While I may not be a “feminist” in the traditional sense, learning about strong and faithful women is always inspiring to me. In Eliza; The Life and Faith of Eliza R Snow we learn about the sister of Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Born to supportive and industrious parents, Eliza enjoyed a home that was a place of “book-studies and schooling… music and singing”. As was common at the time, Eliza was educated at home by her parents. She grew to be a confident woman who’s education proved to be valuable later in life. Before Eliza joined the church at the age of 31, she had already held a job as an assistant for her father in his business, rejected at least one suitor, and was a successful poet. After her baptism she dedicated her life and her pen to the Lord. Through the years of trials, persecution, travels, blessings, and loss Eliza’s poetry paints a vivid picture of what the Saints had to endure.
In 1838 she wrote these lines describing the suffering that was felt in Missouri:
…They come like hordes from nether shades let loose-
men without hearts- Just made for Satan’s use!
With wild, demoniac rage they sally forth,
Resolv’d to drive the Saints of God from the earth.
As she crossed the plains with the rest of the Saints in pursuit of a land free from oppression and persecution she wrote hymns to uplift and honor the pioneers as well as personal poems to comfort those who were suffering. Once they had settled she was known as “Zion’s Poetess” and used her poetry (and other talents) to further the work of God on earth. She worked and administered to the women, was instrumental in organizing what would later become the Relief Society, Young Women’s organization, as well as the primary; served as general president of the Relief Society and wrote several hymns that we still sing today.
I have to tell you one of my favorite things about Eliza. She was an educated and aware woman. Eliza was outraged at the Indian removal bills that congress had passed under the urging of Andrew Jackson. Her poem “The Red Man of the West” tells of the horrific irony that the newly formed government who had thrown off the chains of England dared to treat the native people as animals.
… But a wreck of the white man came over the wave,
In the chains of the tyrant he’d learn’d to enlave;
Emerging from bondage, and pale with distress
He fled from opression, he came to oppress! …
She would often write about the controversial issues of the time (most of which are still controversial). When speaking on the worth of women she wrote “that a woman is not a ‘play-thing’ or a ‘dazzling butterfly’ but one with a ‘holy calling’ holding with man ‘a key / Of present and eternal destiny.'”
I can relate to Eliza in so many ways. She was also a patriot. In 1860 she wrote a poem entitled “The Fathers – Wouldn’t They Be Astonished”. When I read this poem I was astonished! This poem could have been written today! Forgive me but this poem must be read in its entirety.
The Fathers—Wouldn’t They Be Astonished?
Who have gone to reap their wages,
Reap rewards for their well doing,
When on earth they were pursuing
This great nation’s peace and honor
In erecting Freedom’s banner;
Could they get one full expression
Of our Congress’ present session—
Could they take one single peep in,
They would surely fall to weeping.
They would weep and blush and wonder
At the noisy wind and thunder—
At the boisterous, wrathy prattle—
At the steam and tittle tattle—
At the ghosts with human faces,
Filling honorable places.
Could our Washington and Adams,
Jefferson and other sages,
Look upon the present scenery,
With its underwire machinery—
All the multiform dissentions
Of the multiplied conventions;
Some intent on office seeking—
Some intent on money eking—
All mix’d up in twists and jangles,
All absorb’d in wordy wrangles.
Could they take one squint at Utah,
See the army made a cat’s paw
To appease the scoundrels’ offers—
Just to fatten speculators,
Base, blood-thirsty instigators,
Who blew hard to raise a bubble—
Who created all the trouble—
See the “Mormons” scourg’d like minions
For their worship and opinions;
Just one glance would make them wonder
If the nation had gone under,
And our country’s boasted White House
Metamorphos’d to a light-house,
A tall beacon, just to show their
Once “fam’d liberty” is nowhere—
That the freedom of men’s conscience,
Guaranteed to us, is nonsense.
If they look for “Rights” as equal,
As they hop’d for in the sequel
Of their hardships and privations—
Of their wise deliberations,
When the government they founded—
When the trump of peace they sounded;
They would think their labors wasted
And the fruits thereof, untasted—
That altho’ their deeds are boasted,
And their names on way-marks posted;
They are virtually forgotten,
And the Constitution rotten.
published in The Mountaineer, 21 July 1860
Something tells me that Eliza and I would get along just fine :)
After her death in 1187 Apostle John W. Taylor’s eulogy contained this fitting tribute:
Inasmuch as the deceased was deprived of bearing children, she is entitled to be called Mother among this people, just as much as George Washington is to be called Father by the people of the United States. She has been a mother to this people. She has made us joyful by her poetical effusions; we have sorrowed when she sorrowed, and we have rejoiced when she rejoiced.
Eliza R Snow is an inspiration to me. I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to read this book and get to know her a little better. I love books that make me turn inward. I couldn’t help but wonder what I could be doing to further the Kingdom of God. I am no poet (in fact I’m not overly fond of poetry in general) but I was touched by her passion and she made me ask myself if I am using my talents the way the Lord would have me use them.