Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee is the author of our beloved hymn, Sisters in Zion. In her autobiography, she uses the words from a poet, saying, “I never knew what trouble was, till I became a Mormon.”
She was the youngest of eleven children, born in England in 1836, to good parents who would never accept the gospel. She heard of this new religion, at the age of twelve, through her cousin, who urged her to listen to them at meeting. Her older sister, Julia, was the only one in her family to join the church, although they were forced to wait till they were older before finally receiving permission to be baptized from their parents. When they were 20 and 23 years of age (respectively), they set out to join the Saints, joining the company led by James G. Willie.
During their ill-fated journey, they traveled together through blizzards, unprepared in their lightweight clothing. It was at Rocky Ridge where her sister, Julia, collapsed, unable to go any farther. Emily, knowing her sister might die, picked her sister up and helped her to the relative safe haven of their handcart. Thirteen others died that night, but both girls would survive.
Emily happily entered into plural marriage with Dr. William G. Mills. It’s not clear whether she had her own baby, or raised one of his children as her own, but he asked Brigham Young to serve a mission to England and decided not to return to his families. She was abandoned and her home was even foreclosed on her. But she survived. During all this time she wrote poetry, documenting her feelings experienced during these trying events.
She married Joseph Woodmansee, had eight more children, and supported women’s suffrage while writing poems that were turned into hymns. When finances turned sour, Emily began working in Real Estate, discovering she had a mind for business. She was appointed Treasurer of the Woman’s Cooperative Store, which position she held for ten years. Many of her poems were published during this time. As well, she won the gold medal for the Sunday School Jubilee Poem. She died in 1906.
She wrote “As Sisters in Zion” late in life culminating all she felt and all she had experienced. The words follow:
As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.
The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.
How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.
Oh, naught but the Spirit’s divinest tuition
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.
We’ll turn from our follies, our pride and our weakness,
The vain, foolish fashions of Babel despise;
We’ll seek for the garments of truth and of meekness,
And learn to be useful and happy and wise.
We’ll wear what is sensible, neat and becoming
The daughters of Zion—the angels of light;
We’ll work with a will, while the angels are scanning
Our aims and our actions from morning till night.
From her autobiography, she states, “Of my children I need say but little, but I fervently hope that each and all of them may seek and obtain for themselves a knowledge of the truth, for I know it can make them wise unto salvation, and may they be willing if needs be to endure reproach and privation for principle’s sake. I doubt not that all my troubles have been for my good, and today I am more than thankful for my standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”
Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee Autobiography, transcribed by W. David Samuelsen
available in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU
“Julia and Emily: Sisters in Zion,” Debbie J. Christensen, Ensign, Jun 2004