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Latter-day Saint History

What Are the Discourses of Eliza R. Snow?

Every once in a while—if you read carefully—Eliza tells little bits and pieces of her personal life.

The Church Historian’s Press has published the discourses of Eliza R. Snow online, along with the diaries of Emmeline B. Wells. Historians identified nearly 1,300 discourses that mention Snow, including talks that demonstrate her humor, testify of Jesus Christ, and reminisce about Joseph Smith. In this interview, Jenny Reeder explains more about the Eliza R. Snow discourses.


Search the discourses of Eliza R. Snow online courtesy of the Church Historian’s Press.


Who was Eliza R. Snow?

Eliza R. Snow was one of the most influential Latter-day Saint women of the nineteenth century. She was born in Beckett, Massachusetts; then moved to Mantua, Ohio, when she was 2; then joined the church and moved from Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo to Salt Lake City.

Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess for her work on hymns we continue to use today, following Emma Smith’s role as general Relief Society president, and her work in the Endowment House and the St. George temple.

They are incredible.

Brigham Young assigned her to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies in their wards beginning in 1868. She worked with Mary Isabella Horne to organize retrenchment organizations and young ladies’ associations, and she helped Aurelia Spencer Rogers plan out her ideas for Primary.

The women she visited loved her.

Eliza R. Snow is featured in this portrait taken circa 1867 entitled "Leading Women of Zion," alongside Zina D. H. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith, and Emily P. Young.
Eliza R. Snow (far right) is featured in this circa 1867 portrait by Edward Martin, “Leading Women of Zion.” The other women (from left to right) are Zina D. H. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith, and Emily P. Young. Credit: Church Historian’s Press.

I love this welcome she received from the Kanab Relief Society on 11 Feb. 1881:

To Sisters E.R. Snow Smith, Zina D. Young and Minerva Snow, in behalf of the R.S. of Kanab:

We, the sisters of the R.S., most sincerely welcome these our much beloved sisters, to Kanab.

A long, cherished hope is realized in the happy event. Here, on the frontier of Utah, in comparative isolation, it is the first time that any of our representative ladies, have visited us. Therefore, we say to them, welcome, thrice welcome; and may this visit be long remembered by us, as a time of rejoicing. May we treasure up the counsels we receive as precious gems.

We welcome you as Lady Pioneers to this beautiful, but once desert Territory; for by your untiring efforts, you have greatly aided in developing refinement and social advancement among the Saints.

We welcome you as veritable Mothers in Israel, for your lives have been given to good works, and to the accomplishment of holy purposes….

We welcome Sisters Eliza and Zina as our Elect Lady and her Counselor, and as Presidents of all the feminine portion of the human race. Although comparatively few recognize their right to this authority. Yet, we know they have been set apart as leading Priestesses of this dispensation. As such we honor them.

M. Elizabeth Little, “A Welcome,” Woman’s Exponent 9, no. 21 (1 Apr. 1881): 165.

How many discourses did Eliza R. Snow give?

We have found around 1,280 records of Eliza R. Snow’s discourses. Some just mention that she was in a certain town and spoke, while others are more detailed.

We expanded the definition of discourses for Snow—her first form of discourse was poetry. In her reminiscence, “Sketch of My Life,” she recorded being bored with her school assignments as a child, so she would often write them in verse. One day, her teacher asked her to read hers aloud. She did not dare, for she knew she would burst into laughter.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that one. We only considered poetry as discourses when she titled them as such.

Latter-day Saint historian Jenny Reeder talks about her experiences working with the discourses of Eliza R. Snow and the diaries of Emmeline B. Wells.

For the most part, the discourses we collected were from minute books where she spoke to various Relief Societies, Retrenchment Associations, Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Associations, and Primary meetings. We also have some political discourses given on Pioneer Day and at civic occasions and birthday parties.

We like to call this collection a “female journal of discourses.”


What was Eliza R. Snow’s speaking style?

Eliza R. Snow mostly spoke extemporaneously—as did many orators of her time. She often told the same stories or repeated certain topics which shifted over time. Think of it as recycling talks. Meetings during this time were often more like discussions than formal addresses, so often people would respond to each other. It was a community affair.


How many pages of text were examined to find the discourses of Eliza R. Snow?

We combed through around 1,600 minute books—with plus or minus 480,000 pages of nineteenth-century Spencerian cursive. We also read through 384 issues of the Woman’s Exponent, which is around 2,300 pages.

We searched through other newspapers, personal journals, and books. We looked everywhere she could have gone: minute books for Relief Societies, Young Ladies, Young Men, and Primaries from throughout Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada.


Does Eliza R. Snow ever come across differently depending on which secretary made notes of her discourses?

Absolutely! We could almost immediately tell if the secretary was educated or a native English speaker. There were a lot of misspellings that we interpreted. Once you figured out how a secretary wrote, it made things a little easier to decipher.

Most secretaries took notes on what we call “fair copies,” meaning they wrote on loose pages, then compiled their notes into more understandable sentences and paragraphs into the minute book. Others just wrote straight into the minute book.

She drew often upon what Joseph Smith taught.

We have one minute book for the Scandinavian Relief Society in Salt Lake City—a group of women from all different wards who came together to speak in their native language. We found those minutes in Danish. We had a couple of people provide translations so we could collate them into one central document.


Who was the best secretary for Eliza R. Snow’s discourses?

Overall, the best secretary, hands down, was Amelia Frodsham in Ogden. Unfortunately, many minute books are missing. We have no minutes from Wasatch County (Heber, Midway, etc.). We know she spoke there because we have mentions of those trips in the Exponent, but no books have surfaced.

We have very few minute books from Provo. If anyone knows of a minute book hidden away somewhere, please let us know!


How might Eliza R. Snow approach ministering if she were alive today?

Eliza R. Snow recognized the importance of ministry. One of my favorite metaphors she used was the idea of each woman bringing her coal to the fire in Relief Society:

When they are separate, they cannot burn, and soon go out, but when they are put together, they soon burst out in a blaze.

SLC 1st ward Relief Society, 17 Sept. 1872.

She took that a step further in what she called “teaching”:

Women must be filled with the Holy Ghost and know how to impart wise instructions suitable to the circumstances of individuals. Some are given to sorrow; you can warm them up as a mother does her infant by taking them to your bosoms. By doing the best you can, you will increase. Union is requisite; your hearts must be united and clothed with the Spirit. Associate together; you will love each other more by so doing.

SLC 11th ward Relief Society, 3 Mar. 1869.

She taught women to go into a home and ascertain if it was cold—then seek the Spirit to know how to warm up the family.

Her teachings were very empowering and connected women to going as Saviors on Mount Zion. She drew often upon what Joseph Smith taught the Nauvoo Relief Society: to relieve the poor and save souls. Her approach to ministry was salvific.


What are some Eliza R. Snow “zingers” that show her sense of humor?

We have wanted to make T-shirts or magnets of some of these!

  • “Tell the sisters that have not come to meeting today that Sister Eliza walked all the way to the depot in a storm. And next January she will be seventy-two years of age.”1
  • “Overcome this tittle-tattle about one another.”2
  • “I feel we need a lash.”3
  • “The Lord does not love a dirty Saint.”4
  • “We are now in the wash room, so let us roll up our sleeves and do the work, and then we shall be called in due time into the parlor.”5
  • “We need not be afraid of doing too much nor getting ahead of our brethren—and if we did, why let them hurry up.”6
  • “The Spirit of God never dwells with a grumbler.”7
  • “The sisters must be organized or be damned.”8
  • “In running from Babylon, they must not run so fast that they get beyond Jerusalem.”9
  • “The true Saint as the scum would rise to the top of the pot.”10
  • “We are called Saints. Are we live Saints or sleepy ones?”11
  • “We are calling for young sisters to study medicine to go through a regular course, so as to be able to amputate limbs.”12

Did women of Eliza Snow’s day view any topics differently than we do today?

My favorite thing about Eliza R. Snow’s discourses is that she taught women to recognize and practice spiritual gifts that we don’t practice today, like healing, speaking in tongues, etc. These are all gifts that Joseph Smith taught the women in Nauvoo.

The relationship between women and the priesthood has evolved over time as illustrated by this Anthony Sweat painting, Relief Society Healing
Eliza R. Snow taught women to recognize spiritual gifts not practiced today, like blessings illustrated in “Relief Society Healing” by Anthony Sweat.

Snow reminded them that both by virtue of their Relief Society membership and their endowment, they had the ability to lay their hands on heads, using oil, to anoint the sick. I believe that we in our day also utilize these gifts, but we often have to expand our definitions to use them in culturally appropriate ways in the 21st-century church.

Sometimes, she was their only connection to church headquarters.

Snow often testified about plural marriage—polygamy. She taught what prophets taught in her day: that celestial marriage required adherence to this principle that we no longer practice.

She spoke about the curse of Eve and overcoming the fall through plural marriage. The idea of the “curse of Eve” was a popular nineteenth-century concept. The Church does not teach that today.

She also spoke often of home industry and the United Order, popular practices under Brigham Young in hopes to achieve self-reliance.


What are some Eliza R. Snow quotes about Jesus Christ?

“He spilt his blood”

When in the waters of baptism we leave behind the spirit of the world and start in a different direction and seek for higher objects. We attain to a higher glory. Jesus said, ‘Father, glorify me with the glory which was of old.’ He spilt his blood upon the cross and now sits on the throne. It is our privilege to share the same glory with our elder brother.

Mill Creek Relief Society, 12 Sept. 1876.

“Joint heirs with Jesus Christ”

Those who have put on Christ at the waters of baptism, to become joint heirs with Jesus Christ, I have prayed to God that I may do better.

SLC 11th ward Relief Society, 3 Jan. 1878.

“Sisters to Jesus Christ”

We must bear in mind that we were sisters to Jesus Christ and joint heirs to the blessings and inheritances of the kingdom, with our elder brother.

Riverdale Relief Society, 15 Apr. 1874.

What are some Eliza R. Snow quotes about Joseph Smith?

“The church was not complete without the Relief Society.”

Joseph Smith said the organization of the church was not complete without the Relief Society, but some of our sisters do not realize it. The first Relief Society was organized by revelation from the Lord to Joseph Smith.

Marriott Relief Society, 16 May 1878.

“This organization . . . was sacred.”

Sister Snow suggested to the sisters that the Prophet Joseph Smith said such an organization was to exist in the church in all ages or it was not perfect…. This organization, Brother Joseph said, was sacred.

SLC 11th ward Relief Society, 3 March 1869.

“It is a heavenly mission.”

Sister Snow addressed the meeting, said the organization of R. Societies is sacred, organized according to revelation by Joseph Smith in order to prepare us to do more good than we otherwise could have done…. Looking after the poor is one of the first duties of our societies, and one of the most important. It is a heavenly mission. Joseph Smith said also it would result in the saving of souls.

Springville Relief Society, 16 March 1877.

What other Eliza R. Snow resources does the Church Historian’s Press have?

The Church Historian’s Press has published two books associated with Eliza R. Snow:

  • Key documents. The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History, which contains the minutes Snow kept of the Nauvoo Relief Society, several printed editorials in newspapers, letters, and discourses.
  • Discourses. At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses of Latter-day Saint Women, with three discourses by Snow.

How has Jenny Reeder come to know Eliza R. Snow through her discourses?

I have loved to see themes throughout Eliza R. Snow’s discourses as she taught women, youth, and children throughout the church. Sometimes, she was their only connection to church headquarters. She would come and teach them, and then take their stories back to Salt Lake City. Those who heard Eliza Snow loved her—and were inspired by her.

Eliza was very supportive of her fellow women. Brigham Young gave different women different responsibilities, and I love the way Eliza sustained them and helped them. She wanted them to succeed. She brought them with her on her trips and encouraged them to speak up. In the beginning, she was afraid to speak, but through time and experience, she overcame that fear and encouraged others to speak up and speak out.

Every once in a while—if you read carefully—Eliza tells little bits and pieces of her conversion story, her childhood, her trip to Europe and the Middle East, and her personal life.

These discourses reveal much about her. They are incredible.


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Further reading

Eliza R. Snow discourses resources

Sources

  1. Mound Fort Relief Society, 20 Sept. 1875.
  2. SLC 20th ward Relief Society, 10 July 1868.
  3. Box Elder Stake Relief Society, 9 June 1885.
  4. Richville Relief Society, 18 Aug. 1878.
  5. SLC 20th ward Relief Society, 22 May 1868.
  6. Santaquin Relief Society, 30 June 1878.
  7. Hyrum and Paradise Relief Societies, 25 Oct. 1877.
  8. SLC 11th ward Relief Society, 3 March 1869.
  9. Retrenchment, 28 May 1870.
  10. SLC 7th ward Relief Society, 12 Aug. 1871.
  11. Payson Relief Society, 9 Sept. 1871.
  12. Riverdale Relief Society, 31 Oct. 1873.

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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