Jane Elizabeth Manning James was an African American Mormon pioneer, beloved member of the Joseph and Emma Smith household, and renowned among the Saints for her facility with gifts of the spirit, such as speaking in tongues and healing.
After her baptism in 1843, Sister James led a group of family members to Nauvoo, Illinois. The group traveled over eight hundred miles of that journey on foot. Sister James wrote, “We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground.” This small band of Saints stopped and united in prayer to ask for relief. Their faithful prayers were answered and their feet healed.
This miraculous healing would not be the last on their long trek. Near the end of their journey, thirty miles from Nauvoo, Sister James and her family met with another group of Mormons, among whom was a very sick child. The Elders had previously attempted to heal the child, but had given up hope and expected the child would die. Not knowing this until later, Sister James administered to the child. The child was healed.
Sister James would later leave Nauvoo with the LDS Saints and settle in the Utah territory. Until her death in 1908, she was a vibrant member of the church, active in the Relief Society, a contributor to the Women’s Exponent, and well-known to the Prophets and Apostles. President Joseph F. Smith was a speaker at her funeral. She persistently petitioned for LDS temple blessings throughout the later years of her life. Church doctrine at that time denied full access to such blessings to Black Saints like Jane Manning James. Although Sister James’ repeated requests to receive full temple blessings in her lifetime were refused, she was unfailing in her desire to access them, once asking President Taylor, “[I]s there no blessing for me[?]”
In October 2015 Ordain Women Supporters created a living art display of this inspirational sister just outside of temple square to both honor and represent the change in women’s roles throughout the history of the church as well as to give Sister James a visible role in our history as a faithful, independent woman with the ability to administer and heal. As part of our 2015 art series we have also photographed what this could look like today within Mormonism. As with all images, no ordinances were performed, just modeled as a way to demonstrate our faith. We look forward to more pioneering women being welcomed into new roles and responsibilities within the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Honoring our Past,
Envisioning our Future.
Cite: Coleman, Ronald G. “‘Is There No Blessing for Me?’: Jane Elizabeth Manning James, A Mormon African American Woman,” African American Women Confront the West, ed. by Quintard Taylor and Shirly Ann Wilson Moore. Univeristy of Oklahoma Press: 2003.
James, Jane E. Manning. “My Life Story,” transcribed by Elizabeth J. D. Roundy, Wilford Woodruff Papers. Salt Lake City, Utah: Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Pearson, Carol Lynn. Daughters of Light. Bookcraft: 1986.