zinasFour Zinas
A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier
by Martha Sonntag Bradley and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward

on the cover:
• Zina Baker Huntington
• Zina Huntington Young
• Zina Young Card
• Zina Card Brown

Mother, daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter—an impressive line of prominent women all named Zina. One converted to Mormonism in New York in 1835. The next married Joseph Smith and Brigham Young successively and served as the church’s general Relief Society president. The third assisted her husband, Charles Ora Card, in founding Cardston, Alberta. The fourth married future church apostle Hugh B. Brown.

Collectively this extended family had a significant impact on a large region of the American West. Individually each helped shape her particular era. Zina Young and Zina Card worked tirelessly for woman’s suffrage, and they encouraged women to study nursing and to become involved in industry. The two promoted drama and literature, and they inspired others through their speeches and expressions of spirituality, including speaking in tongues. They helped Mormon women feel good about themselves, and in the process they made the territory not only habitable but livable.

“This intimate account of the four-generation female dynasty of Zinas runs parallel to the traditional story of the LDS church, depicting a woman’s world, where revered men visit occasionally. The Zinas were central to all the important LDS female movements: spiritual gifts, celestial marriage, suffrage, the Relief Society, as well as motherhood and education. The authors have turned this rich, compelling record into a cohesive and illuminating window on the past.”
• CLAUDIA L. BUSHMAN, Adjunct Professor of History, Columbia University

“A rare view of a family of women from the beginnings of Mormon history, Four Zinas traces with a fine line the inter-generational strings which bind the heart. We need this book—because the authors offer an unprecedented analysis that stretches over both time and geography. It is an extraordinary story.”
• VALEEN TIPPETTS AVERY, Associate Professor of History, Northern Arizona University

on the flap:
What is most striking about this matrilineal family biography is that the authors relate not only what happened but what is felt like, drawing on the women’s letters, diaries, and reminiscences. Zina Huntington discloses in missives to her mother the cycle of feast and famine on the western edge of New York state, concluding that “a contented mind is a continual feast” but admitting that something was missing, hinting at the beginnings of a spiritual awakening.

Her daughter became prominent in Mormonism’s inner circle in Illinois and eventually married Joseph Smith. The young woman expressed her private feelings: “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life,” she wrote, adding that she “never anticipated again to be looked uppon [sic] as an honorable woman.” This emotional trial was offset by the spiritual outpouring she found among her “sister wives” and others in meetings where the participants washed and anointed each other and sang in tongues.

The authors also explain what life was like for a young girl, “Little Zina,” in Salt Lake City, raised in the Lion House where much of Brigham Young’s family lived. When older, this Zina would become a midwife and healer like her mother. When she further followed her mother’s lead by marrying a polygamist, she was initially heartbroken to find herself spending her wedding night alone. “Well this is a lot worse than I bargained for,” she told her journal. She responded to her husband’s greetings to his “quorum of wives” with, “I feel to thank God that those to whom I owe the duty of loving are [at least] loveable.”

The next generation’s Zina adapted to new circumstances by becoming a model homemaker. In contrast to her forebears who spent much of their lives away from their husbands, Zina Brown kissed her husband good bye each morning and waved her hanky from the porch as he drove away.

She was the anchor to his sometimes varying moods and ill health, a socially active counterweight to his tendency toward reclusiveness.

Of course there are controversies in the lives of each of these women. Treating their subjects with sympathy and understanding, the authors nevertheless tell readers in the most straightforward way how Zina Huntington and her husband lost their home in Illinois due to naive trust in a fellow church member. In Salt Lake City Zina Young arranged to have her friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, address an audience in the Mormon Tabernacle. Although the national women’s leader scandalized the community by speaking not only on suffrage bust also on birth control, the two women remained close. Zina Brown, like her mother, would become known for giving healing blessings with consecrated oil, now considered the exclusive prerogative of male priesthood holders.

In approaching such topics, the authors skillfully allow readers to appreciate these women as real people—remarkable for what they accomplished in spite of human flaws and unavoidable obstacles. They demonstrate that complexity resides alongside single-mindedness, that the four Zinas were women whose lives are worth celebrating.

about the authors: Martha Sonntag Bradley is a University of Utah Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Architecture. Her numerous honors include the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the Student Choice Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Bennion Center Service Learning Professorship, and the title, “1999-2000 University Professor.” She taught previously at Brigham Young University where she received a Teaching Excellence Award. She has served as coeditor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, has published often in professional journals, and is the author of six books on Utah history, including Kidnapped from that Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists, A History of Kane County, and A History of Beaver County. She has six children and three grandchildren.

Mary Brown Firmage Woodward is the daughter of Zina Card and Hugh B. Brown, and inheritor of her mother’s heirlooms–letters, memorabilia–which in 1976 she removed from boxes, barrels, and trunks to catalogue, as the genesis of this book. She attended Brigham Young University in the 1930s, married Edwin R. Firmage, who died in 1986, and later Ralph Woodward. With her husbands she served two Latter-day Saint missions to London, England, and Nauvoo, Illinois. She has published in the Ensign and Improvement Era.

title page:
4 Zinas
A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier
Martha Sonntag Bradley & Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Signature Books
Salt Lake City, Utah

copyright page:
© 2000 Smith Research Associates. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
04   03   02   01   2000     6   5   4   3   2   1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bradley, Martha Sonntag.
Four Zinas / by Martha Sonntag Bradley and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward. p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-56085-141-4
1. Huntington, Zina Baker, 1786-1839. 2. Young, Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith, 1821-1901. 3. Card, Zina Presendia Young Williams, 1850-1931. 4. Brown, Zina Young Card, 1888-1974. 5. Mormon women—United States—Biography. 6. Mormon women—Canada—Biography.
I. Woodward, Mary Brown Firmage, 1916- II. Title.
BX8693 .B73 2000
[B]     99-052648

Introduction [see below]

01 – “This Silent Conversation”: Zina Baker Huntington’s Watertown Letters, 1820-35

02 – “Heaven Born and Heaven Bound”: The Religious Conversions of Zina Baker Huntington and Zina Diantha Huntington, 1816-33

03 – Spiritual Riches: The Huntington Sisters in Kirtland, 1836-38

04 – Missouri Crucible, 1836-39

05 – An Ordered Life: Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young in Nauvoo, 1839-46

06 – Winter Quarters and Westward, 1846-48

07 – Zina Diantha: First Year in Utah, 1848-50s

08 – Zina Diantha’s Transition from Domestic to Public Spheres, 1860-80

09 – Zina Presendia: Two Plural Marriages, 1868, 1884

10 – Zina Presendia: On the Canadian Frontier, 1887-1903

11 – Relief Society, Suffrage, and Polygamy: The Strong Voice of Mother and Daughter in Public Issues, 1880s-1900

12 – Women’s Rights, 1879-1900

13 – Zina Diantha: The Final Years, 1892-1901

14 – Zina Presendia Young William Card: “A Well Spent Life”

15 – Zina Young Card Brown: The Making of a Marriage, 1908-27

16 – Zina Young Card Brown: New Horizons for a Supportive Wife, 1927-37

17 – The England Years, 1937-46

18 – Zina Card Brown: Finale, 1946-74




“This is not ink and paper, or words, which the worst of men, or the devil may read or talk of; but it is spirit, life, and power killing and making alive; as in the bosom.”

—Rebecka Travers,
For Those That Meet to Worship, 1659

[p.vii] We come to this work from different directions. Mary grew up in a home where photographs of her grandmothers, Zina Diantha Young and Zina Young Card, were proudly displayed in her mother’s bedroom. Martha became enamored of Mormon women’s history while a graduate student at the University of Utah, and knew Zina Diantha as an intriguing face that stared out at her from her portrait in the LDS church’s Museum of History and Art in downtown Salt Lake City.

Mary’s memory of these women charts a spiritual journey. She knew as a girl that she and her sisters were Mormons because of what the Zinas had sacrificed. Martha’s attempt to understand these women seeks to identify meaning in the socio-historical context in which their lives played out. Two different women. Two different approaches. Two different generations. But like the Zinas, we reach for threads that connect us, that weave our design with theirs.

Not until after her grandmother Zina Young Card’s death in 1931 did Mary’s serious interest in the Zinas begin. She sat on the floor with her mother, Zina Card Brown, and watched as she opened the old red tin bread box which Zina D. H. Young had brought with her from Nauvoo, Illinois, a treasure box passed down through the generations, filled with [p.viii] letters, diaries, clippings, and other precious documents. She listened as her mother read excerpts from letters written by former presidents of the LDS church, William Huntington’s licenses to preach the Mormon gospel, and church membership certificates of Zina Baker Huntington and William Huntington, Jr., bearing the signatures of Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and William Clayton.

“I don’t know what to do with them; they’re so sacred to me,” she whispered to Mary, wiping tears from her cheeks. So she put all the papers back into the box and closed the lid. In 1966 Zina Brown suffered a massive stroke which took her speech and left her paralyzed. That December Mary traveled to Salt Lake City to decorate the Brown home for Christmas. In searching for decorations in the basement, she discovered the red tin bread box which contained Zina Young’s treasured documents and diaries. Mary kept the box and carefully guarded its valuable contents. Other documents were found by relatives in the papers of Zina Card’s son Orson Rega. Papers hidden for nearly seventy-five years in a box tucked behind the walls of a log cabin were discovered during the restoration of the Sterling Williams house in Cardston, Canada.

Yet another Zina, the sixth in this line, Zina Elizabeth Brown, inherited a beautiful old trunk when her grandfather, Hugh B. Brown, died in 1975. She proudly displayed the trunk in her living room, using it for a while as a sofa table. Four years later she opened the trunk for the first time and found an unanticipated treasure—her grandmother’s wedding dress folded carefully and tucked in a corner, letters her uncle Hugh Card Brown had written during World War II, and, perhaps most importantly, two diaries of her great-great-grandmother Zina Diantha, including one written in Nauvoo, 1844-45.

After the death of her parents, Hugh B. and Zina C. Brown, Mary and her sisters had the tedious but interesting task of sorting the contents of boxes, barrels, and trunks. It was at that time, January 1976, that a box tied with a faded blue ribbon filled with letters from the first Zina, Zina Baker Huntington, to her mother Dorcas Baker, written in the first decades of the nineteenth century, was found. They are currently part of the Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young Collection, housed in the archives of the Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Lat-[p.ix]ter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (and are cited in the notes to the history that follows as Zina D. H. Young Collection).

These documents moved both of us to embark on this project—a collective biography of four women bound by blood, religion, common experience: Zina Baker Huntington (2 May 1786-9 July 1839), Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young (31 January 1821-27 August 1901), Zina Presendia1 Young Williams Card (3 April 1850-31 January 1931), and Zina Young Card Brown (12 June 1888-19 December 1974). Mary was inspired by her connection to these exceptional women. In coming to know them, she learned more about herself. Martha was drawn by the remarkable collection of primary source materials, and eagerly joined Mary, grateful for the extraordinary opportunity.

The Four Zinas

What traces we have of Zina Baker Huntington’s life we find primarily in and between the lines of her letters to her mother written during the early decades of the nineteenth century and which span almost three decades of her adult life. In them we see a devoted mother and daughter, wife and friend. If we measure her interests by the attention she paid them with words, then faith, family, and work dominated her focus and drove her day. Good humored and hard working, Zina faced each day’s new challenges with enthusiasm, making do and finding much to be grateful for. It is significant that her offspring made important contributions to the early Mormon church—they were loyal, creative, and similarly devoted to God, learning faith from their parents. Dimick, Oliver, William D., Presendia, and Zina Diantha were each key players in building the Mormon kingdom.

In important ways, Zina Diantha is the center piece of this study. Her life stretches back to her mother and to their family’s life in Watertown, New York, and forward to the Mormon settlement of Utah. There was something special about Zina Diantha; her brother Oliver once said of her, “I believe she is as unselfish a person as I have ever seen.” But perhaps more importantly, she was gifted in matters of the spirit, which both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young recognized. Because of this she made a substantial contribution to the spiritual life of Mormon women throughout her life. Zina Diantha believed in the prophetic leadership of Joseph [p.x] Smith and tried faithfully to follow his model and words regardless of what it required of her.

Although plural marriage radically shifted her family orientation and composition, Zina Diantha believed it was essential to her salvation and ordained of God. Plural marriage was new to Zina, Presendia, and the other men and women who had been raised in a monogamous world and now struggled to find ways to make it work. The rules had not been articulated, but were during their lives gradually drawn out—this was definitely a work in progress, and Zina Diantha, through her example and as a wife of Brigham Young, helped to define it. It was not in her nature to argue with her prophets, and she found ways to live the teaching well, perhaps hoping to magnify its potential for improving the character of men and women. This central doctrine, more than any other single feature of Mormonism, shaped her life.

Zina Presendia was the first of the three to have been reared in a polygamous household so that her entrance into a plural marriage and particularly one with an older husband was not an extraordinary event. It did, however, temper her experience with marriage, and, as it had with her mother, plurality created the unique boundaries of her family life. Zina Presendia was never in a family that was not polygamous. For her, such an arrangement was routine. This does not mean it was easy, but in the Mormon community it was normal. Like her mother, however, the measure of her success at marriage, in her case plural marriage, was the measure of her devotion, dedication, and energy. An incredibly generous spirit and heart were requisite and Zina Presendia rose to the challenge. Those around her benefitted from her warmth and spirit. Like her mother, Zina Presendia was known for her spiritual gifts and her willingness to work for the benefit of others.

Born into the household of the church president and principal territorial leader, Zina Presendia also belonged to an elite clan—Brigham Young’s daughters formed a sort of royalty in Utah society and she had an extensive network of kinship and church ties that only grew as she matured. Even as an elderly woman, her primary friends and associates were among this elite group. She was blue-blood and this gave her a privileged position from which she negotiated her way through the Mormon world.

[p.xi] Into this setting her daughter Zina Young Card emerged. Daughter of the two leaders of Mormon Canada, Charles O. and Zina Card, little Zina, as she became known, was the adored golden-haired child who would usher the Zinas into the twentieth century. Her role as daughter, wife, and mother would be different from her mother’s and grandmother’s. She was the only wife in a real love match with Canadian and future LDS apostle Hugh B. Brown. From youth, she was recognized as a talented and bright woman; her role would be as helpmate and partner.

Each Zina had husbands who were leaders of the Mormon church, but each experienced that supportive role differently. Zina Diantha and Zina Presendia were more actively engaged in actual community building and organizational work, and both, perhaps because of plural marriage, did this primarily on their own. Zina Diantha was in Utah and Zina Presendia in Canada because their husbands were also, but what they did there reflected their own personal contribution.

A rich collection of personal papers supports this collective biography. These women saw the value of recording their days in letters, journals, and personal essays. The collection of letters between Zina Baker Huntington and her mother Dorcas Baker is one of the finest in existence from this early period of American history. They portray the religious fervor of the day as well as significant key events such as the peopling of the western frontier, the War of 1812, and the Second Great Awakening.

Zina Diantha kept journals during various periods of her life. Of those that remain, the Nauvoo diary, kept from June 1844 to September 1845, and the diary Zina Diantha kept between 1848 and 1849 are the best preserved. Other journals describe her life from the 1850s to the 1890s and are in varied states of repair. Many have significant water damage or torn pages and as a result do not provide complete records but some valuable information nonetheless. Zina Diantha wrote numerous short autobiographies as well during her lifetime. Her daughter Zina Presendia did not enjoy journal writing as much as her mother and wrote periodically for months at a time in journals. Zina Presendia was far more likely to record her budget than her impressions about her life. Her letters to and from Charles O. Card are a valuable source of information about their lives together, as is Charles’s extensive journal.

The letters between Hugh B. Brown and Zina Card Brown during [p.xii] their courtship and early marriage are a priceless record of the relationship between a devoted, loving couple. Chatty and filled with description, they reveal much about the character and concerns of the two.

Women’s Religious History

Increasingly, scholars have come to realize that religion, particularly Christianity, played a central role in women’s lives in the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Moreover, one cannot overstate the importance of women’s values and participation in the formation and maintenance of churches as well as of Christian philanthropic organizations and social movements. Churches attracted women in pre-­industrial North America in part because they promised a measure of authority. Churches were public places where women could speak, prophesy, and exercise spiritual gifts. There was no question of women’s right to play roles as actors in religious drama. In fact, historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich notes that women of northern New England dominated the membership of Congregational churches of the eighteenth century. “Church membership was one of the few public distinctions available to women. Men could be fence-viewers, deacons, constables, captains, hog reeves, selectmen, clerks, magistrates, tithingmen, or sealers of leather. Women could be members of a gathered church. In a society in which church membership had to be earned, this was no small distinction.”2 Nor was membership only about societal involvement or participation; religious ideas and values were significant attractions as well.3

As members of a religious community, women played roles they had never before thought possible. We cannot fully explain the appeal of religion to women of the past (and present) without understanding the potential religion had for freeing women from traditional ways of being. Some recent studies, informed by anthropology and psychology, have documented the emancipatory potential of nineteenth-century religion. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg suggests that women were drawn to those religions that were inherently “disorderly” and challenged traditional ways of being. Women moved into confusing religious situations ready to be made anew—reshaped by ideas about God.4 Furthermore, for women like Zina Baker Huntington, noting the centrality of their spiritual concerns provided a focal point for their entire lives.

[p.xiii] During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, conversion to a new religion in the United States was frequently described in a narrative that bonded evangelical women through their spiritual experiences. The emotional rebirth experiences encouraged by the dramatic public revivals of the Second Great Awakening also were expressed in the manifestation of spiritual gifts among the Mormons. The telling of conversion stories became a sort of  “rite of passage.” Although explanations of this phenomenon by historians vary according to social contexts and periods, almost all emphasize the ways in which ecstatic or “disorderly” religion enable women (as well as lower-status men and socially subordinate ethnic and racial groups) to become socially mobile. Direct contact with sacred space allowed those hungry for social status and recognition to claim alternate sources of authority in religious leadership roles.

Those drawn to Mormonism’s message were no exception. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints originated in the remote rural counties of upstate New York, but Mormon missionaries quickly moved east and south to evangelize New England and the southern states. Soon they traveled even farther afield, preaching to audiences in Great Britain and Northern Europe. During the movement’s first decades, as Mormons enacted their experiences of salvation in a highly public arena— streets, marketplaces, churches, fields, and schools—they were considered by many to be radical in their outlook. Yet they were enormously successful, attracting upwards of 13,000 members by 1845. The message of the Mormon restoration was particularly appealing to women.

Latter-day Saint sisters shared a sensitivity with their Protestant coun­terparts and joined Mormonism for a variety of reasons. But for the four women of this study, Mormon church founder Joseph Smith was the key. The Zinas all testified to the transformative impact of Mormonism on their spiritual existence, and Smith was the acknowledged major figure in Mormon history and culture during their lives. His attitude toward women expressed through revelation, public discourse, and personal behavior shaped their world.

Women were among the first converts drawn to Smith’s message and played a prominent role in the formation of the church in its beginnings. During his ministry (1830-44), women directly participated in many of the functions stimulated by his charismatic leadership, including [p.xiv] visionary activity, spiritual healing, teaching, and even preaching. They joined him in maintaining the secrecy of the new doctrine of plural ­marriage.5

Furthermore, Mormonism (as was true for other nineteenth-century organizations) had inherent in its doctrines feminine characteristics—not necessarily in the sense of propounding a women’s rights philosophy, but in emphasizing chastity, obedience, goodness, gentleness, which were increasingly identified with the women’s sphere.6 The emphasis placed on family heightened the importance of the role of mothers as religious educators of youth. One theme in early Mormon history is the shifting relative status women hold in the earthly and heavenly kingdoms. We can trace the changing views of feminine spirituality and the meaning of female religious leadership in early Mormon history through the lives of these four Mormon women.

Over the 150 years that spanned the lives of the four Zinas, Mormon modes of religious expression themselves changed. In contrast to mainstream Protestant religions in what Mormons thought of as the “outside world,” at any given time Mormonism might have appeared comparatively radical. Yet within its own history were periods of transition which required women to alter their expectations radically. Women’s public roles diminished as male priesthood power emerged and took precedence. Yet the role women played in the home became enhanced.

Early Latter-day Saints produced a massive private written record of diaries, journals, correspondence, and testimonials, which, depending on one’s perspective, is either the joy or despair of those researching Mormon history and culture. This documentation was created in part because of the Mormon preoccupation with genealogy and the ordinance work for the dead that takes place in Mormon temples; but even more important was the individual woman’s need to communicate, perhaps beyond the grave, the most private reflections of her heart. In a sense it is a sacred trust. Zina Baker Huntington shares with us her hopes for the redemptive power of religion, her disappointment and despair over the death of her daughter Nancy, and the sensation of being swept away by the message the Mormon missionaries brought to her door.

In examining the written evidence of women’s lives like Zina Baker’s, historians might view themselves as restorers of a venerable [p.xv] painting or tapestry, illuminating individual figures who had formerly been visible only in shadow, revealing still other shadows and depths, perhaps even other outlines and colors, and clarifying and enhancing the overall design. Mormon women based their sense of personal identity not only on their conviction of being in the light but on their competence and integrity as daughters, mothers, and heads of families.

Moreover, as American publisher M. Lincoln Schuster said in his introduction to Fifty Famous Letters of History, “Letters remind us that history was once real life.” The Zinas’ letters were gossipy and discussed endlessly their intimate relationships, values, hopes, disappointments, and differences in perspective, work, and decisions. All spent a considerable amount of space explaining their conversions, defending their faith, and promoting the church. Literary critic Elaine Hobby recognized in wo­men’s discourse and writing the desire for self-expression in a public arena, a world larger than their own homes. Certainly, while these letters are the most personal expressions of these women’s lives, read as part of a group they serve to place these women in a larger context as members of a movement with common concerns and challenges. Furthermore, their written texts are easily distinguishable from those of their male counterparts and paint the life of female members of the Mormon church.

Gendered History

It would be impossible for this history to avoid asking: How was the experience of women in Mormonism different from that of men? Clearly, gender is a central issue. And, as Phyllis Bird has argued in relation to ancient Israelite religion, “the question of gender frequently appears to intersect or parallel other key issues in the study of religion, such as the distinction between orthodox and heterodox practice, central and peripheral institutions, ‘high and low’ traditions, religion and magic, the sacred and the profane.”7 This split between the “masculine” (high, formal, orthodox, rational) and “feminine” (low, informal, heterodox, experiential) spheres in religion is well illustrated when we look at the relationship of gender to the production of theology and the creation of community. In this sense, these women’s religious lives were prototypically feminine.

We find them raising families, manufacturing cloth, holding meetings, testifying in interviews, maintaining their farms, teaching school, [p.xvi] midwifing, and nursing the ill. It was precisely because women had limited formal authority that their activities in the private sphere take on such heightened meaning. In post-Revolutionary America, a woman wielded enormous influence within the confines of her own home. Here she transmitted values and beliefs to her children; the socialization of the next generation played out largely under her direction. The way a woman organized her household and cared for her children impacted her community. She was given the commission to teach them what it meant to be an American citizen, a member of a town and a church, and how to interact with members of their family and their neighbors. Mothers were their daughters’ primary mediators with the environment around them. From her mother, a daughter learned about what culture demanded of her. Although influenced by rapid social change, the result was frequently a coherent sense of expectations and opportunity. Each of the four Zinas moved gracefully in the “female sphere” dictated by the society around them. Unlike their feminist counterparts, they did not complain of being disadvantaged because they were women, nor did they fear men.

When Martha first joined Mary on this project, she was anxious to have the unique opportunity to apply her reading of feminist theory to the lives of four generations of women connected by blood, belief, and experience. In early drafts she attempted to do so, and as both her and Mary’s work progressed, Martha’s thinking evolved to a very different point, for what she found was that the conventional paradigms regarding power did not fit but in fact disregarded the relativity of the lives of these women. Now it seems to her there needs to be another vantage point— another window in, but one that still acknowledges gender issues.

In the same way, simplistic “faithful” explanations fail to capture the complexity of the Zinas’ experiences. Perhaps it is because these women were religious, the secular equivalent of Catholic nuns who dedicate their lives to Christ, as well as full-blooded earthy women who embraced their roles as mothers, daughters, sisters. Filled with and conscious of the spirit, they experienced religion as an overlay that colored everything they did like a veil of diffused light filtering reality while bringing it new meaning and richness. The choices they made about how they structured their days, the advice they handed down through generations, is a hybrid of female folk wisdom and religion, metaphoric and symbolic—the bridge [p.xvii] between the two was naturally and easily crossed. Gender not only makes sense in this discussion; it is central to it, because men and women played important but different roles. The female world is different still from its twentieth-century equivalent. Female networks functioned parallel to and frequently separate from male ones, complementing the others.

In general, American society during this period was characterized by rigid gender-role distinctions within the family and society as a whole. This was certainly true of the Mormon community where gender differentiation was theologically defined. Nevertheless, it appears that the historians’ attentiveness to the issue of gender is likely to raise many thought-­provoking questions and revised ways of understanding the role of women in Mormon society. It suggests that issues of class and gender intersect in different ways at different historical moments. It suggests that the private actions of ordinary individuals have impacted larger social and political movements as profoundly as the deeds of great men, forcing us to broaden our definition of membership in a community and acknowledge the greater importance of the contributions of those masses not in the highest echelons. It suggests that concepts of hierarchy stretch horizontally as well as vertically. Finally, it focuses our attention on the volatile relationship between symbols and stereotypes of gender on the one hand and the thinking and behavior of real human beings on the other, leading us to revise our understanding of the complex ways men and women moved in and out of gender-defined roles.

In every sense the decision to become a farmer or a teacher, to marry or to remain single, to nurse and care for an infant or to put a child into someone else’s care depended more on family position, social convention, or public policy—in fact, on an almost tangible web of social and political relationships—than on individual impulse. For men and wo­men, a phrase like “gender roles” would have meant precisely what it said: the adoption of the social roles or conventions of masculine or feminine behavior. Their culture largely defined who they were, what they could do. The existence of those fixed conventions shaped their lives. Most eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women lived within a world bounded by home, church, and the institution of visiting—that endless trooping of women to one another’s homes for social purposes. It was a world inhabited largely by children and other women. For the Zinas, [p.xviii] gender was the bundle of traditional behaviors and values transferred from mother to daughter. Zina Baker taught Zina Diantha what it meant to be a woman in 1830 in upstate New York. They learned together the role they would play in the Mormon world. And together they bequeathed that understanding to the Zinas who followed. Their culture was like the blood that ran through their veins and connected them together through the generations.

Yet another theme running through this narrative is the complex pattern of mother-daughter relationships. These are stories of female experience—physical, psychological, and historical. They are stories that link generations of women in the female life cycle: mothers who are at once daughters and friends, daughters who become mothers, and eventually grandmothers. Much of their lives was spent negotiating these relationships. Each was tied to the women around her through generations, neighborhoods, families. All had experiences, patterns of behavior, that both drove—some genetic, others learned—and connected like umbilical cords.

Historically, the mother-daughter relationship, like other relationships between women, has usually been assumed, trivialized, or ignored. In fact, not so long ago the birth of a daughter was a cause for mourning, a failure of the mother to achieve status for the father through the birth of a son. For innumerable generations, daughters have lived lives similar to their mothers’ in a seemingly inescapable pattern. Furthermore, the relationship between mothers and daughters affects women profoundly at all stages of their lives. Traditionally, it has been assumed that women were defined by their relationships with others and in fact tended to live through and in response to other people. The cord that bound mothers to daughters connected them to something that endured and gave them a heightened sense of personal identity.

Gerda Lerner suggests that women sought a source of female authority through their roles as mothers and that this was the single most basic experience women shared. “As mothers,” she writes, “their duty to instruct the young provided them with the authority to express their ideas on a broad range of subjects. Armed with such authority, they could give advice, instruction in morals and offer theological interpretations. In the [p.xix] modern period, women would reason their way to claims of equality based on motherhood and later even to group consciousness.”8


Society had given to women the principal role of socializing its youth. Mothers were to raise daughters to be wives and mothers, a private domestic passing of the guard that took place outside the acknowledged context of male/female relationships. Historically, in fact, a wo­man’s primary duty to her female offspring was to insure that she was marriageable. Paradoxically, this almost subterranean transmission of values, behaviors, and beliefs is emotionally charged and loaded with tremendous personal power. Mothers and daughters have always exchanged with each other a knowledge that is, according to one sociologist, “sublimal, subversive, proverbial: the knowledge flowing between two alike bodies, one of which has spent nine months inside the other. The experiences of giving birth stirs deep reverberations of her mother in a daughter.”9

Furthermore, the life cycles of women are marked by changing biological stages. Women enter life as daughters, but then undergo a series of changes caused by sexual maturity and reproductive capacity. They marry and become mothers or remain single, perhaps the most significant decision a woman can make. Later, mothers’ lives change because of the inevitable exit of their children from their homes; they become in turn mothers-in-law and grandmothers. They reach menopause and become incapable of childbirth. Through these changes, according to women’s historian Nancy Cott, “women’s roles within their families and in society vary. The location of a woman’s work inside or outside her home may depend on whether she is a mother or a daughter, a wife or a widow.”10

Finally, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has traced the patterns of female friendship during the nineteenth century. Tender, devoted, long-term, intense relationships could be maintained over great distances. The picture of a female world emerged distinct from that of male concerns, but one in which women held a paramount importance in each other’s lives. She writes:

[A]n intimate mother-daughter relationship [was] … at the heart of this female world. … Central to these relationships is what might be described as an apprenticeship system … mothers and other older women carefully [p.xx] trained daughters in the arts of housewifery and motherhood … adolescent girls temporarily took over the household. … and helped in childbirth, nursing and weaning.

Daughters were born into a female world. … As long as the mother’s domestic role remained relatively stable and few viable alternatives competed with it, daughters tended to accept their mother’s world and to turn automatically to other women for support and intimacy.11

Furthermore, “the ties between mothers and daughters, sisters, female cousins, and friends, at all stages of the female life cycle, constitute the most suggestive framework the historian can use to begin an analysis of intimacy and affection between women.”12 This history of four women bound by a familial network that spanned four generations is unprecedented in the study of the Mormon people. Furthermore, we believe it is important as a study of the way women negotiated the frontier, change in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, and the way gender roles evolved over 160 years.

The fact that these networks persisted with the settling of the frontier is testimony to their importance in the lives of women. What the absence of the female world meant on the newly opened frontier can be grasped from the expressions of loneliness and nostalgia of women who left networks of friends, mothers, and sisters far behind. Women like Zina Baker in Watertown, New York, or her granddaughter Zina Card on the Canadian frontier almost 100 years later hungered for letters from home, fighting a peculiarly female battle with loneliness. Even though the frontier offered them a new canvas on which to sketch a life, and the chance to break out of traditional roles, it also ironically deprived them of the emotional support and intimacy of a female community. This story is of four women—mothers and daughters—who sought to identify and maintain the common threads that bound them together.

Finally, we, Martha and Mary, feel in the same way the weight of the responsibility of this project. These women assume heroic proportions to us and we work in their shadow. In some ways, this book is like a baby that has taken a very long time to be born. But now that it has, we hope you find these women as interesting as we do.

The four Zinas, with the records they entrusted to later generations, gave us a great gift. They left a record of the way they reacted to a primi-[p.xxi]tive environment and the tracing of less obvious aspects of their and other women’s lives. Within the fixed boundaries of space and time, and framed by an uncluttered background, we see the evolution of women as they move from the personal to the public. Digging through the pages of the diaries, letters, and reminiscences of these women, one is profoundly grateful for the time and energy they spent secreting away their private thoughts and hopes for the future. A curious urge prompts us to take note of our private lives as we are living them. Focusing on the private, we seem almost unaware of the larger significance of events around us. The four Zinas’ preoccupation with details, daily rounds, and relationships permits us to better see life on the frontier, building community, and raising children in a domestic sphere.

Their stories belie the question, What accounts for the differences in female conduct between yesterday and today? One historian of the female western experience, Nancy Wilson Ross, suggests:

Is it simply that pioneer life offered a chance for women to exhibit their fundamental qualities? Was it that, faced with absolute and imminent necessities which there was no way to dodge, dissemble, or escape, a woman grew to her full stature and thus became a heroine for posterity, though in her own eyes her conduct might appear so commonplace as to be unworthy of comment? … The pioneer woman won her fight for freedom and equality by enduring with men the same deprivations and hardships. Her sacrifice and her trial became her opportunity for advancement. This was the mountain she crossed … These women all fought to grow to their full power against heavy odds: hard, inescapable, physical work, and frequently chronic disease.13

These four women were pioneers in the truest sense. They helped domesticate a wilderness, pushing back mile by mile the frontier, building roads and schoolhouses and churches. With their families, they helped expand the world and moved toward a fuller, richer, and eventually easier life. They were designers of their own futures.


Collaboration teaches important lessons in patience, compromise, and the value of diverse ideas and approaches. In some ways, this project was a [p.xxii] great school. In the process we became friends and a sense of kinship developed bridging the more than three decades that separate us. Each of us is grateful to the other for her efforts to see this book to fruition and for the gifts given along the way.

During the almost forty years she gathered materials for this book, Mary was assisted by successive generations of archivists at the LDS Church Archives and the Special Collections Department at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, as well as by the staff of the LDS Church Historical Library. As can be expected, many deserve to be thanked, including all those who facilitate the writing of Mormon history.

Joanna Posey assisted with the initial research, and Marilyn Brown contributed helpful suggestions. Oa Jacobs Cannon helped in the laborious work of transcribing the Zina Baker Huntington letters, and Jody Hodson Blackburn entered some of the original materials into the computer. Mary’s sister Zina Lydia Brown, the fifth Zina now deceased, was a model of courage through years of silent suffering. Zola Brown Hodson, Carol Brown Sonntag, Margaret Brown Jorgensen, and Charles M. Brown freely made available valuable reminiscences and letters from their parents. The Card and Williams cousins shared treasured family stories.

For Mary, heartfelt thanks go to her late husband, Edwin R. Firmage, and her husband, Ralph Woodward, for loving indulgence when it seemed she preferred the computer to their company. Her children also offered encouragement—Edwin B. Firmage, Judith F. Moody, Marty F. Myers, Hugh David Firmage, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who think it is “really cool” that old Grandy has finally put the book to bed.

As is true for Mary, Martha’s family is the rock upon which she stands. The stories of the four Zinas have lived in her home and probably seem more like gossip about neighbors down the street than history to her children. Jason, Elizabeth, Rachael, Emily, Katelyn, Patrick, Mark, Aspen, and Kristen make Martha’s own story rich.

The careful and insightful editing of Lavina Fielding Anderson is in evidence on every page of this book. Friend and mentor both, she made us look good. Finally, the support and encouragement of Camilla and [p.xxiii] George Smith made this book happen, and we are grateful for their friendship and interest in Mormon women’s history.

Four Zinas—A Genealogy

[p.xxv] Zina Baker

Born 2 May 1786, Plainfield, New Hampshire
to Oliver and Dorcas (Dimick) Baker
Married 28 November 1805 to William Huntington, Jr.
Died 8 July 1839

Zina Diantha Huntington

Born 31 January 1821, Watertown, New York
to William and Zina (Baker) Huntington
Married 7 March 1841 to Henry Jacobs
Married 27 October 1841 to Joseph Smith
Married 2 February 1846 to Brigham Young
Died 28 August 1901

Zina Presendia Young

Born 3 April 1850, Log Row, Salt Lake City, Utah
to Brigham and Zina Diantha (Huntington Jacobs Smith) Young
Married 12 October 1868 to Thomas Williams
Married 17 June 1884 to Charles Ora Card
Died 31 January 1931

Zina Card

Born 12 June 1888, Cardston, Alberta, Canada
to Charles and Zina Presendia (Williams Young) Card
Married 17 June 1908 to Hugh B. Brown
Died 19 December 1974


[p.xxiii] 1. The spelling of Presendia appears in a variety of forms in both legal and personal documents—Prescindia, Prescendia, Precindia, among others. For consistency’s sake, we use the most common version—Presendia.

2. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 (New York: Random House, 1982), 216.

3. Ibid.

4. See Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Cross and the Pedestal: Women, Anti-Ritualism, and the Emergence of the American Bourgeoisie,” in Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York: Oxford, 1985, 129-64). Smith-Rosenberg argues that what she calls “anti-­ritualism,” “enthusiasm,” and “disorderly religion” demonstrated greater appeal for women than men, not only in Evangelical Protestantism, but also “within Albigensianism and other popular medieval religious movements; within Reform Protestantism in France and Germany in the sixteenth century; in New England during the antinomian controversy; and in England during the Civil War” (135).

5. One might consider Joseph Smith’s heightened emotionalism in light of sociologist Max Weber’s line of thinking as characteristic of an “ideal type” of charismatic sect, which would later transform itself into another “ideal type” of bureaucratic church. Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (London: Oxford University Press, 1991), 51-55, 246ff., 294ff. Anthropologist Victor Turner’s theories of rite of passage would place women at one end of a similar continuum—a movement of liminality or community evolving into a movement both structured and hierarchial. Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977). “It is as though there are … two major ‘models’ for human interrelatedness. … The first is of society as a structured, differentiated, and often hierarchial system of politico-legal-economic positions. … The second, which emerges recognizably in the liminal period, is of society as an unstructured … and relatively undifferentiated comitatus, community, or even communion of equal individuals,” 96.

6. This is a modified version of Barbara Welter’s list of qualities associated with “true womanhood” by women’s magazines and religious literature of the nineteenth century. Welter’s “four cardinal virtues” are piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. Mormon women were not taught to be submissive per se but, like their male counterparts, obedient. See Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820-1860,” in Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976), 21. One of the [p.xxiv] earliest and best discussions of this period in American women’s history is Welter’s article, “The ‘Feminization’ of American Religion: 1800-1860” (1973), in Dimity Convictions, 83-102. Welter defined feminization “through its results—a more genteel, less rigid institution—and through its members—the increased prominence of women in religious organizations and the way in which new or revised religions catered to this membership,” 84. Also see Ann Douglas, The Fem­inization of American Culture (New York: Avon, 1977), esp. 1-196.

7. Phyllis Bird, “Gender and Religious Definition: The Case of Ancient Israel,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Fall 1990, 12.

8. Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 116.

9. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), 220.

10. Nancy F. Cott and Elizabeth H. Pleck, A Heritage of Her Own (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 17.

11. Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct, 64.

12. Ibid., 54.

13. Nancy Wilson Ross, Westward the Women (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985), 187-88.