Notes From A Celebration of Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry with Jill Derr and Karen Davidson

By November 21, 2009


This was one of the most enjoyable Mormon Studies events I’ve been to. What made it so was, unfortunately, not anything that I can share with you in these notes. The music and song really made the evening. I imagined myself on the plains sitting around a campfire, singing Song For The Camp of Israel with my fellow travelers. I joined in the rambunctious 4th of July jab at the Runaway Officials, I helped welcome young Wilford Woodruff Jr. (“Willie”) home, and sang along at Eliza’s funeral.  Jill and Karen did a great job in their presentations.  The notes:

Jill Derr

We?re delighted to be there this evening to celebrate in poetry, history, and song, a wonderful way for us to reflect on this book that has taken us so long to compete. We are really delighted that BYU Press and U of U press have collaborated with us to bring out this book, as Linda mentioned, Heather Seferovich was the editor that worked with us so closely. Also to Jack Welch editor of the press, Bruce Roberts, marketing director for the assistance and boost they have given us. This lovely cover is the work of Catherine Grover, portrait by Louis Ramsey, done a hundred years ago in 1909, we?re delighted to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of this portrait. This book was begun in the 1970s when Leonard Arrington was Church historian, I was working with Maureen Ursenbach Beecher on this, and in 1995 when she stepped out of the project, Karen came in and it was brought to fruition under another church historian, Marlin K. Jensen.

Here in the book we have 507 poems by Eliza R Snow. We looked hard everywhere we could. We say ?complete? but we know that some will come forward, in fact one already has.  The poems span the dates 1825-1887, are arranged chronologically with historical,  literary and theological commentary. Giving context to these poems is so important because most of these are occasional. Snow published two volumes in 1886 and 1887, some 200, almost half, come from these volumes. We searched newspapers, journals, and found a lot of unpublished work. This is an example from her journal. [shows slide] It?s a diary from 1842-44, where she kept a lot of her own poetry to 1882. Some ask, Why do the complete poetry? So many have said to us, does her work merit this 1300+ page book? You don?t often publish a poet?s complete works, only if the poet is first rate, does she rank with the first rate poets of the world? The answer is no, she doesn?t. Her work spans the gamut she could be very good to being as on critic said, beneath criticism. [Laughter]

Why put all these poems together in one book? That is because of the stature of Eliza R. Snow herself. At her passing, a death notice was printed in the New York Times. I don?t know how many 19th century LDS were noted in the NYT, but her passing was noted. It said, ?The Mormon poetess is dead. She is one of the central figures of the Mormon galaxy.?  This studio portrait, I like this photo because she?s in the center. You had to say that about her, she was a central figure. We?ll try to tease out some other reasons for that tonight. I also like this photo because it shows her in relation to other people. Relationships were incredibly important to Eliza.

So what made her a central figure? She is remembered for her intellect, spirituality, leadership, certainly she was known as Zion?s poetess, a title largely given to her in the last half of her life. She was known as a prophetess for the truths she expounded and for her use of the gifts of the Spirit. A priestess for her work in the temple. Among her generation, she was known as a priestess. She was a Presidentess, president of the Relief Society to her death in 1887. She established and presided over the primary and Young Women?s Association.

She was the second of 7 children, sister of Lorenzo Snow, oldest of the four daughters, three younger bothers, Lorenzo the oldest of the brothers. She was sealed in 1842 as a plural wife to Joseph Smith and was married for time to BY. She had no children.

Tonight we?ll focus on her poetry and to help, we?ll begin with a song to the tune of Now Let Us Rejoice. Called, National Song. We?re delighted to have many musicians helping us this evening, Crawford Gates directing. Alicia Kaelin Derr on the piano, Sharalyn Howcroft providing vocals, Keith Irwin on the banjo, with Clive Romney, who is not on the program, giving a vocal performance, we’re delighted he?ll participate. As you sing this song, you?ll get acquainted with her passions and interests in her poetry and her life.

[All sing National Song]


Eliza would have loved that, because much of the poetry of her era was public poetry. It wasn?t armchair, not confessional, you didn?t curl up at night in bed and read it. It was sung in public, recited in public. The songs like the one we just sung sometimes were printed on broadsheets and published. The title of her own volumes of poetry indicates that her work is religious, historical, and political. One of the things that happens, people open up this book of poetry and ask, how do I find the private thoughts of Eliza? There are a few like that we?ll share. For the most part, this was kingdom building poetry after she became a Latter-day Saint. She said in her youth that she wanted to be useful as a writer. She wanted to play a role. She was publishing celebratory pieces of the American Republic, so some poems chronicle saints? history, some teach doctrine, some in this song deal with what the LDS believed about the millennial preparation, taught children exhorted people to righteousness. Her sentimental poems are also useful. Sentimental poetry?although literary critics often dismiss it, it functioned to build community bonds like you just did in singing. She was capable and versatile, wrote lots of different kinds of poems, could be drippingly sentimental, write hymns, could write for 4th of July and the 24th of July. That song was written for the 2nd 24th of July celebration in Utah. In 1850 for the 24th, she wrote [?] songs. She said it was a time when poets were not as plentiful. [laughter]

A beautiful blank verse poem, some of her finest work were in blank verse. These are some of what appeals to us today. The rhymed seems sing song to us, but much of her work was meant to be sung. She had a fine sense of rhythm and irony, and was familiar with other writers. She responds to contemporary poets, draws often from [?] Young and Alexander Pope, addressed one poem to William Cullen Bryant, she was aware of who was writing. Sometimes her usefulness was at war with her abilities. Some were just not the same quality as others–a mixed bag, but we hope to provide a window into her poetry, so we chose 4 windows. Karen will start there.


We hope everyone goes home having learned something new about Eliza. The Jilted Suitor, a window in the early life of ERS we know so little of the day to day activities of the pre-Mormon Eliza, but as a young woman she was establishing herself as a woman of letters. We know of this not because she told anything, but the suitor spilled the beans. When he was writing his memoirs, in 1881, he knew she became famous. It was James B. Walker, knowing this little episode gives credibility to statements in her autobiographical sketch saying that as a young woman she got several attractive proposals for marriage. James Walker?s tone is very good natured, very affectionate, mocking himself in this situation, but goes clear back to when they were about 25 and he moved to her town in Ohio, bought half interest in the newspaper, and became the poetry editor. She always used pseudonyms. He learned who this was that was writing and using these pseudonyms. He became interested in meeting her. A friend pointed out who she was. It progressed to the point that Oliver Snow, her father, went by the newspaper office to check this guy out. And according to the memoir of Walker, things went fine. I guess he made a good impression. As Mr. Snow passed out, he said to Walker?s partner, ?Our new printer seems a real gentlemen.? So far so good, but the courtship didn?t? go well. They were at a  dance together, she gave him the cold shoulder all night and wouldn?t? dance with him. He said, I had offended the poetess unwittingly. I?m not sure she ever forgave me. I inserted a scrap of verse in the paper. ?My love, the gift  you gave me has bound me as a spell?my own delicious maid?? This was overstepping the bounds! She was offended, he was apparently a flirt. She wrote a poem back and told him to jump in the lake.  She didn?t intend it to be published but he did publish it?What makes the story so wonderful is the he became, on a national scene, more famous than she did. He was a theologian. One of his books is still in print, The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation. Just by the good fortune of his wonderful memory and detailed autobiography, we have an unusual window into her early life and poetry. They would have made a good pair, but destiny had other things in store for her.

Jill will tell us about her conversion.


Too many stories, we love them all.

Eliza?s Conversion

Eliza, as Karen indicated, grew up in Ohio. Oliver Snow, her father, and Rosetta, her mother, were Baptists. They taught the kids the gospel. She went to NT classes, Sunday School at an early age. Was not baptized. Her parents were marginal Baptists, Oliver a skeptic. But they were interested in Christian primitivisms, and Sydney Rigdon also interested in that primitivist movement. Eliza who had not been baptized as a Baptist, joined one of these congregations between 1827 and 1829, but the records of the Disciples there indicate she was added to the list at that time. Alexander Campbell was one of the most famous. He went on to organize the Disciples of Christ or Campbellites, a very prominent movement in the US just before JS and Mormonism came forward. Eliza joined this group, interested in Campbell and interested in his work on the Bible. He was a very erudite man. When she met JS in 1831, she studied his face, and we assume Rigdon introduced them. She looked at his face, she said his was an honest face. She went on and on to talk about how wonderful it was to hear the testimony of two of the three witnesses, even in her later years in her autobiographical sketch, she goes on about that testimony, not so much about Joseph Smith. [shows slide of a knit purse with ?E. R. Snow? on it] This is a little knit purse from the DUP museum in SL, the tag there says that this is the little purse Eliza carried her contribution to the church in when she moved to Kirtland. She did become a Latter-day Saint, she waited 4 years. She wanted to give everything to the Church. So she turned away from the Campbellites to Mormonism, and she also changed her poetry. I turned my harp anew, she said. She began to write of the church rather than for the papers like the Western Courier and the Ohio Star. She wrote two hymns when she went to Kirtland, the first is on page 77, Praise Thee the Lord?a second?A Glorious Day is Rolling On. It celebrates a prophet and the coming millennium. So a change in her poetry, but not without confusion I think. She goes silent. We don?t have more in the Messenger and Advocate or in her journal between 1836 and 1838 at the end of the Missouri persecutions. At that point there is a discussion of Joseph Smith calling to her to be a poet to speak for the LDS. She began writing and never stopped. After being silent, she began a poem, ?Awake my slumbering minstrel?the Gentile ear thou will no more command?? I think this is a signal that she?s going to write poems for and on behalf of the LDS people, and this is why her record is so rich, she?s talking about events as they happen, expressing current beliefs and themes. She begins writing in Nauvoo, for the Nauvoo Legion, Smith family, the Nauvoo Temple cornerstone, Hymns, Through Deepening Trials, a long poem on the Martyrdom. And her best known hymn, O My Father was written at the end of the Nauvoo Period. She wrote trail songs. There was no Times and Seasons, no Wasp to publish in. She wrote songs in her diary, the camp clerks, Bullock and others wrote out the words and distributed them to be sung. We still have some of those song sheets. You?ll sing together here but without the fire, one of the campfire songs that Karen and I like, a song for the camp of Israel to the tune, Indian Hunter.

[All sing Song For the Camp of Israel]


See we grew up thinking All is well is the only thing they sung on the trail!

The Saints, as you read in the song, hoped for a place of refuge but that wasn?t the case. With the Compromise of 1850, Utah wouldn?t become a state but a territory, so it was under the direction of the Fed. Gov. Eliza was a great patriot, so we get all this talk of freedom, but she, like other LDS, was at odds with the Fed Gov. This was especially made clear after the first federal officials arrived, they came in August of 1851, those that came: Brandebury, Brocchus, Day, Harris, at the end of September they had gone back to Washington DC, and a large appropriation with them. So she wrote for the following 4th of July this song. The congregation indulged in the ludicrous tune of old Dan Tucker. The audience called for the song a second time expressing considerable merriment. She had lampooned Brocchus?you get to join in this raucous and ludicrous 4th of July song.




Wonderful. You?ve had two windows. A third window, the Grand Trip Abroad.

Through the 1850s, Eliza was ill with consumption. She went to work in the Endowment House. Brigham Young said it would help cure her and it did. After the Civil War it was a diff moment in the history of the Saints. The Civil War did not bring on the millennium. There was still a lot of work in institutionalization for the Church. The founding of the Sunday School and revival of the RS, she was instrumental, traveled from town to town, in 1872, after working at this travel for about 4 years, she had the opportunity to take a grand trip, this is her passport picture all decked out. The grand tour of Europe and the Holy Land, went with George A. Smith, Lorenzo and others, They were checking out the possibilities of missionary work in diff countries many missions were closed because so many had emigrated, looking at branches in diff countries, England, France, Italy, Middle East. Rededicated the holy land for the gathering of the Jews. A wonderful trip for Eliza, she was able to fund the trip because her sisters in the RS contributed their pennies to go on the Thomas Cook Tour–everything first class. Couple of interesting things, she wrote pomes all along the way and letters home to the Women?s Exponent, so lots of descriptions of what she did and saw. My husband and I spent some time in France and was the only palace they were able to meet with a head of state. The most special part for her of the trip was being able to be in the Holy Land and wrote about being on the Mount Olives, Sea of Galilee, highlight of the trip was the dedication, a tent set up on the Mount of Olives, the participants, George A. Smith and Lorenzo Snow. They clothed themselves for a special prayer ceremony, and to be there was a special opportunity for her. We?ve talked about the poems from this trip, nothing particularly memorable, but they tell us about where she was. When they were crossing the Atlantic, she wrote a very upbeat poem for the captain of the Minnesota. [quotes] I think her companion did a better job of describing it. Clara Little roomed with Eliza on the ship. ?Eliza and I nearly wore out the carpet sliding around, the waves would dash and down we came. I asked her, Eliza, have you found yourself? She said, Yes, but I am not able to find the bed!? 9 months, 24,000 miles. Here she is in Cairo, Egypt. When she came home, she took up RS work, worked with the Young Women by 1878, also organizing primaries throughout the territory. She was always speaking. But this did not stop her concern for individual people, many poems written to individual people. One is written to the mother of Anne Eliza White who died as a young girl. The family lived in Brigham City. Your sweet little rosebud has left you was written for her mother. It was placed in the 1863 hymnal until it was taken out in 1927. So, for a lot of LDS, this was memorable funeral hymn. The second here is much livelier, written for Bulah Woodruff, found in her journal. We put together the story, Bulah was the little sister of Wilford Woodruff, Jr. She wrote a poem for him when he left to England and when he came back. She wrote this for his little sister to sing for him when he came back. Shows her connection to family and friends.

[Sharalyn Howcroft sings both songs]




Eliza often specified the tune, when she wrote the poem, she says, Tune:  Jamie?s on the Stormy Sea, so all song as we can find the music, we know what they sang years ago. A window much later in life, not long after she passed way, in October 1886, it ws not a happy time in the church. She was the one for decades had said, this is what is prophesied, we will have happier days, the Lord will justify what we are doing. Just a few years before the manifesto, where was that promise? Where were those happier times? A great source of support was her brother Lorenzo. She didn?t live to see him become president of the church, he was 10 years younger and called at 84, they wrote in 1886. He wrote a poem to her from prison where he stayed for almost a year and she responded with a poem to him. The exchange touched a lot of people, a special broadside was created. It said, in part, ?In my lone widowhood, I?ve had one dear brother with whom I?ve taken counsel where is he now? In prison.? It was like a funeral for her. He was baptized only one year after she was, and though all the changes and relocations, what they could count on was the strength they drew from each other. She wrote a poem 6 years before she died. Her funeral was maybe not quiet, but it was reverent and packed, draped in white at her request, not black. It was set to music by Ebenezer Beesley to be sung at the funeral. We still have his manuscript and were able to decipher it. We will sing a few stanzas, revived now, 120 years later.




ERS died in 1885, Dec. 5, 1 am, in the Lion house where she had lived since 1856. A procession formed from the Lion House to the assembly hall?a multitude of tributes, we wanted to close with some of those. Charles W. Penrose, editor for the Deseret News said, ?She was slightly above medium height, her bearing  was at once graceful and dignified, the most stirring feature of all were those wonderful eyes, deep, penetrating eyes, full of meaning and intelligence and with poetic fire.?

Orson F. Whitney, her bishop, said, ?Of her poems, the most famous and meritorious, and undoubtedly sublime is the hymn O My Father. If all her other writings were swept into oblivion and this poem was among the sweetest and sublimest would perpetuate her fame and render her name immortal.? [Other tributes read]


We want to thank everyone for being here.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. What an extraordinary evening. Thank you very much for taking and then sharing your notes.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 21, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  2. Thanks, J. I really liked being able to hear the music, resurrecting, as it were, the words as they would have been sung. I would love to see more activities like this that integrate music, especially lesser known tunes and songs from earlier days in the Church.

    Comment by Jared T — November 21, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  3. Thanks, Jared.
    I agree it was a great evening. Jill did a wonderful job.
    Fascinating to me to see the age of attendees, heavily weighted toward the 70+ crowd but with an interesting mix of 30-something and 50-ish thrown in. I wonder how much of that came from the Silvers (who seem to have handled organization) and how much was associated with the Sons of Utah Pioneers.

    Jill also did a great job of demonstrating pleasant and honorable honesty in her handling of various matters. Really a great example of how what people are calling “inoculation” could be practiced. No funny business about celibate polygamy, no attempt to hide the fact that Brigham could be irascible, no whitewashing to say that most of Eliza’s poems are of high quality. Just a real love of the people and the work they were trying to do and a wonderful attention to detail.

    I agree with Jared that we should have more participation in the history presentations we do. This was a great evening. the banjo song was great fun.

    Comment by smb — November 21, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  4. This is great, thanks Jared.

    Comment by David G. — November 21, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

  5. Jealousy is bad form, but I’m still jealous of every one of you who were able to be there.

    Great report, Jared. But it revved up the jealousy again when I read through this again.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 21, 2009 @ 5:40 pm

  6. Thanks, smb and David.

    Thanks, Ardis. But, don’t feel too bad. If I end up leaving Utah for a PhD program next year, I’ll be the jealous one!

    Comment by Jared T — November 21, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

  7. Thanks for this! I’m printing it out for repeat reading. I wish I could have been there. It sounds like it was wonderful.

    Comment by Hunter — November 21, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

  8. Thanks, Jared.

    Comment by Ryan T — November 22, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  9. Thanks Hunter and Ryan.

    I forgot to mention re Smb’s comment, that their presentation, particularly the q&a portion, did indeed do a good job of being forthright about some of the issues involved with ERS, including her relationships with Joseph and Brigham.

    Comment by Jared T. — November 22, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  10. I thought Jill and Karen were brilliant. Almost everything they said felt like an insightful comment based on years of careful study. It was cream.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — November 23, 2009 @ 11:45 am

  11. Thanks, Mark. I agree.

    Comment by Jared T — November 23, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  12. […] Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry, edited by Jill Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson (see notes from the ERS: TCP event) […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Recently Published and Forthcoming Books on Mormon History, November 2009 Edition — November 30, 2009 @ 6:59 am

  13. A belated thanks for these notes Jared!

    Comment by BHodges — September 14, 2010 @ 5:17 pm


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