“Susa Young Gates,” Church History Topics
“Susa Young Gates”
Susa Young Gates was born March 18, 1856. She was the second daughter of Brigham Young and Lucy Bigelow and the first child born in the Lion House in Salt Lake City. She grew up surrounded by dozens of siblings and enjoyed a happy childhood filled with school, music, drama, dancing, and gymnastics. Susa was especially gifted at music and literary expression.1
At the age of 14, Susa moved 300 miles from Salt Lake City to the small southern Utah town of St. George. Two years later, she married a young dentist, Alma Dunford. They had two children, a daughter and a son, but the marriage was troubled, and Susa divorced Dunford in 1878. The divorce was extremely traumatic for Susa. She lost legal guardianship of both of her children and had very little contact with her daughter for many years; she also lost property deeded to her from her father. Community gossip against her was unmerciful.2
After spending a year at Brigham Young Academy in Provo, where she organized the first music department, Susa married Jacob F. Gates, a young man from St. George, in January 1880. This marriage proved to be a source of lasting happiness and mutual support. The two served a mission together in Hawaii from 1885 to 1889.
By the 1880s Susa began establishing herself as a writer, contributing reports, articles, and stories to local publications, often using her favorite pen name, Homespun. In 1889 she founded the Young Woman’s Journal, the monthly magazine of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, which she edited until 1900. She contributed to magazines and newspapers for the rest of her life, and in 1914 she became the first editor of the Relief Society Magazine. For Susa, writing was a beloved pursuit through which she could make a meaningful contribution to the community. “My whole soul is for the building up of this kingdom,” she wrote to one close confidante about her literary ambitions. “I would labor so hard to help my sisters in this same work.”3
From the 1890s forward, Susa engaged in an impressive array of public work, politics, and Church service. She served on the Board of Trustees for Brigham Young University, taught domestic science classes, and promoted physical education. She participated in the National Council of Women, speaking at national meetings, serving as delegate to several of their congresses, and chairing the Press Committee. She took up genealogy and temple work as a particular emphasis in midlife and became a driving force behind the establishment of these areas as a major focus for Church members.4 She served on the general board of the YLMIA until 1911, when she was called to the general board of the Relief Society, where she served until 1922. In her later years, she published a biography of her father, The Life Story of Brigham Young, and produced thousands of pages of an unpublished manuscript intended to be a history of Latter-day Saint women.
Susa Young Gates experienced much tragedy and sadness in her life, including the deaths of eight of her thirteen children, several of whom died under unusually tragic circumstances. She experienced severe health problems, financial setbacks, and heartbreak caused by the choices of family members. Nonetheless, her faith anchored her life, and she reflected that she had learned not to “seek to bend the will of God to suit my own desires.” Instead, she said, she had learned to “fast and pray that I may be satisfied” no matter what the Lord bestowed. “If God will only make me satisfied with His every dealing unto me,” she said, “what [does it matter] what comes to me?”5