Mormonism’s Eliza R. Snow continues to impress. The Mormon History Association announced that a compilation of her poetry shares the award for “Best Documentary” in 2009. More than 150 years have passed since she published her first volume of poetry,
Snow was told in a patriarchal blessing that songs “dictated by [her] pen” would be heard by future generations. Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson’s “Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry” has made all of Eliza R. Snow’s poetry & song available.
Dubbed “Zion’s Poetess” by Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith Jr., her poetry “captured nineteenth-century Mormonism … she became one of the most influential and best-known women in Mormon history” according to the publisher of the book, BYU Studies.
Born in 1804, Eliza Roxcy Snow surprised her teachers by submitting homework in rhyme. She began publishing her poetry in 1825 and penned nearly 500 poems throughout her life.
She was baptized into the Mormon church in 1835 and began boarding with Joseph Smith’s family the next year while teaching a school for young women.
Snow suggested the name “All-Female Relief Society of Nauvoo” at the founding of the LDS women’s organization, now called “The Relief Society.” She became the secretary to President Emma Smith, wife of church founder Joseph Smith on Mar 17, 1842. The organization was created with eighteen women and went on to become one of the longest running, largest women’s organizations in the world. Later she would resurrect the Relief Society as it’s president after the Latter-day Saints migrated to Utah.
Eliza R. Snow (Library of Congress)
On May 17, 1842, Joseph Smith married Eliza R. Snow, who recorded in her diary “this is a day of much interest to my feelings.” Originally adverse to the idea of polygamy, she later said her marriage was “one of the most important events of my life.”
After the death of the Joseph Smith in June 1844, she was so overcome with grief she desired death but said that Joseph Smith appeared to her in vision and told her to desire life, to be of good cheer and serve those around her. Three months later she entered into a plural marriage with Brigham Young “for time” and was “sealed” (i.e. married in the afterlife) to Joseph Smith “for eternity.” After settling in Salt Lake she would live with Brigham Young in the Lion House on Temple Square. After Brigham’s death, she went by Eliza R. Snow Smith. She said Joseph Smith was her “first and only love.”
On Nov 15, 1845, the Times and Seasons published her poem, “My Father in Heaven” (also called “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother”) which describes a Heavenly Mother partnered with a Heavenly Father. The poem was eventually put to music, and became the popular Mormon hymn “O My Father.”
Later, church prophet and president Wilford Woodruff emphasized the importance of the song to a general conference of the church: “That hymn is a revelation, though it was given unto us by a woman-Sister Eliza R. Snow.”
She was fully immersed in 19th century Mormon women’s spirituality, participating in blessings, healings, anointing, prophesying, and the gift of tongues. For example on Jun 18, 1847 she recorded “I spoke to br. H[unter] in the gift of tongues, sis. S[essions] interpreted, after which br. H[unter], sis. S[essions] & I laid hands on sis. H[unter]’s head and rebuk’d her illness & blessed her. I then sang a song to them & sis. S[essions] sang the interpretation. Susanna present & arose & bless’d sis. H[unter].”
Apostle Heber J. Grant recalled “I seldom hear a hymn written by Sister Eliza R. Snow sung in any of our meetings, or sing one myself, that I do not thank God for the gift of tongues to that noble woman. She gave to me a blessing when I was a child, predicting incidents in my life, promising me that I should grow to manhood and become one of the leaders in the Church of Christ, Sister Zina D. Young giving the interpretation.” Three years after his remark, Heber J. Grant became the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Often remembered for her spiritual and literary gifts, she was also a well read intellectual hosting many discussions including suffrage and other women’s issues.
In 1870, she established the Young Women’s organization, and The Primary for children in 1878. In 1882 she and eight other women founded the Deseret Hospital, the first hospital operated by the LDS church.
Eliza R. Snow lived a remarkable life, who’s contributions were multi-faceted. She was a giant in the areas of literature, leadership, charity, and intellect, all from the context of a fervent spirituality. Her poetry reflects all aspects of her life; and captures the spirit of early Mormonism.
Other books receiving awards from the Mormon History Association include:
Best Book Award — Matthew J. Grow’s “Liberty to the Downtrodden: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer.”
Best First Book — Megan Sanborn Jones’ “Performing American Identity in Anti-Mormon Melodrama.”
Best Biography — Polly Aird’s “Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1841-1861.”
Best Documentary “Mountain Meadows Massacre: The Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris Collection” edited by Richard E. Turley Jr. and Ronald W. Walker (tied with with ‘Complete Poetry‘)
Best International Book — Roger P. Minert’s “In Harm’s Way: East German Latter-day Saints in World War II.”
For more info:
- About the Mormon History Association
- About the Book – from the publisher
- Eliza R. Snow’s first volume of poetry, “Poems, Religious, Historical and Political” 1856
- Mormon Literature and Creative Arts Database entry for Eliza R. Snow, Brigham Young University
- The Mormon concept of a Mother in Heaven can be read about here and here.
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