I would not be forgotten quite A poet and charismatic leader of women, Eliza Roxcy Snow was one of the most celebrated Latter-day Saint women of the nineteenth century. Through her poetry she rallied the LDS people, chronicled their history, chided their enemies, and expounded scripture and doctrine. Many of her hymn texts including “O My Father” and “How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” remain in the Latter-day Saint hymnal. As second general president of the Relief Society (1867-1887), she helped define the active role women continue to play in the Church as leaders and teachers in Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary.1

Biography

I was born in Becket, Berkshire Co., Mass. Jan. 21, 1804. My parents were of English descent—their ancestors were among the earliest settlers of New England. My father, Oliver Snow, was a native of Massachusetts—my mother, Rosetta L. Pettibone, of Connecticut.2

Eliza was the second of seven children of Oliver and Rosetta Pettibone Snow. The family moved to the Western Reserve in 1806. The precocious girl, who sometimes wrote school lessons in rhyme, later worked as secretary in the office of her father, a justice of the peace. Trained by her mother in domestic arts, she earned income as a seamstress. She was also a schoolteacher. Between 1826 and 1832 she published more than 20 poems over various pen names in Ravenna, Ohio’s Western Courier and Ohio Star.

Zion's Poetess

I was partial to poetical works, and when very young frequently made attempts at imitations of the different styles of favorite authors. In school I often bothered my teachers by writing my dissertations in rhyme.3

As a young girl, Eliza sometimes wrote school lessons in rhyme. She published several poems as a young woman under several different pseudonyms, demonstrating her passion for classical literature. Her poems chronicled the history of the Church and captured snapshots of the lives of hundreds of individuals. The first of her two volumes of Poems, Religious, Historical, and Poetical appeared in 1856, the second in 1877. Several of her poems affirm a woman’s place in Latter-day Saint theology.

Latter-day Saint

The spirit bore witness to me of the truth. . . . my heart was fixed; . . . On the 5th of April, 1835, I was baptized by a "Mormon" Elder, and in the evening of that day, I realized the baptism of the Spirit as sensibly as I did that of the water in the stream.4

Eliza’s Baptist parents welcomed into their Mantua, Ohio, home a variety of religious believers. She and other family members affiliated briefly with the Disciples of Christ. Joseph Smith visited the Snow home in 1831 and baptized Eliza's mother and sister Leonora before year's end. Eliza hesitated, deliberated, became fully committed and was baptized 5 April 1835. She moved in December to Kirtland, Ohio, where she donated much-needed cash to the temple, lived with Joseph and Emma Smith, taught in their family school, and composed two hymns for Emma’s new hymnal. Eliza's brother Lorenzo was baptized at Kirtland in June 1836. In 1838, the Snow family joined the Saints' migration to Missouri, permanently leaving Ohio to settle for nine months at Adam-ondi-Ahman until persecution forced the Saints to flee Illinois.

In Nauvoo, Eliza was appointed secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. She penned the minutes of the 1842-44 meetings, during which Joseph Smith designated the society's “constitution and law.” She brought the precious record to Utah.

Presidentess of All Women

Not long after the re-organization of the Relief Society, Pres. Young told me he was going to give me another mission. Without the least intimation of what the mission consisted, I replied, “I shall endeavor to fulfill it.” He said, “I want you to instruct the sisters.” Altho’ my heart went “pit a pat” for the time being, I did not, and could not then form an adequate estimate of the magnitude of the work before me.

Called by Brigham Young in 1866 to help bishops reorganize Relief Societies in local wards and to “instruct the sisters,” Eliza traveled from ward to ward, citing precedents and instructions from the Nauvoo minutes. She encouraged sisters to attend society meetings, sustain priesthood leaders, and support Brigham Young's program for economic self-sufficiency by establishing cooperatives, storing grain, raising silk, and obtaining medical training. Though not officially set apart as general president of the Relief Society until June 1880, she had essentially functioned in that capacity since 1867.

Because she was instrumental in the organization of Retrenchment Associations for Young Ladies (1869) and Primary Association s(1878) for children and helped oversee their work as well as that of the Relief Society, she became known as the “presidentess” of Latter-day Saint women's organizations. Her ministry awakened a generation of Latter-day Saint women to new temporal and spiritual responsibilities.

Memory

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1 Jill Mulvay Derr, “Eliza R. Snow,”; in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, ed. Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1148-1150.

2Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” in The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2000), 6.

3Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” 7.

4Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” 10.