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Charles William Penrose's life was marked by an apparently unswerving devotion to the Mormon Church. That devotion was manifested in diverse ways, some of the more striking of which are recounted in his extant diaries. A brief biography has been published in readily available sources and needs only highlighting here.
Penrose was born near London on February 4, 1832; he was converted to the LDS faith at age eighteen and began thereupon a lifetime of service to his church. In January, 1855 he married Lucetta Stratford of Maldon, and in 1861 they came to Utah.
Together they had fifteen children, seven of whom lived beyond infancy. While living in Cache Valley Penrose engaged in farming, teaching, and mercantile pursuits. In February 1863 he married Louisa Elizabeth Lusty, and in the course of their marriage parented ten children, eight of whom survived childhood.
Shortly after achieving U.S. citizenship in May 1865 Penrose was called to England and performed a variety of missionary tasks in that country for the following three and one-half years. His duties included assisting emigrants, writing for the Millennial Star, and preaching in a variety of locales. Upon his return he pursued newspaper interests and became increasingly involved in local and state political activity. He became editor of the Ogden Junction, served four terms as an Ogden City Councilman, represented Weber County in the 1872 Constitutional Convention, and was as equally active in caring for his increasing church responsibilities.
By 1877 Penrose had relocated from Ogden to Salt Lake City and had taken editorial charge of the Deseret News. Further, he served in the Territorial Legislature from 1879 through 1882 and was known widely as a champion of enfranchisement for women. He preached often in the Salt Lake Valley and wrote numerous articles published in the Juvenile Instructor as well as the Deseret News.
In January, 1885 Penrose was called on a secret mission to help secure statehood for Utah Territory; that adventure, undertaken while dodging arrest for unlawful cohabitation, is detailed in one of his extant diaries but omitted from the "official" biographies. Penrose and his colleagues were unable to complete their missionsatisfactorily, and in April 1885 he was called to England where he preached to ever-increasing effect. During the latter part of that year Penrose toured northern Europe, Scandinavia, and returned to England via Paris. His subsequent return to Utah was made partially in disguise.
He resumed life in Utah in 1886 continuing to write and speak on behalf of his church. Further, he married Dr. Romania Bunnell Pratt, his third wife. In July, 1904 he was ordained an Apostle; and from late 1906 until December 1910 he served as President of the European Mission and continued to preach widely and write often. From 1911 until his death in 1925 Penrose remained active at church headquarters performing a variety of duties among which are included the completion of a church history writing project, the trial of Matthias Foss Cowley and others for performing plural marriage ceremonies after the Manifesto, and dealing with church education concerns.
The definitive biography of Charles W. Penrose is yet to be written. At least two partial biographies were published during his lifetime, and presumably he was aware of, if not actually consulted upon, their preparation and publication. The final third of his ninety-three years awaits further research and investigation. The many interruptions in his own chronicles need also to be filled; to date no other diaries nor any of what must have been a voluminous correspondence have surfaced.
The absence of a definitive biography of Charles William Penrose is made more acute by a careful reading of his twenty extant diaries. The subjects he chose to record and comment upon, the ever-increasing responsibilities thrust upon him as a church leader, his political and literary skills, and his demonstrable intellect and cultural sensitivity suggest a man of learning, carefully nurtured cultural interests, and a man concerned about the future of his church and society.
It is unfortunate for researchers that to date nothing has become available to illuminate Penrose's early years, his schooling in England, his friendships and models, nor the non-church influences he experienced during his formative years. His earlier diaries offer limited indications (primarily via reverse inference) of how he came to be the person revealed in his diaries.
His interest in the theatre is a strong thread in the fabric of his life (an interest he shared with John T. Caine, among others); his talents as a writer and humanist are as equally apparent; his concern for education is manifest at least through his later diaries. He also records numerous instances of skill in personal and political counseling that indicate a level of understanding of interpersonal relations much deeper than is revealed in the extant diaries. A similar conclusion might well be drawn regarding his administrative successes as President of the European Mission.
Kenneth W. Godfrey wrote the above biography as an introduction to The Kenneth W. Godfrey, Charles W. Penrose Papers, ca. 1997 at the Utah State Historical Society. He is the author of Charles W. Penrose: His Life and Thought, and editor of Teachings of Charles W. Penrose. He has graciously allowed us to use this short version on our website.
In addition to the biography and numerous articles on Charles Penrose he is co-author with Jill Mulvay Derr and Audrey M. Godfrey of Women’s Voices An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900. He is also co-editor of The Diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Utah Years 1871 to 1886.
Kenneth Godfrey is one of the prominent historians to have lectured at the Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series. He earned his Ph.D. from Brigham Young University and spent thirty-seven years as a teacher and administrator in the LDS Church Education system. His articles on Mormon history have appeared in the Illinois Historical Society Journal, BYU Studies, Utah Historical Quarterly, Cobblestone, Nauvoo Journal, Journal of Mormon History, and John Whitmer Association Journal.
Family members and readers with an interest in Mormon or Utah History will find the full-length biography a pleasure to read. Charles Penrose was a prolific writer and speaker: Mr. Godfrey has drawn from Penrose diaries, letters, poetry, published articles for the Millennial Star, Deseret News, interviews and other writings to give us an in-depth story of his long, productive life.
The biography is available for purchase through this website, as is his Teachings. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on obtaining your own copy.
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