After call as Relief Society general president, Eliza R. Snow encourages women to keep covenants, build the kingdom

After being formally set apart as the Church’s Relief Society general president in 1880, Eliza R. Snow felt the need to visit as many women as possible. 

“How beautiful was the love of sisterhood, especially when the tie is the gospel,” is recorded from when she spoke at the Retrenchment Association in Salt Lake City on July 30, 1881. (The spelling, capitalization and punctuation in the historical quotes have been updated.) 

In 1868, Eliza R. Snow was assigned to assist bishops with organizing Relief Societies, train leaders and instruct the women. Stake Relief Society organizations began to be established in 1877. It was on June 19, 1880, when she was formally nominated by President John Taylor to oversee “a central organization” for “all the Stakes in Zion.”

She’d previously made many visits to Relief Societies throughout Utah and surrounding states, organizing Relief Societies, Young Ladies groups and Primaries. It was in November 1880, that Eliza and Zina D.H. Young, her first counselor, left the Salt Lake Valley heading south to the St. George, Utah, area. 

“Now, she’s going to visit with a different intent, and that is to lead and to preside and to train and organize, and to bring these different settlements together into one great whole,” said Jenny Reeder, a Church historian and 19th century women’s history specialist. 

The summaries of 150 times the second Relief Society general president spoke from September 1880 to December 1881 were published Feb. 15 on the Church Historian’s Press website. Where possible, an image of the building is included. This is the seventh installment of her discourses, and two more batches of her discourses are scheduled for publication later this year. A print volume of selections of discourses is also in the works.  

This March The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrates the 180th anniversary of the organization of Relief Society — which Eliza led once the Church was established in the Western United States.

The summer of 1880, 76-year-old Eliza visited several places around Salt Lake City and from Gunnison to Brigham City. Her travels that fall included going to Sevier County, visiting the stake Relief Society, and those in Monroe, Annabella and Glenwood, and also the Primary groups in Monroe, Salina and Glenwood.  

The front of Eliza R. Snow’s pocket watch, given to her by Joseph Smith.
The front of Eliza R. Snow’s pocket watch, given to her by Joseph Smith. Credit: Church History Library

Eliza rarely spoke from notes, and what’s available about her messages is largely from handwritten ward and stake minutes books. Her visits were occasionally mentioned in journals or reported in newspapers or Church publications. 

In addition to training and organizing the women, she would encourage them to keep their covenants, read the scriptures and be mindful of their role in the building the Church, Reeder said. 

Eliza often testified of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and with Primary children, she would pass around the pocket watch he gave her when she was the secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo to keep time.

“She would tell them it was given to her by the Prophet Joseph Smith and let them all hold it. And they would hold it like it was a really important relic,” Reeder said. 

The children had heard about him, and “being able to hold something physically and tangible that represented him was a really noteworthy and memorable thing for them,” Reeder said. 

Read more: More than 150 records of what Eliza R. Snow shared with women and children as she traveled are now online

South to St. George 

In November 1880, she left Salt Lake City and went south with Zina. They went along what is now the I-15 corridor, stopping in Scipio, where Eliza organized a Primary. They also stopped in Holden, Meadow and Kanosh, Nov. 9-12, 1880, Washington on Nov. 19, and Santa Clara on Nov. 27. Eliza spoke in the St. George 1st Ward on Nov. 29. They likely went as far as they could on the train and then went on a wagon the rest of the way, Reeder said. 

This map shows Eliza R. Snow and Zina D.H. Young's stops on their ministry to southern Utah from November 1880 to March 1881.
This map shows Eliza R. Snow and Zina D.H. Young’s stops on their ministry to southern Utah from November 1880 to March 1881. Credit: Church History Library

Eliza taught the women that they have the authority and the responsibility to build the kingdom of God. She always testifies of Joseph Smith and the prophets.  

“We must keep our covenants,” Eliza R. Snow taught in Kanosh Relief Society on Nov. 12, 1880.

While many of those in southern Utah were likely those who joined the Church, immigrated to Utah and then were asked to help settle places in southern Utah, there are second-generation members of the Church, including those in the Young Ladies and Primary groups Eliza and Zina organized. 

“This is a great work and the gospel was designed to draw all people together,” she said during a meeting in the St. George Tabernacle on Dec. 17, 1880. She also encouraged them to “draw a little nearer to our Heavenly Father.”

One of the reasons she took the trip south is that the St. George Utah Temple had been dedicated in 1877, before Brigham Young died. Construction had begun on both the Manti Utah Temple and the Logan Utah Temple in 1877. And it would be several years before they were dedicated — Logan in 1884 and Manti in 1888. The St. George Temple was the only place at the time to do temple ordinances for the dead. 

While in St. George, Eliza did the temple work for women in her family, including her mother, sisters and aunts who had passed away. 

“It’s a really tender and special time for her,” Reeder said. 

While she’s based in St. George, she took weeklong trips to other areas in southern Utah.

In December, she went to Pine Valley, Pinto, Hamblin and Hebron. In Pinto, she organizes a Primary. And there was a child who was very sick and had to be carried to the meeting. 

At the end of the meeting, Eliza asked everyone to “stand up and pray for the sick child. And so she says the prayer but they repeat the words of the prayer,” Reeder said. 

The event was also reported in the Juvenile Instructor in 1893. “When they got through praying he got up, walked home, and got into a wagon without help. He was well from that time.”

Reeder said that “there’s a lot of miraculous events that happen and things that they always remember.”

This portrait, titled “Leading Women of Zion” on the frame, was taken circa 1867 by Edward Martin. Left to right: Zina D.H. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith, Emily P. Young and Eliza R. Snow.
This portrait, titled “Leading Women of Zion” on the frame, was taken circa 1867 by Edward Martin. Left to right: Zina D.H. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith, Emily P. Young and Eliza R. Snow. Credit: Church History Library

In January, she celebrated her 77th birthday, and also took a trip to settlements along the Virgin River, including Rockville, Virgin City and Toquerville, where “life is so tenuous.”

“They’re so excited when she comes and visits them,” Reeder said. It’s recognition that the leaders know they are there and that they are important and “want you to be able to have the instruction and authority in our organizations that everyone else has.”

She also went down to Nevada to Bunkerville, where the minutes note Eliza spoke in tongues and Zina interpreted. In February, she went to Price, Kanab, Orderville and Johnson. “They are just so excited to have her there.” On the way back in March, they stopped in several towns, including Parowan and Adamsville. 

“They are just so delighted to hear from her,” Reeder said of the people in these small towns. 

And in researching Eliza’s discourses, there are other discoveries. 

“Although we are primarily looking at Eliza R. Snow discourses, we are also recognizing the people that she’s with and the relationships that she’s had and their faithfulness, and covenants and commitments, and it’s so beautiful,” Reeder said. 

In Santa Clara, on Nov. 27, 1880, the minutes note “Prest L.K. McLellen made a few opening remarks.” 

“We always try to look up the names to find their [full] names and who they were,” Reeder said.

L.K. McLellen’s full name is Lydia Knight McClellan. As Reeder dug into Lydia’s history, she found that after joining the Church in Canada in 1833, she moved to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1835, “where she had to have known Eliza.”

There, Lydia married Newel Knight, the son of Joseph Knight Sr. and Polly Knight, who were from Colesville, New York. They were married by Joseph Smith in the first wedding that he performed, Reeder said. 

Lydia and Newel later moved to Missouri and Illinois. Lydia joined the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. 

“It’s just amazing to recognize the relationships there — visiting old friends,” Reeder said. 

Back in northern Utah

Eliza and Zina arrived back in Salt Lake City in March. In April, Eliza visited several Primaries in Salt Lake City and went up to Morgan, Utah. In the summer, she visited women, young women and children from Malad, then in Utah Territory, to Weber to Gunnison.  

Studio portrait of Eliza R. Snow by Savage and Ottinger, circa 1862–1872
Studio portrait of Eliza R. Snow by Savage and Ottinger, circa 1862–1872 Credit: Church History Library

Eliza taught the Weber Stake Young Ladies on June 10, 1881, that: “The heart must be cultivated as well as the head; our spirits must be matured as well as our bodies.”

She also encouraged them to read the Bible, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. 

“Exhorted the young ladies to read carefully the revelation given to Emma Smith and notice at the close of this revelation that what the Lord said unto her, He said unto all,” according to the minutes. 

In some of the visits, she would share some of her conversion story or her experiences in the Kirtland Temple, like with the Weber Stake Primary on June 11, 1881.

“You get a greater idea of who she is and recognize and more about her personally like to find little bits and pieces about her personal life and her conversion,” Reeder said. 

The Odgen Daily Herald reported on when she spoke to the Weber Stake Relief Society in the Ogden Tabernacle on Sept. 8, 1881.

“I am here, nearly 78 years old,” she said, “perhaps you think I am preserved in good health in my old age because I have not had any trials. I have had such as cut me very close, but I am thankful for all the thorny places I have passed through.”

It’s in Malad, now in Idaho but then in Utah Territory, when she testified of temple work. She “referred to the energetic feeling that ought to prevail in assisting to build temples, to perform the work for the dead,” as recorded in the Malad Relief Society minutes on June 19, 1881.

Eliza also reminded the women to vote. In other places, it’s recorded that she encourages women to contribute to the building of temples, whether money or goods. She also encouraged the women to attend classes by women doctors. 

“I love to be associated with such sisters,” Eliza told the Salt Lake City 10th Ward Relief Society on Nov. 23, 1881.

“She’s been all over and feels this connection from all over,” Reeder said.

Eliza R. Snow’s discourses from 1868 to 1881 are available on the Church Historian’s Press at churchhistorianspress.org/eliza-r-snow.