Elizabeth Pickett Tolman diary, 1875-1894

Overview of the Collection

Tolman, Elizabeth Pickett, 1850-1895
Elizabeth Pickett Tolman diary
1875-1894 (inclusive)
1 box, (0.25 linear feet)
Collection Number
The Elizabeth Pickett Tolman diary offers a remarkably intimate look into the life of a plural wife in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives Division
Special Collections & Archives
Merrill-Cazier Library
Utah State University
Logan, UT
Telephone: 4357978248
Fax: 4357972880
Access Restrictions

No restrictions on use, except: not available through interlibrary loan.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Elizabeth Pickett Tolman was born on August 3, 1850, in Curridge, Berkshire, England, to Mathew and Harriet Pickett. Elizabeth’s father was a Methodist and her mother a Baptist before the couple converted to Mormonism at some point prior to their daughter’s birth. The family departed their home in England for Utah on April 16, 1862, setting sail from Liverpool on April 18 and arriving in New York seven weeks later. After another week traveling by railroad and steamboat, they came to Florence, Nebraska, where Mathew procured supplies for their journey west to Utah with Captain Canfield’s company. They arrived in Salt Lake City on October 16, 1862, and soon settled in Tooele. On February 21, 1870, Mathew took a second wife, Millicent Rose; “then,” Elizabeth recalls, “commenced my dear mother’s trial which was the heaviest sorrow she has ever known.”

Around this time Elizabeth became acquainted with Cyrus Ammon Tolman, to whom she was married in Salt Lake City on October 17, 1870. The couple soon moved from Toole to Richfield, embarking on the seven-day journey on November 15, 1872. There Ammon worked at a sawmill and began to consider taking a second wife. "About this time," Elizabeth writes, "he began to think and talk seriously of taking him another wife which he had joked about many times before and I am sorry to say flirted with some of the girls especially since we had lived in Richfield a thing he was extremely fond of doing." He married Sophia Isaacson in Salt Lake City on June 6 [187?], but the woman subsequently abandoned him, evidently having second thoughts about engaging in a polygamous marriage. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Ammon again relocated, this time to Knollen in Rush Valley, Utah and Ammon soon married a cousin of Elizabeth's named Louisa on December 12, 1878.

In 1881 Ammon moved to Marion, near Oakley in Cassia County, Idaho, while Elizabeth was in Salt Lake City receiving treatment for her infertility. She and Louisa soon joined him, though Elizabeth appears to have spent much of her time in Tooele with family. While they were living here Ammon was arrested for practicing polygamy but escaped prison by "promising to obey the law in the future" and moving Louisa to a different house. Elizabeth's father was also arrested, though he was less fortunate, serving six months in the Utah Penitentiary. By the 1890s Elizabeth's health began to fail and she passed away on April 13, 1895.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Elizabeth Pickett Tolman diary offers a remarkably intimate look into the life of a plural wife in the last decades of the nineteenth century. More of an autobiographical narrative than a daily record, the volume captures Elizabeth's struggle to rectify her religious beliefs with her personal feelings:

"I could hardly think it possible that the husband with whom I had lived so happy and loved so dearly better than life itself any other sacrifice it appears to me could have been made with less heartache was I to share that husband's affections with another sometimes I was inclined to think Lord why was such a principle revealed but it is all right we shall get our reward when the Lord shall make up his jewels."

Elizabeth's account indicates that this internal conflict and despair plagued her for the rest of her life. Her heartache is displayed eloquently in the final pages of the diary which consist of poems and prose she authored with titles like "To One Who Will Understand" and "Heart Sighs."

Elizabeth mentions a number of notable events in her 200-page, handwritten journal. One is the construction of the St. George LDS temple, which Ammon helped to construct. She also talks about laws enacted to end the practice of polygamy, and how the prosecution of those laws affected her family. Elizabeth even references the assassination of president James A. Garfield. These reflections will interest any researcher examining the practice of polygamy or life in late-nineteenth century Utah and southern Idaho.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.

Permission to publish material from the Elizabeth Pickett Tolman diary must be obtained from the Special Collections Manuscript Curator and/or the Special Collections Department Head.

Preferred Citation

Initial Citation: Elizabeth Pickett Tolman diary, USU_COLL MSS 487, Box [ ]. Special Collections and Archives. Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library. Logan, Utah.

Following Citations: USU_COLL MSS 487, USUSCA.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Processing Note

Processed in March of 2013

Acquisition Information

This diary was purchased by Special Collections and Archives in 2013 from Michael Vinson Americana. It was acquired through The Milton R. Merrill Library Collection Endowment.

Related Materials

David King and Ida F. Hunt Udall family papers, COLL MSS 229b .

"My Journal" by Mar E. Perkes, Caine Archive of Intermountain Americana Miscellanea, CAINE MSS 1 .

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 Elizabeth Pickett Tolman diary 1875-1894

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Mormons -- Utah -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Polygamy -- Law and legislation -- United States.
  • Polygamy -- Religious aspects -- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Polygamy -- Utah -- History -- 19th century.

Personal Names

  • Tolman, Cyrus Ammon.
  • Tolman, Elizabeth Pickett, 1850-1895 -- Diaries.
  • Tolman, Sophia Isaacson.

Corporate Names

  • St. George Temple (Saint George, Utah) -- Design and construction.

Geographical Names

  • Cassia County (Idaho) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Knollen (Utah) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Marion (Idaho) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Richfield (Utah) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Rush Valley (Utah) -- History -- 19th century.