For nearly seventy years, the only women who served missions for the LDS Church did so in the company of their husbands. Separate from the men’s role as spreaders of the gospel message, women on missions customarily kept house, raised children, and cooked for the crowds of missionaries who often congregated in their homes. It wasn’t until 1865 that women leaving for mission fields with their husbands were set apart as missionaries, but even this did not signal a change of expectations or roles.
Initially, Mildred Randall's experience was little different from other sisters who accompanied their husbands on their missionary journeys. Mildred was the third wife of Alfred Randall, and after they wed in 1860 he married two more women in polygamy. In 1865, Mildred became one of the first LDS women formally set apart as a missionary when she was assigned to accompany Alfred to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), where Alfred would help manage the Church plantation in Laie and Mildred would teach school. She sold her home to pay for the trip, gave her furniture to friends, and was soon on her way.
“I am on a foreign mission, and the first woman who has ever been sent on such a mission without her husband. I consider it a great privilege and shall endeavor to do all the good I can while here.”
The trip began with the Randalls and several other missionaries taking a six-week journey in freight wagons to a station where they could catch a train to Sacramento. From there, they took a steamer to San Francisco, where they boarded the D.G. Murray and set sail for the islands on June 23, 1865. The group arrived in Honolulu on July 6, where they transferred to a schooner to travel to Laie, on the other side of the island. Martha Louisa Dilworth Nebeker, the wife of the mission president traveling with the group, described the end of their journey:
“We lay to about one mile out at sea, taking turns in going ashore, each one of us having to jump from the schooner to a small fishing boat (as the waves would wash the two boats together) and were then rowed ashore. After all had landed, thirty-five of us, taking all day, we started for the plantation house, going seventeen of us at a time in a large ox cart.”
Mildred soon set about organizing a small plantation school for the native children and another for the foreign children, but within two months her husband had left the islands to return to Utah, leaving Mildred alone in the mission field. She remained there and taught until she was released by Brigham Young more than a year later.In her letter of release, President Young told Mildred that her “faithfulness and diligence in staying there after [her] partner returned home and doing all the good that [she] could to benefit the people and help the mission, [was] appreciated, and we feel to bless you therefore.”
While independent service of that nature was already highly unusual for an LDS woman, Mildred soon had the distinction of being the first woman to be officially set apart for a mission without her husband: In 1873, she was called to again teach at the plantation school in Hawaii while Alfred stayed home in Utah.
“I do not feel at all discouraged,” Mildred wrote her sister from the islands. “I am on a foreign mission, and the first woman who has ever been sent on such a mission without her husband. I consider it a great privilege and shall endeavor to do all the good I can while here.”
On her second mission to the Sandwich Islands, Mildred supported herself with the proceeds from her school. She told her sister early in 1874 that, though running the school was not without difficulties, “my school has increased in number and … I feel more encouraged."
"The work,” she wrote, “is progressing on the islands.”
Mildred’s second mission lasted three years; she sailed back to the United States on June 20, 1876.
When Mildred Randall passed away in 1913, she was remembered in connection with her service in Laie: Historian Andrew Jensen noting her passing thus: “Mrs. Mildred E. Randall of Hawaiian mission fame, died in Salt Lake City, 85 years old.”