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The Family File

Sarah Lavina Clark Knowlton
1866-1955

By Clark S. Knowlton

Sarah Lavina Clark Knowlton, the third child and second daughter among the ten children of Susan Leggett and Ezra T. Clark, was born in Farmington, September 27, 1866. Her mother, Susan Leggett, was an English immigrant to the United States. She first saw her husband at the age of 16. Ezra T. Clark was one of the missionaries who visited the Leggett home in Lowestoft, England, during and after their conversion to the Church. Her working class parents, caught up in the spirit of gathering to Zion, struggled to accumulate enough money to send a family member of Utah who then could assist the rest of the family to emigrate, a procedure followed by thousands of immigrant families migrating to the United States from the 1840's to the 1920's. It was not unusual for a family to send a girl first as the Leggetts did with Susan. Most families sent the father or an older son. Susan sailed from Liverpool, England, on April 4, 1861 at the age of 22, arriving in Salt Lake City some five months later on September 12, 1861. Ezra T. Clark, seeing her name listed among newly-arrived immigrants in the Deseret News, traveled to Salt Lake City with the permission of his first wife, Mary Stevenson Clark, to find her. He located her and brought her back to Farmington. They were married November 8, 1861.

Ezra T. Clark, at the time of his second marriage, was a thriving farmer and businessman well on his way to becoming one of the more important economic, religious, and political leaders of Farmington and of Davis County. He had sunk deep roots into the fertile soil of Farmington, buying land from those leaving the community. Ever loyal to the Church, he served many missions, sent members of his family with teams to bring immigrants across the plains to Salt Lake City, and financially assisted the passage of many more. Although he obeyed a call to help settle southern Idaho, he was able to send up sons to join the colonization effort that added to the family land holdings. He was able to avoid having to uproot his families, sell off his lands and businesses, and participated in the colonization of distant Mormon frontiers.

Farmington by the 1880's had grown into a mature agricultural and business Mormon community. The difficulties, dangers, and sacrifices of the pioneer period had long receded into the past. Linked by train and good wagon roads with Ogden and Salt Lake City, the inhabitants of Farmington participated fully in the Mormon culture of the Wasatch Front. Their farm products found a ready sale in Salt Lake City. Farmington children, after attending excellent local schools, could find employment in Salt Lake City or enroll in the readily-available institutions of higher learning in this region, than were in the more distant sections of the Mormon settlements.

Ezra T. Clark's two large families lived across the street from one another and practiced a family united order. The two wives got along well with each other, and their children grew up together. The Clark families enjoyed comfortable homes, good living standards, and church leaders and prominent men of affairs were glad to accept Ezra T. Clark's hospitality. Thus, Sarah Lavina Clark grew up in a stable and prosperous economic, religious, social and cultural environment that provided many opportunities for personal development.

As part of a large united polygamous family with many full and half brothers and sisters, she never suffered the feelings of loneliness, alienation, or rejection that characterize so many young people today. She never endured the traumatic experience of being uprooted several times in her life by family moves from one community or state to another. Surrounded by loving parents, brothers and sisters, and numerous friends, Sarah Lavina Clark grew up to be a spirited, self-reliant, happy, talented young lady who enjoyed her home life, acquired many domestic skills and intellectual interests, and was held in high esteem by the young people of Farmington.

Following in the footsteps of several brothers and sisters, Sarah, at the age of 17, enrolled at Brigham Young Academy, Provo, Utah, leaving her family for the first time. She attended the school from 1883 to 1884. Besides enjoying the stimulating intellectual and social life at the academy, she met and fell in love with a fellow student, Benjamin Franklin Knowlton Jr. who came from quite a different social environment. They were married in the Logan Temple on April 14, 1886.

Although the Benjamin Franklin Knowltons were living in Farmington at this time, they had recently moved from the ranch known as Delle in Skull Valley. Frank, having lost his mother Rhoda Richards Knowlton at the age of 16, grew up among cowmen and frontiersmen whose moral codes and personal behavior patterns differed sharply from those of the Mormon people in Farmington. Frank's father, Benjamin Franklin Knowlton, spent most of his life in the saddle as a rancher, scout and frontiersman. He played an active and courageous role in the Mormon Militia during the Utah War. Settling in Skull Valley to ranch with his older brothers George Washington and John Quincy Knowlton, his family experienced the harsh, primitive, frontier conditions of life on the isolated Skull Valley frontier with few of the cultural, religious or social opportunities common to Farmington. My father in describing their life writes:

"Benjamin and Rhoda and their older children (including Frank) were subject to more strenuous living conditions accompanied by fewer opportunities for cultural development than any of the generations of my family…extending right to the present time."

For many years the Knowltons prospered as ranchers until the 1880's when blizzards, depressions, over grazing, and unscrupulous businessmen brought the family to near poverty. Benjamin Franklin Knowlton, although continuing on a diminishing scale his ranching operations in Skull Valley, moved his family to a small farm on Burke Lane, Farmington, in 1880. In spite of the move, the economic conditions of the Knowlton family did not prosper. As Frank violated the Word of Wisdom and was not active in the Church, considerable tension developed between him and his father.

In commenting about the marriage between Sarah Lavina Clark and Benjamin Franklin Knowlton, Jr., my father writes:

"Even after these many years, I do not cease to wonder why a marriage was consummated between my father and mother with so many contrasts and so few similarities in their lives…? Moreover, why did Ezra T. Clark consent to such a marriage under these conditions?

"In answer to these questions, mother would readily reply that her father did not object to it, and that she would not have proceeded against his parental counsel…She was not only influenced by father's intelligent bearing and future promise as a young man…but she hoped that she would be able to reform him…As is so usual in these situations, the hopes were not realized."

For the first few years of their married life, they lived in Grantsville, Utah. As the ranching business did not prosper, they moved back to Farmington, taking up residence in a house north of the Knowlton farm. Frank farmed and worked at various jobs in and around Farmington without much success. Discouraged by his economic difficulties and the continued deterioration of his relationship with his father, he concluded in 1900 to leave his wife and seven children and try his luck in the Philippine Islands. The American Government was then recruiting American workers for construction projects in the newly-acquired islands.

Until 1902, Frank regularly sent home money to support his family. Then without any explanation, the money ceased to arrive. The family was thrown suddenly upon its own resources. After the sudden death of her mother in 1902, Sarah moved her family into her mother's home to live with Laura and Horace, who had not yet married. By taking in boarders and through the labor of family members and some assistance from relatives, the Knowlton family managed to survive. My father and his brother Richard often worked on farms far from home during the summer months, often receiving harsh treatment and minimal wages. As each of the children matured, they were forced to seek employment to sustain the family.

Those years were difficult ones for Sarah Clark Knowlton and her family. Although Sarah and her children were active in the Farmington Ward, rumors of Frank's misconduct in the Philippine Islands spread through Farmington in the 1900's, damaging the family's social position in the community. Not hearing from her husband, Sarah secured an uncontested divorce in 1905.

Because of her indomitable will, her pride, her faith, and her courage, Sarah's family, enduring the poverty, the malicious rumors, the social rejection, and an uncertain future, grew close together. Sarah dressed her children well. She took them to church with her every Sunday. She did what she could with little money to keep them in school. With little assistance from the outside, the family survived. She developed in her children strong testimonies, self-pride, and a strong drive to move up the socio-economic ladder. Poor they might be, looked down upon they might be, but they did not have to stay that way forever.

Sarah's love and faith in her children turned their home into a refuge from the dangerous uncertain world outside their doors. The mother and her children formed a tight family unit. But the older children paid a heavy price. Deprived of a normal childhood and adolescence by assuming the burdens of adulthood too early, their social and emotional development suffered.

As their economic and social prospects did not seem good in Farmington, Sarah in 1907 moved her family to Salt Lake City where the two oldest daughters, Hazel and Viola, had found employment. My father enrolled as a freshman at the University of Utah in the fall of 1908. But the greatest event that happened that year was when Frank Knowlton unexpectedly rejoined his family. He and Sarah remarried. Moving them back to Farmington, he tried to support his family by farming marginal dry land south of Burke Lane that Sarah had inherited from her father. In 1909, the youngest child, Stewart Hood Knowlton, was born. In spite of heavy financial investment in horses and equipment, the farming enterprise failed. Discouraged and uncertain what to do, Frank began to drink heavily. Finally he left home again to work as a practical civil engineer on the railroads in California in the Northwest. He tried to persuade his wife to join him in California with the younger children. Sarah was not willing to move to a state that at that time contained no organized wards or any church activity. Finally in 1917, Sarah divorced her husband again and moved permanently to Salt Lake City. She bought a home on Hampton Avenue in which she lived until her death in 1955.

By the 1920's, the family had basically won its struggle to survive in spite of recurring economic problems. Sarah's children were now reaching maturity and establishing lives of their own. At the cost of painful sacrifice, two daughters and three sons among eight children served missions, and three of the four boys graduated from the university. All four boys have had long honorable roles in the state. Two of the four girls married happily. Unfortunately the tenacious---never-ending---economic struggle affected the lives of two of the girls who were not able to escape unhappiness and tragedy. Most of her children and grandchildren were and are active in the Church. It is due to her tenacity, her faith, and to her indomitable spirit that her family has succeeded as well as it did. Her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren owe her an enormous debt that can only be repaid by loyalty to all that she stood for. And if dark days should ever afflict us, her example should give us courage to struggle and to persevere.

And now I would like to close with excerpts from a tribute delivered by my father in honor of his mother at the 1948 Ezra T. Clark Family Association meeting, which she attended.

"And now, Sarah Clark Knowlton, Mother, the hearts of your children and children's children are filled with gratitude for your life, for your accomplishments, for your triumphs over the obstacles and handicaps which you met undaunted, and unafraid, and for the preservation of your life through this, your eighty-first year. We are proud of you. We cherish your long life of devotion to your family. It is with great honor that we call you 'Mother.'

"How well we remember the days of our childhood. Especially those critical years when for so long you were called upon to carry upon your woman's shoulders the dual roll of parenthood. These were your greatest hours. How well do we remember the steeling of heart and hand and brain that came to you just as a Divine Providence seemingly always confers those manly attributes upon a noble mother left alone with only His help to protect her young from the cold, hard realities of a man-made, man-controlled world. How well we remember those womanly tears so sacred to us now, shed by such a mother whose tender nature, which, even with her newfound strength, still is so often sorely wounded as she stands foursquare to protect her offspring from the storms of life. In times of discouragement, frustration and doubt which came to your children during those tender years when they began to face life's stern impact, how well do we remember that resolute form, those shining eyes, as you grew to majestic heights in re-establishing in the hearts of your children faith, determination, and courage. We now can see you standing there during those critical times as resolute as the granite cliffs which stood to the east of your valley home and with the bright light of faith shining from your eyes, which to your children was as resplendent as the rays of the morning sun spreading their light along that mountainside. Today, how thankful we are for the privilege we had of being partners with you in that great adventure and of having the very warp and woof of our lives so greatly benefited thereby.

Then, when your children left your parental home for those of their own, what a sterling role you played. True to the highest traditions of noble womanhood, you made their sorrows and troubles your own. No road was too rough, no day too long for you to be at their side, to nurse with tender hand their sick and to ease their pain when death entered their homes. In that phase of your life you reached those heights, which are indeed the crowning glory of eternal womanhood.

And so we say that in a very special sense we owe to you all that is given to children upon this earth to owe to their mother. Tonight, before the representation of this illustrious family that through you we are a part and, in deep humility, we thank God for your long, noble and self-sacrificing life, and for the faith, devotion, and steadfastness you have always maintained toward the cause for which your parents pledged their all."

(Biographical sketch and tribute honoring Sarah Clark Knowlton presented by President Clark S. Knowlton at the annual Ezra T. Clark Family Organization, Inc. Reunion June 28, 1980 at Farmington Park, Farmington, Utah)