In my earliest reading of history, I used to muse while watching the consuming backlog in our [old-fashioned] fireplace why I could not have been born in a day when something was going on in the nations of the Earth, not that I wished to see distress, but some enterprise.” So wrote Zina Diantha Huntington, a twelve-year-old girl who lived about 120 miles from the Hill Cumorah. However, unknown to Zina, an “enterprise” was just beginning that would change her life and the lives of the rest of the world.
Zina was born in Watertown, New York, in 1821, one year after the Prophet Joseph Smith had received the First Vision. When Zina wrote her wish in her diary, the Book of Mormon had only recently been translated by Joseph, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been formally organized only three years previously, in 1830.
Zina’s father, William Huntington, a well-to-do farmer, was not happy with the church that the family attended, so he decided to study the Bible and join the church that had the same organization as the one Christ organized during His mortal ministry. William discovered, however, that none of the churches had the same organization as the early Church; there were no prophets, apostles, or demonstrations of spiritual gifts.
Soon after William had heard a rumor about a prophet who had found a “new and golden Bible,” two missionaries, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother, and David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, came to the Huntington home. When Zina returned there from school, she saw the “new Bible” lying on the windowsill. Immediately the Spirit whispered to her that the book was the word of God. She picked it up and clasped it to her, saying, “This is the truth, truth, truth!”
Zina, her parents, sister, and all but one brother were baptized and moved to Kirtland, Ohio, to join the Saints there.
One night when Zina started to get ready for bed, she found some unexpected “friends” underneath it. Joseph Smith had purchased four Egyptian mummies and some Egyptian papyri from which the Book of Abraham was translated. To keep these important relics safe from some of the enemies of the Church, the Prophet had asked the Huntingtons to hide them, which they did—underneath Zina’s bed! Unperturbed, Zina finished undressing and went to bed as usual.
The Huntington family, along with the rest of the Saints, moved many more times before they found a permanent home. Zina’s mother, who was also named Zina, died after the family moved from Missouri to Nauvoo. Zina’s father died in Iowa after the Saints were driven from Nauvoo.
Chariton Jacobs, Zina’s second son from her marriage to Henry Jacobs, was born in a covered wagon in a rainstorm on the bank of the Chariton River in Iowa. But Zina did not seem to “mind the difficult situation, for my life had been preserved, and my babe was so beautiful.”
After Henry deserted Zina and the two little boys, Zebulon and Chariton, she married Brigham Young and crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley with his family. A few years later a daughter, Zina Presendia Young, was born.
Not long after their arrival in the Valley, which Zina described as “a thousand miles from anywhere,” she started a school because she saw many children running around without anything to do. She had forty-five “scholars,” who found that their teacher taught them more than book learning. Sister Young wanted her students to live good lives. People who knew Sister Young usually called her “Aunt Zina” because she was so loving and kind. She was often referred to as an “angel of mercy” because she nursed the sick and delivered hundreds of babies.
President Brigham Young asked Zina to establish the silk culture in the territory. Even though she often had nightmares about the squirmy silkworms, she stayed faithful to her assignment, and many pioneer women had beautiful silk dresses made from silkworm thread. An American flag made entirely of Utah silk was flown at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Zina Young was called to be the third general president of the Relief Society in 1888, succeeding her dear friend Eliza R. Snow. The Relief Society held its first general conference while Zina was president, an office she held until her death in Salt Lake City thirteen years later.
In addition to working to improve medical care in the widely spread Deseret communities, Zina helped the women to regain the voting rights lost to them when Utah became a state. When she died, it was said of her that “no woman was ever greater loved than she—she was ‘Aunt Zina’ to all Israel.”