Patty Sessions: The Pioneering Queen of Midwifery

BY ELIZABETH NAJIM, SYRACUSE CITY MUSEUM CURATOR

I have been fascinated with Patty Bartlett Sessions ever since I began working at the Syracuse Regional Museum as the Museum Curator. My roots stem back to Kansas, so I had never heard of her, nor was I ever well-versed in Utah’s rich Mormon history overall. Considering we have an artifact of hers, I did my research, so I could learn more about her and convey her importance in our museum display. What I did not realize was how strong, educated, loyal, and talented this woman was during her lifetime.

Originally born in Bethal, Maine, on February 4, 1795, Patty’s upbringing was not religious. At age seventeen, Patty married David Sessions, and immediately after the wedding, they moved in with his parents. It was there that Patty began her career as a midwife by arriving at an emergency birth before her mother-in-law, who was the midwife for the area. Being congratulated on her natural midwifery skills, Patty continued delivering children and eventually became the main midwife in the community.

In 1833, Patty converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Despite her stance against polygamy, she was sealed to Joseph Smith as one of his plural wives in 1842. Due to her religious beliefs, Patty and her family were driven out of the multiple places they resided (Maine, Missouri, and Illinois), until they finally landed in Salt Lake City on September 24, 1847. Her trek to Salt Lake City was no picnic: Patty was called by Brigham Young to partake in the pilot company. On her journey, she delivered nine babies on the Mississippi River and multiple more along the trek. Midwifery was not her only duty; Patty also baked, washed, ironed, picked and dried berries, sewed, held meetings, and doctored the sick (both medically and spiritually) all across the Plains and into the Rocky Mountains.

Patty Sessions thrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Not even a day after her arrival, she delivered the first white male baby in the valley. She lived in the area the rest of her life, continuing to act as the local midwife and even as a horticulturist and educator. In her lifetime, Patty delivered 3,977 babies (with “only two difficult cases”) from the Ogden to Salt Lake City areas. She made an average of $2 per birth and continued her midwife duties until she was 85. In addition, she tended to her farm, and her prized “SessionsPlums” she developed are still sold on the Utah market to this day. Her son, Perrigrine Sessions, founded the City of Bountiful.

Above: Patty’s copy of The Family Physician that’s on display at the Syracuse Museum. 2010.110.003

Patty died in Bountiful on December 14, 1893. Her life span covered almost a century, for had she lived fifty-three more days, she would have been ninety-nine years old. Her journals document the physical, social, and religious circumstances of the pioneers, especially of the women; they also serve as a primary source of birth records in the Latter-day Saint community during her lifetime of service. To this day, these documents are used by historians as a resource.

In the depths of my research, I decided to visit Patty’s grave at the Bountiful City Cemetery. There’s something special about visiting the burial sites of people who had quite an effect on the past, and while Patty’s life may not be important to those outside of Utah, the legacy she left behind in the Salt Lake Valley is insurmountable. Not only did she establish a schoolhouse (the Patty Sessions Academy) and create her own plum species, she also ushered in an entire generation of new Utahns in a time of unknowns. She truly was one of a kind.


Interested in learning more about Patty Sessions? Come see her artifacts and ask the docents more about her at the Syracuse Regional Museum.

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