“Eliza R. Snow,” Church History Topics
“Eliza R. Snow”
Eliza Roxcy Snow was born in Massachusetts in 1804 and grew up in Ohio. Her family was well respected and taught her personal discipline along with literature and religion. She learned to write poetry, keep books for her father, and sew and keep house with her mother.
Sidney Rigdon, a Reformed Baptist minister and family friend, introduced the Snows to Joseph Smith in 1831, and Eliza’s mother and sister immediately converted.1 More than four years later, after much thought and study, 31-year-old Eliza was baptized. She moved to Kirtland, where she taught school for the Smith family, wrote a hymn for the first Latter-day Saint hymnal, and donated her substantial inheritance to the construction of the temple.2 Along with other Saints in Kirtland, she witnessed the spiritual manifestations that attended the dedication of the temple.3
In the midst of the Missouri persecutions in the late 1830s, Joseph Smith called on Eliza to write on behalf of her people and in their defense.4 She accepted the challenge, and by the 1850s, she became known as “Zion’s Poetess.” She wrote more than 500 poems in which she chronicled the history and beliefs of the Saints. Many of her poems became beloved hymns and were sung around pioneer campfires, in meeting rooms, and in temples. Her poetry preserved important teachings from Joseph Smith (including the doctrine of a Mother in Heaven), encouraged Latter-day Saints in their duties, and instructed children in gospel principles.5
Eliza’s leadership abilities became evident in Nauvoo in 1842 when, under the direction of Joseph Smith, she, along with Emma Smith, Sarah Kimball, and other women, formed the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. As secretary, Eliza recorded in the organization’s minute book important teachings about the integral role of women in the Restoration. She carried these minutes across the plains, later using them as a charter and pattern for organizing local Relief Societies throughout Utah under the direction of Brigham Young.6 Eliza served as the second General President of the Relief Society, following the charge given to her predecessor, Emma Smith, to expound the scriptures and exhort the Church members. Eliza worked with other women to organize and then supervise the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (founded in 1870) and the children’s Primary Association (founded in 1878).
As a founder and early leader of all three women’s organizations within the Church, Eliza R. Snow traveled extensively and spoke often to the women of the Church. “We stand in a different position from the ladies of the world,” she taught them. “We have made covenant with God, we understand his order.”7 Her sermons focused not only on practical aspects of pioneer life, but also on the doctrine of the gospel, the restoration of the priesthood, accountability in building the kingdom, and the need for women to expand their vision of their potential. “Do you know of any place on the face of the earth,” she asked in 1870, “where woman has more liberty, and where she enjoys such high and glorious privileges as she does here, as a Latter-day Saint?”8
Eliza was also known for her service in the temple. She received her endowment in Nauvoo and served as an ordinance worker for many years in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, leading women through the ordinances of the temple.9 In an era when plural marriages connected many Latter-day Saints in overlapping family networks, Eliza played an active role in multiple families.10 She was a plural wife of Joseph Smith and then of Brigham Young. Though she never had her own children, she was a mentor to the children of the Young household and fostered relationships among the Youngs and other pioneer families. The second of seven Snow siblings, she maintained close ties with her siblings and their families, including her younger brother Lorenzo, who later became President of the Church.
Eliza died on December 5, 1887. At her funeral in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, a choir sang her well-known hymn “O My Father.” Apostles, family, and friends paid tribute to her with poetry, discourses, personal memories, and firm testimonies.11 Her obituary in the New York Times described her as “one of the central figures of the Mormon galaxy.”12