Eliza R. Snow was elected secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo at its first meeting on March 17, 1842.1 Her poem describing the new organization appeared fifteen weeks later in the church’s semimonthly Times and Seasons. It marked the first published comment by a woman regarding the Relief Society.
By this time, Snow was well known as a poet in Nauvoo. Two of her hymns had been published in 1835 in the first Latter-day Saint hymnal, compiled by Emma Smith and William W. Phelps. Between 1839 and 1841, the Illinois Quincy Whig published twenty of Snow’s poems, many of them pleading for justice for the thousands of Saints driven from their homes in northwestern Missouri. During the same period, she regularly contributed poetry to the Times and Seasons. In the spring of 1841, her epic poem “Time and Change” was printed in Nauvoo as a pamphlet.2
In addition to having skill as a poet, Snow was experienced as a transcriber and a recorder, having served as secretary for her father, Oliver Snow, a justice of the peace and county commissioner in Ohio.3 As Relief Society secretary, she fastidiously recorded in the Relief Society “Book of Records,” or minutes, the names of members and donors, as well as remarks made in meetings. Her precision and persistence in this task indicate her belief that she was constructing a significant, enduring record. Likewise, the following poem reflects Snow’s sense of the significance of the newly established society. Though membership grew rapidly between March and June 1842, some women may have expressed doubts regarding the organization. When Emma Smith addressed those gathered on May 27, 1842, she “requested if any were present who came to make ridicule of the Society, that they would withdraw.”4 Snow’s six stanzas clarify the society’s purposes by distilling ideas and sometimes drawing phrases from her minutes of the first twelve meetings.5
THE FEMALE RELIEF SOCIETY OF NAUVOO.
What is it?
It is an Institution form’d to bless
The poor, the widow, and the fatherless—
To clothe the naked and the hungry feed,
And in the holy paths of virtue, lead.
To seek out sorrow, grief and mute despair,
And light the lamp of hope eternal there—
To try the strength of consolation’s art
By breathing comfort to the mourning heart.
To chase the clouds that shade the aspect, where
Distress presides; and wake up pleasures there—
With open heart extend the friendly hand
To hail the stranger, from a distant land.
To stamp a vetoing impress on each move
That Virtue’s present dictates disapprove—
To put the tattler’s coinage, scandal, down,
And make corruption feel its with’ring frown.
To give instruction, where instruction’s voice
Will guide the feet and make the heart rejoice—
To turn the wayward from their recklessness,
And lead them in the ways of happiness.
It is an Order, fitted and design’d
To meet the wants of body, and of mind—
To seek the wretched, in their long abode—
Supply their wants, and raise their hearts to God.
E. R. SNOW