Blessed and Fortunate

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

Eliza Roxcy Snow was not only a talented child but a fortunate one. The love and encouragement of her family surrounded her from the time she was born, and she knew she had been blessed. In an unpublished poem recorded in her journal, she expressed her tender feelings about home:

Home, charming sound—the name is sweet:
O what, on earth is half so dear?
At home the social feelings meet—
The kind affections center here.

As we look back in time, it seems that the Lord in his wisdom often provided the home, the family, and the opportunities that prepared individuals to assume their future roles in the restoration and growth of the Church. The parents and siblings of the Prophet Joseph Smith were students of the Bible, religious seekers who helped and encouraged the young Joseph as the truths of the Restoration were revealed to him. Even their financial struggles could well have played a role in forming the compassionate adult who became the Prophet. Brigham Young learned skilled carpentry as a youth and was in business for himself at the age of twenty-one; he built upon this early experience to later direct the colonization of scores of settlements in the Mountain West. George Careless, to whom we owe the tunes of such well-loved hymns as “The Morning Breaks” and “Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire,” was trained at the Royal Academy of London. He emigrated to Salt Lake City in 1864, well prepared to make his mark on the musical history of the Church.

What about Eliza R. Snow? What were the early family influences that helped form this remarkable poet and leader? Neither she nor her family could have imagined her future place in history, the unique and public roles that would one day be hers. In future years, any important visitor to Salt Lake City was likely to be introduced to “Zion’s Poetess,” the famous Eliza R. Snow. At the direction of Brigham Young, she helped to organize the Relief Society among the Saints in the West and served as its general president. Indeed, she essentially presided also over the work of the Young Ladies’ Retrenchment or Mutual Improvement Association and the Primary Association, both of which she had helped to organize. “She did more for the Womanhood of the Church [than] any woman before or since her time,” wrote Susa Young Gates. Even such a precocious child as Eliza could not have envisioned such a destiny.

Yet the influences and encouragement that surrounded Eliza as she grew to womanhood proved in many ways to be an ideal preparation for her future life. Eliza Snow grew up in the new American republic. Her Snow and Pettibone grandfathers had fought in the Revolutionary War, and the young nation was pushing westward to new land. In 1805, Eliza’s parents, Oliver and Rosetta Pettibone Snow, took their two young daughters from Becket, Massachusetts, to the Western Reserve in northeastern Ohio. Thomas Jefferson was president of the United States when the Snows cleared heavily timbered land at Mantua, near Kirtland, to construct a log cabin. In 1815, Oliver and Rosetta moved their growing family into a frame house in Mantua, the home where Eliza resided for almost thirty years. She was the second of her parents’ seven children; four daughters were followed by three sons. Her siblings, born between 1801 and 1821, were Leonora Abigail, Percy Amanda, Melissa, Lorenzo, Lucius Augustus, and Samuel Pearce (or Pierce).

In her brief autobiography, written in 1877 and revised in 1885 as “Sketch of My Life,” Eliza tells us that her mother “considered a practical knowledge of housekeeping the best, and most efficient foundation on which to build a magnificent structure of womanly accomplishments—that useful knowledge was the most reliable basis of independence.” Thus Eliza and her sisters were “early trained to the kitchen and housekeeping in general; then to various kinds of needlework etc.”

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