Laura R Ostler and Dr. James A Toronto, Asian and Near Eastern Languages
Even before September 11, 2001 exploded the region onto global consciousness, the Middle East had a special fascination for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church doctrine ties modern Saints with ancient Israel. The “gathering of Israel” is a topic commonly discussed in formal and informal LDS gatherings. In fact, this interest has existed since the Church began; a Latter-day Saint dedicated the Holy Land only a few years after the Church was officially organized.
Despite the Church’s special interest in the Middle East, not many members realize that there was an LDS mission in Turkey, Syria, Greece, and Palestine for several decades, from 1884 to 1950. The mission stretched from Constantinople to Jerusalem, and included Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Germans, Kurds, Syrians, Turks, and others.
One LDS man in particular was very influential in this mission, serving three missions and nearly eighteen years in the region. He eventually died and was buried in Aleppo, Syria during his second term as a mission president. Joseph Wilford Booth (known by either his first or middle name) left behind him extensive daily journals, detailing his experiences as an LDS missionary from 1898 to his death in 1928. His journals are remarkable for their eloquence and richness of detail. At the time of writing, Brigham Young University professor Dr. James A. Toronto and graduate student David Charles are preparing the J. Wilford Booth journals for publication. They have recently published several articles focusing on the role of Wilford Booth in Middle Eastern missions.1
While this recent attention on Wilford Booth sheds valuable light on a fascinating period and individual in Church history, another figure intimately connected with this history has been largely overlooked. Wilford Booth’s wife, Mary Rebecca Moyle Booth (who was known as “Reba”), accompanied him on his second and third missions, herself a missionary for the Church. Like her husband, Reba kept daily journals of her experiences. These journals have emerged for scholarly investigation only in the last decade, and they paint a detailed picture of a female missionary’s experience in Turkey and Syria in the early part of the 20th century.
Two journals written by Reba Booth are housed in the Church’s Historical Archives in Salt Lake City, Utah. The first of these journals, Daily Journal of Mrs. Mary R. Booth, 1904-1906, covers part of the period of Reba’s first mission in the Middle East. The second journal, Record of Travling, Ect, 1923-1927, traces her travels to and experiences in the Middle East during her third mission.
In order to make Reba’s journals more accessible to readers and scholars, I transcribed them. In accordance with the transcription policies of BYU’s L. Tom Perry Special Collections, this meant reproducing the journals as exactly as possible, line by line and page for page. That is, one page of Reba’s journals was reproduced on exactly one page of typed transcription.
After I completed transcribing the 700 pages of Reba’s journals, my transcriptions were checked against the originals to ensure accuracy. I then took these suggested revisions, checked them against the originals again, and made any necessary changes. Transcriptions of the journals will soon be given both to the Church Historical Archives and BYU’s L. Tom Perry Special Collections, as well as published with my honors thesis.
In addition to transcribing Reba’s journals, I undertook an analysis of their contents as part of my honors thesis. This thesis analyzes several roles that Reba played during her mission to the Middle East, particularly as portrayed in her journals. Her own writings show that she acted as an example of faithfulness, domestic efficiency, and a dedicated teacher. Various experiences recorded in her journals support my contention that these were significant roles for Reba Booth and the people she served.
I had initially hoped to provide annotated transcriptions of Reba’s journals, including translations of the occasional Armenian and Turkish passages included in the journals. I had hoped also to provide historical information and cultural notes to accompany the journals. However, the transcriptions took much more time than I had anticipated. I decided instead to focus on completing the transcriptions and analyzing what the journals tell us about Reba.
In addition to providing personal information, Reba’s journals provide valuable information about a variety of activities. They will prove a significant resource for scholars studying topics as varied as early LDS female missionaries, the development of Primaries, Armenian culture in pre- and post-World War I Turkey, and the establishment of foreign missions. They also provide the lay reader with a fascinating look into one woman’s experience in the Middle East.
My own experience getting to know Reba Booth has been very rewarding. I hope to continue researching her life and missions, with particular emphasis on the material contained in her journals. Although I was not able to complete an annotation of the journals for this project, I plan to do so in the future.
1 See Toronto’s “Early Missions to Ottoman Turkey, Syria, and Palestine,” Out of Obscurity: The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000). See also Charles’ “‘You Had the Alps, But We the Mount of Olives’: Mormon Missionary Travel in the Middle East (1884-1928),” Mormon Historical Studies 1.1 (2000): 93- 126, and Charles’ “The Day the ‘Sons of Mohamed’ Saved a Group of Mormons,” BYU Studies 40.4 (2001): 237- 54.