"I see faith as a ...quality of the God-like. To act effectively, to create, one must behave positively. One must DO. One must move ahead as if success were already a part of the story. Confident. Sure. Unwavering. So, I shall try to instill this idea into the attitudes of those I love—at least those I love and am responsible for. This last phrase is the catch! I seem to feel ‘responsible’ for an increasing number of folks as the years progress. Some people collect cats. I collect people." (1)
Elaine Cannon might be most-well known for serving as the eighth Young Women’s General President for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But her life’s work extended far beyond the six years she served in that calling.
Elaine was born April 9th, 1922. She was the second child to join Minnie and Aldon Anderson’s Salt Lake City, Utah-based family. Elaine was a precocious child, with a flair for the dramatic. In high school, she joined the debate team. This was the start of a very involved public speaking career. Starting in the 1950’s, she gave several talks a month (often several a week). This pattern continued until she died.
The start of her writing life occurred in the sixth grade when she began writing daily in her journal. She published over 70 books in her lifetime. Much of her writing treated Gospel topics or Church history. One of her books was a work of historical fiction about Minerva Teichert entitled Minerva!
The third significant part of Elaine’s life, and the one she most highly prized—her family life—had its beginnings the summer after she turned fourteen. This was the summer she met Donald James ‘Jim’ Cannon, son of Sylvester Q. Cannon. A few years passed before they met again, this time one year prior to Jim leaving on an LDS mission to Hawaii. While Jim served in the Hawaiian islands, Elaine worked towards a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Utah.
Shortly after Jim returned the two became engaged. They were married in March of 1943. Interestingly, through marriage Elaine would have been the great-niece of Martha Hughes Cannon. Together, Jim and Elaine raised six children: James, Carla, Christine, Susan, Holly, and Tony.
Her third child, a daughter named Christine, was accidentally switched with another baby at the hospital the day she was born. Through the impressions of the Spirit, Elaine knew that this unfortunate mistake had occurred and was able to eventually inform the director of the hospital about it. After a brief investigation, the director of the hospital saw that Elaine’s intuition was spot on and he corrected the mistake. Elaine and Jim had their daughter restored to them, and they named her Christine to remember how the Lord had helped them that day.
Before motherhood Elaine began writing professionally. She had already published in many newspapers by the time she was a college sophomore, but it was during this time that she was hired to write for the Salt Lake Telegram. Soon, she was offered a job to work for Deseret News.
She continued to work as a writer in the early days of the creation of her family. She would wake up before her children did so that she could write. She contributed columns to The Improvement Era, a church-sponsored magazine that later became The New Era. As her professional life continued to become more focused she developed a niche as a writer for teens. She published in such magazines as Seventeen Magazine and was recognized nationally for her efforts with teens.
This work paved the way for the call to become General Young Women’s President that came to her in 1978. While serving as president she started the annual YW’s general meetings. She also instituted Sunday classes for Young Women.
Throughout her life, and throughout her roles as leader, writer, wife, and mother, Elaine had one goal: to make a difference. In 1975 she was in Arizona speaking to an audience of college students. There she said:
“I want you to know the most important thing about my life: though I’m well-married and blessed with a beautiful family, the most important thing that I have is my testimony of the Savior... I know that He lives... In my heart burns this great desire to help our Heavenly Father’s children draw close to Him... I feel that the greatest thing that I can do for mankind is to bear my testimony about the Savior and tell you that whatever else I say tonight, whatever words might come forth, this is what I’m talking about. Christ lives. He is the only way to live.” (2)
Poetic Licenses Taken in the Film
While we do know that Elaine used a typewriter (see her photo), we don’t know if her husband ever accidentally purchased a broken one.
We also don’t know if Elaine liked jazz music.
Elaine’s last line, “That was one of the two most important days in my daughter’s life.
The day she was born, and the day she finds out why,” is a direct quote from this
Questions Elaine Inspired Us to Ask
What does being a mother in Zion mean?
Of all of the responsibilities associated with motherhood, which are the most important?
How do you keep God at the center of your role as mother?
Quotations used in the Biography
1. Metcalf, Holly C. Love’s Banner: Memories of the Life of Elaine Cannon. Kenmore, WA: Lamb and Lion
Publishing, 2010. pg. 131
2. Ibid, pg. 12
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