Eliza R. Snow Smith: Remembering a Forgotten Heroine of the Past
Recently, I was introduced to a historical figure who promptly became one of my greatest heroines. Her story is an incredible narrative of dignity, sacrifice, love, leadership, trials, death and nobility. I am grieved and somewhat surprised that she has been “left behind” in favor of modern role models who are mere pygmies in comparison.
210 years ago, a little girl was born in Massachusetts on the fresh soil of a newly freed nation. As a young child, Eliza Roxey Snow was well educated and exhibited early, mental strength and poetic genius. Her first poem “Pity” was published when she was only twenty-one. In spite of the success and fame her work brought her, the humble authoress aspired “to be useful as a writer, and unknown as an author.” (Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch,” in Beecher, Personal Writings, 7.)
Eliza was born with patriotic blood, a heritage of her forefathers. Her grandfathers both fought in the Revolutionary War and she was “born a patriot”. Later she would write
“at least a warm feeling of patriotism inspired my childish heart, and mingled in my earliest thoughts, as evinced in many of the earliest productions of my pen. …My grandfather on my mother’s side, when fighting for the freedom of our country, was taken prisoner by the British troops, and confined in a dreary cell, and so scantily fed, that when his fellow-prisoner by his side died from exhaustion, he reported him to the jailor as sick in bed, in order to obtain the amount of food for both. …
This, with many similar narratives of revolutionary sufferings recounted by my grand-parents, so deeply impressed my mind, that as I grew up to womanhood I fondly cherished a pride for the flag which so proudly waved over the graves of my brave and valiant ancestors.” (Edward Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York: 1877), pp. 30–31.)
In exploring her history, I found an interesting fact that should be an example for young women today. Her father was county commissioner and Justice of the peace and his personal secretary was none other than his daughter. This example of a daughter assisting her father is worthy of emulation today.
Both before and after her marriage to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Eliza was a close friend of the Smith family. In September 1842, she acted as the Prophet’s scribe and was privileged with drafting the first constitution and by-laws for what would become known as the Relief Society. After submitting her draft to the Prophet Joseph, he responded that the rules were “the best he had ever seen” but urged, “this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord , and He has something better for them than a written constitution. . . . I will organize the women under the priesthood after a pattern of the priesthood.” (Sarah Granger Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent vol. 12, no. 7 (September 1, 1883): 51.) Thus was birthed the Relief Society.
Eliza R. Snow Smith’s contribution to the Relief Society is immeasurable. Having a deep respect and honor for the Prophet Joseph Smith, she carefully noted his comments to the women. After the Prophet’s martyrdom, she preserved her records and transported them all the way to the Salt Lake Valley.
These instructions became invaluable when the Relief Society was reorganized and still hold intrinsic worth to Latter-day women today. Truly, the Relief Society would be very different if we had not had the instruction of the Prophet Joseph Smith as preserved by Eliza R. Snow.
Eliza lived a life of consecration, giving her entire inheritance for the construction of the Kirtland Temple. When her parents abandoned the Church in Nauvoo, she continued with the Saints. Practically orphaned and lonely, she stayed faithful. Drawing from her experiences, she wrote an astute observation on trials.
“The care and anxiety which I have experienced for the difficulties to which my parents have been subject since our expulsion from our home in Missouri have been a source of much bitterness of feeling; and that bitterness has been aggravated by the reflection that they [her parents] did not in their trials draw out from the springs of consolation which the gospel presents that support which was their privilege, and which would have enabled them to rejoice in the midst of tribulation & disappointment.” (Eliza R. Snow Nauvoo Journal and Notebook Tuesday May 23rd, as found in The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, pg. 75)
Sister Smith (she preferred to go by her married name) was loved by the Saints. After the Prophet Joseph Smith’s death, she was married for time to President Young in order to provide security and protection for her. She was extremely meticulous in her dress and bore a regal majestic deportment. One of his daughters remembered Eliza R. Snow Smith as one of the most esteemed wives of President Young.
We like to be appreciated but if we do not get all the appreciation which we think is our due, what matters? We know the Lord has laid high responsibilities upon us, and there is not a wish or desire that the Lord has implanted in our hearts in righteousness but will be realized, and the greatest good we can do to ourselves and each other is to refine and cultivate ourselves in everything that is good and ennobling to qualify us for those responsibilities.
Sister Eliza traveled throughout the Mormon settlements, teaching the women homemaking skills, medicine, child-rearing and more. Her life was pure and above reproach. She was known for frequently speaking in tongues. It was not unusual for a gathering of saints to be graced with a manifestation of this gift by Sister Eliza Smith. Her friend and frequent companion, fellow wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Zina D. Smith (Young), often served as her interpreter.
Eliza R. Snow Smith Young is truly a women to be admired and exemplified. In this world of weak leaders, immoral mentors and a lost understanding of true femininity and godliness, let us look back to one of the greatest women and her legacy.