reviews – Waiting for World’s End

The Diaries of Wilford WoodruffLibrary Journal, Diana H. Albosta
Woodruff, who served as the fourth president of the Mormon Church, was a prolific diarist. He left written records for almost every day of his life after converting to Mormonism—the period of 1833 to 1898. Editor Staker has worked in the Latter-day Saints Historical Department and is the compiler of the index to Woodruff’s (nine-volume) unabridged diaries. In this new manuscript, she has done an excellent job of selecting entries that, though condensed, tell an intelligible, coherent story. Despite the “distinctive spelling, diction, and punctuation of the original,” Staker has made this a readable work of the major events in the life of both the president and his church, as well as the Utah Territory in the late 19th century. An important purchase for libraries with an interest in Mormon history or those with a need for well-edited primary source material of the time.

Western Historical Quarterly, M. Guy Bishop
Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898), fourth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), was a dedicated diarist. From his conversion to Mormonism in 1833, until his death sixty-five years later, Woodruff kept a daily record of his life. The complete Woodruff diaries (nine volumes) were edited several years ago by Scott G. Kenney (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Typescript [Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-1985]). Within these diaries, students of religious history have one of the best firsthand accounts of nineteenth-century Mormonism to be found.

With that in mind, what, one might ask, could justify the need for this current volume? Yet, Susan Staker, compiler of the 300-page index to the larger work, has opted to focus on an interesting aspect of Woodruff’s psyche, his strong millennialist bent. This orientation casts a different light on Woodruff, at least for the lay reader. And, perhaps more importantly, set in this apocalyptic mode Wilford Woodruff becomes all the more representative of contemporary Mormons, most of whom shared his expectations of the nearness of the Lord’s Second Coming. When considered from the perspective of Waiting for World’s End, Wilford Woodruff, the Mormon, was not all that different from a host of other nineteenth-century millennialists.

Following years of forced dislocation, persecution, and turmoil for the sake of his religion, it is no wonder that Woodruff looked forward to the anticipated millennial reign of Jesus Christ. According to Wilford Woodruff’s expectations, Christ was expected to come quickly, bringing a cataclysmic end to the suffering of the Latter-day Saints and revenge upon their enemies. As Staker observes in her introduction, “Wilford’s belief in the world’s imminent and violent end provided an animating energy for his sense of power and knowledge for himself, and for church” (p. xiv). This, it seems, should draw all who are interested in nineteenth-century Mormonism to take a close look at this book. If Staker’s judgement in this regard is correct, which it seems to be, then the words of Wilford Woodruff must speak vicariously for a large portion of an entire generation of believing Mormons.

New York History
Born in Connecticut in 1807, Wilford Woodruff moved to Richland, Oswego County, New York, where, in 1829, he attended a Mormon meeting and was immediately converted. He became a teacher in the Mormon church the following year, joined the group in Ohio, and took part in all the Mormon journey’s, including the trek to Utah in 1847. Woodruff was a compulsive diarist whose journal, which fills 5,400 pages in typescript form, became the official history of the church. Susan Staker has made an informed and, she hopes, a judicious selection of entries that compose about 425 pages of Waiting for World’s End. She states forthrightly, “I did not come to Wilford Woodruff’s journals on an intellectual or spiritual quest. I was a graduate student and a single mother, and I needed money.” She realizes that Woodruff would never have selected her (“a rather skeptical feminist”) as his editor, but one must assume that he would have been pleased with the result. Susan Staker is an intelligent, informed, and precise editor. Her editorial approach, as explained in pages vii-xii of her Introduction, could well serve as a model for editors of any body of literature. Since Woodruff came to Mormonism at its beginning and became a church leader and an active missionary, the diaries provide extremely detailed information about the rise and expansion of the Mormon church down to 1898 when Woodruff died. They help explain the attractions of Mormonism, which in 1997 has about 11 million adherents in the United States and even more in other countries.