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Eliza R. Snow, Account of 1868 Commission, as Recorded in “Sketch of My Life,” April 13, 1885 (Excerpt)

Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” Apr. 13, 1885, pp. [1], [36]–[37] (excerpt); Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (BANC MSS P-F 57 v.1).

See images of the original document, courtesy of Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA.

In the spring of 1868 Brigham Young commissioned Eliza R. Snow to assist in reestablishing local Relief Societies. The following excerpt from her handwritten autobiographical account titled “Sketch of My Life” is the only surviving reference from Snow to that appointment.1 Snow penned “Sketch of My Life” in 1885 for historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, who was then collecting information for his History of Utah.2 Snow does not date the commission, but it seems to be closely tied to the April 1868 general conference, when Young repeated his call for the organization of ward Relief Societies.3

Young likely chose Snow, one of his plural wives who lived with the majority of his other wives and children in the Lion House in Salt Lake City, for this assignment in part because of her familiarity with the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes. As Snow noted in this life sketch, she had served as secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo (1842–1844). Snow’s participation in the 1854–1858 Relief Society meetings appears to have been limited, at least in part, because of her assignment from Young to administer women’s temple ordinances in the Endowment House on the temple block in Salt Lake City. Nevertheless, minutes for a September 1855 church meeting in the Eighteenth Ward note “an Exho[r]tation to the Sisters by Sister Eliza R Snow also remarks by the Bishop in regard to organizing a society to make up clothing for the Poor.”4

Eliza R. Snow

Eliza R. Snow. 1866. Celebrated poet Eliza R. Snow posed for this photo two years before her husband, Brigham Young, commissioned her to assist in organizing local branches of the Relief Society. As Snow worked closely with other women leaders, the Relief Society became the platform for organizing what would become the Young Women and Primary organizations. Snow was set apart as general president of the Relief Society in 1880 and continued to oversee Relief Society work until her death in 1887. Latter-day Saints honored her as the president of all of the women’s organizations. Photograph by the studio of Savage and Ottinger. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

Sketch of my Life5 … [p. [1]] …

The “Female Relief Society” was organized by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo on the 17th of March, 1842. It was organized after the pattern of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints, with President and Counselors, and accomplished much good in administering to the sick, relieving the wants of the poor, etc. The prophet had donated to the Society a Lot, and the frame of a house, as a commencement for establishing a home for the homeless, but the ruthless hand of persecution thwarted this benevolent purpose—the Prophet was massacred and the Saints driven from their homes.

From the time of the expulsion from Nauvoo, the Female Relief Society remained in status quo until it was reorganized under the direction of Pres. B. Young in the year 1855, commencing in the Fifteenth Ward, S.L. City.6

As I had been intimately associated with, and had officiated as Secretary for the first organization, Pres. Young commissioned me to assist the Bishops in organizing Branches of the Society in their respective Wards; for, at that time, the Bishops had not acquainted themselves with the movement, and did not know how to proceed. To me it was quite a mission, and I took much pleasure in its performance. I felt quite honored and much at home in my associations with the Bishops, and they appreciated my assistance. Each Branch of the Society, although constituting a self-governing body, and empowered to create committees and whatever officers may be needed from time 〈to time,〉 in accomplishing its many and increasing labors, is under the direction of its respective Bishop or presiding officer of the Ward.7

Not long after the re-organization of the Relief Society, Pres. Young told me he was going to give me a 〈another〉 mission. Without the least intimation of what the mission consisted, I replied, “I shall endeavor to fulfil it.” He said, “I want you to instruct the sisters.8 Altho’ my heart went “pit a pat” for the time being, I did not, and could not then form an adequate estimate of the magnitude of the work before me. To carry into effect the President’s requisition, I saw, at once, involved public meetings and public speaking—also travel abroad, [p. [36]] as the Branches of the Society of the sisterhood extended at that time, through several Counties in Utah, and ultimately, all the vallies of the mountains—numbering, at present date, nearly three hundred; besides other Branches in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Islands of the sea, wherever the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints” has established its Branches.9 Some years ago, by mutual consent, the word female was dropped, and the Society called “Relief Society.”10

Its first duty is to look after and relieve the wants of the poor, to accomplish which committees are appointed to visit each family residing in their respective districts, at least, 〈once〉 every month, and report to the presiding officers. The cultivation of the members of the Society (which is composed of aged and middle-aged women) physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually, is another prominent feature of the institution, which has proved very beneficial. At the time of its organization in Salt Lake City, the Saints were very poor, and the funds of the Society were raised by contributions of carpet rags, pieces for patchwork etc., which were converted into carpets, quilts—wool carded, spun, and knitted into socks and stockings, by the industry of the members, who met together, sometimes weekly, at others, once in two weeks, to work the crude material into wearing and saleable articles. … [p. [37]] …

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Eliza R. Snow, Account of 1868 Commission, as Recorded in “Sketch of My Life,” April 13, 1885 (Excerpt), The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, accessed July 21, 2024