Note: Material for this column was collected primarily from a July 17 Mormon Land podcast featuring guest historians Jennifer Reeder and Elizabeth Kuehn and churchhistorianspress.org.
Quick. Name two prominent women in early LDS Church history.
Let’s see, there’s Emma Smith and uh, uh, uh. Just a minute. Let me think…
Oh yeah. Eliza R. Snow.
Most of us know the name of Eliza R. Snow as the author of the popular hymn “O My Father.”
However, her profound life, writings, teachings, and influence go much deeper, broader, and wider than the four verses of Hymn No. 292.
The discourses of Eliza Roxcy Snow, who served as the second president of the Relief Society, are gathered from more than one thousand organizational minute books, newspapers, and personal journals.
Granted, minute books of most any organization is enough to create instant and permanent insomnia. But, thanks to the diligent efforts of historians Jennifer Reeder and Elizabeth Kuehn we now have an up close and personal view of one of the strongest women to firmly grasp the truths of the restored gospel.
The discourses of Eliza R. Snow, a true leader and champion of women, are now collected in one place and published on the Church website.
Born in Massachusetts in 1804, she moved with her family to the Ohio frontier.
Her parents raised her a Baptist and she developed a strong interest in religion at a young age. She later changed faiths to Reformed Baptists and then Disciples of Christ/Campbellites when she wrote that she hoped to live in the same day as prophets.
Eliza loved poetry and became a proficient writer. She strengthened her writing craft as a secretary to her dad who served as the local justice of the peace.
Her initial form of public discourse was poetry and newspapers in Ohio, Illinois, and later Utah published her poems.
“Among her earliest orations were poems composed for a local debating association in Illinois and for the Polysophical Society and the Literary Musical Society in early Utah Territory,” says the web site at churchhistorianspress.org.
Although Eliza developed into an articulate public speaker as she traveled throughout Utah and Idaho visiting countless ward and stake Relief Societies, oration was not a natural talent for her.
She saw the potential and power of women, building special rapport with young mothers. Eliza consistently pushed women of the Church to read good books and to become educated.
Unfortunately, it is highly possible that Eliza was gang raped by mobsters in Missouri. While her poetry from that era reflects the deep wounds of that vicious crime, she never mentioned it directly in her written works or public speeches.
Eliza, who was a plural wife of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, staunchly defended plural marriage when the federal government restricted polygamy and eventually seized Church property.
She felt strongly that plural marriage was a matter of religious freedom and argued that viewpoint publicly during the latter years of the 19th century.
Today’s Latter-day Saints may very well be shocked at some of the common practices of this spiritual leader. She gave healing blessings and often spoke in tongues that were interpreted by Zina Young.
Eliza definitely marched to beat of a different drummer. She requested that no black be worn at her funeral.
After her 1887 death, the Assembly Hall on Temple Square was decked in white drapery with white flowers for her funeral.
If you are sincerely interested in broadening your scope and understanding of early Church history, take time to read and study the life of Eliza R. Snow.
Charlie Roberts and his wife Janna are currently serving in the Zambia Lusaka Mission from their Tooele Valley home for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.