Willard Richards

Willard Richards (June 24, 1804 March 11, 1854)[2] was a physician and midwife/nurse trainer and an early leader in the Latter Day Saint movement.[3] He served as second counselor to church president Brigham Young in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death.[4]

Willard Richards
Second Counselor in the First Presidency
December 27, 1847 (1847-12-27)  March 11, 1854 (1854-03-11)
Called byBrigham Young
PredecessorWilliam Law
SuccessorJedediah M. Grant
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 14, 1840 (1840-04-14)  December 27, 1847 (1847-12-27)
Called byJoseph Smith
End reasonCalled as Second Counselor in the First Presidency
LDS Church Apostle
April 14, 1840 (1840-04-14)  March 11, 1854 (1854-03-11)
Called byJoseph Smith
ReasonReplenishing Quorum of the Twelve[1]
at end of term
Jedediah M. Grant ordained and added to First Presidency
Personal details
Born(1804-06-24)June 24, 1804
Hopkinton, Massachusetts, United States
DiedMarch 11, 1854(1854-03-11) (aged 49)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, United States
Resting placeSalt Lake City Cemetery
40.777°N 111.858°W / 40.777; -111.858 (Salt Lake City Cemetery)
ParentsJoseph and Rhoda Howe Richards

Early life

Willard Richards was born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Joseph Richards and Rhoda Howe on June 24, 1804.[3] He was the youngest of eleven children.[5] At the age of four, he injured his head in a fall and was left with some residual muscle tremor and paralysis.

As a child, Richards was very inquisitive and would ask questions and read constantly. This was especially the case during the six months the local congregational minister resided in his parents' household. Because of his tendency to ask questions as to why things were how they were, he was denied admission to the local congregational church.[6]

As the injury limited his physical activity, he focused his attention on education and obtained a teacher's certificate at age sixteen. He taught school in Chatham, New York, and in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. In 1823, he moved to Naussau, New York.[7]

Richards pursued additional studies in physical mechanics and science, and studied the clarinet. At age 27, he became an itinerant lecturer, traveling throughout New England giving lectures on various scientific subjects.[8]

At the age of thirty, after the death of his sister Susan, Richards decided to become a medical doctor. He studied at the Thomson Infirmary in Boston, focusing on medication and herbal preparations.[9] As a student at the Thompson Infirmary, Richards was immersed in emergency and trauma surgery. He was at the hospital for hundreds of casualties of the Boston Abolition Riots of 1835.[10] He then settled in Holliston, Massachusetts, where he practiced medicine.[11] Richards stayed true to the Thompsonian System of Botanical Treatments,[12][13] a precursor to revolutionary pharmaceuticals such as Eli Lilly's Quinine.[14][15]

In 1836, Richards was introduced to the newly published Book of Mormon by his cousins, Joseph and Brigham Young.[16] Richards read the book twice within ten days and soon made preparations to move to Kirtland, Ohio, to join the Church of the Latter Day Saints; a bout of "palsy", however, prevented him from traveling until a year later. Richards was baptized on December 31, 1836, by Brigham Young and ordained an elder on March 6, 1837.[17]

Early church service

Shortly following his ordination as an elder, Richards was called on a brief three-month mission to the Eastern United States. Immediately upon his return, he was called on a more extended mission to Great Britain. This put him among the first missionaries of the LDS Church to go to Britain.[18] Richards served a total of four years on his mission to Britain. He helped with the Millennial Star's publication.[17]

With his high level of education, Richards was often counseled by Heber C. Kimball to focus on the basic tenets of the gospel. Richards was the moving force behind establishing the first branch of the church in Manchester.[19] He was appointed first counselor to the president of the European Mission, Joseph Fielding.[17]

Marriage and Family

Willard Richards and his wife Jennetta and son Heber.[20]

Richards married Jennetta Richards[21] on September 24, 1838,[16] while on a four-year mission to England.[20] Their first child, named Heber John, was born on July 17, 1839, but died of smallpox just five months later in October.[22] They had two surviving children, a son, also named Heber John, born in Manchester, England, in 1840, and a daughter, Rhoda Ann Jennetta, born in 1843 in Nauvoo, Illinois.[23] Jennetta Richards was in poor health, and after traveling across the Atlantic Ocean in April 1841, Richards took her to live with his siblings in Richmond, Massachusetts, while he went on to Nauvoo, Illinois.[22]

Richards was a close confidant of Joseph Smith, and became a practitioner of polygamy. There is indication that his first plural wife was 26-year-old Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, who was already married to Orson Hyde (Hyde was away on a mission at the time).[20][24] Richards returned to Richmond and retrieved his wife Jennetta, arriving back in Nauvoo on November 21, 1842.[22]

On January 18, 1843, Richards married sixteen-year-old Sarah Longstroth and fourteen-year-old Nanny Longstroth, who were sisters. Joseph Smith officiated the wedding.[25][20] Richards married eleven wives in total.[17]

Willard and Jennetta Richards were sealed on May 29, 1843, and were among the first couples to be sealed.[26] After struggling with illness all her life, Jennetta died on July 9, 1845, at age twenty-seven.[20]


Richards was ordained an apostle on April 14, 1840, by Brigham Young. In 1841, he moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, to be with the body of the church. He was in Warsaw, Illinois, from September to December and did not take up residence in Nauvoo until December 1841.[27] He was in Warsaw on a missionary assignment to found and supervise a settlement of church members there.[28]

Richards organized the medical services in Nauvoo, training midwife trainers and providing sanitation advice for the issues of malaria and cholera in particular.[29]

Richards was a member of the Nauvoo City Council from 1841 to 1843. He also was a member of the Masonic lodge at Nauvoo. In 1843 he was made recorder of the Nauvoo Municipal Court.

He became Joseph Smith's private secretary in December 1841, when he was also made recorder of the Nauvoo Temple.[27] In December 1842, Richards was called to be the Church Historian and Recorder, a position he held until his death.[17] In these two capacities, Richards maintained Smith's schedule and recorded most of his activities. As church historian, he subsequently wrote a total of 1,884 pages on the history of Smith. This work was later incorporated into The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by B. H. Roberts.

In July 1842, Richards went on a short mission to New England. In 1844, Richards was made the recorder of the Council of 50.[27]

On May 4, 1842, Richards was one of nine men to whom Smith presented the endowment.[30]

Richards was incarcerated in Carthage Jail with Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and John Taylor on June 27, 1844, when the jail was attacked by a mob and the Smiths were murdered. Taylor was shot four times and severely injured, but survived the attack. Richards was unhurt and so supervised the removal of the bodies of Taylor and the Smiths. Over a year prior to the attack, Joseph Smith had told Richards that "the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment."[31] His first-hand account of the event was published in the Times and Seasons.[32]

Richards, his cousin Brigham Young, and other church elders left Nauvoo in February 1846, spending the remainder of the year at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. This first group entered into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. They then went back to Winter Quarters, arriving on August 21, 1847, to gather the families for the Mormon Exodus of 1848, and deal with malaria and cholera.[33]

First Presidency

Richards was called as Second Counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency on December 27, 1847, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. After moving to Utah, Richards trained and established the extensive 500 midwife network spread through the Deseret Territory settlements, working with Eliza R. Snow, the church's Relief Society General President, and training Young Women.[34] He was also involved in establishing the Deseret News, serving as its first Editor-in-Chief.[35]

Richards worked with Snow to identify replacement doctors among the trained young women, largely accomplished by organized delegation even to 15-year-old girls[36] and a focus on sanitation.[37] Snow found a young woman, Ellis Reynolds Shipp, who went to medical school then got a pediatrics specialty under the world-renowned pediatrics pioneer, Victor Vaugh. In the Michigan 1881[38] Truly LDS, (quasi military[39]) delegation, the combined effort of Richards, Shipp, and Snow in training and deploying an army of midwives drastically reduced infant mortality and loss of women in childbirth, especially in remote colonies.[40][41]

In the provisional state of Deseret, Richards served as both secretary and president of the council. Once Utah was organized as a territory, he served as its secretary. He was also postmaster of Salt Lake City.

Death and legacy

Richards died in Salt Lake City on March 11, 1854,[17] and was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.[42] He was 49 years old. He was described as "calm and even minded" despite his physical challenges.[17]

See also

  • Phrenology and the Latter Day Saint Movement


  1. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not had twelve members since September 3, 1837, when Luke S. Johnson, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson were disfellowshipped and removed from the Quorum. Since that time, William E. McLellin and Thomas B. Marsh had been excommunicated and removed from the Quorum; David W. Patten had been killed; and John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, and George A. Smith had been added to the Quorum. Richards's addition to the Quorum brought the membership in the Quorum of the Twelve to eleven members.
  2. US Census 1810, Middlesex County, Hopkinton (Boston Marathon start) Book 19 p. 4
  3. "Willard Richards | Church History Biographical Database". history.churchofjesuschrist.org. Retrieved 2022-03-07.
  4. Saints, Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day. "Willard Richards". www.churchhistorianspress.org. Retrieved 2022-03-07.
  5. Claire Noall. Intimate Disciple: A Portrait of Willard Richard. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1957. p. vii
  6. Noall, Intimate Disciple, p. vii
  7. Joseph Smith Papers bio of Richards
  8. "Willard Richards – Biography".
  9. Haller, John S. (6 January 2019). The People's Doctors: Samuel Thomson and the American Botanical Movement, 1790-1860. SIU Press. ISBN 9780809323395 via Google Books.
  10. Hampshire Gazette October 28, 1835, "Mr. Garrison Jailed, treated at Thompson Hos. with Mob, Interrupts 5000 Women Abolitionists Meeting", Starbridge Village Museum-documents
  11. Garrett, H. Dean. "Richards, Willard". Utah History Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  12. Vermont History, Winter 1988, p. 6 vol. 56, No 1
  13. Thompsonian Recorder, 1836 record, jonathan Phillips pub by Pike Proprieters, Columbus OH
  14. "Price, "Indiana Legends" pp. 3, 57 et seq, Eli Lilly
  15. Price, "Indiana Legends", 56
  16. "Richards | Mormon Studies". mormonstudies.as.virginia.edu. Retrieved 2022-03-07.
  17. McCune, George M. (1991). Personalities in the Doctrine and Covenants and Joseph Smith–History. Salt Lake City, Utah: Hawkes Publishing. pp. 97–98. ISBN 9780890365182.
  18. Scott A. Hales and others. The Standard of Truth: Saints Vol. 1, The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1815-1846. p. 277
  19. The Standard of Truth, pp. 306–307
  20. Devery S. Anderson '"I Could Love Them All": Nauvoo Polygamy in the Marriage of Willard Jennetta Richards', June 7, 2013, Sunstone Magazine online at:
  21. Family Search - Willard Richards
  22. Richard E. Turley (Author, Editor), Brittany E. Chapman (Author), Jr. (Editor), Brittany A. Chapman (Editor) "Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume 1, 1775-1820", Deseret Book 2013 e-book location 5017 of 12623
  23. US Census 1850
  24. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 238.
  25. Joseph Grant Stevenson, ed., Richards Family History, 5 vols. (Provo, UT: Stevenson Genealogy, 1991),3:279
  26. The Standard of Truth, pp. 492–493
  27. Joseph Smith Papers Project bio of Richards
  28. Church History Department, listing of early missionaries
  29. Evan Ivie, Deaths in Early Nauvoo 1839-44, and Winter Quarters ", BYU Studies, 1999
  30. The Standard of Truth, p. 453
  31. Smith, Joseph (April 2020). Documentary History of the Church. Deseret Book Company. p. 619.
  32. "Two Minutes in Jail". Times and Seasons. Independence Press. 5: 598–9. 1 August 1844. ISBN 9780830904679.
  33. Death and disease in Nauvoo..., p. 58
  34. Deseret News October 29, 1857, VolVII No 21, p. 5, et al.
  35. Jenson, Andrew (1941). Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Press. p. 187.
  36. Essays on Disease and Medical Care in the Mountain West" ed. Martha Hildreath, p. 26, essay "Mormons and Thomisonian Practice", by Thomas Houge, University of Nevada, Reno Press, 1999
  37. Deseret News April 16, 1859, p. 4 et. seq."Sanitation Column" : "Treating Cuts"
  38. "Our History - Pediatrics - Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan". medicine.umich.edu. 4 September 2015.
  39. "Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling", p. 461, Bushman, Deseret Bk 1998
  40. "Estimates of Infant Mortality on the Western Frontier: The Use of Genealogical Data" Katherin A. Lynch. Prof. Carniegie Mellon 06 Feb 2013
  41. New Estimates of Child Mortality Rates in the Late Nineteenth Century" pp. 76 et seq. Samuel Preston, Princeton University Press, 1991
  42. "Willard Richards | Religious Studies Center". rsc.byu.edu. Retrieved 2022-03-07.


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