In a January meeting of the Big Cottonwood Relief Society in 1879, Eliza R. Snow’s recorded remarks open with: “I’m always anxious to meet with my sisters.”
“I love that,” said Jenny Reeder, a Church historian and 19th century women’s history specialist. “She reaches these far flung territories that other leaders in Salt Lake City aren’t able to.”
She’s a link between these communities as she teaches and trains them and then reports back to Church leaders what she has learned from them, Reeder said.
It’s part of more than 150 discourses during Eliza R. Snow’s travels from January 1879 to September 1880, which were published on the Church Historian’s Press website at www.churchhistorianspress.org/eliza-r-snow on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
During this time, Eliza, who was in her mid-70s, spoke to Relief Society, Young Women and Primary groups along with a few Young Men and Sunday School groups, too, Reeder said. Eliza’s travels during that time took her into the Idaho Territory, Wyoming Territory and throughout Utah — from Bear Lake in the north and Sevier County to the south. She traveled by train as far as the lines would go and then by horse-drawn wagons the rest of the way.
And she was also the Relief Society president of the Salt Lake City 18th Ward during this time. Eliza was formally set apart as the Relief Society general president by President John Taylor in July 1880. It was during the summer of 1880 that the presidencies for the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary were established.
Eliza rarely used prepared texts, Reeder said. Historians and volunteers combed through organizational minute books and other sources to find reports of her visits and talk summaries. The records in the minute books vary in details, format and length, likely depending on the secretary’s education level, Reeder said.
Some recorded the reception Eliza and her traveling companions received with an escort from the train station to the building, presentations and large gatherings.
“She was very well loved,” Reeder said.
Eliza was assigned by President Brigham Young in 1868 to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies and to instruct the women. During the next decade, she helped with founding the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association and the Primary Associations, according to the Church Historian’s Press.
Her discourses covered a wide variety of subjects as she encouraged women to be spiritually and physically self-sufficient, recognizing the value of women, supporting the temple-building efforts and the mutual efforts of women working with local priesthood leaders. She also shares her conversion story and experiences in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois. (The spelling, capitalization and punctuation in the quotes from the minute books have been updated.)
“I used to think if I could only see a prophet I would go to the ends of the earth, and when I heard that the Lord had raised up a prophet I thought it was too good to be true,” she said to the Ovid Relief Society in Idaho Territory on July 19, 1879, of her conversion experiences.
Eliza would encourage the women to be involved in home manufacturing as many Relief Societies had cooperatives to sell handmade goods.
“She’s really challenging a woman to be a part of what’s going on and to be self-reliant,” Reeder said.
To the Riverdale, Utah, Relief Society on Feb. 7, 1879, Eliza said: “The sisters are called to look after the sick. That is not all. They are to save souls.” That echoed the Relief Society’s purposes when the organization was established in Nauvoo. “Some think the brethren have all the work to do. But we all have work to do to save ourselves.”
She would comment on if men were present at the meetings.
“Sister E.R. Snow then arose and said I feel happy to see so many of my brethren present it strengthens me to have them know what we are teaching their wives and daughters. Said the outside world are continually clashing but we like the assistance of our husbands in our organized state we stand as [helpmeets] to our husbands,” is recorded in the Harrisville, Utah, Relief Society minutes on Dec. 11, 1879.
In addition, she encouraged the women to strengthen themselves and each other.
“Sr. Snow feels that if she can only persuade one sister to become more faithful and more pure before the Lord she will be repaid for all her trouble tenfold,” is recorded about a Dec. 6, 1879, meeting of the Plain City, Utah, Relief Society.
“She felt so strongly about the value of women and the influence of women,” Reeder said.
On being spiritually strong, Eliza said in the Salt Lake City 18th Ward, which is her home ward: “Just as our bodies need food to nourish it, so does the spirit need spiritual food. When we do not attend our meetings, we can not enjoy so much of the spirit of God, and when we feel that we do not care for the society of the Saints, we lose the good spirit. Jesus says, if we love one another it is a proof that we love God.”
To the Relief Society in Gunnison, Utah, on Aug. 13, 1880, Eliza said, “We profess to believe in present revelation.” Also recorded is that she said: “If you see anything in your midst that will disunite you, put your foot upon it immediately; you need all the union you can get. We all need improvement, without exception.”
One of things Eliza did during her travels was help local leaders set up Primary organizations. The first Primary was organized in Farmington, Utah, in 1878. Eliza would encourage the parents to send their children to the new mid-week Primary classes.
She regularly shared the biblical story of Daniel in the lion’s den.
Several times, it was recorded she would show the watch Joseph Smith gave her. She was the secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo and the watch was to make sure the meetings ran on schedule, Reeder said.
When she would travel, she would let others, especially the children, hold the watch. “She would say you’ve just held Joseph Smith’s watch,” Reeder added.
Also while meeting with groups of children, she would use catechism — short questions with specific answers. Her questions would include if God was aware of them, who the first and second presidents of the Church were and how long each served, Reeder said.
Historians will continue to put her discourses online on the Church Historian’s Press website. Once they are online, selections will be available in a print volume in about 2026.