by Martha Sonntag Bradley
and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Zina Young Card Brown
New Horizons for a Supportive Wife, 1927-37
“I thank the Lord daily for you and your precious love for me.”
—Hugh B. Brown
[p.429] In retrospect, it was probably inevitable that Zina and Hugh would return to Salt Lake City: it was the center of their religious heritage and family roots. For Zina, it brought her back to the sphere occupied by her beloved but frail mother. It was also the arena in which Hugh’s talents as administrator, speaker, and charismatic leader could find their fulfillment; and his public success was rooted firmly in the private environment of encouragement and love which Zina provided.
Although Hugh did not give it as a reason for being released as stake president, he had begun to suffer from a chronic health problem that would be a burden for the next two decades. In Canada he had developed trigeminal neuralgia or tic douloureux, a neurological disease that caused excruciating pain from the base of the brain and affecting the right side of his face, including tongue, lips, nose, and eye. He experienced the first symptoms in late 1926, and had a full-blown case by January 1927. “At first I went to several dentists, thinking my teeth were affected.” Since there was no neurologist in Lethbridge, Hugh sought medical help in Salt Lake City, and was referred to a Dr. Harrow who injected an alcohol solution into the affected nerve. This numbed the nerve for a period of time.
[p.430] Early in 1927 Hugh took sixteen-year-old Zina Lou and thirteen-year-old LaJune to Salt Lake City, where Zina Lou would seek employment and register at LDS High School. LaJune would live with her cousin Beth Tanner and attend junior high with her. Hugh intended to seek additional treatment for his neurological condition and to hunt for a house. Stayner Richards, his real estate agent, took him to several properties. As they rounded the corner on 1300 East and Stratford Avenue, Hugh saw a large brick house nestled comfortably amid shrubs and trees in the middle of the block with lawns extending to Alden Street on the west and Beverley Street on the east. Even before he had walked up the steps, he said, “That’s the home I want.” Fortunately, this was the property Stayner wanted to show him and the purchase was soon negotiated.
This home at 1354 Stratford Avenue became the most dearly loved of the Brown family, the only one in which all lived at the same time. A clay tennis court, a “summer house,” fruit trees, a grape arbor, and a fenced backyard made the property irresistible. Inside Zina proudly displayed many of the gifts Hugh had given to her over the years—Royal Doulton figurines, a number of antiques, and a small Wedgewood clock.
Hugh returned to Lethbridge to wind up the family’s affairs. It pained Zina and the children to auction off their furnishings, but shipping them to Utah would have been too expensive. Zina and her six children took the train for the three-day journey to Salt Lake City. After climbing the stairs to her mother’s apartment at 155 North Main Street, she sank into her mother’s arms, both Zinas weeping with gratitude that they would no longer be separated by distance.
Almost immediately, however, Zina Brown had to deal with another crisis on her own. In October 1927 eleven-year-old Mary contracted smallpox and Zina was quarantined with the four youngest children. Hugh and the older daughters stayed with friends and relatives during the next three weeks; and all of the students of Highland Park Elementary School who had not previously been vaccinated were required to be immunized.
Hugh’s first job was as manager for Eddington-Cope Radio company, then in 1928 he became a law partner of Robert Murray Stewart. The following year he accepted an offer from the law firm of J. Reuben Clark, Preston D. Richards, and Albert E. Bowen. Deseret Mortuary, [p.431] one of his clients, paid him an annual retainer of $10,000, which “helped considerably.” He recalled, “My law practice increased steadily. My income was fairly good, and we were very happy.”1
Hugh was soon called to the Granite Stake high council and, the next year was chosen second counselor to Granite Stake president Frank Y. Taylor. Church president Heber J. Grant, delighted with “his missionary,” set him apart on 26 February 1928. Less than seven months later, Taylor was released and Hugh was sustained as his successor on 9 September 1928 with Marvin O. Ashton and Stayner Richards as his counselors. Apostle Rudger Clawson set him apart. Zina and Hugh quickly formed a widening circle of friends, but the couples in the stake presidency forged a life-long bond of friendship. Their daughters—still the “Big Four”—found friends across the street—the Fisher girls—Helen, Edna, Merle, Ruth, and Venice.
Zina was called to serve with her neighbor, Lenore J. Fisher, as a visiting teacher in the stake Relief Society and later directed the Sunshine (now Compassionate Service) work of the stake Relief Society board whose president was Emmaretta Brown, a distant relative. The women of the board became her dearest friends in Salt Lake City; after the board was released, they formed a club and named it The Emmarettas.
“When we used to sit down to dinner together,” Zina remembered of evenings at home, “there was quite a group of us—ten in all—and with a family like that I had to serve big, nourishing meals. Of necessity we weren’t very fancy, so I’m just a ‘plain Jane cook.’”2 She confessed: “I felt that my supreme compliment was when my husband said the food tasted like his mothers’s.” In Zina’s memory, her children’s favorite dinner was a fruit salad, rump roast or pot roast, mashed potatoes, brown gravy, buttered carrots or peas, baking powder biscuits, “Grandma Brown’s Spanish pickles,” celery, maple walnut ice cream, and a cake.3
At the onset of the Depression in the 1930s, Hugh severed his business relationship with Clark, Richards & Bowen to become general counsel for the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a New Deal federal agency that aided people in danger of losing their homes.4
On 15 December 1928, Zina delivered her eighth child, Carol Rae (named for Rae Ashton, wife of Marvin O. Ashton, Hugh’s counselor). She was Zina’s only baby born in a hospital. Zina referred to her as “my [p.432] beautiful little Yankee.” When Hugh brought mother and baby home on Christmas Eve, five sisters, two brothers, a dog named Prince, and a dozen red rosebuds in a fluted silver basket welcomed them.
Zina, like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, stood just over five feet tall. She was slender until after the birth of her last child when she became, as Carol described it, “soft and cuddly.”5 She always wore her hair long, braided like a crown atop her head and pinned in place with bone pins. The sole exception occurred in April 1925, when Hugh was away at general conference and her style-conscious daughters coaxed her to “surprise Daddy and bob your hair.” When Hugh saw her, he exclaimed, “What have you done!” She locked herself in the bedroom, wept, and never had short hair again.
Zina Presendia, now seventy-nine, had been growing gradually frailer. In the summer of 1929, Zina and Hugh brought her into their home, giving her Mary’s room since the wallpaper was lavender, her favorite color, and a fragrant lilac bush bloomed beneath the window every spring. Later she would occupy the boys’ bedroom, also known as the “Sun Room” because of the three walls of windows. Hugh C. and Charles M. moved to the basement. Zina’s mother was a welcome guest. Hugh traveled a great deal during these years, and Zina enjoyed caring for her mother. A year earlier when Zina Presendia was delirious, Mary, who was with her, recalls that her grandmother said, “Bring me my opera cloak, Lambie, for Mother is coming to take me home.” She recovered, but by January 1931 her condition worsened and she had to be hospitalized.
In 1931 Zina Lou, who had turned twenty-one the previous summer, accepted a call to the Northwestern States Mission, headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Since Hugh had business to transact in that city, he decided to drive his daughter to her mission. (Missionaries did not then have training sessions in the Missionary Training Center.) Because Zina Presendia was hospitalized and well cared for, Hugh encouraged Zina, who had not been on a vacation for years, to accompany them. Reluctantly she agreed.
They had been gone less than a week when they received a telephone call from Rega, telling them that Zina Presendia had slipped peacefully away on 31 January 1931. Even this date seemed to have been [p.433] chosen for its comfort; it was the 109th anniversary of Zina Diantha’s birth. While they felt that Zina Diantha had come for her daughter, the death was still heart-wrenching for Zina. She feared that she had “abandoned” her mother and left her to die “alone.” Even Hugh’s efforts to comfort her were in vain. Then, in true “Zina” fashion, Zina Presendia visited her grieving daughter in a dream filled with consolation and peace.
Zina Presendia’s sister Susa Young Gates spoke at the funeral held on 3 February 1931 at the Granite Stake Meetinghouse. Susa remembered Zina Presendia’s playful, inquisitive nature. “She was loved in my father’s family. She always took father’s counsel. I never knew her to exhibit a spirit of rebellion, as a child, as a girl, as a wife, or as a mother; and above all other things that I remember of her is the lovely spirit that she imbibed from her mother’s knee.”6 In his prayer, Hyrum Smith from Lethbridge expressed gratitude for her “well-spent life.”7
With renewed commitment, Zina Brown turned to the task she had chosen as her own: rearing children. Her heart was on her hearth: her devotion to Hugh, her support through job changes and moves, her eight children, her commitment to church service, and her delight in her friends. Zina Diantha and Zina Presendia, like Zina Brown, adored children; ironically, it was their lives in polygamy that probably diminished their opportunities for conception. One must go back four generations to Zina Baker Huntington to find a family as large as Zina Card Brown’s.
Even more unlike her mother and grandmother, Zina Brown lived a home-centered life, choosing to define her personal ambitions and her religious duty through the quality of character instilled in her children. The first three decades of her marriage were insulated from outside forces, always absorbed by family and friends in church activities. She was not involved in national issues. She was a generation ahead of the post-World War II generation in believing that saving the world started with her own family. A Mormon mother like Zina played a key role in inculcating American values and Mormonism in her children. Her role was to transmit the values, beliefs, and behavior that marked the kingdom of God as she had come to understand it from her parents. Victorian America, which had shaped the attitudes of Zina Diantha and Zina Presendia as well, was preoccupied with women and motherhood and [p.434] romanticized those roles through the turn of the century. Mormon attitudes toward women and motherhood were not unique but paralleled those of the nation at large. The Victorian image provided a detailed model for motherhood which was adopted practically wholesale by Mormon culture and remained the primary image of motherhood during the next thirty or forty years. As was true of republican motherhood, what some scholars have called the cult of true womanhood included the idealization of a mother’s self-sacrifice, love, domesticity, piety, purity, and gentleness.
Zina’s personal tastes and orientation were exactly right for the post-World War I celebration of domesticity. The Woman’s Exponent had charted her mother’s and grandmother’s travels to national suffrage conventions; now the Relief Society Magazine rejoiced in the ideal of the Christian home and glorified saintly motherhood. Church leaders supported the notion as well. David O. McKay, then second counselor in the First Presidency, exalted motherhood as “the noblest office or calling in the world, the greatest of all professions,” and “the greatest potential influence either for good or ill in human life.”8 Adopting these values was, for Zina, not the imposition of an ideology, but the expression of an identity. She enjoyed her children, was patient and affectionate with them, and nurtured their connectedness regardless of where they moved with their families. Carol Brown Sonntag fondly remembered:
I went through life blithely, unconscious of other people and other things. Mother always showered me with so much love, that was the nicest thing about being in our family. When I had a bad day at school, coming home was like opening the door into a peaceful haven, like having arms put around me. I felt so completely loved and secure in our home. Mother was the focal point for all of us children. You can be certain that we were never neglected.
Zina was reluctant to leave her children, and the bond was close. Carol felt that “my security left when mother did and came back when she returned. I would perch myself on the brown leather window seat in the music room to keep my vigil.”9
Hugh, too, cultivated an affectionate relationship with his children, compensating for the fatherly love he had lacked growing up. “I made up [p.435] my mind early that I would govern my own family by love and not by force,” he reflected. “I attribute this determination, which I have followed throughout my life, to the fact that I knew men who were great and good men but who, it seemed to me, kept their families in awe and did not get close to them. I made up my mind when I married and had children that I was going to try to get close to each of them, as my mother had done with each of us.”10 Each of his six daughters firmly believed she was his favorite. Carol remembers her father’s out-of-town shopping sprees when he would return with gifts for Zina and the children. On a business trip in New York, he was drawn to a display of dresses in a large department store. He “left the saleslady speechless as he pointed to five different dresses and said, ‘I want that one for my wife and those four dresses for my daughters’. And they all fit.”11 No matter where Hugh’s schedule took him, he made the time to write to each child on his or her birthday. His letter dated 9 April 1942 to Zola—“My Beautiful Blossom”—alluded to her recent divorce and the tragic wartime death of Hugh C.: “It seems that trouble brings us closer to those we love for I feel that we are closer now than ever. In fact the last two years have made you very close to me as we have tried to solve some problems together. You have been so brave and wise in your own experiences that we are proud.”12
The year 1934 was marked by pressures and tensions. Zina Lou was working as a legal secretary in San Francisco. Zola married Rulon Jeffs on 1 June 1934. (The two divorced six years later; and Zola then married Waldo G. Hodson on 8 November 1944.) Mary married Edwin R. Firmage on Hugh’s fifty-first birthday, 24 October 1934.
In August 1933, some of Hugh’s Democratic friends canvassed the state for party strength. Twenty-five of Utah’s twenty-nine counties sent representatives “asking him to become a candidate for the Senate.” Hugh agreed, announcing that he would make “an honest effort to see to it that the ‘New Deal’ is a ‘square deal.’”13 Zina had little enthusiasm for politics and was opposed to his running for office. She must also have been concerned about their financial situation, for he resigned as legal counsel to the HOLC to devote himself full time to the campaign. Carol was five, and the other children were still in school. Zina did not campaign but encouraged LaJune, then a Brigham Young University student, to travel [p.436] with him. Disappointingly, when the Democratic state convention met in Provo on 1 September, incumbent Senator William H. King easily won renomination. In his memoirs Hugh reported, “I entered … against the advice of my wife, which I have regretted ever since.”14 Considerably chastened, he regrouped.
The following year Utah governor Henry Blood, a Democrat, appointed Hugh to the Utah Liquor Control Commission. Before accepting the position, Hugh sought the advice of LDS president Heber J. Grant. Grant told him, “By all means, we want you to take it, because we want the liquor controlled and not sold freely, and that will be your job.”15 However, the appointment required confirmation by the Utah State Senate. “Because of the activities of a group of Bootleggers and their agents against me,” Hugh later recalled, “the senate refused to confirm the nominees … and two years later, 1937, I left the commission.”16
Prior to the senate’s refusal to back Hugh’s appointment, David O. McKay, a counselor to President Grant, informed Hugh that the First Presidency did not feel it would be appropriate to have a stake president serve on the liquor commission. Consequently, McKay continued, Hugh would be released from his church calling. Even though Hugh had accepted the job with the commission at Grant’s request, McKay was now adamant about the release. The loss of the stake presidency was a heavy blow to both Hugh and Zina.
With her husband’s change in church assignment, Zina’s life returned to greater normalcy, and she was able to concentrate more fully on mothering, entertaining, and church service. The house seemed always to be full of children, friends, and relatives. The bookcases were lined with the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Harvard Classics, the complete writings of Mark Twain, and Junior Classics. Zina often played classical music on the record player in the music room, and Hugh enthralled the family with recorded readings by John Barrymore from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He also led a Sunday evening Book of Mormon study group for his youngest children and their friends. Other evenings, while one daughter ironed, another would read aloud from works by Louisa May Alcott or George C. McCutcheon.
Friends enjoyed visiting because Zina always welcomed them so warmly. Carol remembered that her mother would sometimes tease her [p.437] and her sisters’ boyfriends, because on the telephone her voice sounded like her daughters’: “They would think it was Zola or Zina or June or Mary, and Mother would go along and pretend for a little while and they would go about whatever they were saying, asking for a date or whispering sweet nothings. Finally, cute Mother would say, ‘Thank you, but I’m Zola’s mother and my husband won’t let me date anyone else’; the boy would be all flustered.”17
Zina was a gracious hostess who enjoyed making special preparations for her guests. She and Hugh participated in a monthly dinner and church history study group, which at various times included Reuben and Luacine Clark, Albert and Emma Lucy Gates Bowen, Harold and Fern Lee, Adam and Minerva Bennion, Marion and Ida Romney, and John and Leah Widtsoe. They enjoyed the stimulating discussions. When it was the Browns’ turn to entertain, Zina would fret about preparing dinner, remembered Carol, “because she wanted everything to be just right. She was especially nervous about entertaining the Widtsoes because they were so anti-chocolate and Mother loved chocolate.”
Zina was mortified when Hugh, genial and relaxed with the Granite Stake high councilors and their wives, gently reminded them of the advanced hour by quipping, “Come on, Mother, let’s go to bed so these good people can go home.”
Carol describes her mother as “a plain cook. She didn’t make any fancy dishes, but what she cooked was good. In Mother’s era you really cooked vegetables to death. Mother made wonderful mashed potatoes. We very seldom had steak, but we children looked forward to Sunday dinner because we had roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, always carrots and another vegetable, fruit salad, rolls, and dessert, usually two kinds of cake.” She also recalls being impressed with Zina’s “strong right arm” when she would beat cake batter “with a wooden spoon so fast her arm would just bounce back and forth.”
Even with the indigent, Zina was hospitable. “Mother would invite them into the kitchen to sit down while she fixed them something to eat,” reflected Carol. “If they wanted to earn some money, Mother would think of something for them to do such as sweep out the garage or rake leaves. It didn’t matter if it was the milkman at the door, or the [p.438] president of the United States or the President of the Church, Mother treated everyone with respect. I just loved this about Mother.”
Zina was a relatively relaxed housekeeper. Monday was always wash day; other tasks had their schedule. Each child had a chore, which rotated weekly, and she expected them to contribute according to their abilities and her standards. “She kept everything clean,” explained Carol, “but she wasn’t the kind of mother that made you feel like you had to take off your shoes and tiptoe through the house. She wanted us to be comfortable.”
All the children knew that for Zina, Hugh came first. “Everyone was aware of the fact that Daddy was the focal point around which all of us revolved,” commented Mary. “When he came home after a difficult day at the office, Mother would say, ‘Now, darlings, Daddy has had a hard day and I want you to be quiet so he can rest or study’; Mother was always one hundred percent unselfish when it came to Daddy.”18 Speaking after the women’s movement of the 1970s and 1980s, Zina’s daughters defended her choice not to compete publicly for attention. “She had a marvelous sense of humor and in some ways was wittier than Daddy,” commented Zola. “But she thought that because Daddy was one of fourteen children, he may have been a little bit lost in the shuffle and needed lots of special TLC and recognized his need to be center stage.”19
Hugh struggled with recurrent bouts of depression. Zina’s love, loyalty, and intuition helped him see the positive side of things, lifting him during these difficult times. Mary explained: “She was a woman of great faith. She was a strong woman. She didn’t appear that way because she chose to downplay her talents and champion Daddy’s. That takes another kind of strength. She was his equal and she knew it and that was that. She didn’t need to blow trumpets.”20
Whatever differences might have periodically divided Zina and Hugh, they were resolved privately, never within hearing of their children. Although she did not keep a regular journal, Zina sometimes unburdened her heart in written prayers and New Year’s resolutions that reveal hidden yet quickly forgiven wounds:
Dear Lord, when you were here on earth you said, “Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.” So that has been my service—blindly thinking that he understood that care for our children—his [p.439] and mine—was a part of perfect devotion to him. He had no time to give of himself to them at home—his heavy daily burdens of office and church and platform and constant preparation for his public life left him too spent for their noisy life at eventide. So I gave much of myself to make up to them, their loss and his.
Help me then to have the courage to develop (yes, the sublime) sense of honor my Mother had that helped to make of her life a haven for all instead of a tragedy for her. I thank Thee for that perfect faith in Thee she gave me and for the knowledge that “right” will ultimately conquer in the earth. Dear God, continue to hear my daily prayers for Hugh’s happiness and health and his power to reach his goal of desire—for it is all righteous.
I am weary Lord, but ask Thee for strength to carry on to the end in a better way. I see my mistakes and they rise up like a mountain and frighten me. Help me then to see less dimly the way to rectify these stated mistakes and the ones I recognize of my own discernment. O, help me through this maze of bewilderment. Bless “him” and bless them everyone. Give me help to live up to and keep the new resolutions for 1934.
Observed Carol: “Mother was a very gentle person. But she was also a very strong person and I don’t think people realized her great inner strength, because Mother always put herself in the background. Throughout her life, she faced some very difficult times alone, and did it with courage.”21 Not the least evidence of Zina’s resolve to make the best of her life was her successfully keeping her disappointments and discouragement from Hugh.
Zina never recorded any reflections on marriage. If she was asked to address women’s groups or teach Relief Society lessons on the topic, no notes have survived. Hugh, as the public member of their partnership, spoke eloquently and often on marriage; and his comments reflect his gratitude to Zina, his devotion to her, and his commitment to their relationship.
Neither [spouse] should ask for nor expect perfection in the other for the simple reason that he cannot give what he asks. True love is not blind, but it has the genius to magnify virtues and minimize faults when looking at the beloved.
When the husband and wife tell each other of their affections and demonstrate it by their conduct by both what they do and refrain from [p.440] doing, then their marriage, like the tides of the ocean, will not be seriously disturbed by the surface storms. Love is a wonderful ballast. The husband lying on a couch in the front room may shout to his wife in the kitchen and say, “Honey, I love you,” but his conduct says more loudly, “I love me.”
And pertaining to the in-laws in this marriage, which is so important to us all, as each new marriage craft sets sail, there should be a warning call. … All the in-laws should get off the matrimonial boat. … If they are wise and polite, they will remember that they are merely guests and not members of the crew.22
Small rituals marked their relationship. Hugh would kiss Zina goodbye, then she would follow him to the stairway that led to the basement garage. He would descend two steps, then turn, and ask, “Did I kiss you?” to which she would reply, with wide innocent eyes, “No.” So he would kiss her again. While he went to the garage, she would hurry to the front porch and wave her handkerchief as he drove past. He would tap the horn three times, meaning “I love you,” as he turned the corner out of sight. Just before his evening return, Zina would freshen her lipstick, tidy her hair, dab on a bit of his favorite perfume, and greet him at the door.
For Hugh’s part, he adored Zina, communicating both his affection and need for her loyalty. Hugh always managed to bring Zina a few of her favorite chocolate mints, even in the depths of the Great Depression. When he traveled, he wrote to her almost nightly. In late 1937 after he left the Utah Liquor Commission and was released as president of Granite Stake, he wrote:
Strange how some incidents in one’s life have so marked an influence. One may know that he is loved by another and be encouraged by that love, which is manifested by daily acts of devotion. But when a crisis comes … and [he] finds his mate ready to fight for him—this is evidence of a type of love with which one does not come in contact often—it is exhilarating and restores one’s self-esteem, which has perhaps been gradually approaching the zero point. … To find, however, when a real test comes that someone cares enough to fight—not for the bread winner and debt payer alone—but for the lover—the boyfriend, the companion of one’s youth —this restores one’s youthful fire and gives life its old time zest. … [p.441] One almost is glad the crisis came as it jars things back into their true perspective. … I thank the Lord daily for you and your precious love for me.23
During Hugh’s frequent absences, Zina missed him terribly. She often sat at her desk and poured her heart into simple musings on her regard for her husband.
In my heart I am ever, on my knees
To the Giver of all
For blessings great and beautiful—
The greatest of these is you my Beloved.
To know you are mine and I
am yours for all Eternity
and to both of us, our children
will ever be within the circle of our
Love and these too, for Eternity.
Sometimes through your eyes I glimpse
the illumined way and catch
the spirit of life Everlasting,
For your nearness and dearness I
give humble and grateful thanks.
That our lives may go on together
is ever my prayer.
When the “Curtain falls” may we still
be hand in hand.
This love fills my heart this night.