Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Abraham O. Woodruff Abraham O. (Owen) Woodruff

1872 - 1904

  • Born 1872 Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Baptized as a child; Aaronic Priesthood as a youth; Melchizedek Priesthood as a young man
  • Mission to Switzerland and Germany 1893
  • Married Helen May Winters 1896; four children
  • Ordained Apostle October 1896
  • Died of smallpox 1904 El Paso, Texas

    The following biographical sketch is adapted from the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia. Additions are in [brackets].
    Abraham Owen Woodruff was a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles from 1897 until his death in 1904. He was the son of Pres. Wilford Woodruff and Emma Smith and was born Nov. 23, 1872, in a primitive log house, situated just a short distance south of Salt Lake City, and built by his father some twelve years before. The neighborhood was one of the most beautiful and peaceful rural districts to be found in all our scenic land. To the east stands the rugged Wasatch range. To the west, stretch farmlands, orchards and meadows threaded by canyon streams, wrapped in quietude, beneath the giant forms of the mountains.

    Of the earliest recollections which still live in his mind, perhaps the most impressive is that of the funeral of Pres. Brigham Young. He recalls vividly how his mother raised him in her arms, that he might view the great leader in his casket.

    At six his school days began. In the course of time he mastered "addition, subtraction and multiplication." And as is the experience of most school boys, his labors were not confined to the school room and with books, for he enjoyed all the dignified privileges of "chore-boy" around the farm. At ten he herded cows, by which means he often realized as much as fifteen dollars per month. Prior to that, however, his proclivity to engage in commerce led him to the Liberty Park springs, where he gathered watercress for the market, thereby supplying his boyish needs in the way of pocket-money. His money spent in those days was too dearly earned to be spent in useless things, so that articles of real utility alone attracted his ready cash.

    As his years advanced, he passed from the 40th District school to the Latter-day Saints' College. Here he was trained under the splendid tutelage of Professors Done, Talmage and Maeser. At eighteen, he was placed in a bank, where he served the institution, first as a collector, and next as assistant bookkeeper.

    It was while thus employed, that he received a call to the mission field. In the year 1893, his father was far from enjoying his usual good health. The illness of his father, consequently, made his departure to a foreign land not a very easy matter, but, trusting in providence, and acquiescing with his father's wishes, he started for the Swiss and German Mission. Within a few days after his arrival at the mission headquarters he was appointed to labor, without a companion, in Frankfort-on-the-Main, at which place he was instructed to open the mission. A very charitable family opened their doors to him, which materially lessened the difficulties under which he was to begin his labors. The first great task before him was that of mastering the difficult German tongue. But this good family gave him willing and efficient aid in his task. He would read in concert with the children, and he found in them his natural teachers. He would arise at six o'clock in the morning and put in two hours of diligent work on the German grammar.

    He did not, however, spend all his time in studying the language and reciting it, but with singular courage and characteristic zeal, he set about his "Father's business." He distributed tracts during the day, and held meetings in the evening. His knowledge of German was, of course, exceedingly small, but he straightway began to preach and to expound the Scriptures in a broken, stammering manner. He was at first laughed at, but nothing daunting, he prosecuted his labors, and in an exceedingly short time, acquired the language. It came to him, he says, as a gift. After five months of aggressive, single-handed labor, a companion was sent to him, and in a short time a branch of the Church was organized where he labored.

    Two more months elapsed, when he was called to the presidency of the Dresden branch. Not long after he had commenced his labors there, he dreamed, one night, that he was fishing in a beautiful stream of water. In the dream, he was fortunate enough to catch three trout. The dream proved to be prophetic, for very soon afterwards he baptized a man and his wife and daughter. The ordinance was performed in the River Elbe, beneath the shade of the spreading lindens, on the exact spot where, many years before, Elder Budge baptized two very highly respected brethren—Elders Karl G. Maeser and Fred W. Schoenfeld. Elder Woodruff, at this time, had great pleasure in meeting and preaching to the old-time associates and fellow-teachers of these brethren. They showed him great respect and were courteous in their attention to Elder Woodruff, but it seemed that they were actuated by a sense of regard for their old associates rather than the teachings they heard.

    While he was presiding over this new conference, Elder Woodruff spent much of his time in distributing the written word in the villages that border the Elbe, extending from Dresden to Bohemia. He even entered one Bohemian village and delivered his message there. He was called from Dresden to Berlin, over which conference he presided one year. This conference comprehended such cities as Berlin, Hanover, Stettin, Sorau and Droskau. While laboring there, the civil officials undertook the banishment of the "Mormon" Elders, and in order that the good work might not be stayed, the Elders were often compelled to employ most subtle methods in order to carry on their labors without detection and consequent interruption. At Ernst, Elder Woodruff was disguised as a country swain. He donned the rude garb and heavy clogs, and, with the other peasants, toiled in the shop or field, during the day. With his fellow-rustics, he ate the black bread and "smear." No sooner, however, did the evening shades fall, than he would meet in some humble cottage, a company of eager Saints, who would perchance bring some trusted friend with them, whom they hoped to lead into the gospel light. One thing that impressed Brother Woodruff deeply, was the absolute trustworthiness of those country Saints. He found them as true as steel, and never were they known to disappoint an Elder, or betray his confidence, in those trying times.

    He then received a release to return home, having performed a faithful and acceptable mission. Elder Woodruff returned to his native city in 1896. For a short time, he resumed his work in the bank. On the 30th of June, he was married to Miss Helen May Winters. During October conference of the same year he was called to the Apostleship, and on the 7th day of October was ordained to that office by his father.

    In reviewing his brief life, Apostle Woodruff said that though he was led into some follies, common to youth, though he was often found in unwholesome company, and many times gave way to the weaknesses of the flesh, yet he never, for a moment, felt himself liberated from that restraint which a belief in God imposes. This belief had been early and deeply implanted in his heart. As a Deacon, he did his duty; as a Sunday School member he was faithful. There is no doubt that the influence of these two duties, which by practice had become habits in him, stayed his feet from running toward sin, in that critical period of life, when youth, manhood and common sense are struggling against the temptations that are spread like the fowler's snare, across the paths of the young.

    To understand the character and disposition of Apostle Woodruff, one need but to know his parents, for he received, like the rest of that exceptional family, the priceless heritages which a true and noble, God-fearing mother, and a peaceful, devoted, God-serving father, bequeathed them in their birth. The strongest qualities of the Woodruff family were, perhaps, natural honesty, child-like simplicity, implicit faith in God, and a due reverence for just and holy men. These very estimable qualities, combined with a gift of industriousness, and a total absence of ostentation, are the splendid endowments which Apostle Woodruff possessed in a high degree. These qualities, under a wise and tender mother's training, in his earlier years, and the powerful influence of a true father, in later years, constituted the agencies which formed his character, and determined his high course in life.

    He enjoyed the closest association with his father during the later years of that good man's life. They were most confidential one toward the other. There was a companionship between them, so close that it even excluded his nearest boy friends. In his father he beheld a shining example, in whose life truth had been held as the paramount quality. He had a profound reverence for his father, not only as a parent, but as a Prophet of God. Since his appointment to the Apostleship, Elder Woodruff was most diligent in the high duties and offices of his calling. Perhaps the greatest special labor which was given him was the colonization of the Big Horn country. That work was placed in his hands by the First Presidency and was carried on most successfully. He possessed the gifts of humility and sociability, by which he was in close touch with common, toiling people, thereby gaining their confidence and love. In addition to these qualities, he was highly spiritual in his temperament. Thus were blended the very elements necessary in the man who is to build up a country and at the same time build up the Kingdom of God on earth. His appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve was a happy choice. It was an inspiration.

    Abraham Owen Woodruff continued his labors in his high and holy calling, assisting his fellow laborers in the quorum in visiting the settlements of the Saints, leaving among the people a desire to improve, and above all to be united in the bond of brotherly love, for this was invariably the subject of his exhortations, and endeared him to his hearers wherever he went. In May, 1904, in company with his wife, Helen Winters Woodruff, and four children, he went to visit the settlements of the Saints in Mexico, where Sister Woodruff contracted the dread disease smallpox, to which she succumbed June 7, 1904. Brother Woodruff, who was a most devoted husband, contracted smallpox while waiting upon his wife and followed her into the "Great Beyond" two weeks later, June 20th.

    The Deseret Evening News commented upon the death of Apostle Woodruff editorially as follows:

"The sad tiding of the death of Apostle Abraham Owen Woodruff … came to the public as a calamity. Following so quickly on the news of his wife's demise, it is as a heavy blow repeated that causes pain and regret which cannot be expressed. When it was learned that the bereaved and devoted husband had contracted the disease (smallpox) which carried off his beloved companion, there were forebodings as to the result. But his naturally fine physique, his unusual steadfast faith, and the skill and attention he received, gave hopes of his speedy recovery. But his great anxiety, constant watching and lack of rest in caring for his dying wife depleted his system and so the disease took him when poorly prepared to resist its encroaches, and it was heart failure that ended his earthly career. He had been removed over the Mexican line into Texas, and in the hospital at El Paso he received that care and treatment that was necessary, and everything possible was done for his relief and recovery. …

    Bro. Woodruff was a bright and valiant soldier in the army of the Lord, ready to respond at every call; devoted to the cause in which he was enlisted for life; able and useful in temporal as well as spiritual things, and calm and judicious in judgment when wise counsel was needed in the settlement of difficulties in newly settled places. He was beloved by the Saints and admired for his purity of life and consistency of conduct. He was a valued member of his quorum, and there will be universal sorrow throughout the Church over the loss that is sustained in his departure.… There is mourning in Israel, for a rising star has faded out of Zion's firmanent, and it is in grief that heads are bowed, while we gently whisper, 'the will of the Lord be done.'"

    [The Ancestral File lists a second wife, Eliza Avery Clark, and gives the date of marriage as November 1, 1900. There is said to have been one child of this union.]

    Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p.172 (principal source)
    Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p.796 (principal source)
    Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p.251
    Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.4, Appendix 1
    Lawrence R. Flake, Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation, p.423
    2005 Church Almanac, p.65

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