Monday, March 11, 2013

Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young

Learning about the life of Zina D.H. Young is like reading the female perspective of early church history. Zina was in the thick of it all - the church's origins, its major settlements and exoduses, new forms of marriage and spiritual expression, new roles for women in public and private spheres, and the spread of the Relief Society. Zina was deeply committed to her faith. She made terrible and soul-wrenching sacrifices for her faith, and she received deep spiritual gifts and satisfaction as a result of her actions.

Zina Diantha joined the church at age 14 in upstate New York in 1835. Many members of her family had joined several months earlier, and on the morning her brother was going to be baptized, she had a vision of a man baptizing someone, which she took as a sign to join her brother in baptism.

Spiritual blessings came quickly. Soon after her baptism, the gift of tongues came upon her suddenly and powerfully. Zina was alarmed by the strangeness of the sensation, so she didn't speak. She felt terrible about her choice, and felt she had offended the spirit by denying a gift. After earnest prayer, she resolved to never silence it again, no matter the circumstances. She kept this vow throughout her life, and it gave comfort, guidance, and healing to countless individuals she encountered.

Zina grew from child to woman in all of the major settlements of the early church. When the Saints gathered to Kirtland, her family sold their property at a loss and joined the Saints in Kirtland. After they lost everything when the Kirtland Bank fell, and persecution became great, they moved to Far West. When they were forced from Far West, 18 year old Zina moved to Nauvoo.
While in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith introduced two doctrines to Zina. The first was the concept of a Heavenly Mother. When Zina grieved the death of her mother and came to Joseph for comfort, she asked him if she'd know her mother in the hereafter. Joseph told her she would, and that she would also know her Heavenly Mother, a concept that had not been taught widely at that point.
The second, more controversial doctrine he taught Zina was that of plural marriage, when he invited her to become his plural wife. She avoided answering him on several occasions, and chose to receive the proposal of Henry Jacobs instead, a well-respected missionary for the church. They wed in 1841, and when she asked Smith why he sent someone else to perform the sealing, he replied that God had made it known that Zina was to be his celestial wife, and he couldn't give another man a woman God had given him. In future conversations, he told her that her being married to Jacobs didn't prevent her from being sealed to him.

As far as the records show, Zina and Henry had a good marriage. Henry loved her, and they were faithful and committed to the church. But as time passed, Zina felt extreme guilt over rejecting Joseph's proposal, feeling she had not done God's will. After prayer and counseling with her brother (a confidant of Smith's), with Henry's consent and pregnant with his child, she was also sealed to Joseph. She continued to live with Henry, and his love and commitment continued. Zina formed strong bonds with other secret plural wives of Joseph, and they shared a closeness throughout the exodus west.

There isn't a historical record out there that tells the whole story, but we do know that some time after the death of Joseph Smith, Zina was sealed to Brigham Young for time, Henry being present. The rules surrounding polygamy were shifting, and while the records are muddy, it seems that Brigham considered that Zina's marriage to Henry was canceled, while Henry didn't completely understand what the sealing would mean. He continued living with her during the trek from Nauvoo to Mt. Pisgah, but then left on a mission shortly after, and never lived with her again. Some accounts from disaffected Mormons state that Brigham brutally and publicly sent Henry packing, but there some big problems with corroboration and timeline in these accounts (although the gist of the story, that Brigham ended their marriage, is the most logical reading). The full story is simply not recorded. But what we do know is that Henry would try to maintain contact with her through various points in his life, with her sending only one letter in reply to him. He loved Zina and missed her terribly.

Zina would go on to be a major figure in the church. She would live in the Lion House and become part of the communal life there, having one child with Brigham Young (she'd had two previously with Henry). Although she wasn't a bold and forceful woman, she was capable and trusted. She was a skilled and sought-after midwife, anointing women with oil and giving them a blessing before delivery, and skillfully resolving difficult problems. She was heavily involved in the sericulture movement. She hated those silk worms and would have nightmares over them, but she diligently worked, serving as the first president of the Utah Silk Association. She would oversee the industry, teaching other women how to care for the silkworms, and handling marketing and publicity. She also served as a matron to female temple workers. She served as the Relief Society general president for roughly 13 years. While president, the Relief Society affiliated with the US National Council of Women, and she fought for the things she thought a woman of God deserved: suffrage, as well as the right to be in a polygamous union without persecution. She also worked heavily on grain storage and midwife education. She spoke in tongues frequently throughout her service, giving comfort to many.

Zina made big sacrifices for her faith. Truth be told, I feel rather sick and angry when I read the heartbreaking letters Henry sent her. I can't say she made the right choice, or that it was a choice she should have ever been asked to make. That said, I have admiration for her ability to make such a difficult decision, and live the life she decided on with determination, meaning, and goodness.
4 Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier, by Martha Sonntag Bradley.

2 comments: said...

Don't you wish Zina had kept a journal? She's my favorite. There is currently a series of blog posts underway at|/blog with the goal of helping women come to peaceful terms with plural marriage in the LDS theology. We invite you to check it out and weigh in if you like.

Hannah Jung said...

She did keep a journal! The LDS Church Library has her records digitized.