Sarah Jane Bartholomew History

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by Lucile C. Tate (Sarah Jane's third daughter)

The life of Sarah Christenson is significant not only for its qualities of self discipline, creative skill, practical faith, active humanity, and youthful daring; but also because in actual experience she has crossed the time-bridge between the pioneer era and the space age with both mind and spirit in step.

Sarah was born in Fayette, Utah, September 8, 1875, when that Mormon settlement was far removed from the bustling growth of Salt Lake City, and was essentially dependent upon its own resources for all commodities. Her father was called to serve as bishop two years later, a position he held until his death in 1914. There were nine children and they learned early to work. Food was raised, hunted, or fished for, and then dried, smoked, or pickled for preservation. Sheep's wool was sheared, carded, spun, dyed, and woven into clothing and household articles. Furniture was made, rugs braided and tacked over straw-matting for comfort and wear. Soap, starch, flour, and sweets were all home prepared.

When death came to the community, the bishop fashioned the coffin from well-seasoned wood, and his wife lined it with quilted cotton. Tithing was paid to the church in produce which often went to feed the ever-present Indian, and later, when the Manti Temple was built, this tithing-food was carried to feed the laborers who donated their time to its building.

In this home, at the age of eight, Sarah's responsibility of doing dishes began. She hated the task, and with good reason; but without whining, she carried water from the irrigation ditch, heated it on the wood-burning stove, and with lye soap, brick shavings, and coarse muslin toweling, washed, scoured, and dried. When she visited or played, her freedom was restrained by a younger child to tend or an inevitable stocking to knit. Such early discipline prepared her for challenges to come.

When she married Andrew B. Christenson, the promising young college graduate from a neighboring town and accompanied him to his first school position in Kanab, Utah, their honeymoon trip was on an open hay-rack upon which their few belongings jostled as they drove a team across the hot, dusty, primitive "road."
Later, after the birth of a son and daughter, and Andrew's acquisition of a Master's degree at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, she stayed in Provo while her husband went to German for further study. While he was gone, their third child was born and Sarah boarded students, took classes at the Brigham Young University herself, and nursed her first born during his fatal illness. He died of diptheria before his father could return home.

The next six years were spent in Salt Lake City, where Andrew served as principal of the L.D.S. High School. Two more children were born; at 17 months, the little girl accidently drowned. To help assuage their grief and to enable Andrew to continue his studies, they sold their home, and with three children, left for Europe. In preparation, Sarah had managed a large strawberry patch, the help-hiring, picking, and crating of berries. Her earnings were used in Europe purchasing treasured items for the many houses she was to transform into homes.

Their travels took them to Oxford for an idyllic summer; school for him, shopping trips and countryside walks with the children, visits to famous land-marks, boat rides on the Isis are still bright memories. They visited relatives in Denmark. They lived in Germany where the two older children went to school. Another son was born in Leipzig and christened Luther. After completing his courses there, Andrew left for a six week's course at the Sorbonne in Paris, and for his last week, Sarah joined him. Returning to Leipzig, they made ready to leave for the States. A day before time to leave, the baby was stricken with pneumonia. Through prayer and the skill of a kind German doctor, the child was healed and made the long return trip without further harm.

Andrew, with his new professorship, taught at Brigham Young University for the next four years, at which time he received a church call to head Ricks Academy (now College). That same year a daughter was born. Four more years passed and with their passing, the taxing routine and confinement of administrative work, coupled with a long-cherished dream for further research, prompted him to leave his profession temporarily for investment and speculation. He hoped, thereby, to hasten the time to an early retirement and the freedom to probe the fields of ancient language and archeology, with a view to a scholarly substantiation of the Book of Mormon's authenticity. Being a scholar and teacher, not a businessman, his dream did not materialize; instead, they retreated from him. His health broke, and he died.

As his dreams retreated, so, of nessecity, did Sarah's. The secure, well-ordered, and stimulating life as a college administrator's wife were no longer for her, and her disappointment must be swallowed up in the next pressing problem and the next challenging task.

Andrew left no financial resources, in fact, Sarah had long since turned to her sewing skill to supplement the income. The oldest child was married. The two older boys had filled missions in Germany, which her sewing had paid for. Now they and her fourteen year old son struck out on their own. With two remaining daughters, Sarah faced her world, a widow, the family's sole means of support.

Weary with constant moving, insecurity, and lack of sure direction, she had earlier borrowed money for the down payment of a large old home on Main Street in Salt Lake City, and there continued her profitable sewing business. Upon her husband's death, she added to her business the boarding and rooming of teachers from the nearby high school. Her veal cutlets and lemon meringue pie, her freshly painted rooms with airy curtains and snowy linen, her yard with its varied blooms and straight-rowed garden gave to these people a sense of home perhaps more poignant than the homes they'd left--a fact attested to by their visits to her thirty years later.

Her days were long and demanding often continuing late into the night, but she never left her girls for outside employment; instead, she yet found time and energy to walk with them the mile to Liberty Park, or ride the street car to the "end of the line." On Saturday nights, part of Sunday's dinner was prepared, best clothes were pressed and polished, and the house left in order. The next day, the week's problems and struggles were laid aside, and the beautiful, reflective spirit of the Sabbath was kept. It was then she attended church and read to her girls -- or tried to -- for she Inevitably nodded and dozed, and they, sensing her need for rest, wandered to some comfortable nook to revel in the peace of the day.

Sarah had managed her sewing business and boarding house for several years, when her married daughter became seriously ill. (The younger girls were now away, one in nursing the other doing window displays for a clothing store.) So Sarah, after careful deliberation and by mutual agreement of all concerned, went into the daughter's home to help care for five small grandchildren. She is still part of that home.

From the early days of her marriage, she has been a participating member of her church's auxiliary for women, the Relief Society. As she many times served as its president, no means are available to measure her humanity through this organization in visiting, service hours, giving, and sharing with people in need.
More readily observable is her life-long trait of personal giving. From her garden and kitchen and sewing room were raised, cooked, or fashioned the materials for her generosity. The bouquet of flowers, the spicy pan of cinnamon rolls, or the embroidered pillow case that always has a way of finding the new mother, the shut-in, or the grandchild.

While home and Sarah are nearly synonymous, her mind seeks the new, the young, the present. Even now she studies the current fashions and keeps her wardrobe abreast of the day within the bounds of her maturity. Skirts must be of proper length, colors becoming, accessories right. Her most welcome visitors are her grandchildren and their friends, who spoil her with gay gifts and delight her with their chatter of ski trips, school schedules, and romance. Though her eyes are poor and a magnifying glass aids her vision, she scans the daily paper, following the course of astronauts, the campaigns of politicians, and the flow of general news. From these she forms positive opinions which she candidly discusses with those around to listen. She is a faithful voter, and learns about him for whom she votes. Her church lessons must always be read, assignments prepared, and questions formulated.

Through her complete life, she has exhibited a sense of adventure and daring. She relished the many travels with her husband and was not daunted by the inconveniences which the small children presented. Later, in the home of her daughter, she was given opportunity to chaperone a granddaughter who was to study for a year in New York, and at the age of seventy-two, actually went. While there, she kept the apartment, prepared the meals, served as Manhattan Ward Relief Society counselor, and audited an American Literature class at Columbia University. Four years ago she accompanied a daughter's family on a ten-day camping trip, and took active part in the camp cooking, picture taking, and sight-seeing.
Now at eighty-six she walks with a cane and her hands tremble, but her eyes flash as she goes where we think she cannot go and does what we think she cannot do. Last week, solicitous of her health, It was suggested that she "skip" attendance -- involving a hundred miles of night travel -- at Provo High's performance of "The Merchant of Venice," of which a granddaughter was student director. She made the trip, and her greeting to the young girl was, "Susie, I didn't let you down."

Such is the indomitable discipline, skill, faith, humanity, and daring of the young eighty-six year old woman known as Sarah Christenson, mother and friend to countless people. Her long journey from pioneer times to the space age has left its marks upon her body, but her spirit and mind are as alert and eager as when, in her youth, she faced the life she has so successfully lived.

[Sarah Jane Bartholomew Christenson died in 1966 at the age of 89.]



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