didn’t make it to the valley, one can see her enormous faith in her last words “tell John I died with my face toward Zion.”

Ann Rowley

Ann Jewell Rowley and her family joined the Church in England. But before they could leave for America, her husband died, leaving her with their seven children, all under the age of twelve. It isn’t easy to feed eight people along the trail, and at one point they had no food. Ann hated to see her children pull the rawhide strips off the wagon to chew on, so she prayed to God for help.

Ann remembered that she had saved two, small, hard sea biscuits from the passage over the Atlantic. She says:

“Surely, that was not enough to feed 8 people, but 5 loaves and 2 fishes were not enough to feed 5000 people either, but through a miracle, Jesus had done it. So, with God’s help, nothing is impossible.”

She placed the biscuits in a Dutch oven and covered them with water. She again prayed to God for help. After cooking the biscuits, she pulled the lid off of the dutch oven and was amazed to see it filled with enough food to feed her children.

Anstis Elmina Shepard Taylor

Anstis Elmina Shepard Taylor was working as a schoolteacher at age 16 when she was introduced to the LDS Church. As she began to learn about the church, Taylor prayed she would be able to discern if it was true or false. Her prayer was answered as she studied the doctrine and felt it was true, so she was baptized.

She married another convert, George Hamilton Taylor, and they moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to Salt Lake City. They had seven children, three of whom died in infancy or early childhood.

Taylor served as the first Young Women general president in 1880. She held this position until she died in 1904 at age 74. During those years, Taylor oversaw the publication of the first issue of the monthly Young Woman’s Journal, the organization of the first general Young Women conference and the designation of Tuesday as Mutual night, according to her profile.

Andrea G. Radke-Moss wrote this of Taylor in “Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Vol. 2”: “She was remembered for her unselfish devotion, her zealous labors, her sweet disposition and her tender solicitude in young women’s behalf.”

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