When the Relief Society general presidency was formally organized in Utah in 1880, Zina Diantha Huntington Young became the first counselor to President Eliza R. Snow. One history characterized Snow as “the head of the women’s work,” whereas “Aunt Zina was often said to be its heart.”1 Both women had been married to Joseph Smith and to his successor, Brigham Young.2 Snow died in her room at the Lion House in Salt Lake City on December 5, 1887. Her funeral was held in the Assembly Hall on the temple block on December 7, 1887, and she was interred in Brigham Young’s family cemetery.3 Following Snow’s death, Zina Young was sustained as general president of the Relief Society at the general conference held April 8, 1888.4 At the conclusion of the conference, Young traveled to Cardston, Alberta, Canada, to be with her pregnant daughter, Zina Young Williams Card.
During this visit, Young received the following letter from Emmeline B. Wells, editor of the Woman’s Exponent. Wells congratulated Young on her new assignment and assured her that she was also “the choice of the people.” Wells also inquired about who had set Young apart as general president of the Relief Society. Young, however, had not been set apart before leaving for Canada. On October 11, soon after Young returned to Salt Lake City, apostles Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, and Franklin D. Richards set her apart along with her counselors, Jane S. Richards and Bathsheba W. Smith, and Emmeline Wells as corresponding secretary.5 Two additional secretaries and a treasurer rounded out the “Central presiding Board.”6 At the time of Young’s appointment in 1888, there were twenty-two thousand Relief Society members attending more than four hundred wards and branches.7
Office Woman’s Exponent
Salt Lake City, Utah
April 24. 1888
President Zina D. H. Young:
My Very Dear Sister:
I regret so much not having seen you again to converse upon generalities, and also to know, who it was that set you apart to the high and holy position of presiding over the Relief Society in all its branches, and in all the Stakes of Zion throughout the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I suppose it is not a secret, it ought not to be I think; as we are all [p. ] interested. I suppose the blessing would be written, or if not in short hand, a synopsis at least.
I feel it is only a very simple tribute to say, that I congratulate 〈you my beloved sister〉 on being called, to be, according to the words of Joseph the Prophet, “The Elect Lady”8—but one thing I do say, truthfully and feelingly, that you are the choice of the people, I speak advisedly; I mean taken as a whole. Of course you will remember some of the things I said in your biographical sketch published in the Exponent, immediately after the one I wrote for Sister Eliza R. S. S.— I am afraid however that you did not keep a file of them 〈(the copies)〉 by you—had I the time I could quote from them, to prove how significant and prophetic [p. ] were the sentiments contained therein.9
May the Heavenly Father watch over and bless you upon your journey, and preserve you from accident, and strengthen you in body and in mind. Do not regret this journey for it will bring you other opportunities of bearing testimony to the truth, and will develop latent faculties that you were not aware of possessing. The Father knows how to fit and prepare his handmaidens—his daughters, for the great callings, whereunto they are and will be called.
We shall miss you here at home in Zion, but you will be making progress, and advancing; becoming acquainted with other lands, and governments, and all the time expanding and broadening the field of [p. ] your thoughts and your labors for the women of Zion, and the women of all lands. For the Women of Zion must become leaders, and to be such must not confine themselves to any narrow sphere of thought, or feeling; and travel and association does work wonders, and becomes highly educational in the truest sense to one, who improves the avenues open to her 〈or him〉 for the study of human nature, and various other objects and subjects.
Your sphere has opened wide, and if you grasp with zeal and ardor the advantages of circumstances, and with wisdom crown your experiences, you will be prepared to stand with [p. ] Joseph your royal husband and king, side by side, as his loyal queen, without misgivings, knowing you have not hidden your talents in a napkin, but have kept them bright with using, and improving for your own growth in intelligence and knowledge, and for the good of the Zion he loved, and for the establishment of which, with its principles and institutions, he laid down his precious life, and went as a lamb to the slaughter.10
Remember me in sincere love to Zina [Card], tell her I pray for her happiness and prosperity, and believe me that I rejoice most cordially in your succession to the office of the high preistess in Zion.
I suppose you will write me occasionally— Very truly your sister
Emmeline B. Wells [p. ]