During the exodus of the Latter-day Saints from Missouri, ordered by Governor Lilburn W. Boggs, a man taunted Eliza R. Snow, saying, “Well, I think this will cure you of your faith.” She retorted, “No, sir, it will take more than this to cure me of my faith.” He humbly responded, “I must confess you are a better soldier than I am.” Later Eliza would write, “I passed on, thinking that, unless he was above the average of his fellows in that section, I was not complimented by his confession.”
Born on January 21, 1804, in Becket, Massachusetts, Eliza Roxey Snow was the second daughter of Oliver and Rosetta L. Pettibone Snow. Her grandfather was a Revolutionary War hero. Her brother, Lorenzo, would serve as the fifth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Eliza showed talent in writing at an early age. When she was twenty-two years old, she wrote, at the request of several newspapers, a requiem for former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826.
Though Baptists, the Snow family invited members of other religions into their home, including Sidney Rigdon. Eliza’s parents soon joined the Church. After searching for and receiving answers to her questions, Eliza was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 5, 1835. Shortly after her baptism, Eliza moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where she taught school and acted as governess to Joseph Smith’s children. On June 29, 1842, she and Joseph were sealed in marriage for time and eternity.
Mob persecution forced the Snow family to move often, leaving homes and friends. On one occasion, during the move to Far West, all the family’s food froze. So they soaked thinly sliced frozen bread in fresh warm milk from the cow for their meals. Eliza met hardships bravely and uncomplainingly, and she helped to shelter and care for her elderly parents, who would later die on the journey to Winter Quarters.
On the trek to Winter Quarters Eliza drove an oxteam. Though she had no experience with oxen, Eliza quickly learned to haw and gee with the other oxteam drivers.
Eliza spent much time writing, and many of her poems were set to music. Her songs promise hope and peace and helped to comfort the Saints during their migration to Utah. Though she suffered persecution for her beliefs, none of her songs contain a desire for vengeance. Instead, they reflect her very sure faith in the prophets and her love for the scriptures. She composed the words to many hymns, including “O My Father” and “How Great the Wisdom and the Love.” Eliza also wrote several songs for children, including “I’ll Serve the Lord While I Am Young” and “In Our Lovely Deseret.” In addition, she published volumes of poetry, hymns, and tune books.
President Brigham Young called Eliza to preside over the Women’s Department of the Endowment House when it was dedicated in 1855. With Aurelia Rogers she organized the first Primary. When the first Relief Society was organized on March 17, 1842, Eliza served as secretary to President Emma Smith; in 1866 she was set apart to preside over all the Relief Societies of the Church, and she served as president for twenty-one years, until shortly before her death in 1887. When the Deseret Hospital was established on July 17, 1882, she was made its first president.
Eliza R. Snow—teacher, oxteam driver, poet, president—helped to shape the early years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.