"Instruct the Sisters"

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(This is an excerpt from the book Eliza by Karen Lynn Davidson and Jill Mulvay Derr.)

Eliza’s Nauvoo minute book became a model for women’s record keeping. In some instances she even inaugurated the minute book for a particular ward by inscribing a title page patterned after the title page of her Nauvoo minutes or recording minutes of the first few meetings. She taught the importance of a good secretary and emphasized the essential role of the visiting committee, or teachers, known today as visiting teachers. She taught women in Provo, Utah, in 1869: “I say to my sisters who are called to be Teachers, when you visit, do all the good you can[;] if any such are cast down, who have lost the spirit of the Lord, speak words of encouragement to them, and impart of the spirit from your own bosom to enlighten and bring [them] back to the light of the gospel. We must act the part of the mother who when she sees her infant cold and chilly instead of pushing it from her, she seeks to resuscitate it by clasping it in her bosom, and imparting of her own warmth.”

Shortly after Brigham Young invited Eliza to work with bishops administratively, he “told [her] he was going to give [her] another mission.” She was “‘to instruct the sisters.’” She soon expanded her long-honed writing skills into powerful speaking skills, using the pulpit more than the pen to elaborate and magnify the purposes of Relief Society as she traveled from ward to ward. She emphasized that although the women were to be largely self-governing, they must willingly accept counsel and direction from priesthood leaders. Most important, in terms of her assignment to instruct, she taught that Relief Society was to enliven women with a sense of their high and holy callings as daughters of God. She addressed hundreds of women’s gatherings, and many of her words are recorded in local minute books. For example, she spoke plainly to women in Lehi, Utah, in October 1869:

“While sitting here I have been looking upon the faces of my sisters and can see the form of deity there and I have been reflecting on the great work we have to perform, even in helping in the salvation of the living and the dead. The Lord has organized these societies that we may gain knowledge and practice in an organized capacity and learn to respect our labors and one another and give honor where honor is due. We want to be ladies in very deed, not according to the term of the word as the world judges but fit companions of the gods and holy ones.

“We have got to cooperate not only with our husbands but with God so that we may become saviors upon Mount Zion, for it is one thing to be a savior and another to be saved, one thing to be a queen and govern and control, and another to be a subject and be governed. Women should be women and not babies that need petting and correction all the time. I know we like to be appreciated but if we do not get all the appreciation which we think is our due, what matters? We know the Lord’s laid high responsibility upon us, and there is not a wish or desire that the Lord has implanted in our hearts in righteousness but will be realized.”

(Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, Eliza: The Life and Faith of Eliza R. Snow [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 110-12.)

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