by Jill Mulvay Derr
St. George Tabernacle
March 24, 2004
Co-sponsored by Val Browning Library, Dixie State College
St. George, Utah
and the Obert C. Tanner Foundation
Juanita Brooks was a professor at [then] Dixie College for many years and became a well-known author.
She is recognized, by scholarly consent, to be one of Utah’s and Mormondom’s most eminent historians. Her total honesty, unwavering courage, and perceptive interpretation of fact set more stringent standards of scholarship for her fellow historians to emulate. Dr. Obert C. and Grace Tanner had been life-long friends of Mrs. Brooks and it was their wish to perpetuate her name through this lecture series. Dixie State College and the Brooks family express their thanks to the Tanner Family.
by Jill Mulvay Derr
Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-Day Saint History, Brigham Young University
In 1885, when Eliza R. Snow penned her life sketch for historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, she recalled with pride the extensive travels that for seventeen years had defined, in part, her work with the women’s Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I have traveled from one end of Utah Ter. to the other—into Nevada & Idaho, in the interests of these organizations—have organized hundreds of the Young Ladies’ and Primary Associations since their introduction,” she wrote.1 Known among Latter-day Saints during the 1830s and 1840s as a poet and writer of hymn texts, Eliza Snow, in the 1850s and 1860s, officiated in women’s sacred ordinances in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City and became known as “priestess.” Through the 1870s and 1880s, she stepped outside the Holy House to labor in local wards with women, young women and children and serve not only as Relief Society president, but “President of the Latter-day Saint Women’s Organizations,” and “the recognized leader of the women of the Latter-day Saints.”2 She was a shepherd who knew her flock of women and children and they knew her. For nearly twenty years, like an itinerant preacher, she visited them unceasingly. Her five-month sojourn in Southern Utah during the winter of 1880-81 is an illuminating example of her movable ministry and pastoral outreach.
“I spent the Autumn & Winter of 1880-1 in St. George, officiating in the Temple for the dead, and visiting and organizing Associations in that interesting City, and adjacent country—having traveled one thousand m[ile]s by team over jolting rocks and through bedded sand, occasionally camping out at night on long drives,” Eliza wrote in her life sketch.3 Except for her nine-month trip to Europe and the Holy Land in 1872-73, the southern tour comprised the longest time and distance she traveled away from Salt Lake City, and she never forgot it. Nor did those whom she visited forget. “One of the most unforgettable things of my life was when Eliza R. Snow came to Cedar City in 1880 to organize a Primary Association,” Violet Lunt Urie recalled.4 The southern tour, executed at the height of Eliza’s ministry among Latter-day Saint women and children, provides significant insights into both the minister and her ministry. No Eliza Snow diary for this period has yet come to light, nor do we have more than three or four of the many letters she wrote from St. George. Nevertheless, newspaper articles, rich local minutes, and personal diaries and reminiscences of Dixie Saints furnish a fascinating picture of Eliza at the apex of her formal and informal power.
Eliza first visited the southern settlements in 1864 in company with Brigham Young and a large group of family members and church leaders.5 Though Brigham Young went to southern Utah at least a dozen more times before his death in 1877, Eliza did not accompany him. After 1868, when Brigham Young called her to help bishops organize Relief Societies and then to preach to women, she traveled extensively, accompanied by other leading women, first moving northward as far as the Cache and Malad valleys and, by 1878, venturing as far south as Manti. But the settlements south of Nephi, along the route that is now Interstate 15, did not see her until she spent five months there during 1880-81. After that, she never again crossed the southern rim of the Great Basin.
Eliza did not make the 1880-81 trip south alone, but in the company of her dear friend Zina Diantha Huntington Young (1821-1901) who, like Eliza, was a plural wife first of Joseph Smith and, after his death, of Brigham Young.6 During their southern tour, three years after Brigham’s death in 1877, Eliza and Zina celebrated their connection to Joseph. Repeatedly, they were honored as “wives of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Added to this significant family connection was new organizational stature. Five months before the two women began their journey, in June 1880, Eliza was called and sustained as general president of the Relief Society and Zina as her first counselor.7 And the St. George Temple, as Eliza noted, played a central role in the women’s southern labors. Between November 1880 and March 1881, Eliza and Zina circled through a string of thirty-two settlements and visited Relief Societies, Young Ladies organizations, and Primary Associations. Week after week, their circuit brought them back to the temple where they forged sacred connections to their families and to Joseph Smith.
Eliza was seventy-six years old in June 1880 when she was appointed general president of the Relief Society and, as Maureen Ursenbach Beecher has shown, she traveled with particular intensity during the next twelve months.8 Just how long or extensively she planned for the trip south is unclear. A 3 November 1880 article in the Deseret News notes “Sister Eliza R. Snow and Zina D. Young are contemplating a trip to St. George, before winter sets in. They will start within the next fortnight probably, and return in about a month afterward.”9 In fact, they left five days later and were absent five months. What seems to have been originally planned as a visit to St. George, the temple, and members of the Young family and numerous friends, expanded to include visits to nearly every settlement in five Utah counties: Millard, Beaver, Iron, Washington, and Kane. There were Relief Society sisters to comfort and counsel, young ladies in Mutual Improvement Associations to instruct, and Primary Associations to organize. Eliza and Zina moved from ward to ward to complete this organizational work; their endless meetings and public speeches formed a prominent part of their trip south. Their quieter days spent in and around St. George, at the temple and with friends, were an equally memorable aspect of the trip. Both the institutional and personal dimensions of their extended visit in and around Washington County will be better understood if prefaced by a review of why it was not “Miss Snow” but “Mrs. Smith” who went to Washington.
“Aunt Eliza” or “Sister Eliza” or “Miss Eliza R. Snow” retained her maiden name until 1880, when in May, six months before she headed south with Zina, she took Joseph Smith’s name and became known as Eliza R. Snow Smith. Eliza’s new name and her declared relationship to Joseph Smith had significant repercussions throughout her southern tour.
By 1880, questions about the Prophet’s introduction of the doctrine and practice of plural marriage (polygyny or polygamy) had been argued for nearly four decades. In Nauvoo, Illinois, Eliza, like other plural wives, kept confidential her marriage to the Prophet and later admitted that she “had no anticipation of ever being acknowledged as a lawful wife.”10 Exposure of covert polygamy in Nauvoo sparked the explosive events that culminated in the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at nearby Carthage in 1844. Then Church membership, sharply divided over plural marriage and other doctrinal innovations, fractured. The half that traveled to the Rocky Mountains with Brigham Young exacerbated the controversy over plural marriage by perpetuating the practice and publicly acknowledging it in 1852. Plurality of wives, Latter-day Saints affirmed, originated in revelation given to Joseph Smith.11 A sizable cluster of Nauvoo Mormons who had remained in the Midwest gathered during 1852-53 in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which “categorically rejected and condemned the practice of plural marriage.”12 When Joseph Smith III, the oldest son of Joseph and his first wife Emma Smith, agreed to assume leadership of this group in April 1860, he too denounced plural marriage and declared that his father the Prophet Joseph Smith “never could have promulgated such doctrines.”13 Emma Smith, who had opposed plural marriage in Nauvoo, supported her son’s anti-polygamy stance, which he expanded into strategic missionary and political campaigns.14
While Eliza must have known that Joseph III sent RLDS missionaries to Utah to disclaim the Prophet Joseph’s involvement in plural marriage and persuade Utah Mormons of the error of their “Utah doctrines,” no direct response from her regarding their visit or preaching is extant, even though the missionaries were Joseph and Emma’s own sons, whom Eliza had known as children. Alexander came in 1866, and returned with David in 1869, who came on his own in 1872, followed in 1876 by Joseph III himself.15 In October 1879, however, three year’s after Joseph III’s visit, Eliza fiercely answered the Reorganization’s insistence that Joseph Smith had no plural wives. She wrote indignantly to the Deseret News of having recently read to her “great astonishment” the “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” just published in the RLDS Saints’ Advocate. According to Eliza, the published transcript of the interview Emma had granted her sons Joseph and Alexander in February 1879, two months before her death on April 30, represented Emma as “positively affirming that Joseph the Prophet had no other wife or wives than her; that he neither taught the principle of plurality of wives, publicly or privately.” Eliza questioned Joseph III’s motive and method, labeling him a “misguided son [who], through a sinister policy, branded [his mother’s] name with gross wickedness—charging her with the denial of a sacred principle which she had heretofore not only acknowledged but acted upon.” Eliza recognized Emma as a “once highly honored woman” and observed:
Even if her son ignored his mother’s reputation for veracity, he better had waited until his father’s wives were silent in death, for now they are here living witnesses of the divinity of plural marriage, as revealed by the Almighty, through Joseph Smith, who was commanded to introduce it by taking other wives.16
The “Last Testimony of Sister Emma” provoked Eliza’s angry October 1879 letter to Deseret News editors, which she signed “Eliza R. Snow, A wife of Joseph Smith the Prophet.” She had vented her wrath toward the United States government nine months earlier in January 1879, after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Reynolds vs. the United States, confirming the constitutionality of the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act and opening the way for prosecution of polygamists.17 With biting sarcasm, Eliza pummeled the court’s decision, its travesties of justice. “Let us cause thousands of loving, honorable wives to be stigmatized as prostitutes, and their offspring as bastards,” she wrote in one of fourteen verses.18 When the “Last Testimony of Sister Emma” appeared nine months later, it hit a raw nerve. Eliza concluded her October 1879 letter to the Deseret News with a reference to the Reynolds decision: “It may be asked, Why defend plurality of wives, since the United States government forbids its practice? The action of the executors of this government can neither change or annihilate a fundamental truth. ...The controversy is with God — not us.”19
At some point during the next six months, Eliza decided to take the name of her husband Joseph Smith. Thus, she would broadly and unmistakably proclaim that she was a plural wife and proudly committed to plural marriage. She had publicly defended plural marriage and claimed her relationship to Joseph on many previous occasions, but changing her name was like hoisting a banner in a time of crisis. It was a way of defying both the Reynolds decision and the “Last Testimony of Sister Emma.” In the 15 May 1880 issue of the Woman’s Exponent, editor Emmeline B. Wells began referring to Eliza as “Eliza R. Snow Smith.”20 Eight weeks later, 16 July 1880, Eliza told women assembled in Bountiful for the Davis Stake Relief Society quarterly conference that “some of her friends were desirous that she should take upon herself the name of her first husband which was Smith.”21 At least two other wives of Joseph Smith—Zina D. H. Young and Emily Dow Partridge Young—experimented with taking the name Smith at this time.22 Ultimately, Eliza was the only one for whom the change of name endured.23
Thus it was Eliza R. Snow Smith who joined her sister-wife and friend Zina D. H. Young for a five-month visit to southern Utah that served both institutional and personal purposes. The women’s extensive organizational work—visiting different settlements to organize and assist local branches of the Relief Society, Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association and Primary Association—will be the focus of the first part of this discussion. The second part will feature Eliza and Zina’s visits with friends and their work at the St. George Temple. The two parts cannot be neatly divided, however, since the women’s institutional and personal circles inevitably and frequently overlapped.
Mapping Eliza and Zina’s travels reveals what an ambitious program they undertook during the twenty-weeks they toured “Utah’s harshlands.” On November 8, 1880, the two women stepped onto the 7:00 a.m. train in Salt Lake City and rode in the cars of the Utah Southern Railroad to the depot at Juab, Juab County, a stop but not the terminus. By June 1880 the railway had been extended south to Milford, near Beaver, but the two women chose to disembark further north so they could visit the string of settlements between Scipio and Cedar City. At Juab, they climbed into the first of the many carriages and wagons in which they would ride for the next five months and a “Brother Olsen” transported them twenty-four miles to Scipio, where they arrived about 6:00 p.m. The next day, November 9, they met with the Relief Society at Scipio and organized a Primary Association. On November 10 they held meetings at Holden, and the following day at Fillmore. They stopped to visit Fillmore stake president Thomas Callister, who then lay terminally ill. Eliza spoke in tongues to comfort him. “A sweet spirit filled the house,” Zina recorded, and “it seemed angels were ther[e].”24 On November 12 they spent the day in Meadow and held an evening meeting at Kanosh. Eliza said “she was pleased to meet the sisters of Kanosh,” and observed that “sixteen years had elapsed since she had passed through the settlement before.”25 They missed the sisters’ quarterly conference they had anticipated attending in Parowan on Saturday, November 13, but held a meeting with the sisters the following Monday evening. At Cedar City on Tuesday, November 16, they organized a Primary Association and a silk association and held a general meeting that “was considered by all present to be a feast of good things.”26
On Friday, November 19, they organized a Primary Association at Washington, then pushed on to St. George, arriving before the end of the day. Church headquarters for the southern settlements, St. George was to be their headquarters for the next four and a half months. They settled in with stake Relief Society president Minerva Snow and spent the next two weeks laboring in the temple and visiting ward Relief Societies, Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations and Primary Associations in St. George, Washington, and Santa Clara.
The first of their forays began on Friday, December 3, when they left for a five-day tour of settlements north and west of St. George: Pine Valley, Pinto, Hebron, Hamblin, and Gunlock. Eliza described part of the trip in a letter to the Woman’s Exponent: “The morning was delightful, and the beautifully variegated mountain scenery, like a panorama constantly changing, was sublimely amusing as we passed on over rugged rocks and through canon and dell, with ever and anon a healthy jolt, all of which were accredited for my especial benefit.”27
Following their return, they spent the rest of December, the next twenty-three days, in and around St. George. Then, beginning on New Year’s Day, 1881, Eliza, Zina and Minerva began a “missionary trip up the Rio Virgin” to settlements north and east of St. George.28 They spent a week visiting Harrisburg, Leeds, Toquerville, Virgin City, Duncan’s Retreat, Grafton, Rockville, and Shonesburg, and they held a total of fifteen meetings. “We are all Sisters & and each of us have our parts to perform,” Eliza told women at Rockville as she organized a Relief Society there. “Be alive,” she counseled.29
They returned, resettled themselves in St. George, and concentrated their labors in the temple. Then, at the end of January, they made a short trip south and west to Bunkerville. On January 26, 1881, Myron Abbott recorded:
I commenced to thrash and Brother Samuel Knight came with sisters Eliza Snow and sister Zina D. Young and sister Erastus Snow [Minerva]. A relief society meeting was called and we had a good time together and some very good instruction and a primary association was organized and some useful knowledge was imparted. Tonight a young ladies improvement [association] will be organized. I attended meeting. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out in rich abundance. Sister Snow talked in tongues and Sister Young gave the interpritation and we all rejoiced in the principles of the Gosple.30
Abbott’s account suggests that men as well as women attended and enjoyed meetings convened by the visiting Relief Society leaders.
The sisters’ visits to settlements in Kane County took nearly three weeks, from Monday, 7 February to Sunday, 27 February. Church teamsters transported Eliza, Zina, and Minerva across the desert wilds, probably along a southern route near what is now the Utah-Arizona border. “Going and returning we camped out three nights. On our outward trip we camped at the foot of ‘Hurricane Hill,’ on our return, on its summit.” Eliza reported. She noted that “to sit around camp fires, to eat our suppers by their light, and to breakfast in their warmth” reminded her of “our bygone experience,” that is, the 1846-47 trek across the plains.31 At Kanab, the ward held a Friday evening social in their honor. Three hundred people attended the “ample picnic which caused what Sister Smith called a delightful confusion.” The next day, Saturday, the visiting sisters organized ward and stake Primary Associations, and on Sunday they met with Relief Society women and Young Ladies and organized a silk association. On Tuesday they traveled north and west of Kanab to the settlements in Long Valley: Mt. Carmel, Orderville, and Glendale. They held meetings in Orderville on two different days. “The Sisters addressed us again the house was very crowded quite a number of the brethren and sisters of Glendale came to meeting,” Thomas Chamberlain noted in his diary on Sunday, 20 February.32 Eliza was particularly impressed by her visit to the community known for its United Order. “The longer I stayed in Orderville the more home feeling I realized,” she wrote. “The people seem united and happy; those that are able are indomitable workers—the invalids and aged sharing liberally the fruits of their toil.”33 The women traveled back to Kanab, spent a day visiting the ward at Johnson, and then returned to Kanab where they met with the sisters “at their sewing meeting.” They departed for St. George on Friday, 25 February.
On the last day of February, Eliza, Zina, and Minerva settled back in at Minerva’s home in St. George. Eliza and Zina decided to remain there for three more weeks, until after the conference of the St. George Stake on 19 and 20 March, when four members of the Quorum of the Twelve would be in attendance. “Soon after that,” explained Eliza, “we expect an opportunity of getting to the R. R. by private conveyance—much preferable to stage.”34 On 25 March they left for Cedar City with Elders Wilford Woodruff and George Teasdale, of the Twelve. On Saturday and Sunday, 26 and 27 March, they attended the stake conference, in Parowan and conducted the sisters’ business they had missed over four months earlier: they organized a stake YLMIA and Primary Association and a silk association. Then it was on to Beaver to “organize a Primary Society for each ward, heretofore there being but one.” A Deseret News correspondent noted: “Sister Snow attended to the business of organizing and did it in such a pleasing and instructive manner, that the little ones were attentive and interested from the first.”35 These were the last of nearly three dozen Primary Associations organized on the trip. From Beaver, the women went to Minersville where their visit followed that of two members of the Quorum of the Twelve. From Minersville, George Eyre wrote: “Altogether we consider that these late visits from our brethren and sisters from the north have been times of refreshing from the Lord, and firmly believe that the words spoken shall be like bread cast upon the waters to be seen after many days.”36 Leaving Minersville, they rode to Milford and boarded the train for Salt Lake City, arriving on Thursday, 31 March, at 5:00 p.m. Some thirty friends came to the depot to meet Eliza and Zina and then accompanied them to the Lion House where an ample dinner was spread in honor of their homecoming.37
Eliza R. Snow Smith and Zina D. H. Young, president and first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, had traveled nearly 1000 miles to meet with their sisters and cultivate the women’s organizations in southern Utah. Eliza was considered the “President of the Latter-day Saint Women’s Organizations,” because she played a unique role in organizing and overseeing not only the Relief Society, but also the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association and the Primary Association. That role had developed over time. Originally, in April 1868, Brigham Young had called her to assist bishops in re-organizing ward Relief Societies and to instruct her sisters. In May 1870 she helped organize first retrenchment association among Brigham Young’s daughters and then traveled to various wards to organize young women in what quickly became known as the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Associations. Though Aurelia Spencer Rogers organized the first Primary Association in Farmington in 1878, it was Eliza who had helped Aurelia get the endorsement of priesthood leaders, and it was Eliza, accompanied by other leading sisters, who traveled the territory yet again to organize Primary Associations in each ward. At this moment in time, bishops and stake presidents called Relief Society officers, but Eliza and other Relief Society leaders were authorized to select and call ward and stake presidents of the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association as well as the Primary Association. Eliza and Zina’s visits to the wards and stakes of southern Utah illustrate the distinctive purposes of each of the three women’s organizations, as well as the important interface between them.
President Sister Eliza R. Snow Smith, who had been traveling among the sisters for more than a decade, was well known for her powerful preaching. During her 1880-81 trip south, women and men from Kanosh to Kanab were eager to hear her addresses, and diligent secretaries recorded them. As she visited ward Relief Societies, she consistently underscored the importance of the women’s organization. “Every lady latter day saint should be a member of the Relief Society,” she taught women in Holden. “Joseph Smith said that the Relief Society was a soul-saving organization.”38 “In one report,” she told members of the St. George First Ward Relief Society, “out of 30 members, only 15 attended meeting. How with the other 15[?] can they live without those refreshings that come from above. We do not wish them to stay away. Mothers can bring their children with them[.] they do not disturb us. Who needs intelligence more than mothers?39 At Scipio she told Relief Society sisters, “We should feed our souls with immortal food.”40
From the time she first began instructing sisters in 1868, Eliza continuously emphasized the importance of supporting the home industries that would allow Latter-day Saints to remain economically independent, to some degree. At Cedar City, she taught “the necessity of home industries, [and] encouraged the sisters to persevere in their endeavors at silk culture.”41 Zina had been called to preside over the sisters’ mission to raise silk, and during their trip south she and Eliza organized several local silk associations. Repeatedly, Eliza exhorted the sisters of the Relief Society to donate to the poor: “These societies are to be helps to the Bishops.”42 And she preached unity. At Kanosh, she stated she “was encouraged by the presence of the brethren. Our interests are both in the Kingdom of God. The Gospel of Christ is designed to unite our labors. Anything that is calculated to disunite comes of evil.”43 In Santa Clara, composed largely of Swiss immigrant families, Eliza stressed that “there is no such thing as Nationality, we are Citizens of the kingdom of God the highest of all Nationalitys”44
A constant theme addressed by the visitors was the importance of teaching the rising generation and of supporting organizations for the young. In many wards, the traveling duo solicited funds for the Brigham Young Academy in Provo. Eliza told women in Santa Clara “it was the only Zion Institution there is, they stand in need of money to get implements for the study of Chemistry.”45 The academy’s director, Karl G. Maeser, later expressed gratitude the $73.60 raised during Eliza and Zina’s southern tour.46
In Kanab, the sisters held a joint meeting of the Relief Society and the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association. At this time the Young Ladies MIA included young mothers and young brides, as well as young single women. Eliza’s directed her words to both younger and older women, and explained that “the time was when we thought that our husbands would save us, independent of our own exercises.” She continued:
Now we must understand that instead of depending entirely on our husbands for salvation and position, we have to work them out ourselves. The responsibility and labor that devolve upon women are becoming more important. …We are organized in Ward and Stake capacities and it is necessary that every sister should come forward and take hold of this work. …The Lords wants us to be a peculiar people. …none of us draw as near to the Father as we should. …I would say to my young sisters, never shrink from a duty. God has put the mean in your hands to become queens and priestesses in his kingdom, if you will only live for it.47
One of Eliza’s great strengths as a leader was her capacity to encourage and to elevate, to spark in women of all ages a sense of their own worth and divinity. “The Young Ladys of Zion are greater than the Queens of the earth,” she proclaimed in Santa Clara. In some wards, the young men and young women met together to receive counsel from the Relief Society general president and her counselor.
The Primary Associations were of the greatest concern to Eliza, who declared they were “the most important organization in the church for the Sectarian monsters had boasted that if they could lead astray the hearts of the children they would break up Mormonism in a few years.”48 As part of the movement to organize Primary Associations churchwide, commenced in 1878, Eliza and Zina organized Primaries in one ward after another, organizing at least thirty-five during their trip south, and perhaps as many as thirty-eight. These were not tiny groups. Many wards had sixty or seventy children. Eliza always asked the children if they wanted to be organized and taught them, as she did in Virgin, that “this was to be their own meeting.”49
When she visited children in Scipio, Eliza “had them recite in concert the Lord’s Prayer. Then showed them the necessity of faith in God, giving instances of other members in Primary Associations healing the sick.”50 In Washington, she asked the children many questions, such as “if they thought God saw and heard us? [and] if so when could he see or hear us.” They answered, “all the time.” She asked them the names of the First Presidency.51 She asked Pine Valley children “Who was the first prophet in the church? and who appeared to Joseph Smith?” and told them about Joseph Smith and showed them his watch—a ritual she performed in nearly every Primary Association she visited.52 Nor was the subject of plural marriage taboo in the children’s congregations. She told the children in Washington “that if anybody said that Joseph Smith never had but one wife to tell them that they knowed better for they saw two of them at once namely Eliza R. Snow and Zina D. Young. …Bore her testimony that the principle of plural marriage was as pure and holy as any principle that was ever revealed.”53 She believed children should understand the church’s basic history and doctrine. Nevertheless, she counseled Primary workers “not to make the meetings a school and become tedious, have short prayers, speeches and exercises, and have them in the spirit of the Gospel.”54 After her return to Salt Lake City, she compiled and published five books of questions and answers, recitations, and hymns, songs, and tunes for use in ward Primaries, the Church’s first Primary curriculum.55
Eliza and Zina worked together effectively as president and counselor and as sister-wives and close friends. While they did not always travel together to visit wards and stakes in and around Salt Lake City, during their five-month tour of southern settlements, they were always together. As they visited meetings of the Relief Society, young ladies, and Primary Associations, both of them generally spoke. Often at the end of these meetings, Sister Eliza arose and spoke in tongues Sister Zina interpreted. Their styles and approaches differed. Susa Young Gates described Aunt Eliza as “keenly intellectual” and Aunt Zina as “all love and sympathy.” Indeed, Susa wrote: “Some spoke of the two as the head and the heart of women’s work in Utah.”56 Their shared visit to the southern settlements seems to have crystallized the image of their close companionship. Sister Eliza Snow Smith and Sister Zina Young epitomized strong, compassionate, and inspiring leadership and their visits and meetings reinforced the natural interrelatedness of the three women’s organizations.
Counterbalancing the fast-paced organizational work Eliza and Zina carried forward were quieter days spent in and around St. George with family and friends and at the temple. Family in St. George consisted of Lucy Bigelow Young who, like Eliza and Zina, was a plural wife of Brigham Young. Brigham had asked Lucy to move to St. George in 1870 to help establish his winter home, and their three daughters—Dora, Susa, and Mabel—lived there with their mother on and off.57 In 1877, when the St. George Temple was dedicated, Brigham called Lucy to preside over women’s ordinance work there. Dora and Susa worked in the temple with her. In January 1880, Susa married Jacob Gates and their first child was born just before Eliza and Zina arrived in St. George. On November 22, Zina reported to the Woman’s Exponent, she and Eliza “called on Susa Gates, who has a beautiful baby girl two weeks old.”58 Lucy was not in St. George to greet her new granddaughter or her sister-wives. “Aunt Zina and Eliza are here, and often wish you were here,” Susa wrote her mother on 6 December. “I took the liberty to lend them your two muffs. They did not come prepared for cold weather.”59 Susa was a correspondent for the Deseret News and reported the activities of her Aunt Eliza and Aunt Zina during their five-month visit in the south.
The illustrious aunts boarded with Minerva White Snow, St. George Stake Relief Society President and second wife of Erastus Snow—Eliza’s distant cousin and the member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles with ecclesiastical responsibility for the extensive southern settlements. “Returned to Sister Minerva’s at St. George,” Zina wrote on 26 November 1880, after she and Eliza had visited nearby Santa Clara.60 “We have been here one month,” Zina recorded on 19 December, noting, “Payed Sister Manerva S $17,00.”61 Whether the women boarded at the Snow family’s Big House—the three-story executive mansion with rooms for travelers in the center of St. George—or at one of the smaller Snow residences in St. George is unclear.62 But they spent nearly as much time in Minerva’s company as with one another, since they stayed with her in St. George and she accompanied them on their visits to the southern settlements. No records have as yet come to light to further illuminate the time the women spent together.
Nor is there any record of Eliza’s visits with Hannah Gould Perkins and her husband Patriarch William G. Perkins who, in 1861, had left the Salt Lake City Seventh Ward, where William was bishop, to help settle St. George. William and his first wife Dicy had frequently hosted the Prophet Joseph in their home in the Ramus, Illinois where William later became bishop of the Macedonia Ward. Hannah and Eliza had worked together in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City and continued to correspond after the Perkins family moved south.63 Eliza’s twenty-week visit to the south provided Zina and her opportunities to visit with old friends like Hannah, or Artemissa Beaman Snow, Minerva’s sister-wife, whom they found in “feeble health,” but the “same genial, pleasant patient Saint as in former days.”64 Many hours must have been spent reminiscing about the past with these and other friends whom Eliza affectionately termed “old veterans in the church of God.”65
Charles Lowell Walker provides a brief glimpse of a conversation he initiated with Eliza toward the end of her visit in March 1881. “At night paid Sister Eliza R. Snow a short Visit and had some conversation with her on the Dividing of the Earth,” he wrote.
She told me that she heard the Prophet Joseph say that when the 10 tribes were taken away, the Lord cut the Earth in two, Joseph striking his left hand in the center with the edge of his right to illustrate the idea, and that they (the 10 tribes) were on an orb or planet by themselves, and when they returned with the portion of this Earth that was taken away with them, the Coming together of these 2 bodies or orbs would cause a shock and make the “Earth reel to and fro like a drunken man.”
Eliza shared other opinions and Walker recorded them, noting “After leaving I had many curious and pleasing reflections.”66
Elizabeth Kane’s account of visiting St. George in 1872-73 with her husband Thomas and their sons in company with Brigham Young suggests something of the lively social life that existed in Utah’s Dixie. She writes of ward balls featuring reels, cotillions and country dances, some of which lasted until the early morning hours. The Kanes stayed at the Snow’s Big House and feasted there “in the long dining room of our Mrs. Snow.”67 Mary Ann Price Hyde, who left St. George just days before Eliza and Zina arrived, spoke of the “instrumental music rendered by members” of the Snow family, as well as a serenade by a “Juvenile brass band.”68 Of course, St. George had its own Martial Band and Santa Clara its Swiss Brass Band. The St. George Harmonic Society provided choral music and the St. George Dramatic Association presented theater productions.69 Tom Taylor’s four-act The Ticket-of-Leave Man played while Zina and Eliza were in town. The extent to which the two women partook of these social entertainments is unknown, but the record clearly places them at other entertainments, namely three significant birthday parties in which they played a leading role: one for Eliza, one for Zina, and one for the Prophet Joseph Smith.
By 1880, commemorating Eliza’s birthday had become a tradition among her Relief Society associates. Indeed, it was a tradition that would continue for more than a decade after her death. Under the circumstances, it seems it would have been hard to surprise her, particularly since surprise birthday parties were so much in vogue. Nonetheless, she said she was “indeed surprised” when on the evening of 21 January, her birthday, she was serenaded at Minerva Snow’s home by Captain William Thompson and a brass band, and simultaneously greeted by Young family members and other friends. Tributes were read and a “large and handsome cake” was presented by Minerva Snow on behalf of the Relief Societies. Deeply touched, Eliza briefly expressed her gratitude and then prayed “God to pour out blessings upon the people here, and to multiply unto them the good things of this earth.”70
Zina’s birthday was ten days later on 31 January, but her friends decided to honor her five or six weeks later, perhaps to truly catch her by surprise. The committee for the party, held in March, consisted of Bishop David H. Cannon and Zina’s sister-wife Lucy Bigelow Young, recently returned to St. George. The special invitation for this evening, printed on pink paper, read:
Complimentary Surpise Soiree.
Friday Evening, March 11, 1881,
in honor of the 60th Anniversary
of the Birth of Sister Zina D. H. Smith.
Yourself and Ladies Respectfully Invited.
Dancing at 7 o’clock sharp.
Present the enclosed check.71
Charles Walker composed a poem for the occasion, which was read by Susa Young Gates. There were short speeches and dancing, which, according to Walker, “was kept up until after 11.”72
The previous December Charles Lowell Walker recorded “a social gathering of the Seventies” when both Eliza and Zina were present and many people shared “early reminiscences of the Prophet Joseph.”73 According to James Godson Blake, on 23 December 1880 at two o’clock in the afternoon there was “a general meeting commemorative of the Birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith 75 years ago to day. We had 2 of Bro. Jos. Smith’s wives with us Eliza Roxey Snow Smith and Zina Diantha Huntington Smith.”74 Another gathering was held that evening “in continuation of the celebration,” including “as many invited guests as could be seated in the [Social] Hall,” Eliza wrote in a brief letter published in the Woman’s Exponent.75 Zina’s brother Oliver B. Huntington, also then visiting St. George, recorded that in the evening “The hall was filled with the picked faithful saints of St. George.”76 The afternoon meeting featured speeches by four members of Zion’s Camp and by George Omer Noble, widely known as “the first child born in plural marriage.”77 At the evening meeting Susa Young Gates read a poem Eliza had composed for the occasion. The seventy-four lines of iambic pentameter couplets praise the unique gifts and mission of the Prophet and emphasize the restoration of the priesthood and temple ordinances.
Harmoniously in him, at once combined
Goodness of heart and strength of master-mind,
Embodying childlike, sweet simplicity,
With superhuman, Godlike majesty.
Here in St. George, Jehovah’s Temple stands —
A monument of faith in God’s commands —
Emblem of purity and holiness;
The worthy living and the dead to bless.
It speaks in tones of more than mortal speech,
And more than human thought has power to teach,
That GOD IS WITH US. And it testifies
That Joseph Smith, the great and good and wise,
Is GOD’S TRUE PROPHET, and his memory dear
The hosts above, and Saints on earth revere.78
Eliza and Zina “offered remarks” at both meetings. In the morning, wrote Susa Young Gates, “Eliza was filled with a powerful spirit of testimony. Her words were full of comfort.…Her first associations with this Church were those which brought her in constant communication with God’s prophet; and the more she knew him, the more she became acquainted with his character, the more she loved him, and the more she respected him. She had guided her life by the words of Joseph during his life, and afterwards the word of Brigham Young was the word of God to her; and now President Taylor was the man to whom she looked for the divine word.”79 In the evening, Oliver Huntington recorded, “at the close of their speeches, they both withdrew, and while they were withdrawing the whole audience, rose upon their feet and stood, in honor of the wives of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Prophet whose birth they had met to commemorate.” Then the benches were removed and there was dancing and “cakes and apples were freely passed;” then wine was passed, though Oliver found, “no one to be seen intoxicated.” The day for him, “was one of the remarkable incidents in my experience in life.”80 Eliza acknowledged: “It is almost worse than nothing for me to attempt to describe the touching ceremonies,” so she noted briefly, “the time never can be forgotten.”81
Eliza and Zina began working in the St. George Temple on Wednesday, 24 November 1880, six days after they arrived in St. George. For five weeks, they spent nearly every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in temple service. Due to their travels, their schedule was less regular after that, but they approximated that routine when they could and ultimately spent a total of thirty-nine days in the St. George Temple, more than one-fourth of their total time in the south.
Zina had been present when some rooms in the St. George Temple were dedicated in January 1877.82 Though Eliza had composed a hymn text sung at the more extensive dedication of the St. George Temple in April 1877, she apparently did not attend.83 Her absence from both dedicatory events, whatever the cause, must have pained her. She had been a recorder in the Nauvoo Temple and had officiated in temple ordinances for the living in Salt Lake City since 1853, first at the Council House and later in the Endowment House. The temple at St. George opened the way for Saints to perform temple ordinances for the dead, a work reserved by divine revelation for temples. “We’ve been baptiz’d for them, and now, / As agents, in their stead, / We’re wash’d and we’re anointed too – / The living for the dead,” Eliza had written in her St. George “Temple Song.”84 A page from Eliza’s 1842-1882 Journal lists deceased family members and friends for whom she had been baptized in Nauvoo and Salt Lake City.85 But Eliza’s performance on their behalf of the ordinances of washing and anointing, endowment and sealing awaited her long sojourn in St. George.
On the morning of Wednesday, 24 November, Eliza and Zina were undoubtedly already inside the temple at ten o’clock when drizzling rain turned into a downpour. “Sister Eliza R. Snow and Zina Young came to the Temple to day and felt much pleased and gratified in having the glorious privellege of entering in and participating the ordinances of the Temple of God,” Charles L. Walker noted in his diary on the women’s first day at the temple.86 That Wednesday, Eliza completed one endowment—a sacred temple rite of washing and anointing, instruction and covenant—on behalf of her deceased mother, Rosetta Leonora Pettibone Snow. Rosetta had died in Illinois in October 1846, estranged from the church she had eagerly joined in 1831, four years earlier than Eliza, the second of her four daughters. On Thursday, 25 November, Eliza completed the endowment on behalf of the third of Oliver and Rosetta Snow’s daughters, Percy Amanda Snow McConoughey, who had died in Illinois in 1848, never having affiliated with the Latter-day Saints. On Friday, 26 November, Eliza performed the endowment ritual on behalf of her sister Melissa Snow, the youngest Snow daughter who had died in 1835 at age twenty-five in Eliza’s hometown of Mantua, Ohio.87 Decades earlier, Eliza and her oldest sister, Leonora Abigail Snow Leavitt Morley (1801-1872), had performed the holy ordinances for themselves. Now, after three days in the St. George Temple, Eliza had the satisfaction of knowing that the rituals she considered “saving ordinances” had been performed for all the female members of her immediate family.
In succeeding weeks, Eliza’s temple labors extended further. She and Zina completed endowments for a variety of women: Snows, Blairs, Wadsworths, Huntingtons, and Bakers. Eliza worked for her female ancestors as well as Zina’s, and vice versa. In addition to laboring for her and Zina’s relations, Eliza performed endowments on behalf of friends, some of them, such as Sylvia Atwater, probably dating back fifty years to Eliza’s days in Mantua, Ohio. She completed ordinance work for Nancy Gallaher Rigdon, the mother of Sidney Rigdon at whose death in 1839 she had been present.88
Zina, sixty-years old, performed dozens of baptisms for the dead, while Eliza, at age seventy-seven, did none. Both women were involved in sealing ordinances for the dead, including the sealing of huband to wife and the sealing of parents to children. Most of these were “adoptive sealings,” that is the sealing of deceased women not to their own husbands, but to prominent, faithful priesthood leaders such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Children likewise were sealed not to their own parents, but rather “adopted” by the sealing ordinance into the family of a priesthood leader. Thus anyone, regardless of the faithfulness of spouse or parents, could be “adopted into the chain of the priesthood in order to reach the highest glory of the celestial kingdom.”89 Eliza was proxy for eight deceased women who were sealed as wives to the Prophet Joseph Smith, including her sisters and nieces. On three days she participated in sealing ordinances as long lists of individuals, men and women, were “adopted” as children to the Prophet. On 23 December 1880, the birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Eliza completed the endowment for Hannah Ells Smith (1813-1845) who, like Eliza and Zina, had been sealed to Joseph Smith as a plural wife in Nauvoo. Eliza had been present at Hannah’s death in the home of Hiram and Sarah M. Kimball in 1845 and later recalled, “I loved her very much.”90 Thus, Eliza brought saving ordinances not only to her own family, but to Joseph’s family, which she enlarged through adoptive sealings.
Eliza and Zina worshipped God in the St. George Temple by there performing sacred ordinances for women, most of whom they had known and loved and whose memory they cherished. A month after she returned from her extended stay in Southern Utah, Eliza told Relief Society women in her own ward that she “had great satisfaction while working at the Temple in St. George. Felt that she was near to heavenly beings. The more we officiate in the Temple, the more we realize the responsibility that rests upon us for our dead.”91 During the last six years of her life, she would turn to genealogy and family history with greater intensity than before.
What can one conclude about Eliza’s ministry from her five-month stay in southern Utah? One is struck not only by the different facets of her religious authority, but how seamlessly they merged. She was the prophetess speaking in tongues and healing the sick, manifesting her charismatic authority. As the priestess officiating in the temple, she exercised liturgical authority, and as presidentess organizing or exhorting women, she exercised ecclesiastical authority. Eliza’s decision in 1880 to unmistakably identify herself as a wife of the Prophet Joseph by taking his name magnified all aspects of her authority. She appeared an almost mythical figure to many of the southern Saints. Together she and Zina became legendary duo. A welcome tribute composed and read in Kanab by M. Elizabeth Little proclaims their greatness in the eyes of their sisters:
We, the sisters of the R. S., most sincerly [sic] welcome these, our much beloved sisters, to Kanab.
A long cherished hope is realized in the happy event. Here, on the frontier of Utah, in comparative isolation, it is the first time that any of our representative ladies, have visited us. Therefore, we say to them welcome, thrice welcome; and may this visit be long remembered by us, as a time of rejoicing. May we treasure of the counsels we received as precious gems.
We welcome you as Lady Pioneers to this beautiful, but once desert Territory; for by your untiring efforts, you have greatly aided in developing refinement and social advancement among the Saints.
We welcome you as veritable Mothers in Israel, for your lives have been given to good works, and to the accomplishment of holy purposes. We welcome you, as the early exponents, by precept and example, of the new and everlasting covenant of Marriage, and as leaders in the self-sacrifice at first necessary to establish its principles.
We welcome Sisters Eliza and Zina as our Elect Lady and her Counselor, and as Presidents of all the feminine portion of the human race. Although comparatively few recognize their right to this authority. Yet, we know they have been set apart as leading Priestesses of this dispensation. As such we honor them. We welcome them as the honored wives of our revered Prophet Joseph Smith.92
The tribute illustrates the extent of Latter-day Saints’ respect for Eliza and Zina’s religious authority, in its many facets. To understand the full impact of Eliza’s ministry and her extraordinary status, one must recognize that she was an integral part of the church’s patriarchal order, its greatest patriarch being her husband Joseph Smith. At the same time, through her work with the women’s organizations, she was at the center of the Church’s ecclesiastical order. Family and church structures, patriarchal and ecclesiastical orders merged in her life. In this regard, she reflected the Mormonism of her time. As Eliza worked indefatigably to forge institutional roles for Mormon women in the Relief Society, the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association and Primary Association, she helped establish the ecclesiastical structures that would hold Saints together in the tumultuous years to come years when the extensive patriarchal covenant organization, buttressed by plural marriage and adoptive sealings, would gradually be transformed into an emphasis on individual monogamous families, each with a presiding patriarch, and sealings to one’s own kin.
A second dimension of Eliza’s ministry, her pastoral out-reach, is evident from her trip south. It is possible to see both Eliza and Zina, but Eliza particularly, as touring celebrities, relishing honors bestowed in conferences and socials in town after town. They visited the wards and settlements much as their husband Brigham Young had done during his thirty years as Church president.93 They were not welcomed by brass bands and large crowds, as he had been, but they did receive the homage of an adoring public. Nevertheless, Eliza’s concern, as Brigham’s had been, was ministering to her flock. Women and men who left records of her visits to their Dixie wards cherished the comfort and healing and joy she brought to their lives. After watching the two sisters organize a Primary in Orderville, Thomas Chamberlain noted in his diary, “The Spirit of the Lord was with [the] Sisters and all the children.”94 Joseph Ira Earl recorded that Sister Eliza spoke in tongues and Sister Young interpreted following a meeting for young ladies at Bunkerville. “There was great and glorious promises made to the people.” The sisters brought sacred blessings into Joseph’s home as well by anointing and blessing his wife Elethra Calistra who had been ill for several months following the birth of her first child. The family tradition is that Elethra “also had a bad leg which had not been mentioned to Sister Snow yet in the blessing this ailment was mentioned by her and the disease rebuked.”95 Mabel Knell recalled when the sisters organized a Primary at Pinto and a young boy, sick and weak, was carried into the meeting. “He wanted to be prayed for,” Mabel remembered. “Sister Snow told the children to arise to their feet, close their eyes, and repeat after her the prayer, one sentence at a time. She prayed for the sick boy. When they got through praying he got up, walked home, and got into a wagon without help. He was well from that time.”96 Elizabeth Bentley wrote from St. George in “Their visit will long remain in our memories as something pleasant to think, for the comfort and blessings they have imported and good work they have done.”97 “We the people of Mt. Carmel, feel that we were highly blessed by having a visit from our beloved sister, Eliza R. Snow Smith, Zina D. Young, and Minerva Snow,” wrote Cynthia Ann Jolley. “They surely seem to have the same spirit and influence that our beloved Prophet and Seer Joseph Smith had, and that his Apostles have.”98
Eliza R. Snow Smith’s southern tour with her counselor and friend Zina D. H. Young remained fixed in the memory of Latter-day Saints for more than a generation. The southern Saints witnessed Eliza at the crowning point of her ministry, a moment when all facets of her powerful personal and public presence came together. The wife of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, she was in her own right poetess, prophetess, priestess, and presidentess. Though she was legendary, she was accessible. The Saints in Washington and surrounding counties remembered her strength and authority, but also her warmth and comforting kindness. Elizabeth Little of Kanab suggested in her flowery tribute to Eliza and Zina that long after they had passed from this world, they would leave in Utah’s desert places some enduring presence. “The bright halo of their great and noble souls will float around us,” she predicted, “like the glory of the departed day or the gentle breeze of a Summer evening.”99 The tenderness of that memory is a tribute not only to Aunt Eliza and Aunt Zina, but also to the faithful, hospitable southern Saints they visited.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual conference of the Mormon History Association, 17 May 2002, Tucson, Arizona. The author gratefully acknowledges Maureen Ursenbach Beecher who collected over many years significant documents related to this trip, which are currently on file at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at Brigham Young University. Wendy Parker, Anissa Olson Taylor, and Jennifer Reeder provided invaluable research assistance.
Emma Smith’s encounter with and opposition to plural marriage is examined in Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith: Prophet’s Wife, “Elect Lady,” Polygamy’s Foe (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1984). For the missionary and political campaigns of Joseph III and the RLDS, see Launius, Joseph Smith III, Chapters 9, 10, and 11.