Ann Laws Smithen 1822-1907  

By C. Malcolm Smithen
January 2003

 A Lady of Class

 It is quite sad that so little can be written here about this great-grandmother of ours. Its short length is an excellent example of how quickly we become two dates in the genealogy record unless someone takes the time to write a story about the life that was so vibrant between those two dates. And to do the task justice, it must be done while memories of that life are still fresh and accurate. How I wish that my grandfather had written this about his mother, Ann Laws, instead of me. He was an excellent writer and could have given us a warm, meaningful, first-hand portrayal of her. Instead, all that I can offer here are a few facts and vague impressions given to me; however, I feel compelled to do that much as I strongly believe that Ann Laws was a tower among the several generations of our family that lived when she did.

Queen Victoria was on the throne all of Ann Laws' life and it is natural that Victorian ways and values dominated her character and thinking. Her daughter-in-law, Rose, and her grandson, "Georgie", as she called my father, could have told us so much more about her if only we had asked. What little they did say gave a strong impression that Ann was a wonderful person, very English in her manner, and rather serious in nature, but a loving wife, mother, and grandmother.

Ann Laws reared five boys and two girls; she lost three others as infants. All of the remainders were grown, young adults when the family emigrated from England as converts of the Mormon Church. According to Grandma Rose, "My husband's brothers and sisters were educated, cultured, attractive, and good people. They were intelligent, and they read extensively; however, I must admit that they were also quite vocal and opinionated." The family was not rich but neither was it poor. In England it was considered to have been "upper class" as both James and Ann were proud of the past genealogies which reached into the lines of nobility. There exists today a painted tintype portrait of Ann's grandmother, Adelaide Mullett Cooper, and this is a good indicator that the lady was of "high birth".

On his side, James could tell of his family ancestors reaching all the way to the Plantagenet royals. Several of his long ago grandfathers had accompanied William the Conqueror when he invaded England in 1066. Originally they had been "Northmen", "Norsemen", "Vikings" who had settled in France in the area that was eventually named after them -- "Normandy". All of this made no impression on the three Searle girls who married three of James' sons. The women resented having to listen to it, which they interpreted as a comparison to their class of being mere "commoners". Grandma Rose was the first to change the subject to something more important whenever one of the Smithens started to "brag" about his background. "Beauty is as beauty does" was her democratic belief. She would not even be impressed with our more recent research, which indeed follows Smithen blood back to the blue color of royalty. She would have said, "It's a pity that you don't have something more worthwhile to do!"

Ann Laws married James Smithen in Folkestone, England, on 14 January 1843. He worked for years helping to construct the long, stone piers at Dover. This often meant that he would be among men who were lowered to the ocean floor in a giant diving bell to work on the footings. It would trap the air, which would gradually be replaced by a pump. The pressure varied and most men, including James, later became quite deaf. It also affected their general health and led to an early death for many of them. James did not enjoy good health when he and Ann emigrated in 1876 on the steamship "Dakota". In fact, the 1880 census mentions, "James Smithen, age 61, has rheumatism." He died in 1886 at the age of 67 leaving Ann a widow for the remainder of her 21 years. Both had been baptized into the Mormon Church in 1849 and were eager to immigrate to Utah.

Prior to their leaving England, three of their children were already living in Utah. George, my grandfather, had come first -- 1869, age 20; William, two months later, age 22; and Annie in 1873 --age 18. James and Ann sailed on the steamship "Dakota" on October 13, 1876, with their three youngest children-- Alfred, 16; Emma, 13; and Walter, 10. They both left behind large families of loved relatives-- brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Contact is still maintained with one of these families in England. It is the extended offspring of Edward Smithen, a brother of James. Two of James' sisters followed him to Utah later. One was Maria Ann who later married George Pett and the other was his oldest sister, Sarah Smithen, who married Edward Townsden. Ann Laws enjoyed both of these sisters-in-law and their families. One of Sarah's daughters, Frances Harriet Townsden Smyth, was an especially close niece of Ann's. Her qualities and interesting life fascinated Ann Laws. James had baptized her in England; in Utah she had married Adam Craik Smyth, a well known composer whose music and songs still are sung from Mormon hymn books.

James and Ann crossed the country using the transcontinental railroad, which had been completed only seven years before. James bought a house "up on the bench" on Sixth Avenue overlooking Salt Lake City, and Ann welcomed any of her children to come and live there while they were saving money to have a home of their own. The 1880 census reveals that the following persons were living in the house at that time:

" James 61, Ann 57; their sons George 31, Edward 36, and Walter 16;

George's wife, Rosetta 22, and their children, Lydia 3 and George 1:

Edward's wife, Sarah 33 and their children, Nellie 6, Alfred 4, and James 1. "

Grandma Rose said that Ann was a pleasure with whom to live. She called Ann a "jewel", a caring wife, a helpful mother, a thoughtful mother-in-law, and a loving grandmother. She kept the household running smoothly in all of its aspects. To Ann, "home" was a sacred place where poor behavior was not to be tolerated. It was a loving place because ugliness in any form would not be allowed to enter. The children were disciplined softly to keep the home quiet; they were all in bed when the clock said "eight" so that grownups could enjoy a peaceful evening to themselves. She taught her daughters-in-law to be good cooks, patient mothers, loving wives, and good housekeepers. Grandma Rose said that it was truly amazing how "Mrs. Smithen" accomplished all of these things in such an unassuming and pleasant manner. Any temper spells had to go outside. Pouting was forbidden, children running through the house or being noisy in it were dispatched quickly out the back door -- being told why, on their way. Money matters, gossip, complaints, and arguments were all relegated far from the home. Looking back, Grandma Rose said that she was always impressed at "Mrs. Smithen's" ability to function so effectively with such ease and without causing any resentment whatsoever. Her home was always neat and clean; so were her clothes. "Mrs. Smithen looked elegant even in her house-cleaning clothes!" Rose marveled, and then continued, "Mrs. Smithen even served tea and refreshments from a tea-cart rolled from the kitchen to the parlor every single day! She was truly a cultured, unpretentious lady of undisputed class." Coming from a daughter-in-law, these compliments are all the more impressive! "The only problem," Grandma continued, "was that after I had moved to a place of my own, I could not maintain my home in as wonderful a way as did Mrs. Smithen."

A closely related problem for Rose and her sisters (Ellen and Vilate, all of whom had married three of Ann's sons) was being at ease with their new last name, "Smithen". It seemed to them that there was only one "Mrs. Smithen". Ann was not matriarchal; she did all that she knew how to do to help her daughters-in-law take the reins from her. She was eager to assume a fading leadership role in their lives and to enjoy simply spending time with her grandchildren. Grandma Rose told my sister, Juanita, that the problem with the names continued, but it existed only in their feelings, certainly it was not created by Ann, whom they loved.

Grandma also told Juanita a rather tender story concerning Ann. Grandma was about twenty years old and was holding her first baby, Lydia. She was at the kitchen sink and was crying. Her mother-in-law came in and asked Rose, "What in the world is wrong?". Grandma told her that she had been terribly upset ever since hearing the news about Brigham Young's recent death. Ann urged her to stop weeping as crying was very contagious and only made others feel bad. Rose said that she could not help but cry; Ann quickly replied, "You certainly can help it -- get your mind off it by busying yourself at something useful." Rose asked, "I've never seen you cry, Mrs. Smithen. Does it ever happen to you?" Ann's response was, "I certainly have, Rose -- many a time, but usually it is at night when James can put his arms around me for comfort." Rose asked her if she hadn't wept because of Brigham's passing, and Ann told her that it had made her very sad but that she had not let it reduce her to tears. "However," she added, "I was anything but stoical in England when we lost three of our children -- two infant girls and one little boy. And I went all to pieces when we received word of William's untimely death because of the mine accident in America; he was only twenty-seven and left your sister, Ellen, alone with a baby girl." Ann continued, "And, Rose, I often shed a tear when I encounter ignorance of some sort that hurts others, don't you? To me, there is nothing worse than ignorance! Yes, Rose, I know how to cry but doing so is not very productive, would you not agree? Let us do as little crying as possible -- and besides, you are upsetting baby Lydia."

Gradually, Ann's brood thinned as her sons built homes of their own in Salt Lake City. James died in 1886 leaving Ann alone in the home with her youngest son, Walter. However, when Walter married Vilate (Grandma Rose's youngest sister) Ann was by herself following the wedding in November. Then after a few years had past, one by one of her children, with the exception of Alfred, left Utah and moved to California. Edward and his family settled in the Bay Area; the others made their homes in or near Los Angeles. Ann missed all of them, especially her grandchildren. When sadness came to her, she had to remind herself that she and James had done the very same thing when they had left their parents, their brothers and sisters, their aunts, uncles, and cousins in Kent, England -- nearly all of whom they had never seen again.

Eventually, Alfred was able to convince her to live with him and his family, and she soon found herself enjoying being a part of a large, happy household again.

Most of her material possessions had come with her and she was comforted by having them. Even her teacart resumed making its daily trips to the parlor. Her daughter-in-law, Lydia, was as English as she so there was no new life-style with which to adjust. Barbara Hazeldine Bailey, a cousin of mine, tells a story that relates to this daughter-in-law of Ann Laws. My maternal grandmother, Annie Bishop, had taken her granddaughters, Barbara and Helen, to the Salt Lake City Cemetery to care for the graves of her parents, They were walking home when Grandma told the girls, "In that big house across the street is where the Smithens live." She was referring to the home at 807 Second Avenue, belonging to Alfred Smithen who was related to her only by the marriage of her daughter, Annie, to George Smithen, my father and nephew of Alfred. "Let's go over and introduce ourselves and hear if there is any family news I can take back to your Aunt Annie and Uncle George when I return to Pomona next month."

Answering the doorbell was Vera, Lydia's beautiful twenty-two year old daughter. After the introduction, Vera cordially invited them in and said that she would announce their arrival to her mother. While they waited, Grandma could not help but notice how "English" the large parlor appeared. The room was very neat and clean and the furniture, quite formal. Lydia soon appeared and said how pleased she was that they would stop for a visit.

Another daughter, "Addie", named Adelaide Cooper Smithen after Ann Laws' "royal" grandmother, joined them and was introduced. After a few minutes, her mother said to her, "Addie dear, will you please determine whether or not Vera has your grandmother's tea-wagon ready for us?" Vera had shown her expertise in preparing a "high tea" treat, and soon she and Addie were serving from the cart and urging Grandma Bishop and the two little girls to "try this" or "I think you will enjoy that".

Looking back to that day in 1919, Barbara would blush as she told the story, feeling that Grandma had been presumptuous and might have been an intrusion and imposition. "However," she said, "the visit lasted less than an hour and we were treated very warmly and invited sincerely to return." Lydia had remained rather formal but quite friendly. Vera had tended to be on the quiet side but Addie had bubbled with a lovable personality of enthusiasm and interest that had put everyone at ease. Grandma left with a considerable amount of news to take to California, and she had found her hostess just as interested in hearing about all of the Smithens who lived on the West Coast. Lydia had said, "Alf will be so happy to hear all about everyone out there. It is a pity that he is at work. Please tell George that we continue to miss his grandmother. She has been gone for twelve years but her kind spirit is still in the home guarding the integrity of the family. Her philosophical beliefs and sayings are ever present among all of us, and they give us strength as we face life's persistent situations. We seem to be constantly quoting her! Do have George tell you what a marvelous person was Ann Laws Smithen."

Mentioning "material possessions" brings to mind how quickly ours disappear after we have departed. Ann's were no exception; where her many things are today is anyone's guess. All I have that belonged to her are three photographs of herself, her French magnifying glass which likely belonged to her grandmother Ann Cooper, remnants of a full set of dinner china that she had given to Rose as a wedding gift, a snippet of her auburn hair, her wooden box photo album, and a note she had written to "Georgie".

However treasured these things are, their true value is nothing compared to how lucky we are to possess some of Ann Laws' genes in us. And aren't we blessed for the day the missionaries knocked on her door in Dover and stirred the family to move eventually to America. We descendants of Ann owe so much gratitude to her for passing along many of her values, her integrity, her family pride, and for her setting examples for us to follow. We have been recipients of her many qualities without our ever knowing it and,

regrettably, not ever knowing her. Hopefully we shall in the next life.


More to come. Feedback and corrections welcome!

Laurie Kraybill

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