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The Family File

Life of Mary Elizabeth Clark Robinson
By Maurine Porter

Mary Elizabeth Clark was the third child and only daughter of Ezra T. and Mary Stevenson Clark. She was one of the two children born while a small colony of about 25 families dwelt in beautiful East Canyon above Bountiful. The other child, born a few months earlier than she, but in the same year, to Joseph Lee and Maria Wood Robinson, became the father of her four children. His birthday was February 2 and hers November 25, 1849. They grew up together under the primitive conditions of early pioneer life.

At this time the entire region, from Chase Lane on the south to Weber Canyon on the north, was known as North Cottonwood and was considered a suburb of Salt Lake City, where the families first attended church services. During the summer of 1849 Ezra T. Clark and others had started to cultivate land they had explored in the fertile valley, which later was the town of Farmington. In the spring of 1850 he moved his family there, planting ten acres of land with five bushels of wheat, out of which he realized a harvest of 500 bushels. Here a separate ward was established, with Joseph Lee Robinson as the first bishop. Immediately the group set to work to build a schoolhouse and chapel, having met in private homes for Sunday services until the little edifice of logs hauled from Weber Canyon and plastered with mud was ready for occupancy. Later new and more adequate buildings were constructed, including what became the Academy. As early as 1854 the first County Court House to be completed in Utah was in business, with Ezra T. Clark as treasurer. The exhilarating bustle and stir of rapid developments, reaching out for everything that was good and would improve their general circumstances, from unique varieties of plants to books and newspaper publications, was in the air as the two first-born citizens of Davis County mingled in the interesting life of their peaceful community.

It was at the North Cottonwood Ward that Farmington Ward records commenced and where the records of the first families are found, including the blessings of Mary Elizabeth Clark and Joseph Elijah Robinson, one day apart, both by John Blair, he on March 5 and she on March 6, 1852. Evidently the rites occurred in a series of two-day meetings, the equivalent of the old stake conferences.

Curly haired, full bosomed and slender, gifted with dramatic ability, Mary E. was the "apple of her parents'" and adoring brothers' eyes, and may have been somewhat "spoiled" despite hardships and incessant toil but, if so, the defect was soon and thoroughly eradicated. She and Joseph E. Robinson, musically inclined and with outstanding leadership qualities, must have looked well together in plays and at dances in which they participated. It was, one understands, a foregone conclusion that these two would wed, when an ominous shadow intervened which, in the dim light of the few facts that have come down to us, cannot be fully explained.

As the town boomed and the fertility of the soil became recognized, newcomers entered, one of the most prominent being a convert from England, Arthur Stayner, a polished gentleman of considerable education, who became one of the first school teachers, along with Joseph E. Robinson. It was at this time that he enticed Grandmother, Mary E. Clark, to be one of his plural wives. It is probable that he was her schoolteacher at one time and a strong influence at an impressive period of her life. Flattered by his attentions, but hypnotized, as she later described it, she yielded to his romantic wooing and was married to him on Washington's birthday, February 22, 1869, less than three months after her 19th birthday.

Why this union was so temporary, aside from the considerable difference in age, we can only surmise. Mary E., like her father, was not given to much chitchat and naturally was reticent about this episode in her personal life. She told her daughter she never lived with her first husband. She found that she could not tolerate the situation and was granted a divorce on June 12, 1869.

It was probably during this awesome period that she recognized her true love for Joseph E. Robinson, to whom she was married that eventful year, on the 6th of September. Unfortunately, the stain of her early mistake played a role in the tragedy that unfolded later, or it might have been overlooked and forgotten.

After this handsome couple, Joseph E. Robinson and Mary E. Clark, was well established with two fine sons, Joseph E. (Jody) and Ezra Clark and a few days before the third, Albert Carlos, was born, Joseph E. took his second wife, Dorothy Henderson Watson, then only 15 years old but mature for her age. A pretty and capable girl, she was probably welcomed into the household as a helper and co-mother of the new baby boy. Things must have been going well in that home when, on July 10, 1874, the three of them, dressed in their finery, set out in a carriage for Salt Lake City to have their photographs taken together. As they reached the outskirts of the metropolis at Mill Creek, they paused to water the thirsty team, Joseph E. tightroping the tongue as was his custom, to reach both horses and unbridle them. While they were drinking, one of the animals became frightened, lurched forward unexpectedly, and before the bewildered, terrified women could bring them under control, both horses had trampled upon the body of their husband, and he had been run over by the front wheels of the buggy.

Of course, there was not a visit to the photographer that fateful day when the mangled body was taken, more dead than alive, for the best care then available, but saved only by Priesthood administrations as he hovered for weeks between life and death, cared for by the two faithful wives. He was always crippled thereafter and never the same again. Nevertheless he became the father of one more child by his first wife and fourteen sons and daughters by Dorothy, or "Aunt Dora" as she was known to the other family.

This tragic accident threw a heavy burden upon Mary E. , who must have had to handle a man's work in addition to the care of her children and the supervision of the household. As a consequence, the young bride was left to take over the nursing and intimate needs of the sick man. It was a difficult situation. Memories of her previous marriage must have entered in to complicate it when, perhaps for the first time, the younger woman became aware of what had happened. At any rate, shortly before the birth of her youngest child and only daughter in 1875, the older wife, feeling frustrated, over-burdened, and unappreciated, sought the haven of her father's hospitable home and moved her family there, fully intending, of course, to return. To the afflicted husband it looked like desertion. Whatever factors combined to fan jealousies and breed misunderstandings seem to have been present with the result that another divorce followed, much against her will; she and her children were never welcomed into the Robinson household again.

Time, as we know, has a way, God-proved, of healing sorrows, and while scars may remain, life goes on in much the usual routine. Mary Lizzie, as she was called by her brothers and sisters, was well provided for and always welcome in the spacious home of her prosperous father, who had rare business sense and was a first-rate executive and manager. Blessed for this role by the Prophet Joseph Smith when, as a lad of 18 he had given all the money he had for the building of the Nauvoo Temple even as he journeyed across the plains, Ezra T. Clark had been among the best equipped and most able to share with others. His forethought had resulted in his successfully bringing many kinds of seeds and a few chickens into the valley. With his excellent dairy and grain start, hay, and many varieties of fruits planted, the first start of honeybees in the valley and even sugar cane included among his crops, he was amply supplied with the necessities of life. He had set the example of plural marriage in his family when in 1862 he selected his wonderful second wife, Susan Leggett, for whom he wisely provided a separate home; yet the two families were welded so closely together that the children felt they belonged to both households and were as welcome in one as the other. Never were the two mothers known to quarrel. They cooperated beautifully in all things and loved each other in a warm and sensible way that transcended mere sentiment.

It was in the older home, though, that family parties were held and provisions stored for all. Cloth, purchased by the bolt, cheeses brought in the wagonload from Bear River Valley, whole beeves from the farm molasses mill - honey - everything was freely accessible to both families as needed. Dried peaches and likely other fruits and corn, products of "cutting bees," when family and friends gathered to save the abundant crops, setting the luscious halves to dry on scaffolds and, still lacking space, spread out on roof tops, turned from mice and other vermin, but used by the families as needed, even to take to market at Christmas time in exchange for merchandise presents. After a day or two of the "cuttings" there would be an evening's celebration---a candy pull, games around a bonfire, and in late seasons doughnuts or pumpkin pie served. Perhaps even a picnic as hayracks full of young people drove down to the shores of the Great Salt Lake, about three miles away.

The larger home was a free wayside inn, always open to travelers; scarcely a day passed but what at least one person besides the family would be entertained. At General Conference time visitors from Idaho and Southern Utah would flock here, and all would go by carriage and wagonload to attend the sessions. The family didn't let distance keep them from the special attractions in the city - a circus, a matinee at the Opera House, a special dance or especially a fair - and off they would dash to be part of any major celebration.

Amasa Clark's wife, Alice, who died of phlebitis, left three small sons. To fill the void as much as possible, Mary E. and her daughter May stayed most of the time in that motherless home until competent, wonderful Susan Duncan Clark stepped in to take over. After that Mary E. was always ready to help out in an emergency, like the "angel of mercy" Aunt Susan affectionately described her to be. Naturally, she was ever highly regarded by Uncle "Amasy" and Aunt "Susie."

For her "professional" services of delivering a child, reporting at least twice a day for the first two weeks after the birth to bathe mother and child and check on their well being, and in some cases living in the home to do the cooking and housework, Mary E. received the exorbitant (or just a fee) of five dollars. That is, when the head of the house was financially able to pay at all. Her daughter May recalled an interval in a wealthy home in Salt Lake City, in a palatial residence in which she lived with her mother while a chronic invalid was being nursed.

May remembered most vividly all the heartache and the disgrace and loneliness of being left without a father, whom she loved and idealized from afar. She loathed the very sound of the word "divorce." She was not able to go visit with her father because of jealousy in the other home - not her mother, though.

A key to her distress may be indicated by a pathetic little incident related by Aunt Laura Clark Cook. She had accompanied May on an errand to the town merchandise store, where Joseph E. Robinson sat in his wheelchair as its proprietor. It was close to Christmas. As if on a sudden impulse, painfully he extricated himself from his seat, hobbled over to a shelf of dolls, and placed one of the prettiest in the trembling arms of his estranged young daughter. Not once did May hear a word of censure from her mother, and in similar loyalty May could not stand any taint of criticism against either of her parents. When her own daughter once complained of Joseph E., "He must have been a harsh, unforgiving man," May protested with tears in her eyes and voice; "No, no, you must not say that. He was a terribly sick man for many years and a victim of circumstances beyond his control. He was kind, good, noble, as was my mother. It is not right to blame either of them. They have both suffered enough."

Bryant A. Robinson, genealogical-minded son of Albert C., has recorded an intimate conversation with his father not long before his stroke and death, of which he writes; "I'm afraid my father did not have any close contact with his father as a boy. (Quite an understatement.) At that time his uncles were closer to him and tried to fill a father's place. Father several times unawares caught his mother crying secretly. He never heard her say one unkind thing about Joseph E. or in any way try to turn her children against him. He felt that her greatest desire was to be united with him.

Frequently Mary E. would gather her children with her in a private room, and they would take turns in family prayers. She taught them tithing and other principles of the Gospel and strongly impressed them with its truthfulness. They fasted on fast day until after the testimony meeting, which was always in the afternoon. She went to church regularly and worked in Relief Society and Primary. She was in several plays that my father can remember while she lived in Georgetown. When my father was on his mission to Belgium between 1897 and 1900, Mary E. was the one who always sent him money. She furnished the funds for my mother's passage to America and, when my parents were married in the Salt Lake Temple, Mary E. was a witness and helped Mother through as her daughter. She delivered many infants. My Uncle John B. helped her to our house in Farmington on January 8, 1904, when Carlos was born. (Carlos was the eldest son and second child.)

Amasa L. and "Susie" D. Clark have often remarked upon the delicious graham bread for which Mary E. won fame by baking after having been taught the values of whole wheat in the nursing course. Indeed, Uncle Amasa L. has asserted more than once that she saved his life and vitality when he was a sickly, delicate child, starting him on the way to robust health by changing and guiding his diet. He told the writer that frequently Mary E. would go to her children and fondle them while they slept, fearing to caress them too much while they were conscious, lest she spoil them. Perhaps she failed to distinguish between a display of affection, which frees and blossoms, and "permissiveness," which binds by stripping security and watchful guidance attention. Nevertheless, they felt her love and never doubted her devotion to them. She slipped out of mortal life, perhaps gladly, succumbing to that painful scourge cancer, exactly two months after her fifty-fourth birthday. Her daughter May was at her bedside that winter day of January 25, 1904. Her last request was that May postpone her marriage no longer than necessary, that she might build her own life and future. But May was not at rest until she could see to it that her beloved parents were sealed for eternity. Only then could she feel the "peace that passeth understanding." Then it was that the security she had lacked all her life descended upon her and the family, which had been for so long disrupted. As an "elocutionist," one of her favorite readings was the poem, "Not Understood." As we hear it again, echoing from past corridors of time, we realize anew why it meant so much to her and why she loved it.

Not Understood

"Not understood,
  We gather false impressions, and hold them closer as the years go by,
  Till virtues often seem to us transgressions---
  And thus men rise and fall and live and die,
    Not understood."

"Not understood,
  How trials often change us---the thoughtless sentence or the fancied slight
  Destroy long years of friendship, and estrange us,
  And on our souls there falls a freezing blight.
    Not understood."

"Not understood,
  How many hearts are aching for lack of sympathy; ah, day by day
  How many cheerless, lonely hearts are aching;
  How many noble spirits pass away
    Not understood."

"Oh God, that men would see a little clearer,
Or judge less harshly when they cannot see;
That men would draw to men a little closer,
They would be nearer Thee---
   And understood."

Author Unknown.

"I am sure Grandmother Clark Robinson must have been a very sweet, thoughtful, understanding, little person to have done all these things, and to have been loved by her children and respected so very much. Also to have been a midwife delivering all these sweet little babies that she did, and aiding the mothers as they used to do. My Grandmother delivered over two thousand babies, and went all over in her little buggy as I have heard my sweet little mother-in-law say her mother did. I feel very close to her for many similar reasons."

Mildred Bushnell Porter

This is from an autobiography by Alice Clark Steed:

"My half-sister, Mary Elizabeth, had a marked influence on my early life. I doubt if a sister ever lived that was more dearly loved or who was a greater help and blessing to the members of our two families than she. Perhaps it was her way of doing things and her understanding of our various problems that made her to us more than a sister.

"I used to string candlewick in the moulds and watch her pour the melted tallow. After standing overnight the candles were ready for use. She taught me to crochet and, best of all, to make her delicious whole wheat bread. This, with other health-giving ideas, no doubt has been a factor in our long living.

"Her patience seemed endless, as did her helpful suggestions. After her own children were older, she took the course in nursing from Dr. Ellis Ship. She was well adapted for this work as it furnished a broad field for service and experience.

"I accompanied her one time on a visit to the sick up in North Farmington. We were in a one-seated, two-horse buggy, and on our way home, coming down Bishop Hess's Hill (much steeper then), the horses became unmanageable. We both pulled on the lines for dear life, while she was praying aloud for our safety. At the foot of the hill, going over a bump, the tugs all came unhooked, and we both landed out on the tongue safe and sound. One of the boys came back with the team and took us home."

Louise Steed was kind, and gave this part to me.