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13 January 1870


Public Meeting; Salt Lake City Adobe Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory

One-story adobe building surrounded by an adobe fence

Adobe tabernacle in Salt Lake City, circa 1858. This building became known as the “old” tabernacle after a new one was built nearby.

[. . .] On the motion of Sister Eliza R. Snow, Mrs. Sarah N. [M.] Kimball (President of the Female Relief Society of the 15th ward) was elected president of the meeting. [. . .]

E. R. Snow.

My sisters: —In addressing you at this time I realize that the occasion is a peculiar and an interesting one. We are living in a land of freedom—under a Constitution that guarantees civil and religious liberty to all; black and white, Christians, Jews, Mahometans and Pagans; and how strange it is that such considerations should exist as those which have called us together this afternoon.

Under the proud banner which now waves from ocean to ocean, strange as it may seem, we, who have ever been loyal citizens, have been persecuted from time to time and driven from place to place, until at last, beyond the bounds of civilization, under the guidance of President [Brigham] Young, we found an asylum of peace in the midst of these mountains.

There are, at times, small and apparently trivial events in the lives of individuals with which every other event naturally associates. There are circumstances in the history of nations, which serve as centres, around which everything else revolves.

The entrance of our brave pioneers and the settlement of the Latter-day Saints in these mountain vales, which then were only barren, savage wilds, are incidents with which, not only our own future, but the future of the whole world is deeply associated.

Here they struggled with more than mortal energy, for their hearts and hands were nerved by the spirit of the Most High, and through His blessing they succeeded in drawing sustenance from the arid soil; and here they erected the standard on which the Star Spangled Banner waved its salutations of welcome to the nations of the earth; and, although it had been stained with the blood of innocence, here it has been rescued from the withering touch of tyranny and oppression—here it has been honored and respected, and here it will be bequeathed unsullied to future generations. Yes, that “dear old Flag,” which in my girlhood I always contemplated with joyous pride, and to which the patriotic strains of my earliest muse were chanted, here floats triumphantly on the mountain breeze.

Our numbers, small at first, have increased, until now we number one hundred and fifty thousand, and yet, we are allowed only a Territorial Government. Year after year we have petitioned Congress, for what it was our inalienable right to claim,—a State Government; and year after year our petitions have been treated with contempt. Such treatment as we have received from our rulers, has no precedent in the annals of history.

And now, instead of granting us our rights as American citizens, bills are being presented to Congress which are a disgrace to men in responsible stations, professing the least claim to honor and magnanimity—bills, which, if carried into effect, would utterly annihilate us as a people. But this will never be. There is too much virtue yet existing in the nation, and above all, there is a God in heaven, whose protecting care is over us, and who takes cognizance of the acts of the children of men.

My sisters, we have met to-day to manifest our views and feelings concerning the oppressive policy exercised towards us by our Republican Government. Aside from all local and personal feelings, to me it is a source of deep regret that the standard of American liberty should have so far swayed from its original towering position as to have given rise to circumstances which not only rendered such a meeting opportune but absolutely necessary.

Heretofore, while detraction and ridicule have been poured forth in almost every form that malice could invent—while we have been misrepresented by speech and press, and exhibited in every shade but our true light, the ladies of Utah, as a general thing, have remained silent. Had not our aims been of the most noble and exalted character, and had we not known that we occupied a standpoint far above our traducers, we might have returned volley for volley; but we have, all the time, realized that to contradict such egregious absurdities, would be a great stoop of condescension—far beneath the dignity of those who profess to be Saints of the living God; and we very unassumingly applied to ourselves a saying of an ancient apostle in writing to the Corinthians, “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing that yourselves are wise.”

But there is a point at which silence is no longer a virtue. In my humble opinion we have arrived at this point. Shall we—ought we to be silent when every right of citizenship—every vestige of civil and religious liberty is at stake? When our husbands and sons—our fathers and brothers are threatened, being either restrained in their obedience to the commands of God, or incarcerated year after year in the dreary confines of a prison, will it be thought presumptuous for us to speak? Are not our interests one with our brethren? Ladies, this subject as deeply interests us as them. In the Kingdom of God, woman has no interests separate from those of man—all are mutual.

Our enemies pretend that in Utah, woman is held in a state of vassalage—that she does not act from choice, but by coercion—that we would even prefer life elsewhere, were it possible for us to make our escape. What nonsense! We all know that if we wished, we could leave at any time—either to go singly or we could rise en masse, and there is no power here that could or would ever wish to prevent us.

I will now ask this intelligent assembly of ladies: Do you know of any place on the face of the earth, where woman has more liberty, and where she enjoys such high and glorious privileges as she does here, as a Latter-day Saint? “No!” The very idea of women here in a state of slavery is a burlesque on good common sense. The history of this people, with a very little reflection, would instruct outsiders on this point, it would show at once that the part which woman has acted in it, could never have been performed against her will. Amid the many distressing scenest hrough [scenes through] which we have passed, the privations and hardships consequent on our expulsion from State to State, and our location in an isolated, barren wilderness, the women in this Church have performed and suffered what could never have been borne and accomplished by slaves

And now, after all that has transpired, can our opponents expect us to look on with silent indifference and see every vestige of that liberty, for which many of our patriotic grandsires fought and bled, that they might bequeath to us, their children, the precious boon of national freedom, wrested from our grasp? If so, they will learn their mistake, we are ready to inform them. They must be very dull in estimating the energy of female character, who can persuade themselves that women, who, for the sake of their religion, left their homes, crossed the plains with handcarts, or, as many had previously done, drove ox, mule and horse teams from Nauvoo and from other points when their husbands and sons went at their country’s call, to fight her battles in Mexico; yes, that very country which had refused us protection and from which we were then struggling to make our escape I say, those who think that such women and the daughters of such women do not possess to much energy of character to remain passive and mute under existing circumstances are “reckoning bills without their host.” To suppose that we should not be aroused when our brethren are threatened with fines and imprisonment for their faith in and obedience to the laws of God, is an insult to our womanly natures.

Were we the stupid, degraded, heartbroken beings that we have been represented, silence might better become us; but, as women of God,—women filling high and responsible positions—performing sacred duties—women who stand not as dictators, but as counselors to their husbands, and who, in the purest, noblest sense of refined womanhood, being truly their helpmates; we not only speak because we have the right, but justice and humanity demand that we should.

Instead of being lorded over by tyrannical husbands, we, the ladies of Utah, are already in possession of a privilege which many intelligent and high aiming ladies in the States are earnestly seeking i.e., the right to vote. Although as yet we have not been admitted to the common ballot box, to us the right of suffrage is extended in matters of far greater importance. This we say truthfully not boastingly; and we may say farther, that if those sensitive persons who profess to pity the condition of the women of Utah, will secure unto us those rights and privileges which a just and equitable administration of the laws of the Constitution of the United States guarantees to every loyal citizen, they may reserve their sympathy for objects more appreciative.

My sisters, let us, inasmuch as we are free to do all that love and duty prompt, be brave and unfaltering in sustaining our brethren. Woman’s faith can accomplish wonders. Let us, like the devout and steadfast Miriam, assist our brothers in upholding the hands of Moses. Like the loving Josephine, whose firm and gentle influence both animated and soothed the heart of Napoleon, we will encourage and assist the servants of God in establishing righteousness; but, unlike Josephine, never will political inducements, threats or persecutions prevail on us to relinquish our matrimonial ties—they were performed by the authority of the holy priesthood, the efficacy of which extends into eternity.

But, to the law and to the testimony. Those obnoxious, fratricidal Bills—I feel indignant at the thought, that such documents should disgrace our National Capital. The same spirit that prompted Herod to seek the life of Jesus—the same that drove our Pilgrim Fathers to this Continent, and the same that urged the English Government to the system of unrepresented taxation, which resulted in the independence of the American Colonies, is conspicuous in those Bills. If such measures are persisted in, they will produce similar results. They not only threaten extirpation to us, but they augur destruction to the Government. The authors of those Bills would tear the Constitution to shreds. They are sapping the foundation of American freedom—they would obliterate every vestige of the dearest right of man—liberty of conscience, and reduce our once happy country to a state of anarchy.

Our trust is in God. He that led Israel from the land of Egypt—who preserved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednegoin [Abednego in] the fiery furnace; who rescued Danlei [Daniel] from the jaws of hungry lions, and who directed Brigham Young to these mountain vales, lives and overrules the destinies of men and nations. He will make the wrath of man praise Him; and His kingdom will move steadily forward, until wickedness shall be swept from the earth, and truth, love and righteousness reign triumphantly.

The remainder of the proceedings will be printed in to-morrow’s issue. [. . .] [p. 2]1

[. . .] My Sisters, My remarks in conclusion will be brief. I heard the prophet Joseph Smith say if the people rose up and mobbed us and the authorities countenanced it, they would have mobs to their hearts’ content. I heard him say that the time would come when this nation would so far depart from its original purity, its glory, and its love for freedom and its protection of civil and religious rights, that the Constitution of our country would hang as it were by a thread. He said, also, that this people, the sons of Zion, would rise up and save the Constitution and bear it off triumphantly.

I wish to say to my sisters, to the mothers in Israel and to the daughters, cultivate in your bosoms the spirit of freedom and liberty which has been bequeathed unto us by our fathers, or grandfathers I should say. My grandfather fought in the Revolution and was taken prisoner. He lay in a filthy prison, with a companion who was taken with him, and fed on such a scanty allowance as would scarcely support life.

His companion dies, and for the sake of having his allowance of food he covered him up in the bed and kept him just as long as he dare to stay with a decaying body. And the spirit of freedom and liberty is what we should always cultivate, and what mothers should cultivate in the breasts of their sons, that they may grow up brave and noble, and defenders of that glorious Constitution which has been bequeathed unto us. Let mothers cultivate that spirit in their own bosoms. Let them manifest their own bravery and cherish a spirit of encountering difficulties, because they have to be met more or less in every situation of life. If fortitude and nobility of soul be cultivated in your own bosoms, you will transmit them to your children, your sons will grow up noble defenders of truth and righteousness, and heralds of salvation to the nations of the earth. They will be prepared to fill high and responsible situations in religious, judicial, civil and executive positions. I consider it most important, my sisters, that we should struggle to preserve the sacred Constitution of our country, one of the blessings of the Almighty; for the same spirit that inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith inspired the framers of the Constitution, and we should ever hold it sacred and bear it of[f] triumphantly.

My sisters, I am happy to meet with you, although this is not the occasion that we could have desired to meet together; at least the circumstance which has led to the occasion, is one not to be so regarded. Yet I am happy to meet with you; and my desire is that we may as mothers and sisters in Israel defend truth and righteousness, and sustain those who preach it. Every sister in this church should be a preacher of righteousness; and I think we all are; I believe it is our aim to be such. Let us be more energetic to improve our minds, and develop that strength of moral character which cannot be surpassed on the face of the earth. We should do this. The circumstances in which we are placed and our positions in life demand this of us, because we have greater and higher privileges than any other females upon the face of the earth.

Having said so much I will close by saying, God bless you and help us all to keep His holy commandments and be valiant for the truth, that whether life or death, in life and in death, we may triumph over evil and return to the presence of the Holy One, pure, having kept the faith and finished our course, that the crown laid up for us may be presented to us in the kingdom of our God in the eternal world. Amen. (amen from the audience). [. . .] [p. 2]

Source Note

Great Indignation Meeting of the Ladies of Salt Lake City,” Deseret Evening News 3, no. 44 (14 Jan. 1870): 2; and “Great Indignation Meeting of the Ladies of Salt Lake City,” Deseret Evening News 3, no. 45 (15 Jan. 1870): 2. (An introduction and annotations to these minutes are available on the First Fifty Years of Relief Society website, https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/the-first-fifty-years-of-relief-society/part-3/3-13?lang=eng.)

Footnotes

  1. [1]This is the end of the article printed on 14 January. The text that follows was printed on 15 January under the same title.