“Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess.” This description of Eliza R. Snow and her titles was shared by Jenny Reeder in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the Eliza R. Snow discourses that have been published by the Church Historian’s Press. What follows here is a copost to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).
In describing who Eliza R. Snow (Smith Young) was and why she is so notable, Jenny Reeder wrote:
Eliza R. Snow was one of the most influential Latter-day Saint women of the nineteenth century. She was born in Beckett, Massachusetts; then moved to Mantua, Ohio, when she was 2; then joined the church and moved from Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo to Salt Lake City.
Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess for her work on hymns we continue to use today, following Emma Smith’s role as general Relief Society president, and her work in the Endowment House and the St. George temple.
Brigham Young assigned her to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies in their wards beginning in 1868. She worked with Mary Isabella Horne to organize retrenchment organizations and young ladies’ associations, and she helped Aurelia Spencer Rogers plan out her ideas for Primary.
Reeder also shared a welcome President Snow received when she visited Kanab with her counselor wherein the women there stated that:
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 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.
I wonder how many people even in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today would consider President Camille N. Johnson and her counselors as “Presidents of all the feminine portion of the human race”, but I suppose they are, in a way, just as President Eliza R. Snow was considered at that time.
Now, the focus of the interview was the online publication of the collected discourses of Eliza R. Snow by the Church Historian’s Press. It’s an exciting development that sounds like it was an immense labor of love to search out all of these discourses. As Reeder explained:
We combed through around 1,600 minute books—with plus or minus 480,000 pages of nineteenth-century Spencerian cursive. We also read through 384 issues of the Woman’s Exponent, which is around 2,300 pages.
We searched through other newspapers, personal journals, and books. We looked everywhere she could have gone: minute books for Relief Societies, Young Ladies, Young Men, and Primaries from throughout Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada.
The results, as one might expect are impressive:
We have found around 1,280 records of Eliza R. Snow’s discourses. Some just mention that she was in a certain town and spoke, while others are more detailed.
We expanded the definition of discourses for Snow—her first form of discourse was poetry. In her reminiscence, “Sketch of My Life,” she recorded being bored with her school assignments as a child, so she would often write them in verse. One day, her teacher asked her to read hers aloud. She did not dare, for she knew she would burst into laughter.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that one. We only considered poetry as discourses when she titled them as such.
For the most part, the discourses we collected were from minute books where she spoke to various Relief Societies, Retrenchment Associations, Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Associations, and Primary meetings. We also have some political discourses given on Pioneer Day and at civic occasions and birthday parties.
We like to call this collection a “female journal of discourses.”
This “female journal of discourses” is a very significant undertaking and an important resource.
It should be noted that this collection is part of a larger project that the Church’s history department has undertaken in sharing primary sources from women. As J. Stuart shared while reporting on the launch event for these documents last October:
On Thursday, October 27, 2022, the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched the websites for the Eliza R. Snow and Emmeline B. Wells Papers. Either of these projects would be newsworthy; the two of them together promise to launch many new projects in Latter-day Saint women’s history.
Some context for the project: beginning decades ago, historians like Cherry B. Silver, Sheree Bench, Jill Mulvey Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, and others transcribed and annotated documents. Then, roughly a decade ago, the historian Jill Derr suggested the creation of “a female Journal of Discourses” for Latter-day Saints to access women’s words and witness. These Papers Projects join Relief Society: The First Fifty Years and At the Pulpit: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History as collections in these “journals of discourse.”
(I think making the Relief Society General Board minutes available online could fall under this category as well.) Thus, while the Eliza R. Snow collection is, by itself, a journal of discourses, it is part of a larger female Journal of Discourses.
In the From the Desk interview, Jenny Reeder shared some of her favorite quotes from President Snow (some humorous, some more serious). To share a few selections from those:
- “The Lord does not love a dirty Saint.”
- “We need not be afraid of doing too much nor getting ahead of our brethren—and if we did, why let them hurry up.”
- “We must bear in mind that we were sisters to Jesus Christ and joint heirs to the blessings and inheritances of the kingdom, with our elder brother.”
- “Joseph Smith said the organization of the church was not complete without the Relief Society, but some of our sisters do not realize it. The first Relief Society was organized by revelation from the Lord to Joseph Smith.”
- “Sister Snow addressed the meeting, said the organization of R. Societies is sacred, organized according to revelation by Joseph Smith in order to prepare us to do more good than we otherwise could have done…. Looking after the poor is one of the first duties of our societies, and one of the most important. It is a heavenly mission. Joseph Smith said also it would result in the saving of souls.”
I personally love the discourses and other documents I’ve read from Eliza R. Snow, and so appreciated the quotes that were shared.
For more on the discourses of Eliza R. Snow, including more quotes and some of Jenny Reeder’s thoughts on President Snow, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk for the full interview.