Monday, March 25, 2013

"Sister More"

I've been fascinated recently with accounts of early Mormon women prophesying. These women received mixed responses from those around them – sometimes their messages were doubted, but often those that heard felt the truth in what these women taught and believed. The woman I'm profiling today falls in the latter category.

Daniel Tyler had a badly fractured leg, and there was a legitimate concern that his leg would ever heal properly. The prospect of facing life crippled devastated him, and on this particular Sunday, he was in despair.

When the meeting began, a “Sister More” stood and began to speak in tongues. She addressed her remarks to him. Tyler reports that he could understand every word she said, and even though it was so different from his “own belief and the fears of many others,” he gave the interpretation: “Your leg will be healed, and you will go on a foreign mission and preach the gospel in foreign lands. No harm shall befall you, and you shall return in safety, having great joy in your labors.”

Sister More's prophesy was fulfilled. Shortly afterwords, Tyler had a dream that told him how to strengthen his limb, and after a week, he was walking with a cane instead of crutches. He would go on to serve a mission in Switzerland.

I admire Sister More's courage and spirituality. Her prophesy brought hope and direction to someone in need, and his life was greatly blessed as a result.

Carol Lynn Pearson, Daughters of Light, referencing Scraps of Biography, published by the Salt Lake City Juvenile Instructor (1883).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lucy Stringham Grant

Lucy Stringham was the first wife of Heber J. Grant, who would go on to become the 7th president of the church. She would die after a long fight with illness at age 34 in 1893, and she wouldn't live to see that part of his life. But Lucy made her mark on the man Grant became in two important ways.

The first is her intelligence. Heber praised her “business foresight and judgment,” and gives her credit for many of his business successes that occurred during her lifetime.

The other is the gifts of the spirit that were available to her, and the way she used them to bless others. In his younger years, Heber J. Grant had been carrying a great load of financial debt, and it was weighing on him. He worked long hours, well into the night, and still couldn't make headway. In previous years, he had already suffered from “nervous convulsions,” because of work and church stress. On one particular night, he came home at 1am, and Lucy was waiting for him. She brought him to task for the damage his long hours were doing to his body and mind, telling him that he was breaking the word of wisdom more severely through this self-abuse than if he had been using tobacco or liquor.

At that point in time, the gift of tongues descended on her, and she delivered a blessing to him. Grant recalled that he could feel the spirit of it, even if he didn't know the words. They knelt in prayer together for an interpretation, and they got an answer: that he should live to cancel all his debts, possess a comfortable home, and proclaim the gospel to many lands.

These prophesies all came to be, and even gave Grant comfort when he thought he wouldn't survive an episode of advanced appendicitis. He remembered the prophesy that he wife had given, and he knew that because he hadn't served a foreign mission yet, it wasn't his time to die. He recovered and lived for nearly fifty more years, fulfilling all elements of the prophesy.

It is clear from the records we have that Grant valued and believed in Lucy's wisdom and spirituality. There was no macho superiority in these accounts; he respected her capability. Her counsel led him to health, security, and faith in God's healing power.

Daughters of Light by Carol Lynn Pearson (citing Jeremiah Stokes' Modern Miracles)
Richard R. Lyman, “President Grant and his family,” The Young Woman's Journal, volume 30, page 73.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bonus: This year's RS Birthday Celebration Talk

Every year since my current ward discovered my obsession with the history of mormon women, I've been asked to speak at the RS birthday celebration activity. I love it. These women's lives speak to me in powerful ways, and I love demonstrating the diverse ways Mormon women have served God throughout our history. Last year, I shared my talk on this blog, and I've decided to do the same this year. Enjoy!


171 years ago, a woman named Sarah Granger Kimball wanted to do all she could to help build the Nauvoo Temple. She started by persuading her affluent and not-yet-Mormon husband to make a much-needed financial donation towards building the Nauvoo temple. As they gazed starry-eyed at their newborn son, she asked her husband if the baby was worth a thousand dollars. He agreed. She replied that it was great news, because the boy was half hers, and she wanted to pay tithing on him. Resourceful girl, right? He went for it, and after bantering with Joseph Smith about if that meant the boy would be church property, he made a hefty donation.
Sarah could have put up her feet and said she'd done her part to build the temple, but she didn't stop there. Sarah and a friend decided that they should sew shirts for the temple workers. She realized other women would want to help, so she had a meeting about organizing a Ladies' Society in Nauvoo. She asked the eloquent Eliza R Snow to write a constitution, and they presented it to Joseph Smith. Joseph told them that they were the best he had ever seen, their offering was accepted of the Lord, but “he has something better for them than a written Constitution.” He invited them to a meeting the next week. At that meeting, he organized the Relief Society, an organization about which he proclaimed “the Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.”
I want to draw attention to a few elements of this story.
First, Sarah Granger Kimball was proactive. She didn't sit around waiting for people higher in the hierarchy to give her something to do. She felt inspired to do good, and she brought her ideas to the priesthood so they could work together. Think about that: a crucial step to the church being “perfectly organized” and progressing came because she acted on personal revelation that came from a desire to do good, and then worked in connection with the priesthood.

Second, she invited others to join her, recognized their talents, and allowed them to serve in meaningful ways. She could have tried to hoard the glory for her service brainchild, but she didn't. She recognized Eliza R Snow's literary gifts and considerable clout in Nauvoo culture, and brought her on board. When Joseph called Emma Smith as president, and she was not called as a counselor, Sarah didn't huff off. She remained thoroughly involved in the Relief Society throughout her life, serving as a Relief Society President in Salt Lake City for over forty years, where she would continue to create innovative ways to serve that would spread throughout the church. She kept giving.
Third, she started by recognizing needs in her community. She didn't set out to feed starving populations in Asia (although the Relief Society has certainly done that in notable ways throughout its history). She saw a need, saw something tangible she could do to fill that need, and she did it.
More than a sewing society came from her efforts. Little by little, woman by woman, new forms of service came about: providing food for the temple workers; boarding temple workers; caring for the sick. As time progressed, something monumental and far-reaching came out of this pattern of seeing a need and filling a need.

Throughout the history of the Relief Society, countless forms of service have been given. The Relief Society has cared for the hungry and sick. It instituted a grain storage program so successful that it not only met local needs, but fed thousands of victims of earthquakes, famines, and wars. It built hospitals, and educated women to be doctors, nurses, and midwives. It partnered with prominent organizations like the Red Cross, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the International Council of Women in bringing about positive change in the world. It has educated women in everything from self-reliance to Shakespeare. It has done remarkable good
And it all started with a woman who felt a desire to do good, took the initiative to propose a solution, and surrounded herself with the best people possible.

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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Louisa Barnes Pratt

I was first exposed to Louisa Barnes Pratt when I was researching the kinds of healing blessings women performed in the early church. While Louisa's husband was away on one of his many long missions, her daughter showed the early warning signs of small pox after being exposed to the disease. Louisa sent for the Elders to come and administer to her, but they refused – they did not want to catch the disease themselves. In response, she declared, “The devil shall not have power to thus afflict me!” She laid hands on the child and rebuked the fever herself. Her daughter's symptoms never progressed past those initial pimples.

There was something about her courage in the face of disappointment and proactive attitude towards approaching her problems that jumped out at me as I was sifting through materials. I wanted to learn more about this woman. I had no idea how interesting, complicated, and well-documented of a life she led when I set out to write this blog post.
Louisa's conversion to the church was immediate and lasting. About seven years into her marriage with Addison Pratt, Louisa's sister came to visit and introduced the family to the Mormon church, which they joined enthusiastically. As soon as they could get their affairs in order, Louisa and Addison moved their family to Nauvoo.

In 1844, Addison left on his first mission to the Pacific Islands, and the area he opened on the small island of Tubuai made him the first foreign language missionary in the church (speaking Tahitian). Louisa and their four children stayed home.

Addison did not return until 1848, so he was absent for many of the major events of early church history – the introduction of polygamy, Joseph Smith's martyrdom, the migration west, and the beginning of settlement period in Utah. Louisa negotiated them on her own. She taught school and tailored. She trained her own horse. She did what she had to to keep her family afloat. When the saints began migrating, Brigham Young counseled her to join them, but gave no advice for how she could pull it off. She felt frustrated that the very men that sent her husband overseas didn't offer her any assistance in moving her family. But the answer came to her when she was pondering this: “Sister Pratt, they expect you to be smart enough to go yourself without help, and even to assist others.” She said that prompting got her moving, and she decided to “show them what can do.” She outfitted herself and made the trek.

Shortly after Addison's return in 1848, he was asked to return to Tubuai and continue his efforts there. In 1850, Louisa was called to join him as one of the first female missionaries. She studied hard to learn the language, giving herself the task of translating a chapter of the bible every day. She eventually learned the language well enough to teach native children to write their own language, and she gave both biblical and sewing lessons to the women every day. In 1852, the Pratts returned home when the French Government closed the mission. They settled with other Mormons in the San Bernadino community of California.

Home proved to be a difficult thing for the Pratts. Addison was used to being a leader in the church; Louisa was used to running the household. They clashed over how Addison spent his time. They clashed over Addison's refusal to accept polygamy (in a reversal of the stereotyped polygamy narrative, Louisa pushed hard for it in their marriage, and Addison refused). Addison was largely ignored by local leaders, and he was disappointed in the way things were being run. When the US government began threatening military action against the Utah Mormons in 1858, Brigham Young called those in the San Bernadino colony to move back to Utah. Louisa did – Addison did not. It was meant to be temporary, but they lived apart for the remaining 15 years of their marriage.

Louisa settled in Beaver and made a life for herself there. She supported herself financially. Beaver's Relief Society was organized in her home, with her serving as secretary. Her presidency took special attention to ministering to the sick, performing washings, anointings, and laying on of hands to rebuke disease. She became heavily involved in the suffrage movement, penning a dozen articles for the Woman's Exponent on the topic, and she led in Beaver's petition to the territorial legislature to return voting rights to women and allow them to pursue public office. She wrote a memoir. She lived a full and faithful life.

Louisa was strong, self-sufficient, faithful, and serving. She was always willing to do the difficult things her faith required, and she found fulfillment in the path she chose.


The History of Louisa Barnes Pratt: Mormon Missionary Widow and Pioneer, edited by S. George Ellsworth. USU Press (available digitally here).
Daughters of Light, by Carol Lynn Pearson, page 69.

They Came to Nauvoo,” Sept 1979 Ensign, by Lavina Fielding Anderson

Capable of 'Great Good,'” by Brittany Chapman, Women With a Mission series, Church History Department.

Friday, March 1, 2013

2013 Theme: Gifts

As I study the history of women in the Mormon church, I'm always amazed by how similar our emotions are, but how unbelievably different the practices of the church were. Spiritual gifts are still an important part of LDS worship, but they look a whole lot different than they used to. I'll be honest – some of the old practices seem downright weird to me (singing in tongues in sacrament meeting, anyone?). However, that doesn't mean that they weren't a source of strength, comfort, and connection to God for the men and women that received them.

Women in the early church used these gifts at the big crossroads in their life. They anointed and blessed women before they gave birth. They gathered with friends and spoke in tongues during the harsh limbo of Winter Quarters. They faced the struggles of their life, approached God in prayer, and then gave comfort and direction to others through prophesying. They used these gifts to bless others and allow God to guide them and show His love for them.

Spiritual gifts played an important role in the lives of the women I'm highlighting this month (posting on Mondays). Some of these women used these gifts regularly; some received them in times of need; but all of these women deepened their connection and commitment to God through the use of these gifts. They faced heartbreaking loss and disappointment, but these gifts tied them to God and gave them strength to stay committed to their faith when it hurt to do so. I respect them for their faith, service, and commitment.