Eliza R. Snow
Just outside the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake, there is a statue that honors Zion's poetess, Eliza R. Snow. Eliza was born at Becket, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, on January 21, 1804, and was baptized at Kirtland, Ohio, on April 5, 1835. She was sealed to Joseph Smith as a plural wife in 1842 and later married Brigham Young after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph.
Eliza began her pioneer journey from Winter Quarters in June 1847, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley that October. Her powerful gift of literary expression captured the spirit of the Restoration, reflecting the foundational principles of the gospel taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith. She served as the second president of the Relief Society after the Saints arrived in Salt Lake City, figuring prominently in the events of Church history as a women's leader, poet, and writer.
Several of her hymns are Latter-day Saint favorites, including “Behold the Great Redeemer Die”, “How Great the Wisdom and the Love”, and “O My Father”. Forty years after her arrival in the Valley, this remarkable woman passed away on December 5, 1887, at the age of eighty-four. Funeral services were held in the Assembly Hall, after which she was buried in President Brigham Young’s family cemetery. Death held no fear, for she viewed it as simply a door leading to the eternal world. She had requested that no black be worn at her funeral, and the Assembly Hall on Temple Square was decked in beautiful white draperies and white flowers.
“O My Father” was written in 1843 while Eliza R. Snow was living in Nauvoo, Illinois. A close friend, Zina D. Huntington (Young), was grieving when it became necessary to move her mother’s body from a temporary grave to a more permanent resting place. When the remains were exhumed, Zina discovered that they were partially petrified. It seemed to Zina as if the very foundation of the doctrine of the Resurrection crumbled. Zina asked the Prophet, Joseph Smith, “Shall I know my mother when I meet her in the world beyond?” to which the Prophet responded emphatically, “Yes, you will know your mother there.” Zina D. Huntington was comforted by this promise. From the discussions surrounding such questions on the Resurrection and man’s relationship to Deity, Eliza R. Snow received inspiration to write “O My Father.”
Orson F. Whitney remarked:
“If all her other writings, prose and verse, were swept into oblivion, this poem alone, the sweetest and sublimest of all the songs of Zion, would perpetuate her fame and render her name immortal. But she believed, with Lord Byron, that a poet should do something more than making verses, and she put that belief into practice, laboring incessantly for the promulgation of her religious faith and for the teaching and counseling of the women of her people.”
- On July 17, 1880, President John Taylor set Sister Snow apart as general president of the Relief Society. At the same time in her life, she was presiding over three auxiliaries: Relief Society, Young Women (known then as Young Women Mutual Improvement Association, or YWMIA), and Primary, the only woman in Latter-day Saint history to do so.