Elvira Barney Stevens was born March 17, 1832 to Samuel Cunnabell Stevens and Minerva Field Stevens in Gerry, Chautauqua, New York. Her father was a merchant and her mother was a school teacher. Elvira and her family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1845, when Elvira was 13 yeas old, and soon after moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. Both of Elvira's parents died in Nauvoo, leaving Elvira and her siblings in poverty; however, the children traveled to Utah with the Saints, and Elvira obtained the education necessary to be a school teacher. She was called on a mission to the Sandwich Islands, and traveled part of the way there with her sister, Jane Lewis, who was going to a settlement in San Bernadino. Eliza was in the Sandwich Islands from March of 1851 to November of 1852, teaching the natives about the gospel, giving them some basic education, and learning their language. After completing her mission, Elvira traveled to San Francisco and lived there for three years working as a seamstress and raising chickens to pay the note for her passage and to make a living. In 1856 she began teaching school in San Bernardino, California. She returned to Utah in 1857, making the 700-mile journey on horseback. When she arrived in Utah, she began teaching school again. From 1855 to 1864, Eliza took four homeless children into her care. Elvira had long desired to become a doctor, and in 1863 she went to Illinois to study medicine at Wheaton College. When she returned to Utah, she taught classes in anatomy, physiology, and obstetrics. She also adopted a baby boy, in 1873, for whom she provided 11 years. Eliza was married to Royal Barney, Jr.; however there is little information available about their relationship. Some sources state that their marriage occurred on January 6, 1866 in Salt Lake City. Elvira died January 12, 1909.
This collection consists of a two-page biography of Elvira, a short note from Emmeline B. Wells dated 1892, a cousin's calling card, an invitation, a pale green lace ribbon, and a love letter to Elvira from her husband. Elvira labeled all of the items in the collection in pencil, except the biography, and gave some comments on what they meant to her. The biography was photocopied out of Our Pioneer Heritage (volume 6, pages 386-389) from the chapter on women doctors. Rather than being a comprehensive history of Elvira's life, the biography focuses on Elvira's professional accomplishments and her public service; she taught school, wrote a pamphlet on sericulture, advanced a loan of fifty dollars to establish the homemade straw hat industry, traveled in the interests of the Woman's Exponent, and served on a committee for the LDS Grain Association. She also taught classes in anatomy, physiology, and obstetrics. The biography does not give any information about Elvira's husband or her marriage.