SNOW, Eliza Roxy: Zion’s Poetess

This article originally appeared in Vol.50, No.1 (2003) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Janet Peterson

The Prophet Joseph Smith often referred to Eliza R. Snow as “Zion’s poetess.” When she joined the Church in 1835, she was already a nationally recognized poet. After her baptism, she redirected her writing talents to uplift the Saints and teach the doctrines of the gospel. Eliza Roxey Snow was born to a religious family on 21 January 1804, in Becket, Massachusetts. Her family was living in Mantua, Ohio, a town close to Kirtland when they learned of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eliza’s response to the gospel message was “It was what my soul hungered for, but … I considered it a hoax—too good to be true/ 2 She introduced her brother Lorenzo, to whom she was especially close, to the Church. He later served as the fifth President of the Church.

Eliza taught school to Joseph and Emma’s and boarded in their home in Kirtland. She contributed two to the hymnal that Emma Smith compiled and published in 1835.

The Snow family moved to Missouri with the Saints and then were part of the forced exodus to Nauvoo* There Eliza again taught school in the Prophet’s home and wrote poetry and hymns that were published in Nauvoo journals.

Eliza was appointed secretary of the Relief Society at its organizational meeting on 17 March 1842. She was a strong and influential leader of women from that point until her death. When the Relief Society was reorganized in Utah in I860, Eliza was called as its second president. She assisted bishops in organizing Relief Societies in wards throughout the Territory, instructed the sisters, and oversaw such endeavors as the grain storage program, the enterprise, and ordinance work in the Endowment House.4 Seeking to improve medical care, she served as president of the Deseret Hospital.5 Until 1880 when separate presidencies were called, Eliza headed the Retrenchment and the Primary associations.

Eliza became a plural wife of the Prophet Joseph in 1842, and after his was married to Brigham Young. She lived in the Lion House in Salt Lake City with the extensive Young family and continued to write poetry and hymns, such as “In Our Lovely Deseret,” “How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” and “Though Deepening Trials.”

Eliza’s dearest friend, Zina D. Huntington, also a plural wife of Joseph, had lost her mother and mourned deeply. When Zina asked the Prophet if she would know her mother in the world beyond, he “responded emphatically, ‘Yes, you will know your mother there.’”*5 In 1845, still grieving over Joseph’s death and contemplating his teachings, Eliza wrote her most beloved hymn, aO My Father” with the pencil Joseph had given her. The hymn was sung to many different tunes but is most familiar in its current setting by James McGranahan.

Eliza Roxcy Snow Smith Young died on 5 December 1887, in Salt Lake City.

In the current hymnal are ten of Eliza’s hymn texts:

  • “Awake, Ye Saints of God”
  • “Great Is the Lord”
  • “Though Deepening Trials”
  • “Again We Meet Around the Board” (lyricist)
  • “Behold the Great Redeemer Die” (lyricist)
  • “How Great the Wisdom and the Love”
  • *The Time Is Far Spent”
  • “Truth Reflects upon Our Senses”
  • “O My Father”
  • “In Our Lovely Deseret”

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