Our beloved Eliza R. Snow was so instrumental to the women of the church in this last dispensation, it is hard to condense her history. I encourage you to read her poems, her hymns, and her writings.
Eliza Roxey Snow was born in Massachusetts in 1804. At the age of two, her family moved near Kirtland, Ohio where they heard Sidney Rigdon preach as a Campbellite. Much of her family followed Sidney when he joined, and was baptized, into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eliza was not baptized until four years later, in 1835. “I had to battle very strongly with the powers of darkness …finally commanding Satan to depart from me.”
Her younger brother, Lorenzo, became disillusioned with his religious studies and joined Eliza in Kirtland. There he met Joseph, accepted the gospel, and was baptized, being the last member of the Snow family to join the church. Later, he became the fifth prophet of this last dispensation.
Eliza went with the Saints to Missouri and was forced out during the expulsion. Her family lost everything they owned and the hardship would take its toll on her parents. They moved on to Nauvoo, staying happily for seven years, only to be forced out and relocate again.
Eliza was sealed to Joseph Smith in 1842. Joseph was martyred in June of 1844. In October of that year, she became a plural wife to Brigham Young; this being a marriage of convenience and security. She would live in the Lion House, as soon as it was completed, the remainder of her life. Eliza would take the name of Smith in her later years. She had no children of her own.
On December 5, 1887, Eliza passed away just short of her eighty-fourth birthday. She is buried next to Brigham Young.
Following is what she is remembered for:
Eliza showed intelligence at a young age. She helped her father as he worked in public offices. And she was always reading and writing.
Loved elegant and feminine clothing. She would put extra yards of material into her dresses and trim them elaborately. She was an expert seamstress, and did needlework and straw braiding. Emmeline said she was fully trained in all the domestic housekeeping necessities of life.
Was asked by an Ohio newspaper to write a requiem upon the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, which was published widely. She was twenty-one years of age and publishing her work for the first time.
Taught school to Joseph Smith’s children in Ohio and in Nauvoo.
Eliza was a natural born leader and many of the women looked to her for spiritual strength and direction.
While living in the Lion House, she always sat to the right of Brigham Young at the dinner table and at family prayer. She was in essence “his right hand man”, for he consulted with her over almost everything.
Traveling to all of the settlements throughout Utah, Eliza convinced the Bishops to organize a Relief Society in each area, thereby organizing the women and training them by the notes she carried in the Minute Book.
It was Eliza’s idea to collect handmade items and sell them to provide income. This began the Woman’s Cooperative Association. She worked in the store herself from 8-6 most days. Pres. Young admitted he had been trying to get the men to organize a store of some kind and they couldn’t do it.
She organized notes, then edited the book, “The Women of Mormondom”, by E. W. Tullidge. This was a huge undertaking, done while she was completing other important responsibilities.
Served as the matron of the Salt Lake Endowment House while serving as the General RS President, Counselor of the Retrenchment Association, and all the other activities she was heavily involved in.
Eliza was called as the Secretary of the Female Relief Society in Nauvoo. She kept minutes of those meetings, carefully recording the inspired revelations Joseph Smith spoke on the purposes and destiny of this women’s organization. She would bring those minutes with her to Salt Lake, using them to organize and train all of the women into Relief Societies, in Utah. She was the unofficial president for many years, finally being called and sustained to that position in 1880. As Relief Society President, she traveled across Utah several times visiting the sisters. Old age never stopped her.
Became quite ill when the Saints were being expelled from Nauvoo, because of stress, weather, etc. For the next several years, Eliza lay in bed, weak, and not able to function fully. In Salt Lake City, Brigham Young approached her about organizing the women she felt. She couldn’t do it, but Brigham Young blessed her that her health would improve with the call. She said, “To be able to do Father’s will is what I wish to live for.” Her health returned.
The women wanted fancier fabric and clothing items. It was expensive to order and ship from the east, so Brigham Young decided to buy silkworms and let the women raise, spin, weave, and sew their own silk items. Eliza was one of the most earnest workers in this silk-industry project. She was also the one to arrange the women to go back east for medical school.
Eliza traveled all over Utah to promote women’s right to vote and women’s suffrage. Many mass meetings were held where she would preside and speak in outrage of the treatment of women and what they must do to move forward.
While visiting sisters in Farmington, Eliza met Aurelia Spencer Rogers, who asked about organizing the children. This sparked the idea for a Primary Association to be established. Eliza selected the songs for the first Primary Hymn Book.
Brigham Young wanted the women to be less worldly and extravagant, so he organized a Retrenchment Association for the women. To keep his daughters in check, Brigham Young asked Eliza to organize a Junior Retrenchment (which would become the Young Women’s Organization). While speaking in Delta, Utah, Eliza requested the young men to join the young women at a meeting held there. In that meeting, she suggested the young men organize themselves, “lest the young women leave you behind”. Thus, the Young Men’s Organization was established.
At age 68, Eliza traveled to Europe, being the only female, with some of the church authorities, including her brother, Lorenzo. They met with many leaders of nations; however, Eliza, being a woman, was excluded from these meetings. They traveled to the Holy Land, which was of course a highlight of the trip, ever to be remembered. Eliza traveled by boat, train, carriage, horseback, and foot; slept in tents; and wrote and published a book about the adventure, called, “The Correspondence of the Palestine Tourists”.
While traveling to organize additional Primaries, Eliza experienced her, “famous ride”, where the driver of the carriage got lost and rode on untraveled ground, which proved to be quite bumpy, causing the passengers to fall out of their seats. Eliza was seventy-five years old at the time. This ride was always remembered with much laughter.
In Emmeline’s biography of Eliza, she writes, “Sister Eliza is never idle; she is always employed in some labor for the benefit of Zion. Her voice has been heard bearing testimony to the truth and instructing the people in almost every ward and settlement in Israel, and in many places in foreign lands; her books are in nearly every home of the Saints, and her songs are sung in every land where the Gospel has found its way. Thousands have been blessed under her hands in the House of the Lord, and in holy temples. She is brave, strong and unflinching in her spirit.”
Eliza was described as dignified, reserved, powerful and able. She had superior intelligence, wisdom, vision, and leadership. Brigham Young called her a Priestess, Prophetess, and Presidentess, by which she was known to all.
Compiled from Elect Ladies-Janet Peterson and Emmeline B. Wells biography of Eliza R. Snow, Women’s Exponent, Aug. 1880-Dec. 1881.