Anaïse Guyot: The Girl They Left Behind

Early missionaries carried the gospel to many corners of the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, baptizing converts in neighborhoods where there was no established branch to sustain them. Even when branches were organized, members often gathered to Zion within a few years. What happened to the Saints who were left behind when most of their brethren emigrated and the missionaries moved on?

I’ve written before (here and here and here) about Julie Desaules Desaules, whose family joined the Church in Switzerland in 1853, and most of whom emigrated in 1854 and 1855. Remaining behind were Julie’s sister Eusébie and her family, who intended to follow in a year or two, but who never quite got ready to leave. They eventually lost their affinity for Mormonism and returned to their Protestant roots.

Also left behind was Julie’s 11-year-old niece, Anaïse Guyot, and 10-year-old nephew, Louis Philippe Guyot. Their father had not joined the Church; their mother had long been confined to an asylum for the mentally ill. The children nominally lived with their father but spent most of their time with Julie and her husband François. Both Anaïse and Philippe had been baptized.

Julie and François intended to bring the children with them when they emigrated. Their father had given permission, the local government authorities had given permission, and the children’s names were listed on François’ passport, issued only days before the family was to depart. But at the last possible moment, the children’s father withdrew his permission, and Julie and François had to leave without them.

Without Julie and François to care for them, the children were more or less abandoned. Their father could not provide a real home for them, and apparently other family members were reluctant, for whatever reason, to take them in. They were placed in the custody of the Swiss state, which boarded them with private families.

Julie wrote to the children from Utah but apparently received little news of the children for many years. Finally, in 1876, Anaïse wrote to Julie and brought her up to date on her life. Here is what happened to one little Mormon girl, left behind when she could not go to Zion:

23 October 1876

When I left you, I had to wander in the world. Aunt Eusébie didn’t want to keep us anymore because she wasn’t paid enough. They took us to Boudevilliers where I didn’t do very well. They boarded us cheap. I was at two places where I went hungry. I no longer had an Aunt Julie who had been to me as a mother, to tell my little troubles to. At one place my brother and I were together. In the mornings we went outside – if we could see a single chimney of Saules we were happy. When there was something that gave me grief I carried it all to God; it was He who was my guardian, my support. How I prayed! and God heard my prayer. At Boudevilliers they put me with a woman where I was very unhappy and I was mistreated. I was like a dumb animal – when anyone met me, they saw me with my hands folded and my head bowed. They said, “Here comes the crazy girl!” I said, “No! I am not crazy. God will not allow that.” I always prayed. One evening when I had been beaten so that I no longer knew where I was, I asked myself what I was going to do. I no longer had my Aunt Julie, but I had God. I knelt to pray, and God heard my prayer. The next morning before noon, someone came to tell me, “Anaïse, come live with us,” where I did very well. Nobody ever knew anything. I didn’t dare say anything for fear that they would beat me. Since then I have seen that God was with me. He has not abandoned me – he never has so far. …

I am doing well; my health is good. I cannot thank God enough, when I am obliged to earn my living, for what he does. I have been very fortunate in my places. I have been at Aimé Desaules’ for ten years. He remarried after ten years and I had to leave, but I am not doing badly now. I keep house for two gentlemen, two bachelors, who share rooms and are not much trouble.

Regarding my mother: She still lives, still the same. I went to see her; she didn’t recognize me. She always tells me to bring my mother with me. Aunt Sophie was there; she told her, “It’s Anaïse, it’s your daughter.” She didn’t respond at all, and she told me again to bring my mother with me and to come every two weeks. It’s sad to see a mother like that. It had been 21 years since I had seen her. If there hadn’t been someone there whom I knew, they would have had to point her out to me.

My brother is doing well, with his little family. He has four children. He is always traveling. Things are going well temporally – he does his business well. Spiritual things are not so well; it is too bad that he doesn’t pay enough attention to the things of God. …

Remember me. I embrace you from the heart and the love of the Lord who will gather us one day. I remain always, your devoted niece,

Anaïse Guyot

9 comments for “Anaïse Guyot: The Girl They Left Behind

  1. Heartbreaking that she was left behind and had to endure physical, emotional, and mental abuse at the hands of cruel people. I am glad she felt that God was looking out for her.

  2. Thank you, Ardis. These are precious items from Mormon history abroad. Thousands of baptized members in the 19th (and 20th century) never went to Zion, and led lives we know too little about. It’s a chapter in our history – the lonely pioneers who stayed behind – that has still be to studied and told. Sources will often be inexistant, unless these people wrote to family or friends in Zion and letters have been kept. Thanks for finding those jewels.

  3. Ardis, this is interesting, but begs for more. It’s almost like I expect you to start a “get Ms. Guyot to Zion” fund. Sadly, we are a little late for that.

  4. This is sad, and sweet, and poignant, and really different. So many of the emigration stories are all about the happy family making its way to the New World. This is a nice, sad counterpoint.

    Roads not taken. If only they had gotten out before permission was withdrawn. If only.

  5. So many of the emigration stories are all about the happy family making its way to the New World.

    huh? That’s a new one. Most of the emigration stories I’ve heard are about misery, families splitting up because some believe and want to come while others hate the Mormons and stay behind, physical, emotional, and spiritual adversity and toil, and at the end of the road, a home in the desert. Sure, there’s the ardent belief in Zion but I haven’t really heard any emigration stories of happy families making the trip. Just stories of conflict, struggle, and unbridled religious optimism and hope.

  6. I suppose what Kaimi meant, john f., was the sense of triumph (superiority, even?) present in so many of our emigration stories — yes, the road was tough, the tougher the better, but just look! we made it, despite everything nature and man and the devil could throw at us! we’re special! The traveling wasn’t happy, but our triumph is sweet. Usually.

    Thanks, all, for your comments and your sympathy for Anaise, despite all the time that has bone by. In the past few months, Wilfried has taught me to be alert for the stories of local church members and the life of the church abroad apart from the usual missionary-focused narrative. I printed out Anaise’s letter for a young woman who has helped me before with the temple work for this Swiss project, and she will be doing the work for Anaise sometime in the next few weeks — it’s too late for an emigration fund to do any good, but not too late for everything.

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