In 1871 a large throng of Latter-day Saints met in Ogden, Utah, to celebrate the Twenty-Fourth of July, the annual commemoration of the 1847 arrival of the pioneer company in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Over one thousand people from Salt Lake City took special excursion trains for the occasion, meeting up with Brigham Young and a convoy of church leaders on their return from a tour of Cache County in northern Utah.1 The festivities began with a grand procession that included the leaders, Mormon Battalion veterans, pioneers, and Relief Society members, followed by a special program at a bowery in the city’s Union Square. After an address by Daniel H. Wells and performances by several brass bands and choirs, David McKenzie read this address “prepared for the occasion, by Miss Eliza R. Snow.”2 The weekly edition of the Deseret News printed July 26, from which the transcript below is taken, reported that Snow’s message “was received by the people with many demonstrations of satisfaction, being frequently and loudly applauded.”3
Snow’s address carefully distinguished between the efforts of Latter-day Saint women to build the kingdom of God and the actions of national women’s rights reformers. She was likely responding, at least in part, to the words of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when they visited Utah a month earlier.4 They came at the invitation of the anti-authoritarian Godbeite reformers, a group of intellectual dissenters from the Latter-day Saint community,5 but also met with Mormon women and spoke in the Salt Lake tabernacle. Anthony and Stanton praised the women for receiving the right to vote, but Stanton “did not skim the surface” in one address, voicing her opposition to early marriage and her support for family planning.6 From Salt Lake City, Stanton wrote a letter criticizing patriarchal religious leaders from Moses to Brigham Young and advocated that women establish “their own constitutions, creeds, and codes, and customs,” without priestly male intermediaries, saying that women would not be in their current state of dependence and degradation except “by man’s free and fraudulent use of the authoritative ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” The continued subjection of Mormon women within a patriarchal religion, Stanton warned, would be their own fault if they did not vote to abolish the practice of plural marriage.7 In one Utah speech, Anthony remarked that “she had as good a right to receive revelations, direct from God” as did Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, and that “revelations which came exclusively to men would never satisfy her.”8
Though alarmed by the hostility toward religion of some women’s rights reformers and suspicious of portions of the agenda of national women’s rights activists, Snow approved of woman suffrage and of the political involvement of Mormon women.9 She believed that the Latter-day Saint movement would advance the causes of both men and women. “In the Church and Kingdom of God,” she emphasized elsewhere, “the interests of men and women are the same; man has no interests separate from that of women, however it may be in the outside world, our interests are all united.”10
Latter-Day Saint Ladies of Utah:
The day we celebrate is a very important one. Important not only to the Latter-day Saints, as a people, but also highly important to all the nations of the earth.
The arrival of the Pioneers in these valleys, is an event which history will repeat with emphasis to all succeeding generations. It formed the starting point—the commencement of a delightful oasis in the desert wilds of North America—of establishing a midway settlement between Eastern and Western civilization, a connecting overland link, between the rich agricultural products of the Atlantic and the undeveloped mineral treasures of the Pacific. Above all and of consequence of far greater magnitude, it was securing a foothold for the establishment of the Kingdom of God—a government of peace—a home for the exiled Saints, and for the oppressed of all nations—a reservoir of freedom and religious toleration, where the glorious flag of liberty now waves triumphantly; and where the sacred Constitution which our noble forefathers were instrumental in forming under the inspiration of the Almighty, shall be cleansed from every stain cast upon it by degenerate Executives, and be preserved inviolate.11 This in fulfillment of a prediction by the prophet Joseph Smith. Long before political faction had reared its hydra-head in the midst of our Republican Government—long before the intrigues of selfish, disloyal, unscrupulous, speculating, peace-destroying, office-seeking demagogues had attained to their present hideous proportions, I heard the prophet say, “The time will come when the Government of these United States will be so nearly overthrown through its own corruption, that the Constitution will hang, as it were, by a single hair, and the Latter-Day Saints—the Elders of Israel—will step forward to its rescue and save it.”12
Ladies, please allow me to address you by the more endearing appellation of sisters. We have the privilege of uniting with our brethren in twining a garland with which to decorate the stately brow of this auspicious day. Why should we not? What interests have we that are not in common with theirs, and what have they that are disconnected with ours? We know of none, and we feel assured that they have no more interests involved in the settlement of these valleys than ourselves. Who is better qualified to appreciate the blessings of peace than woman? And where on earth is woman so highly privileged as associated with the Saints in Utah, and where else, on earth, is female virtue held so sacred, and where so bravely defended? Facts answer, nowhere!
It is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are indebted for the blessings we enjoy; and how lamentable it is to see women of the world, who, ostensibly aiming to improve society, ignore its divinity and trifle with its sacred truths! Reforms established on such a basis, would, if successful, dissolve every tie and obliterate all that is dear to the heart of a virtuous, high-aiming woman.
The Gospel in its mutilated forms, as now held by the religious sects of the day, has done much towards the elevation of woman; and what will it not do, when fully illustrated in its purity and power, as it was introduced by its great Founder, and as it has been again restored in our day? We should bear in mind that, as yet, its practice is but imperfectly developed. Although perfect principles may be readily enunciated, it is a slow process, and one that requires time, for a people with minds filled with all the false traditions of the age, and with habits commingling the most extreme opposites, to attain to perfection in practice. But this is an event which, although it may be far in the distance, is surely before us, for we know we have the true starting point.13
Wiih hearts overflowing with gratitude to God for the blessings of this day, and for the bright prospect of the future before us let us take a retrospective view, and inquire if we were not in concert with our brethren, and with them instrumental in the hand of God in bringing about the interesting event we are now celebrating. Who can calculate the worth of the cheerful submission to privation—the patient endurance of hardships—the heroic fortitude in surmounting difficulties which our sisters manifested, and how much weight they had in encouraging our brethren when under trying circumstances? Who can tell how much influence the unyielding faith and fervent prayers of the mothers, wives and sisters had with Him “who hears the young ravens when they cry,”14 in strengthening the brave hearts and hands of the noble Pioneers who opened up a path in the trackless desert?
Let us take a glance of reminiscence at the time when, after our expulsion from Nauvoo, and while wending our weary way as outcasts, the United States Government made the most unreasonable and unprecedented requisition known in the annals of history, on our traveling camps, by demanding 500 of our most efficient men—ordering them to march immediately to Mexico, of which this Territory was then the north-eastern part, to assist in the acquisition of territory, and to establish there that dishonored flag, from under the protection of which, we had recently been forced to fly.15 Some of those noble women yet live, while others have gone to reap the reward of their labors, who, while their husbands, sons and brothers were performing military service and exposing their lives in Mexico, forced by cruel necessity, took the position of teamsters and drove to the mountains. With many similar matter of fact proofs which might be enumerated, who can doubt that “Mormon women” are equal to any and all emergencies? The great questions relative to woman’s sphere, etc., which are making some stir in the world abroad, have no influence with us. While we realize that we are called to be co-workers with our brethren in the great work of the last days, we realize that we have no occasion to clamor about equality, or to battle for supremacy. We understand our true position—God has defined the sphere of woman wherever His Priesthood is acknowledged; and although we are not at present living up to all our privileges, and fulfilling all the duties that belong to our sex, the field is open before us, and we are urged to move forward as fast as we can develop and apply our own capabilities. But we never shall be called to officiate in unwomanly positions. Although invested with the right of suffrage, we shall never have occasion to vote for lady legislators or for lady congressmen, from the fact that the kingdom of God, of which we are citizens, will never be deficient in a supply of good and wise men to fill governmental positions, and of brave men for warriors.
How very different our position from that of our sisters in the world at large, and how widely different our feelings and prospects from that class known as “strong-minded,” who are strenuously and unflinchingly advocating “woman’s rights,” and some of them at least, claiming “woman’s sovereignty” and vainly flattering themselves with the idea that with ingress to the ballot box and access to financial offices, they shall accomplish the elevation of woman-kind. They seem utterly blind and oblivious to an element incorporated with their platform, which, in its nature, is calculated to sap the foundation of all on earth that can impart happines and stability to the domestic and social circles.
We are well aware that society needs purifying but for them to think of bettering its condition by the course and measures they are applying is like the blind leading the blind. [p. 287]
And all their efforts to remove the curse,
Are only making matters worse and worse;
They can as well unlock without a key,
As change the tide of man’s degen’racy.
Without the Holy Priesthood—’tis at most
Like reck’ning bills in absence of the host.16
Not that we are opposed to woman suffrage. Certainly Congress cannot be acting consistently with itself to withhold suffrage from woman after having conferred it on the negro, the recent subject of abject slavery.17 But to think of a war of sexes which the woman’s rights movement would inevitably inaugurate, entailing domestic feuds and contentions for supremacy, with a corresponding “easy virtue” and dissolution of the marriage tie, creates an involuntary shudder!18 “Order is heaven’s first law,”19 and it is utterly impossible for order to exist without organization, and no organization can be effected without gradation. Our standard is as far above theirs, as the pattern of heavenly things is above the earthly. We have already attained to an elevation in nobility and purity of life, which they can neither reach nor comprehend, and yet they call us “degraded.” We cannot descend to their standard; we have a high destiny to fill. It is for us to set the world an example of the highest and most perfect types of womanhood.
Mothers and sisters have grest [great] influence in moulding the characters of the coming men, either for good or evil. All the energies of woman’s soul should be brought in to exercise in the important work of cultivating, educating and refining the rising generation. Example is more effectua[l] than precept—both are requisite. In this direction woman has not only acknowledged “rights,” but momentous duties, and such as require all the strength of mind and firmness of purpose as have culminated in the epithet, “strongminded.” I cannot think that woman was ever endowed with too much strength of mind, if properly directed—it is the perversion of its uses, and misapplication of abilities which have occasioned the odium. It is impossible for either men or women to possess too much knowledge, or be endowed with too much capability, provided they are applied to legitimate purposes. Would any sensible man take pride in announcing that his wife, sister or daughter was weak-minded, silly and effeminate?
According to history, most of the men who have become illustrious as benefactors of mankind, were sons of wise. noble and intelligent mothers. Pres. Young says, “woman is the mainspring and the waymark of society.” It was justly remarked, “show me the women of a nation, and I will describe the character of that nation.” Admitting so much for woman’s influence, what care should be taken in the cultivation of the daughters of Zion as the future mothers of a mighty generation! They shoud be taught to fix their standard of character as far above the level of those of the outside world as is the altitude they inhabit. They should early establish a firmness of integrity surpassing the durability of the impregnable mountains which surround us. Wisely instructed and with proper habits of thought and reflection, they would despise to be seen aping the foolish, extravagant and disgusting fashions of the godless gentile world. They would scorn to imitate the strange disfiguring of the physical structure which jeopardizes health.20 A stylish, fashionable lady of the present day, presents more the appearance of a beast of burden, a camel or dromedary heavily laden, than the elegant, dignified, graceful form in which God created woman. Dress is admitted to be an index to the mind. Good taste is much better exhibited in a plain costume than in an extravagant mass of superfluities.
May such high and holy aspirations be kindled in the pure virgin hearts of our young ladies, as will so elevate their thoughts and feelings as to lift them far above the contaminating influences of degenerate civilization. May the young sons of Zion be proof against the deleterious habits which vitiate the taste and undermine the structure of physical strength and perfection—may they become the unwavering champions of truth, freedom and justice, and stand as mighty bulwarks against the aggressors of intolerance and oppression; and may the young daughters of Zion, noble, dignified, loving and graceful—like “polished stones,”21—become crowns of excellence and beauty, prepared hereafter to associate with angels and the highest intelligences of the upper world.