Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy 186th Birthday, Elizabeth Brook Scarborough Fox (1825-1906)!

Nita Woodland Welch's great-grandmother

The maternal matriarch of the line—my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother joined the Church in England, left an abusive husband, and threw her wedding ring into the Atlantic Ocean as she sailed to America. One strong lady!

To celebrate her birthday, Elizabeth’s Molasses Pie would be appropriate: “Two eggs beaten well with one pint molasses boiled, then baked between two pie crusts.”

The fifth child of eight, Elizabeth was a beautiful English girl on the short and plump side, with soft wavy black hair, black piercing eyes, and rosy cheeks. She attended school in the winters and learned the trade of French polishing, a labor-intensive wood-finishing furniture technique. As a teenager, she worked for several years for a genteel family in a nearby town. Her sisters learned to weave on power looms, but Elizabeth tried and couldn’t endure the racket of the looms. She and her husband John kept the family home and ran the business selling flour and cereals after her parents died.

Newlywed Elizabeth heard the gospel through her brother William and became a member of the Leeds branch. John was not initially opposed to his wife’s religious fervor, but after a few years, he became very bitter towards the Church and Elizabeth noted that he was “doing things that made home anything but pleasant.” Elizabeth continued in her journal, “I did at one time wonder if I left the Church if matters would be improved or not, but through the blessings of my Heavenly Father I held on to the faith I had espoused.” John began staying away from home for days and finally never returned.

After William died, Elizabeth felt alone in the Church and was anxious to emigrate. She was able to return to her French polishing job and save enough money to go to Zion. She sent word to John that she was leaving, and he called once while she was at work. They never saw each other to say goodbye, although Elizabeth did worry that he would take the children. Family legend says she threw her wedding ring in the ocean as she sailed away with her two children (coincidentally on the same boat as Welch ancestor Harry Shaw).

For just a few hours before joining the company headed to Nebraska, Elizabeth visited with her older brother who had previously moved to New York.  He bought the children straw hats. His wife tried to dissuade them from the journey. Ironically, the travelers had to wait for a month in Florence, Nebraska, for ox teams to come from Utah, and Elizabeth wished she’d known that and had stayed in New York longer. She carried a green Majorca plate across the plains, which is currently in the possession of Unita Welch.

In Utah, Elizabeth married a Yorkshire acquaintance, Charles Fox, a well-to-do bachelor mason who had been baptized by missionary Lorenzo Hatch and was thereafter called to accompany Hatch to build up a new settlement in Franklin, Idaho. Elizabeth was proud of her two-roomed rock house there. She made a sofa and dyed the linsey fabric blue from plants and cut red and green flowers from some English fabric she’d brought and appliqu├ęd those on. She boarded visitors in her home, including Heber J. Grant’s mother, who liked to spend several days there each summer, and other prominent authorities; because Franklin was the end of the railroad line, they often had polygamous wives sent up there over the state border to hide during the raids.

Elizabeth was very involved with early Relief Society efforts in Idaho, serving as a ward president for many years and then stake Relief Society president for sixteen years, during the time of the Relief Society’s 50th Anniversary Jubilee Celebration. Under her direction, the Franklin Relief Society stored hundreds of bushels of wheat and built their own building. Eliza R. Snow made a number of official visits during Elizabeth’s tenure. Elizabeth attended Brigham Young’s funeral, and regularly went down to General Conference in Salt Lake City. Elizabeth was a good public speaker and had an article printed in the Women's Exponent, encouraging the power of women.
Charles & Elizabeth Fox

Elizabeth and Charles enjoyed musicals and singing in the choir, and she liked to dress up in fancy things she’d brought from England. She and her family spent one summer cooking for the railroad camp workers. Elizabeth returned by train to New York with daughter Annie in 1886, the women having previously been set apart as missionaries by Apostle Richards, and visited friendly but not gospel-minded relatives and admired the new Brooklyn Bridge.

Elizabeth’s brown leather traveling satchel (with handwritten identification label inside) is in the Relic Hall in Franklin. Elizabeth was a peacemaker, a student of literature and the arts, and is remembered for her proper English garden, her flaming Christmas plum pudding, her naturally cheerful and uncomplaining spirit, and her genial disposition, which won everyone’s love. She was always dainty and neat, dignified, intellectual, despised gossip, and was a lover of poetry, particularly Tennyson and Burns. She left money for her descendants to carry on temple work, and her granddaughter Blanche Woodland wrote this tribute: “When I think of the courage, faith, and willingness to serve the Lord under trying conditions that my little grandmother Elizabeth Brook Fox possessed throughout her life, I realize in a small degree what an influence for good this has been to my life.”

I sympathize with my ancestor who couldn’t endure the racket of the factory looms, and would give her earplugs. Although she’d probably enjoy new furniture too. What would you give Elizabeth?


  1. i would give her measuring cups and a microwave so that she could cook more. :)

  2. Since she liked dressing up in fancy clothes and had all those important church things to go to, I'd give her a gift card to a clothing store.

  3. A Nordstrom's charge card to indulge her penchant for dressing up. (Quite a dress in that picture with Chas.) Perhaps a kitchen fire extinguisher to allow for more experimenting with flaming dishes. And finally, five gold rings to replace the one boldly tossed to the Atlantic. I love the quote from my Grandmother Blanche honoring her Grandmother Elizabeth. Both of them were strong and bold women, examples to us all.

    I didn't realize that my daughter Dani was born on an ancestor's bday. Happy birthday Elizabeth and Dani! Dani, may you come to know and love Elizabeth and continue on the grand, caring and kindly lifestyle of your father's father's mother's mother's mother!

  4. what great ideas! I love the sense of getting to know these ancestors as people we can relate to now.

  5. a power sander to help with that furniture polishing :)

  6. Interesting enough....I was reading this book called a mormon mother and the author Annie Clark Tanner makes mention of staying with Elizabeth Fox...on pg 118 second paragraph... I was intrigued bc Elizabeth's husband was my Great Great Grandfather's brother