A Missionary Pioneer

by Katie Stanley

Sister Lydia Dunford Alder
Sister Lydia Dunford Alder

Born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in 1846, Lydia Dunford Alder was a pioneer to Salt Lake City, a women’s rights activist, and a writer.

However, her most important contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was her mission to England from 1899 to 1901. She served primarily in London, Sittingbourne, Stratford, and Watford, as well as in areas of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and France. Sister Alder’s mission paved the way for the leadership of the Church to realise the importance of sister missionary work.

Although women had occasionally done missionary work with their husbands since 1840, they were almost never formally called by Church leadership to serve until 1898.[1] Sister Alder was the first unmarried sister missionary older than thirty, and the first widowed sister missionary formally called to proselytize for the Church.[2]

Emmeline B Wells, who later served as the fifth General Relief Society President, wrote to Sister Alder on her mission emphasizing that she was a forerunner for future lady missionaries: “… lady missionaries are an experiment now and I want you to adapt yourself to conditions; do not get discouraged and come home.”[3]

While Sister Alder endured many hardships, including sickness, family deaths, and persecution for her faith, she wrote that she “loved the work”[4] and that “many people were converted.”[5]

Apostle George Q Morris, who served his mission with Sister Alder, wrote that she “did an excellent work withal, a better work than many a younger and stronger missionary.”[6] Sister Alder’s work convinced this future apostle that sister missionaries were a necessity for growing Zion. In a letter to her he wrote, “Since coming in touch with the work of the sister missionaries, I have always been an advocate for them. In most ways they stand equal to the brethren; in many ways they are able to do more than the brethren ordinarily are able to do.”[7]

1. Kunz, Calvin S., 'A History of Female Missionary Activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1898' (1976). Theses and Dissertations. 4858.
2. “A Spiritual Awakening,” Woman’s Exponent 28, nos. 6–7 (15 August and 1 September 1899): 44.
3. Alder, Lydia D. “Missionary Experiences,” Woman’s Exponent 39, no. 3 (September 1910): 19.
4. Alder, Lydia D. “Missionary Experiences.” Woman’s Exponent 39, no. 2 (August 1910): 11.
5. “Lady Missionaries Return,” Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), June 19, 1901.
6. George Q. Morris, “Mrs. Alder’s Letter from England,” Woman’s Exponent 30, no. 6 (November 1901): 43.
7. George Q. Morris, “Mrs. Alder’s Letter from England,”