“Eliza R. Snow,” Tambuli, Sept. 1987, 6
Heroes and Heroines:
Eliza R. Snow
In 1838 when the Latter-day Saints were ordered by Governor Lilburn W. Boggs to leave the state of Missouri or be killed, a man taunted Eliza R. Snow, saying, “Well, I think this will put an end to your faith.” She replied, “No, sir, it will take more than this to put an end to my faith.” He humbly responded, “I must confess you are a stronger person than I am.”
Born on January 21, 1804, in Becket, Massachusetts, Eliza Roxey Snow was the second daughter of Oliver and Rosetta L. Pettibone Snow. Her brother, Lorenzo, would serve as the fifth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Eliza showed talent in writing at an early age. When she was twenty-two years old, she wrote, at the request of several newspapers, a funeral mass for former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826.
Though Baptists, the Snow family invited members of other religions into their home, including Sidney Rigdon. Eliza’s mother and sister joined the Church. After searching for and receiving answers to her questions, Eliza was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 5, 1835. Shortly after her baptism, Eliza moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where she taught school and took care of Joseph Smith’s children.
Mob persecution forced the Snow family to move often, leaving homes and friends. On one occasion, during the move to Far West, all the family’s food froze. So they soaked thinly sliced frozen bread in fresh warm milk from the cow for their meals. Eliza met hardships bravely and without complaint, and she helped to shelter and care for her elderly parents, who would later die on the journey to Winter Quarters.
On the journey to Winter Quarters Eliza drove a team of oxen. Though she had no experience with oxen, Eliza quickly learned to control them and keep up with the other wagons.
Eliza spent much time writing, and many of her poems were set to music. Her songs promise hope and peace and helped to comfort the Saints during their migration to Utah. Though she suffered persecution for her beliefs, none of her songs contain a desire for revenge. Instead, they reflect her very sure faith in the prophets and her love for the scriptures. She composed the words to many hymns, including “O My Father” and “How Great the Wisdom and the Love.” Eliza also wrote several songs for children, including “I’ll Serve the Lord While I Am Young” and “In Our Lovely Deseret.” In addition, she published volumes of poetry, hymns, and tune books.
President Brigham Young called Eliza to preside over the Women’s Department of the Endowment House when it was dedicated in 1855. With Aurelia Rogers she organized the first Primary. When the first Relief Society was organized on March 17, 1842, Eliza served as secretary to President Emma Smith; in 1866 she was set apart to preside over all the Relief Societies of the Church, and she served as president for twenty-one years, until shortly before her death in 1887. When the Deseret Hospital was established on July 17, 1882, she was made its first president.
Eliza R. Snow—teacher, driver of oxen, poet, president—was indeed a “strong person” who helped to build The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.