by Martha Sonntag Bradley
and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Relief Society, Suffrage, and Polygamy
The Strong Voice of Mother and Daughter in Public Issues, 1880s-1900
“The sisters when they go down to Washington to these great Councils
will have influence and power there.”
—Franklin D. Richards
[p.313] By the time Zina Diantha turned sixty in January 1881, most American women born in 1821 had died.1 Although increasingly frail, Zina would live another twenty years—decades marked by service, hope, and the steady affection of friends and relatives. Zebulon and Chariton both had families and lived outside the Salt Lake Valley. Zina Presendia was raising her children in Canada. But Zina Diantha’s foster daughters lived nearby and visited her often. Phoebe and Maria staged birthday parties for her and cared for her when she was ill or in need. She loved and corresponded with them all. As we have seen, she remained engaged in Utah’s silk manufacture until the early twentieth century and was actively involved in Utah’s growing emphasis on health care through 1892. But these activities did not consume most of her time. Instead, she moved onto Utah’s political stage in a triple role: as a defender of polygamy, as a proponent for women’s suffrage, and as a Relief Society leader.
Her position in the Relief Society gave Zina the moral and positional [p.314] authority to provide leadership on political and social issues for Mormon women, while her devotion to Mormonism and its priesthood leadership gave her a ready-made position from which to defend polygamy. Her involvement in suffrage was tied to her defense of polygamy. Mormon women resented the impression that they were a subjugated class; supporting suffrage put them on the cutting edge of women’s issues during the nineteenth century. Furthermore, as federal pressure was increasingly applied to Mormon recalcitrance, political representation grew more important, and votes for women became a political football in a game between those wanting to intensify Mormon voting power or to alienate the national political parties with whom Mormons were trying to form alliances.
Zina Diantha’s life remained intertwined with that of Zina Presendia’s, who turned thirty-one in 1881. At the beginning of this period, Zina Presendia had been a plural wife for five years and the widowed mother of two sons, one of whom was dead. In 1884 she married Charles O. Card as his third wife, spent three exhausting years on the underground, and finally, in 1887, moved to Canada. She bore Card two sons and a daughter. Despite the physical distance, she and her mother corresponded, visited often, and remained confidantes. They collaborated on political, social, and ecclesiastical issues as naturally as Zina Diantha had worked beside her own mother in nursing the sick and weaving at their looms.
Zina Presendia had a sense of destiny about this collaboration. Not only was she drawn to it by the natural ties of affection for her mother, but priesthood blessings reinforced her sense of calling. In 1895 her son Sterling, second counselor in the ward bishopric, gave her a blessing. In it he promised her “that thy faith may be unbounded. Thou shalt have power through thy faith and the blessings of God to cast out devils and to heal the sick, and thou shalt have power to prophesy and the discernment of spirits and detest the evil and feel temptation.”2 She received similar blessings throughout her life. In each, priesthood holders identified her unique talents and life’s work. The year before they left Canada, Charles praised her work with the women of the church and blessed her “that you may fill an honorable mission before the Lord, for while in this life there will be much required of you in laboring with your sex here, and the youth [p.315] throughout Zion. Seek wisdom, light and understanding and every blessing that will build you up and strengthen you in the work of the Lord.”3
Finally Zina Presendia attended Zina Diantha at her death in Salt Lake City on 28 August 1901, only a day before the anniversary of Brigham Young’s death. Seldom were two lives so closely entwined.
In late 1866 Brigham Young formally called for the reorganization of the Female Relief Society which had been dismantled before the Saints left Nauvoo. “There is an immense amount of talent, and I may say of real sound statesmanship within a community of ladies,” he announced. “And if they would only train their minds, and exercise the rights and privileges that are legitimately theirs, and would contemplate subjects that they now pass over and never think about, they would find that they have an immense amount of influence in guiding, directing and controlling human affairs.”4 Having already charged the sisters with caring for the poor,5 Young now moved to connect the concept of Relief Societies to self-sufficiency. As Apostle Wilford Woodruff wrote: “President Young said if we could get up Female Relief Societies and they would use their influence to get the sisters to make their own bonnets and make and wear their own home made clothing it would do much good.”6 Young also felt the sisters could contribute economically to the community.7
Eager to support the growth of the kingdom, Zina Diantha and her sister wife Eliza R. Snow readily joined the effort. Eliza became the society’s first president, with Zina as counselor. Stepdaughter Susa Young Gates described the two women’s symbiotic relationship. “Sister Snow was keenly intellectual,” she said, “and she led by force of that intelligence. Sister Zina was all love and sympathy, and drew people after her by reason of that tenderness.”8 The two women were the “head and heart of the women’s work in Utah.”9
Eliza first traveled throughout the territory organizing Relief Societies in 1867. “To me it was quite a mission,” she wrote, “and I took much pleasure in its performance. I felt quite honored and much at home in my associations with the Bishops, and they appreciated my assistance.”10 Often Zina would accompany her on these journeys, enjoying the scenery, conversation, and rich experience of meeting with the women of the church. The meetings took on a kind of pattern: Eliza [p.316] would speak to the women, calling them to the work, and then invite them to “arise and express your feelings.”
Although Zina and Eliza themselves felt comfortable in dealing with spiritual gifts, Eliza tended to discourage such “enthusiasm,” meaning speaking and interpreting in tongues, prophesying, and inspirational singing. Perhaps this was because of the society’s emphasis on practical matters—it was more important that these women learn to organize businesses, granaries, or cooperatives, to produce goods for sale, distribution, and marketing, all elements of traditionally male business enterprise.11 “President Young has turned the key to a wide and extensive sphere of action and usefulness,” asserted Eliza, “If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least circumscribed in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed.”12 Speaking to an Ogden Relief Society in 1873 she returned to the same theme:
Don’t you see that our sphere is increasing? Our sphere of action will continually widen, and no woman in Zion need to mourn because her sphere is too narrow. God bless you, my sisters, and encourage you, that you may be filled with light. Let your first business be to perform your duties at home. But inasmuch as you are wise stewards, you will find time for social duties because these are incumbent upon us as daughters and mothers in Zion. By seeking to perform every duty you will find that your capacity will increase, and you will be astonished at what you can accomplish. The Lord help us. The Lord is with His Saints … and he watches over them by night and by day. Inasmuch as we continue faithful, we shall be those that will be crowned in the presence of God and the lamb. You, my sisters, if you are faithful will become Queens of Queens, and Priestesses unto the Most High God.13
During 1877 and 1879, Zina and Eliza toured southern Utah towns. These two independent women took this on as a kind of adventure, camping out, attending temple sessions in St. George, and organizing Relief Societies and Primary organizations for children in each town they visited. (By 1880 twenty stakes in Utah and one in Arizona had stake Relief Society officers presiding over local units of between four and thirty-six wards each.)
The 1870s were especially important years for Mormon women— [p.317] they joined local Relief Society units, while the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, born in the parlor of the Lion House on 18 November 1869, spread through the territory. Older teenaged girls and young women met to discuss their religious lives. The resolutions drafted in that first meeting recommended “retrenchment” in dress and behavior. To purify their efforts at being good Saints, they pledged to sacrifice ruffles, frills, “furbelows,” and “frivolous conversations and evil society.” According to Mary Isabella Horne, taking minutes at the Senior and Junior Cooperative Retrenchment Association meeting on 11 October 1873: “We do not want to look like Quakers but we want to look neat and respectable, and not appear as dowdie.”14
Asked by Brigham to prepare a demonstration for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, the sisters’ home manufactured goods went on display locally at the Women’s Centennial Territorial Fair on 4 July 1876. The ten-cent admission fee reaped a healthy profit, and Brigham encouraged the women to open a permanent display at the Women’s Commission House in the Old Constitution Building on Main Street. A bright blue banner draped across the front, saying “In Union is Strength,” voiced the battle cry that women could play a tangible role in building the kingdom, by braiding straw bonnets, forming flowers out of wax and hair, making lace, quilts, and skeins of yarn and rag carpets, shoes, yard goods, and silk.
In 1872 the Woman’s Exponent began publication as the official voice of Utah’s women. Edited first by Louisa Lula Greene (Richards) and, after 1877, by Emmeline B. Wells, the Exponent’s masthead, “The Rights of the Women of Zion, and the Rights of the Women of all Nations,” made the paper’s agenda clear: informing Mormon women about political issues and rebutting attacks on polygamy. The Woman’s Exponent had become so central to the church’s female members that in 1881 Edward Tullidge said that it “now wields more real power in our politics than all of the newspapers in Utah put together.”15
Besides their labors with the Relief Society, Eliza Snow and Zina Diantha shared a love of temple work. Between 1855 and 1889, they made frequent visits to the Endowment House on temple square in Salt Lake City and, together, traveled to the St. George temple in 1877, to Logan in 1884, and to Manti in 1888. When they traveled to St. George [p.318] in 1880, they organized thirty Primaries, spoke at several different meetings of Relief Societies and YLMIAs. Eliza was seventy-six, and Zina sixty; both were undaunted by the challenges of traveling through muddy, rutted roads, fixing broken wheels, and facing stormy weather.
According to the official history of the Relief Society, Eliza and Zina
complemented each other; where Aunt Eliza could see her sisters’ circumstances with a clarity born of her own disciplined self-containment, Zina, the “great mother-heart,” took them in her spiritual arms and blessed them by her unconditional acceptance. Eliza taught doctrines of exaltation, created organizations to address the sisters’ needs, and prayed blessings on their heads; Zina bore spiritual witness, applied the balm of gospel principles, and spoke peace to her sisters’ soul. Where Eliza challenged, Zina comforted; where Eliza anticipated divine perfection, Zina understood human imperfection Their talents overlapped; each valued the other’s gifts and built upon them, to the good of the work.16
The enthusiasm with which the Kanab Relief Society welcomed the two in 1881 typified the regard the sisters held for these two wives of Joseph Smith: “We welcome Sisters Eliza and Zina as our Elect Lady and her couselor, and as Presidents of all the feminine portion of the human race.”17
In 1886, when Eliza was eighty-two, her health began to fail. In a letter written 27 April 1886, sixty-five-year-old Zina Diantha expressed her concern: “I think of you often in the Temple I went to that blest room and besought Father to bless & comfort that afflicted tabernacle [Eliza’s body] that has done so much service in his work on earth that you may have the desires of your hart. I believe you will.”18 A year and a half later, Eliza died on 5 December 1887. With Eliza’s death, Zina lost a friend as dear as a sister. Emmeline B. Wells noted in her diary a few years later, “Aunt Zina was lonely as usual,” capturing the poignancy of Zina’s life without Eliza.19
Wilford Woodruff, who had succeeded John Taylor as leader of the LDS church, appointed Zina Diantha as the new general president of the Relief Society. She was sustained at April 1888’s general conference. Zina appointed as her counselors Jane Snyder Richards and Bathsheba Bigler Wilson Smith; they were sustained the following October. Nearly [p.319] overwhelmed at the prospect of leading the church’s women, Zina recognized her limitations and questioned her ability to fill Eliza’s shoes. “I always feel like a babe in the hands of my Father in Heaven,” she quietly attested.20
Jane and were born within three years of each other. Both lived as young women in Jefferson County, New York; both traveled with the Saints to Missouri, to Nauvoo, and became brides in 1842. Like Zina, Jane’s first response to Joseph Smith’s prophetic voice connected her forever to the church: “I recognized him from a dream I had had. He had such an angelic countenance as I had never seen before. He was 37 years of age … ordinary in appearance … in dress and manner … a childlike appearance of innocence. His hair was light brown, blue eyes, and light complexion. His natural demeanor was quiet, his character and disposition were formed by his life work. He was kind and considerate, taking a personal interest in all his people, considering everyone his equal.”21 Jane’s belief in Joseph opened the way to her accepting the doctrine of plurality. In an interview with California historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, she described how she learned of polygamy and how she came to accept it.
A few months previous to her marriage the idea of more than one wife was generally spoken of, though the practice of polygamy was of later growth. It was repugnant to her idea of virtue, and it was not until she saw Joseph Smith in a vision who told her in time all will be explained, that she was satisfied to abide by Mormon teachings, whatever they were. About eight months after her marriage, Elder Richards told her he felt he should like to have another wife. It was crushing at first, but she said that as he was an Elder, and if it was necessary to her salvation, she would let another share her pleasure.22
Zina and Jane shared the experience of Utah as young wives without husbands rearing children. They learned to deal with the exigencies of plurality, how to love and serve their sister wives and children. Each played a role in the establishment of Relief Societies throughout the territory.
Bathsheba Smith’s history also ran in current with that of the church; her trials and hardships were those of the church. Missouri, Nauvoo, and [p.320] Winter Quarters revealed her strengths as well as those of the women around her. Together with her husband George A., she was taught plurality by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo: “With my husband it was my privilege to meet with Brother Joseph and others who had received their endowments, and I heard the Prophet give instructions concerning plural marriage. He counseled the sisters present not to be troubled in consequence of this law that many would be called to live—that all would be right—and the result would be for their glory and exaltation.”23 Joseph convinced Bathsheba that the strange doctrine was of God and was essential to her husband’s exaltation. In fact, she helped George choose five new wives in 1843. “They all had their home with us,” she later wrote, “being proud of my husband and loving him very much, knowing him to be a man of God and believing he would not love them less, because he loved me more. I had joy in having a testimony that what I had done was acceptable to my Father in Heaven.”24 Although their experiences in plurality differed in important ways—Jane and Bathsheba were first wives, Zina was a plural wife among many—each was committed to finding a way to make it work. Plurality, Relief Society, and eventually their involvement in the women’s movement were like three strands of a braid—inseparable. The female Mormon world threw women into new roles, put new strains on their lives, and demanded huge sacrifices. Zina, Jane, and Bathsheba had proven they were up to the task.
This was also true of Zina’s friend and new secretary, Emmeline B. Wells, editor of the Woman’s Exponent since 1877 and future general president of the Relief Society herself. “See dear aunt Em, she can help you,” wrote Zina Presendia, reminding her mother of Emmeline’s capacity for organization. “She is a natural made General, and can assit you by a few judicious letters and appointments, and give yourself a chance to do your best that you do.”25 “We shall miss you here at home in Zion [Zina was leaving for Canada], but you will be making progress, and advancing,” wrote Emmeline at Zina’s appointment; “becoming acquainted with other lands, and governments, and all the time expanding and broadening the field of Joseph your royal husband and king, side by side, as his loyal queen, without misgivings, knowing you have not hidden your talents in a napkin, but have kept them bright with using, and improving your own growth in intelligence and knowledge, and for the good of the [p.321] Zion he loved.”26 As supportive as Emmeline was, clearly her role would be more complicated under Zina’s administration: “Evidently my work will be more extensive in the future than it has been. … Responsibilities come thick and fast upon the women of Zion. Those who will must take up the burdens and carry them.”27
Emmeline not only worked efficiently, but also recorded details of Zina’s life in the journal she kept faithfully. Theirs was a friendship forged by a common commitment to Mormonism, polygamy, and improving the position of women. They shared a vision of how much women could contribute to their world, a contribution different from that of men, but one marked by a heightened sense of heart. Emmeline wrote Zina whenever Zina was away. In a letter dated 20 August 1892, Emmeline penned her deep regard for her friend and fellow worker in Relief Society. “And now my dear Aunt Zina, remember me in your prayers and in the Temple for I look upon you as the nearest and dearest and closest friend except my very own immediate family.”28
Unlike Jane’s and Bathsheba’s enthusiastic defenses of polygamy, Emmeline had been widowed at age sixteen. Her own experience in plural marriage as a sixth wife had been more disappointing, certainly not measuring up to her own romantic yearnings.29 Nevertheless, she was an ardent defender of the principle. Like her fellow sisters in the Relief Society presidency, she had endured the persecutions of Missouri, Illinois, and the hardships of the journey over the Rocky Mountains. She had been a devoted wife to two church leaders—mother to five daughters and one son. Driven by a strong sense of purpose, she reveals in her diaries, letters, and other writings her earnest efforts to help improve the position of women.
When Zina became president, the Relief Society included more than 22,000 members in 400 wards and branches. The past decade and a half of economic activity had left them with significant property—real estate that included Relief Society halls, granaries, stores, and land; cash, grain, and merchandise, much of it home produced; and an agenda of charity and relief work. They had an official voice in the Woman’s Exponent, and Relief Society entities like the Deseret Hospital operated under the auspices of the female leadership. Whatever her reservations, Zina understood her role, as articulated by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, as being [p.322] similar to a First Presidency overseeing women. Her spiritual gifts were renowned; her wide experience in the sericulture movement and the Deseret Hospital had provided her with administrative skills. She was an eloquent speaker, depending on the Spirit and a reservoir of good will to carry the moment, moving women with “few words, which were full of power and rich with wisdom.”30
Despite her new responsibilities, Zina Diantha’s thoughts were with Zina Presendia, pregnant with a daughter. Shortly after her appointment, she left for Canada. On the trip north, she organized Relief Societies at each new settlement. As she met with the sisters, she shared with them her spiritual powers—speaking in tongues, freely giving blessings and healing the sick, and sharing her understanding of religious doctrines. Zina Presendia and Charles traveled fifty miles by buggy to meet Zina Diantha in Lethbridge. Mother and daughter had been apart for thirteen months, the longest separation yet endured.
Zina Diantha again helped Zina Presendia through the long hours of childbirth and rejoiced with her when a healthy daughter was born on 12 June 1888. Charles wrote with relief and gratitude five days later:
This is the mimmoirable 17th day of june for years ago to day at 5 P.M. Zina and self were married in Logan Temple by Elder John T. D. McAllaster. To day fins us Blessed with a son and Daughter. The form[er] will be 3 yrs old the 29th of inst. and the Latter on the 12th at 8:12 A.M. and to date we have been blessed without any Back sets either to mother & child. For which we acknowledge God and thank him. Mother Young is very attentive to Zina and baby in bestowing every care a fond mother can and may the Lord bless her for her kindness.31
This daughter was named Zina Young Card, the fourth in a procession of women to bear the name “Zina.” The lines of strength and faith that ran through Zina Baker Huntington, Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, and Zina Presendia Young Williams Card now passed to a new generation. All four were born on the frontier, in communities raw and uncertain. Their mothers were strong, religious women, tied to the land, each other, and their husbands, in interesting and unconventional ways. All had a profound faith in God that manifested itself in loyalty to Mormonism, yet all were, by temperament, [p.323] self-sacrificing women who rejoiced in serving others and who willingly inconvenienced themselves to add to the comfort of relatives, friends, and cobelievers. Physically, they were petite women who rounded as they aged. Baby Zina inherited much that was unspoken or unseen—a rich heritage from her female ancestors.
Zina Diantha stayed in the Card home for six weeks. Charles, as always, was hospitable to his mother-in-law. Indeed, his respect and affection for her are exemplary. While Charles was in Salt Lake City, he often stayed with Zina Diantha. His journal shows the complicated dance the members of plural families engaged in, and the relative ease with which they had adjusted. On 22 March 1889, for instance, while in Salt Lake City he spent an afternoon with Zina Diantha and his plural wife Lavinia. “About noon sister Susie Jacobs wife of H. C. [Henry Chariton] Jacobs cam[e] & took Aunt Zina D. H. Young, Lavinia & child and self up to their house in the mouth of City Creek Kanyon where we partook of a nice dinner prepared in honor of Bro Jacobs 43rd Birth day. We spent the afternoon here. Aunt Zina took Lavinia in Bro Jacobs buggy and went to the cemetery for a ride.”32 Forty years after plurality was introduced, women like Zina had found a way to make it work. Spending time with her daughter’s sister-wife was an expression of kindness rather than jealousy, and she sent presents via Charles to Sterling and Zina Presendia. On another trip, as a special treat, Zina Diantha fixed Charles an oyster breakfast—a delicacy in those times. He wrote appreciatively, “She has been exceedingly kind to me as in fact she always is to everybody.”33
When Zina Diantha returned to Salt Lake City after baby Zina’s birth, she picked up her Relief Society duties with the same sense of duty she had given her other church responsibilities, but there was nothing puritanical about her approach. Her eagerness and compassion marked her presidency with a characteristic sweetness and sympathy that made the sisters feel they had a loving mother as their leader.
Informally, the women came to define themselves and the work of Relief Society as increasingly linked to that of the national women’s movement. Furthermore, on 19 October 1893, Zina announced that she would “increase the sphere of usefulness” of the stake officers by using them as “aids” to the general relief society presidency. Because the visit-[p.324]ing schedule Zina had kept up for so many years had become cumbersome with the growth of the church, stake presidencies would take on the role of visiting their members, either by assignment or invitation. Zina emphasized her belief that this would result in “much good” through the “interchange of ideas and thoughts,” and that moreover “greater union and love” would result on a local level among women who shared common ground. Zina testified that the new approach had “come to her like a power and a glow and joy.”34
At a 1 December 1893 Relief Society meeting held in Huntsville, Utah, Zina said, “Let me say to all who look upon these associations as idle gossip, I bear my testimony before you that God is with his daughters; and to you my dear brethren, be interested, for there is a great blessing in this work. Assist the sisters in their work of righteousness and their blessings will be shared by you, and they will be encouraged to press forward in their good work, and labor of love to the needy.”35 Jesse Evans Smith remembered another meeting when Zina leaned over the stand and said, “Sisters, you are the Lords jewels.”36 And to an increasing degree, Zina Presendia would be found at her mother’s side, usually unofficially but always with recognition for her right to be there.
With her counselors, Zina Diantha initiated a number of innovations and marked a series of institutional landmarks. First, always eager to be inclusive, she instituted a general board in October 1892, first composed of stake Relief Society presidents and patterned after the priesthood.
As for the second innovation, the Relief Society began holding special conferences for its members every April in conjunction with the church’s general conference beginning in 1889. Stake Relief Society presidents and their counselors would assemble from throughout the territory for instruction on relief efforts, women’s issues, and spiritual sustenance. While in Salt Lake City, out-of-towners would stay with local sisters—taking meals together, socializing, and sharing their ideas about the potential of women for good. Emmeline noted one such visit in her diary, 7 April 1891: “I had today after the Relief Society Conference in the big Tabernacle Dr. Pratt [Relief Society assistant general secretary], Sister Standring, Pulsipher, Harrison, Mitchell, Smallberg & Madsen also Hayen [visiting ward and stake leaders] to lunch with me. Then Aunt Zina & Sister Richards came home with me and talked over some mat-[p.325]ters. It has been a tiresome day for me very indeed and I am glad it is over.”37 Local stake officers were important to the smooth running of Relief Society work, so these general meetings were particularly significant—networks of friends were formed and maintained.
The first of these historic meetings was held in the Assembly Hall on Saturday evening, 6 April 1889. After the throng of women sang, “Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah,” Zina addressed the congregation:
My sisters, upon this occasion I hope you will give me your faith and prayers. As I look upon the sisters around me, I realize we miss our beloved Sister Eliza, who on all such occasions was with us. In the providence of the Lord she was taken from us. She mingles with those above; we revere her memory. As this is our first meeting of this kind I hope we can unite our hearts as one that the Lord will bless us in so coming together. May everything be agreeable that takes place here this evening.38
Zina then continued with unscripted but clearly organized remarks that captured her agenda for personal improvement. First, she emphasized the importance of mothering. Zina believed it was the mother’s responsibility to perpetuate the doctrines of Mormonism, teaching her children obedience, self control, and good work habits. She next reminded the women to respect the priesthood and to turn to the Lord for help in times of need.
The Relief Society housed their offices during Zina’s administration in the offices of the Woman’s Exponent. This meant that Emmeline B. Wells was on top of all Relief Society business. She therefore became a sort of visitor’s bureau—certainly the best source of information and instruction—to women visiting the church from other parts of the territory. According to one historian, “It would be difficult to overestimate her importance to the Relief Society during Zina Young’s presidency.”39
A highlight of Zina’s presidency came in 1892—the 50th anniversary of the organization of the Relief Society. Mormon women commemorated this jubilee with a combination of reflection and celebration. As Zina and her counselors commented in a letter sent out in January to all ward units, this anniversary “causes us to view with wonder the past, with gratitude the present.”40 One result of the commemoration was a [p.326] permanent home for the Relief Society offices. Zina’s counselor Bathsheba Smith said, “We have helped the brethren and now think it only fair for them to help us build a hall for ourselves.”41 The Tabernacle was decorated with large arrangements of calla and Easter lilies; striped red and white fabric draped the front of the podium and organ; and a large painting of Joseph Smith in the center. Portraits of Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and Zina D. H. Young were also displayed.
The commemoration was an emotional meeting for all in attendance. Those present understood the law of sealing, so when Zina Presendia read “in a very clear and distinct voice the Revelation given to Emma Smith” regarding the organization of the Relief Society by Joseph Smith, they knew that, although Brigham Young was her biological father, by doctrine and ordinance she was a daughter of Joseph Smith and Zina Diantha, Joseph’s plural wife.42
Despite this high point, that same month, Zina Diantha, President Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, and Franklin S. Richards, the church’s attorney, met to discuss the advantages of incorporating the Relief Society. Initially, Zina objected to the idea, thinking it would diffuse its religious character. By October the male leadership had decided to incorporate despite her objections. Emmeline Wells described Zina’s reaction: “It does bother Aunt Zina so much. She fears it will take from its spiritual character and make it only temporal.”43 They presented the idea to a general board meeting and to stake Relief Society presidents throughout the church. As president, Zina was present to accept the decision to incorporate and then to assist in the organization of several new associations. All through the year, regardless of the season, Zina, usually accompanied by her counselors, traveled throughout the church speaking to the women of the church, acting as a cheerleader for sericulture, community building, and faithful service.
After units of the Relief Society were organized and running, the presidency still visited them periodically, giving instruction, blessing the sick, comforting, and inspiring to good works, “all with whom she came in contact [were touched] by the blessed influence of her heavenly spirit.”44 Zina’s remarks were typically in a “spirit of exhortation and encouragement to the young to continue in the paths of virtue and uprightness, to seek for wisdom knowledge and understanding, and to become [p.327] useful in their day and time upon the earth; to be helpful to those around them and diligent in the performance of every duty devolving upon them as members of the Church … .”45
The most persistent message Zina delivered, regardless of the audience, was the importance of the prophet Joseph Smith. During the spring of 1894, she asked a meeting of Relief Society sisters if any had known Joseph. She reminded them that he had laid for them a foundation of power and a love of Christ she saw in their faces. “We all have a portion of the Deity implanted in us,” she continued. “We are the women that God has chosen, and let us be true to each other and never speak slightingly to each other.” Reminding them to study the scriptures, she also pointed to the efforts of women to help decorate meetinghouses, praising the work of kind-hearted sisters to help their neighbors with large families—doing “their sewing, and house cleaning, thus lifting heavy burdens from them.”46 Her remarks in the Cardston Assembly Hall nearly four years later also typified her approach. She “referred to Joseph Smith’s counsel at the organization of the Relief Society, said that the sisters did not realize the magnitude of the work then begun, and that he had now turned the key for women. Urged all to be good and kind and bear their trials patiently, trust in God, ask Him for strength in faith and humility and never be guilty of the sin of ingratitude.”47
Zina saw women’s role as distinct from men’s. Drawing on the language of Romans 12:12, she wrote,
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulations, continuing instant in prayers; let us my sisters be instant in prayer, but to be so we must also keep always in good works, first to sanctify these temples of ours; and to do our duties in the family relation to implant integrity and virtue in our children; this is most essential the whole world over, and with what zealous care should we guard our sons and daughters, that they may abstain from vice and folly of every kind. Intelligence is a stronger safeguard than ignorance.
Returning to her beloved Joseph, she reminded the women, “Joseph Smith the Prophet said it was the calling of the R.S. to suppress vice. Let us humble ourselves in prayer and good works, to check vice and evil in every way, and to encourage every good and noble principle with cheerfulness trusting in God.”48
[p.328] Even when “resting,” she found a way to address the needs of the sisters. For example, after an exhausting appearance at the National Suffrage Association Convention in Washington, D.C., in 1879, she was persuaded to spend three months in Hawaii with Susa Young Gates. The pair left on Tuesday, 1 July 1879, on board a steamer from San Francisco. Zina faithfully sent back travelogue letters to the Woman’s Exponent describing the scenery, foliage, and local Saints. “Some of the people had walked six miles,” she marveled. “Almost all wore hats with flowers on them, and flowers around their necks; they call them ‘Lei.’ Susa and I have had them put on our necks; and one of saffron blossoms, just fancy!”49 They distributed books and tracts on Mormonism and spoke in numerous meetings. Touchingly she recorded: “Met with the relief society. They brought gifts for Susa and I, vegitables of all kinds as much as a wheel barrow load. … I thought it was a donation for the poor but they ware tokens of friendship for us.”50
Between June 1888 and July 1900, the Woman’s Exponent reported on twenty-eight separate visits of Zina to regional wards or stake meetings. Clearly preferring personal contact and exchange to administrative details, Zina continued to bring her message to the women of the church. Typically she would travel to at least two locations each month to meet with small groups of local leaders and sometimes large gatherings of women. At times she traveled by train, and others by buggy or wagon. Regardless, she showed a vigorous determination to encourage her sisters to stay close to the Lord, remain true to the church, and to be involved in both relief work and the work of female suffrage.
The Cardston Ward Relief Society Historical Record, 1890-94, provides valuable details about typical Relief Society meetings, made all the more relevant because of the attendance of both Zinas. The women met in the ward meetinghouse on 9 July 1894 with Mary Woolf presiding. The women first sang “Oh Ye Mountains High,” then Jan Hinman gave an opening prayer, after which Woolfe made a few announcements and invited Zina Diantha to speak as she “always imparts such good advice.” Zina expressed her belief that the Lord had blessed the Mormons in Canada and that some day they would be able to do temple work there. She also answered doctrinal questions and discussed appropriate procedures. According to the minutes, she said, “If any wish to be [p.329] washed and annointed for their confinement [pregnancy] go forth to do so but don’t use the sacred words used in the Temple, in dressing our dead burying them in clothes as you would wish to meet them in public, don’t put on many shirts, but just as you would dress for comfort don’t use flannel.” She continued, “President Woodruff said bury them just as Aunt Eliza and Aunt Zina used to with the veil down on the face be happy and contented with the blessings of Providence of God and never doubt the goodness of God.” On another occasion she suggested that “linen is an emblem of the righteousness of the Saints. Bury them in linen or cotton never use woolen or casmere or merino cloth. Make them properly in honor of the patron giver with vail down over the face of a woman having her endowments.”51
Toward the end of her remarks, she said, “Sisters I feel like speaking in tongues trusting some one will get the interpretation.” Her daughter then stood to interpret the message of encouragement to the women, saying, “O the blessings are here fore you all as a standard and ensign to the people. So praise God and be united I live for the blessings that are yours[:] the Kingdom is yours for the Father has promised it[:] you are a blessed people in this land should all live for the blessings that await you.” Each of the women present that day signed the minutes before gathering around a quilting frame set up in the hall.52
Zina Presendia presided over a meeting on 14 February 1895 which began with the song “Now Let Us Rejoice in the Day of Salvation” and ended a fast the sisters had held for Mary Steed who was ill. Zina Diantha asked the women to kneel with their faces toward the temple because “President Wilford Woodruff had promised the Saints when they desired any Special blessing from the Lord if they should do so, it would be granted unto them.” Kneeling, Zina began to pray. “Her humble petition called down from Heaven the Holy influence that ran from heart to heart.” Nineteen other women followed, each praying for Mary’s recovery. After singing “Come, Come Ye Saints,” Sarah B. Daines and Rhoda Hinman washed and anointed the ailing woman and twenty-seven others gathered around her, placing their hands upon her. Zina Card sealed the anointing, promising Mary “life and health and strength and that she would be an example for her Sisters and that her children should rise up and call her blessed.”
[p.330] The minutes continued: “The Spirit of God rested upon us insomuch that every one present rose and bore their testimony and all felt that she would recover.” Elizabeth Hammer rose to her feet, “her face beaming with the Spirit of God and blessed Sister Mamie Steed in tongues, the spirit was so powerful it ran like electricity to the hearts of all present.” Nellie Taylor interpreted, saying, “I bless you that your blood shall be renevated and flow from the crown of your head to the souls of your feet, and you shall be made whole every whit. And you shall become a mother in Israel and a mighty instrument in the hands of the Lord in doing good among your Sisters.”53
On another occasion the women gathered at Elizabeth Hammer’s home to wash and anoint John Blackmore’s son who was seriously ill. Elizabeth spoke in tongues and Zina interpreted.54 In her “interpretive blessing,” she addressed both father and son. She said, “The boy should be healed. The bones shall be knit and grow strong like the other leg. The angels are here with us today. O ye of little faith why should ye doubt his recovery. Be humble and ye that have sinned repent. Repent! The time has come when the Lord will bless us as he never did before. The mighty array of angels that are around us are happy in witnessing us today. They are of our departed dead. Be not weak! Be not fainting but be diligent in serving the Lord.”
Many Relief Society sisters would gather for birthday celebrations in honor of Zina Diantha, whether or not she was with them. Phoebe Beatie, known as an elegant hostess, staged annual birthday parties for her stepmother. On the evening of Zina Diantha’s seventy-second birthday, several of her sister wives and their daughters were entertained by Maude May Babcock whose dramatic reading “quite astonished as well as delighted the company by her artistic character representations and wonderful changes of voice and manner.” According to the Exponent, Babcock had a “witching voice” and the perfect cultivation of “tones and modulation [which] is surpassingly sweet and musical.”55
At another party, this one staged by Elmina S. Taylor, Zina Diantha presided over a “lone feast” by singing, praying, and joining in extemporaneous speaking “when prompted to do, by the good spirit that prevailed.” These gatherings of friends reinforced the bonds of women [p.331] “whose desires and aims in life are similar, and who thoroughly enjoy these brief respites from worldly cares.”56
On her seventy-fifth birthday, Zina Diantha was with her daughter. At this meeting, Rhoda Hinman delivered a sketch of Zina Diantha’s life. Zina Presendia’s son, Sterling, described his grandmother as “a friend to the poor often sharing her last crust with the poor, [who] had raised children to love her as her own.” Stake patriarch Henry L. Hinman added his words to the commemoration: “She willingly sacrificed all on the alter and steped forth obeying the word of god. We cant find one instance that she has failed to do her duty. She had unbounded confidence in God. She has always stood aloft from bickerings and wrongdoings standing as queen in the midst of all her household and among her Sisters. God has respect to those who can put all on the alter and serve God through life.” Finally, Charles fondly asked, Why should we wait till she is gone to emulate her memory? “She is the wife of a Prophet and is really a prophetess herself having the gifts of the gospel. She has officiated in every temple in Zion. She is a comfort and blessing to all with whom she associates.”57
When visiting Zina Presendia in Canada, Zina Diantha tried to keep in touch with the Relief Society through the Exponent:
Let us search the scriptures, and also words given direct to cheer the many lonely and weary ones whose souls need consolation; for by so doing our lives are sweetned with the honey of truth; the sun may shine through all gathering clouds of persecution, to give light to our path. … In this quiet nook my health is improving and thus I feel to labor and encourage others to walk in the path given us by the organization so complete. They enable us to work on a broader platform and to do more good than any women on earth. I have confidence in our faithful, tried sisters that are caring for the flock in our sphere, blessing the sick and afflicted, so self-sacrificing to bless others and they lay up treasures in heaven. … I would say to my sisters, … all saints should have their names enrolled in the Relief Society, we need the faith of each other to advance in spiritual life. … Here in Canada I find the true and faithful, seeking to do the Father’s Will.58
Earlier, speaking to the Utah County Relief Societies, Zina Diantha had reminded the women that the “souls need food as well as the body, and we should enjoy this great picnic of spiritual things.” She reflected [p.332] that women “gained strength from these associations, we have no time to spare.” She said, “We cannot live too near the Lord; we have taken our ticket straight through to the celestial world, and must go on little by little, this hurrying, hardly having time to breathe is not right, it is not the Spirit of God.”59 Perhaps more pragmatic, Zina Presendia commented: “We are called upon to help in very many things, and I often think that the Lord does not wish us to become very rich, we are so often called upon to contribute of our means to some good work.”60
At the Relief Society’s general conference in April 1900, Zina Diantha exhorted the women to live lives enriched by the spirit: “We are engaged in the great work of salvation. The mothers when bearing [pregnant with] their children should seek to have them infused with love and the Holy Spirit. We want the blessings of God with us. He is just as willing to hear the prayers of the sisters as the brethren.”61 Never speak evil against the priesthood, she reminded them, “those who do cannot prosper, they will fall away or turn aside, I have seen it come to pass many times in the last sixty-five years.”62 Two weeks later, Zina Diantha and Zina Presendia, who had been serving as her mother’s secretary, traveled to Preston, Idaho, where Zina Presendia read aloud to the sisters excerpts from the minutes of the founding of the Relief Society. Then, although weak, Zina Diantha stood and remembered the words of the prophet Joseph: “Plant good ideas into the minds of the children, they notice our example, they are glorious spirits the Lord has entrusted to our care.”63 Later, after all official business had been completed, Zina Presendia explained the basic routine of the Relief Society and reminded the sisters to keep careful records. Her mother spoke briefly in tongues, while her daughter interpreted.
Another major thrust of Zina Diantha’s presidency, in which Zina Presendia willingly participated, was involvement in national and international women’s suffrage organizations. Bemusedly Zina Diantha wrote to Emmeline B. Wells from Salt Lake City on 19 August 1893, speculating on how they would be remembered. She added: “[T]he mantle of time is fast draping its folds around many of us. When we go hence to our rest after our sacrifices indescribable, may it be like Utah’s most beautiful sunsets that many in the future may have reason to praise God for the noble women of this generation.”64
2. Sterling Williams, blessing for Zina Young Card, 19 August 1895, Cardston, Canada, Zina Young Williams Card Collection, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
11. These enterprises have been well documented. See Arrington, “The Finest of Fabrics,” 376-96; Sherilyn Cox Bennion, “Enterprising Ladies: Utah’s Nineteenth-Century Women Editors,” Utah Historical Quarterly 49 (Summer 1981): 291-304; Sherilyn Cox Bennion, “Lula Greene Richards: Utah’s First Woman Editor,” BYU Studies 21 (Spring 1981): 155-74; Jessie L. Embry, “Relief Society Grain Storage Program, 1876-1940,” M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1976.
29. Patricia Rasmussen Eaton-Gadsby and Judith Rasmussen Dushku, “Emmeline B. Wells,” in Sister Saints; and Carol Cornwall Madsen, “A Mormon Woman in Victorian America” (Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1985).
40. Zina D. H. Young, Jane S. Richards, and Bathsheba W. Smith, 21 January 1892, in Marianne C. Sharp and Irene B. Woodward, eds., History of the Relief Society 1842-1966 (Salt Lake City: General Board of the Relief Society, 1966), 118.
47. Mary L. Woolf, “Alberta, Canada,” Woman’s Exponent 26 (1 and 15 January 1898): 239. Zina also spoke forcefully about sericulture, linking it with self sufficiency, dedication, and strengthening the kingdom. Upon one occasion she said that Brigham had told her “to work up the silk industry and we might just as well have been wearing silk of our own raising and exporting half a million dollars of it, and put our children at it; and a great many things might be manufactured here instead of sending to Babylon for them.” “Notes,” Woman’s Exponent 23 (1 July 1894): 158.
50. Zina Diantha Young, Diary, 25 July 1879. Zina also wrote a letter to the children of the Sunday school, colorfully narrating her adventure. She and Susa were eight days on the water, traveling 300 miles every twenty-four hours, she told them. “It was beautiful to see the sun and moon that appeared to rise and set in the sea. You might think I would be afraid to travel 2000 miles on the deep water in a few timbers and boards between me and the bottom of the ocean but Pres. [John] Taylor told me I should go in peace and return in safety.” Although a little sea sick, she believed him. “I saw flying fish, a large number leaping through the water. They looked as large as sea lyons [sic].” She watched them hour after hour from the deck. Undated letter to the Sunday School children, Zina D. H. Young, holograph, Zina D. H. Young Collection.