Church History
2. Adam-ondi-Ahman: Elizabeth Ann Whitney

“2. Adam-ondi-Ahman: Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women (2017), 7–9

“2. Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” At the Pulpit, 7–9



Patriarchal Blessing Meeting

House of the Lord, Kirtland, Ohio

September 14, 1835

It would not have been unusual for Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney (1800–1882) to express herself through music in the temple in Kirtland, Ohio. She grew up in Connecticut in a cultured family, enjoying singing and dancing; she was known throughout her life for her vocal talent.1 Though she and her husband, Newel K. Whitney, did not belong to any religious denomination before 1830, she nevertheless described herself as “naturally religious,” with a desire to explore different churches.2 She remembered, “We had been praying to know from the Lord how we could obtain the gift of the Holy Ghost. … We were seeking to know how to obtain the Spirit and the gifts bestowed upon the ancient Saints.” Whitney stated that in response to their prayers, they felt the presence of the Spirit of the Lord, experienced a vision of a heavenly cloud, and heard a voice commanding them to prepare to receive the truth.3 The Whitneys learned about the Church of Christ, as it was then known, from the missionary Parley P. Pratt in Kirtland in late 1830, and they were baptized that November.4

Believing that the spiritual gifts of the New Testament were available in their time, many people in the nineteenth century described experiences with dreams, visions, healings, and speaking in tongues.5 In the early Mormon tradition, both men and women spoke and sang in tongues and translated for each other in public and private settings.6 On September 14, 1835, Whitney gathered with many others, most likely in the partially completed Kirtland temple, to receive a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith Sr., the church’s patriarch. Whitney remembered the “great manifestations of power” at such meetings.7 Pratt commented that during this same time period “many persons were carried away in the visions of the Spirit and saw and heard unspeakable things; and many enjoyed the ministering of angels, and the gift of healing and of speaking in tongues.”8 In the blessing given to Whitney, Joseph Smith Sr. promised her “the gift of singing inspirationally.” Joseph Smith Jr. told her that she would never lose this gift if she used it wisely.9 After Whitney received her blessing, she stood and sang in tongues; her song was interpreted by Pratt. The words to Pratt’s interpretation of Whitney’s song were recorded by an unknown scribe. Whitney retained the original copy, and it was printed years later in the Woman’s Exponent.10 Whitney’s song about Adam-ondi-Ahman, which is reproduced here, exemplifies a nineteenth-century form of charismatic discourse. The meter and topic of Whitney’s song are very similar to those of William W. Phelps’s hymn “Adam-ondi-Ahman.”11

In ancient days there lived a man,

Amidst a pleasant garden,

Where lovely flowers immortal bloom’d,

And shed around a rich perfume;

Behold, his name was Adam.

One of the nobles of the earth,

Had mighty power in blessing;

Received the priesthood, and went forth12

And blessed his seed, and gave the earth

Blessings for their possession.13

He sealed them for eternal life,

And all their generations,

Who should obey the gospel plan,

Down to the latest years of man—

A multitude of nations.

Isaac and Jacob, they in turn

Had power to bless their children:14

Hence, Jacob by his faith did learn,

And gave directions for his bones

To be conveyed to Canaan.15

By the same spirit, Joseph gave

A great and mighty blessing

To Ephraim, and Manasseh too,16

Whereby their seed were carried through

Long travels, though distressing.

By that same faith they built a ship,

And crossed the mighty ocean,17

Obtain’d the choicest land of earth,

Foretold the great Messiah’s birth,

And all the great commotion.18

* * * * * * * *

The holy priesthood long remain’d

In all its power and glory,

Until the priests of God were slain,

Their records hid from wicked men

Within the hill Cumorah.

Their remnants sank in sorrow down,

Became a loathsome people.

To misery and sorrow doom’d,

Their pleasant fields o’erspread with gloom,

Ruled by a Gentile nation.

But now the priesthood is restored,19

And we partake its blessings;

Our parents and our children dear

With Joseph’s remnants have a share

To latest generations.

As Adam blessed his family

In Adam-ondi-Ahman,20

So shall our aged father bless

His seed who dwell in righteousness

Upon the land of Zion.21

  1. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7, no. 6 (Aug. 15, 1878): 41; Emmeline B. Wells, “Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” Woman’s Exponent 10, no. 20 (Mar. 15, 1882): 153–154; Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York: Tullidge and Crandall, 1877), 32–34.

  2. Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7, no. 7 (Sept. 1, 1878): 51; Wells, “Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” 153–154; Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 41.

  3. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 41–42.

  4. Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7, no. 7 (Sept. 1, 1878): 51; Wells, “Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” 153.

  5. See Mark 16:17–18; 1 Corinthians 12:1–11; Doctrine and Covenants 46; and Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 147–152; see also Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 50–55; and Michael Hicks, Mormonism and Music: A History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 35.

  6. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 208–209; Hicks, Mormonism and Music, 35–39; Linda King Newell, “Gifts of the Spirit: Women’s Share,” in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 111–150.

  7. “Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” Patriarchal Blessings, 1833–2011, CHL; Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7, no. 11 (Nov. 1, 1878): 83; Parley P. Pratt, The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (New York: Russell Brothers, 1874), 140. Often people gathered in groups to receive patriarchal blessings. In Kirtland, these meetings occurred in private homes or in the temple. (Irene M. Bates and E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996], 38–39.)

  8. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, 141.

  9. Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7, no. 11 (Nov. 1, 1878): 83; Wells, “Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” 153–154. Whitney sang “inspirationally,” sometimes in tongues, throughout her life. In 1854, Wilford Woodruff recorded such an instance: “Sister Whitney sung in tongues in the pure language which Adam and Eve made use of in the garden of Eden. This gift was obtained while in Kirtland through the promise of Joseph. He told her if she would rise upon her feet (while in a meeting) she should have the pure language. She did so and immediately commenced singing in the language. It was as near heavenly music as anything I ever heard.” (Wilford Woodruff, Journal, Feb. 3, 1854, CHL; see also, for example, Wells, “Elizabeth Ann Whitney,” 153–154; and Eliza R. Snow, The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher [Logan: Utah State University Press, 2000], June 3, 1846, 135.)

  10. Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7, no. 11 (Nov. 1, 1878): 83. The concept of the pure language of Adam stemmed from the Tower of Babel and the preservation of language for the Brother of Jared as outlined in Ether 1:33–37; see also Genesis 11:1–9. (Samuel Brown, “Joseph [Smith] in Egypt: Babel, Hieroglyphs, and the Pure Language of Eden,” Church History 78, no. 1 [Mar. 2009]: 26–65.)

  11. The Kirtland high council, including William W. Phelps, met the same day Whitney uttered these words and discussed the hymnbook compilation by Emma Smith (created with the help of Phelps as editor). Phelps’s hymn, “Adam-ondi-Ahman,” was printed in Smith’s 1835 hymnal and sung at the dedication of the Kirtland temple. (Minutes, Sept. 14, 1835, in Matthew C. Godfrey, Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh, eds., Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835, vol. 4 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, and Matthew C. Godfrey [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016], 412–415; Emma Smith, ed., A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints [Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams, 1835], no. 23, 29–30.)

  12. Joseph Smith taught that “the Priesthood was first given to Adam.” (Joseph Smith, Report of Instructions, July 1839, in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, 63, CHL, accessed Sept. 6, 2016,; see also Doctrine and Covenants 78:15–16.)

  13. See Doctrine and Covenants 107:40–42, 53.

  14. See Genesis 27:23–29; 28:1–4; 48:9–15.

  15. See Genesis 47:29–30; 50:5, 13.

  16. See Genesis 48:5, 13–20.

  17. The Book of Mormon recounts that Lehi, a descendant of Joseph of Egypt, traveled by ship to the Americas with his family. (See 1 Nephi 17–18.)

  18. See Helaman 14:2–6, 14, 20–28; and 3 Nephi 1:15–20; 8:1–25.

  19. Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1, no. 1 (Oct. 1834): 15–16; Joseph Smith—History 1:71–72.

  20. In spring 1835, Joseph Smith described the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman as a place where Adam gave a “last blessing” to his children. In 1838, Smith specified that Adam-ondi-Ahman was located in modern-day Missouri. (“Adam-ondi-Ahman,” accessed Oct. 4, 2016,

  21. Doctrine and Covenants 116:1.