Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Eliza Roxcy Snow, 1804-1887
By Dr. Electra Fielding, Associate Professor of Spanish, Weber State University, Ogden, UT.
Poet, and Relief Society president.
Eliza Roxcy Snow was born in 1804 in Becket, Massachusetts. She was well known for her poetry writing and her love of music. She was a published author and remains to this day one of the most significant women in LDS history, and in the history of the state of Utah. Her motto was "Prove all things and hold fast that which is good" (Payne).
Eliza joined the LDS church in 1835, along with the rest of her family. She was one of Joseph Smith's plural wives, being sealed to him in 1842. After Smith's death, she became one of Brigham Young's plural wives. She left Nauvoo at the same time as many other Mormons in search of a land to settle. She had no offspring from either marriage. She died in Salt Lake City in December of 1887 ("Eliza R. Snow").
Eliza Snow was an active suffragist from the early 1870s to 1887 (Mulvay 253-254). She is described as an energetic woman, punctual, organized, feminine and charming: "The most striking feature of all [was] those wonderful eyes, deep, penetrating, full of meaning and intelligence, often illuminated with poetic fire" (Payne). She excelled in service both within the LDS church and in the state of Utah. Within the organization of the LDS church, she achieved such milestones as the organization of the Primary and Young Women's Mutual, which she considered satellite organizations of the Relief Society organization. She served as the Relief Society president and worked to revitalize it. She emphasized welfare and self-reliance among the sisters of her faith. She also encouraged women to become doctors, nurses and midwives, sending them to medical school across the country to learn the necessary skills and then bring them back to Utah ("Eliza R. Snow"). Overall, Eliza was extremely involved in the lives of women in the state of Utah. As a matter of fact, she even made a "Deseret Costume" for women consisting of "pants and a tunic." The idea was not well received, but it is documented (Beecher 286).
Along with Emmeline Wells and Emily S. Richards, Eliza R. Snow advocated for equal rights for women (Rosenlof). Thanks to their efforts, women gained the right to vote in 1871, becoming the second state in the union in achieving the right to vote for women (Orchard). Although the right to vote was removed in 1887, it was regained again in 1896 along with Statehood.
However, it is important to note that, although Eliza recognized the potential of women, some of her efforts, such as sending women to be educated in medical school, came under the direction of priesthood leaders such as her second husband Brigham Young. In her discourses Eliza shows her commitment to the betterment of women and their social situation, but always under the tenets of the priesthood and within parameters of obedience to the LDS gospel doctrine. As a matter of fact, Eliza distanced herself from the seemingly more provocative strategies used by early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony. As Mulvay explains: "Feminists taught women that through asserting themselves they could achieve social, political, and economic equality with men. Eliza R. Snow consistently held that only through obedience, and faithfulness in her stewardship, would woman change her sphere" ("Eliza R. Snow and the Woman Question" 11). Furthermore, Jill Mulvay remarks that "under the leadership of Sister Snow Mormon women did not become closely involved with national suffrage leaders" ("Eliza R. Snow and the Woman Question" 253).
During the years in Salt Lake City and in her role as one of the most prominent wives of Brigham Young, Eliza "emerged among Mormon women as ...an institutional leader" (Mulvay "The Lion and the Lioness" 85). Her partnership with Young is well-documented and their marriage is described as a rich cooperation between the two of them, especially in the area related to women's issues: "Communication between them regarding women's work seems to have been close, frequent and significant" (Mulvay 87). Eliza served in her church in many capacities, but it is noteworthy to remark her honest interest in improving the situation of women in the state of Utah. By the time of her death, Eliza had become a most beloved figure in the LDS church and the culture of Utah.
Beecher, Maureen Ursenbach. "Women's Work on the Mormon Frontier." Utah Historical Quarterly. Vol 49.3 (1981): 276-290. http://utahhistory.sdlhost.com/#/item/000000031000709/view/41
"Eliza R. Snow." Relief Society, https://www.lds.org/callings/relief-society/relief-society-presidents/eliza-r-snow?lang=eng
Mulvay, Jill C. "Eliza R. Snow and the Woman Question." BYU Studies 16.2 (1976): 1-14.
"The Lion and the Lioness: Brigham Young and Eliza R. Snow." BYU Studies Quarterly Vol. 40.2 (2001): 55-101.
Orchard, Heidi. "Women's Suffrage and Constitutional Convention." Utah Stories from the Beehive State, 13 July 2012, http://www.utahhumanities.org/stories/items/show/234.
Payne, Jaynann Morgan. "Eliza R. Snow: First Lady of the Pioneers." September 1973, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1973/09/eliza-r-snow-first-lady-of-the-pioneers?lang=eng.
Rosenlof, Celeste Tholen. "Voices from the Past: Mormon Women's Fight for Suffrage." Aspiring Mormon Women, 24 July 2013, http://aspiringmormonwomen.org/2013/07/24/voices-from-the-past-mormon-womens-fight-for-suffrage/