Years of diligent and meticulous work were celebrated Thursday, Oct. 27, as the Church Historian’s Press announced completion of two landmark online projects that feature the writings and ministry of two of the most influential women of their time.
“The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow,” with more than 1,200 discourses from 1840 to 1887, and “The Diaries of Emmeline B. Wells,” with 47 diary volumes spanning 1844-1920, are now available online for free.
These publications demonstrate the Church’s ongoing commitment to women’s history, said Matthew J. Grow, managing director of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Emmeline and Eliza were both articulate and influential leaders,” Grow said. “We believe that scholars and students of Latter-day Saint history will find so much in these discourses and diaries. We believe that Church members will find so much of instruction and inspiration. And we believe that scholars of broader topics, of American religious history, the history of the American West and women’s history, will find so much material here as well.”
Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887), sister of the Church’s fourth President, President Lorenzo Snow, was a prolific poet, writer, teacher and historian. She was the Church’s second Relief Society general president.
Emmeline B. Wells (1828-1921) was a writer, editor, public speaker and a nationally recognized champion of women’s rights. She served as the Church’s fifth Relief Society general president.
Both women helped build the Church, influenced its culture and taught doctrine. Historians believe their uplifting messages are still powerful and relevant for Latter-day Saints today.
Historians spent years searching through hundreds of sources — including more than 1,500 handwritten minute books, many in old 19th century cursive; hundreds of issues of the Women’s Exponent; as well as books, personal journals and 19th century newspapers — to find and compile Eliza’s words and discourses. Along with her discourses, visitors to the website will find historical context, maps, photographs and other material.
The Wells diaries project started almost 20 years ago at Brigham Young University when historians and editors Cherry Bushman Silver and Sheree Maxwell Bench began transcribing and annotating thousands of diary entries. The website also features historical introductions, chronology entries, photographs and biographical information about the people mentioned in the diaries.
The Church History Department held a media event on Thursday, Oct. 27, to signal the completion of the projects. Grow, along with lead historians Jennifer Reeder and Lisa Olsen Tait, discussed the projects and their significance.
Those who attended in person were also treated to a display of various historical artifacts, including documents, photos, a replica dress and other treasures from the early days of the Relief Society involving Eliza R. Snow and Emmeline B. Wells.
Thoughts on Eliza R. Snow’s discourses
Reeder was the lead historian on the Snow discourses.
One of Reeder’s favorite things about Eliza was how the prolific speaker encouraged other women to “speak up and speak out,” as she did in the Salt Lake City 13th Ward Relief Society on April 30, 1868.
“Sister Snow said she wished to say a few words to those sisters who felt backward to speak,” the entry says. “The enemy is always pleased when we do not overcome our feelings of timidity and keep our tongues from speaking words of encouragement and determination for thereby we become strengthened ... we soon gain confidence.”
Eliza traveled to counties, stakes, wards and branches in populated and remote areas, sometimes speaking three times a day. She wasn’t afraid to go places, even under poor weather conditions, in her later years, as she told the Mound Fort Relief Society on Sept. 20, 1875.
“Tell the sisters that have not come to meeting today that Sister Eliza walk[ed] all the way to the depot in a storm. And next January she will be 72 years of age.”
“She traveled by train and carriage,” Reeder said. “And people were excited to see her come all the way from Salt Lake when no one else may have visited some of these far-flung settlements.”
Another message that resonated with Reeder, delivered to the Salt Lake City First Ward Relief Society on Sept. 5, 1872, centered on unity.
“If we have each a little of the right spirit and come together it is like putting coals of fire together,” Eliza said. “When they are separate they cannot burn and soon go out, but when they are put together soon burst out in a blaze.”
Working on the project and getting to know both Eliza and Emmeline on a deeper level has been a blessing for Reeder, who said she felt the strength of both women when she was dealing with leukemia a few years ago.
“I feel like my life was preserved to do this work,” she said.
She hopes members, especially women, will take a deep dive into Eliza’s life and learn from her discourses.
“Women have an incredibly important and vital role in the Restoration, in the doctrine and in the Church,” Reeder said. “We need to recognize that, the good we can do and how we can build the kingdom of God.”
Thoughts on Emmeline B. Wells’ diaries
Tait, a women’s history specialist, spoke about the project to transcribe and publish Emmeline’s diaries. She opened with this 1881 quote from Emmeline, noting the use of the term “woman” in singular form.
“The historians of the past have been neglectful of woman, and it is the exception if she be mentioned at all; yet the future will deal more generously with womankind, and the historian of the present age will find it very embarrassing to ignore woman in the records of the 19th century.”
“This was an important construct in her thinking of ‘woman’ as representing the collective interests, needs and ideas of an experience of women in general,” Tait said. “Emmeline has become someone that we can’t ignore, both in her own right and because of all the work she did to ensure that the women of her own time would be remembered.”
Emmeline was the editor of the Woman’s Exponent newspaper for 37 years. She helped link Latter-day Saint women to national women’s organizations and suffrage movement while sharing her talents in a wide range of arenas and platforms.
Her diaries describe her meetings with U.S. presidents and Church leaders, as well as interactions with prominent figures like Susan B. Anthony. She documented noteworthy events and daily interaction with her family and friends in the community. Her diaries give texture to life in Salt Lake City during a transformative period and offer glimpses into the wider world as she travels across the country and internationally. She also opens up with thoughts about her faith and personal trials.
The diaries were preserved by Emmeline’s daughter and her descendants and came to be preserved in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at the BYU library.
“Very few people of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, male or female, Latter-day Saints or not, very few people have left behind that extensive of a record of their lives, their feelings, their experiences,” Tait said. “Her diaries are not simply a Latter-day Saint source but also an American source, a source of American women’s history.”
The Church Historians Press is thrilled to give this “invaluable collection of records the full treatment that it deserves,” Tait said.
“We believe that Church members will find wonderful stories and details about the leading sisters in a dynamic period of women’s activism and leadership in the Church, alongside many powerful personal expressions of faith from Emmeline herself.”