Church History

Read the Words of Two Early Latter-day Saint Women Leaders

Decades of research completed for past general presidents of the Relief Society

The words of two prominent Latter-day Saint women have been published by the Church Historian’s Press. The Diaries of Emmeline B. Wells and The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow can now be found online.

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“It’s two women who are powerful and influential leaders in the early Church whose impact is still felt today by not just women in the Church, but women in Utah and women in the nation,” said Anne Berryhill, an associate historian with the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.

Eliza R. Snow and Emmeline B. Wells served as general presidents of the Relief Society, the Church’s women’s organization. Snow was the second Relief Society general president (1880–1887), and Wells was the fifth (1910–1921). Each left a compelling record of her teachings and service — Snow in the form of discourses, and Wells in the form of diaries.

The Church History Department held a media event on Thursday, October 27, 2022, to celebrate the completion of the projects.

An example of the “Women’s Exponent,” a newspaper published by women for women in Salt Lake City between 1872 and 1914, at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photograph taken October 26, 2022. 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Historians on the Eliza R. Snow project combed through hundreds of sources, such as handwritten minute books and 19th century newspapers, to find and compile Snow’s words. They found over 1,200 discourses, all of which have been published online at the Church Historian’s Press website. The content includes historical context, maps, photographs and other supporting material.

“Eliza R. Snow traveled to the far-flung settlements of Utah,” explained Jennifer Reeder, the lead historian and editor on the Eliza R. Snow discourses project and a 19th century women’s history specialist at the Church History Department. “She cared enough to bring direction and love from Salt Lake City to places like Plain City or Pinto, Scipio or Salina, Willard or Wallsburg. Each time, she would look into their faces and fill them up with hope, rekindling their light. Each location would add to her understanding of the place of women in the Kingdom.”

“Emmeline Wells has become someone we cannot ignore, both in her own right and because of all the work she did to ensure that the women of her time would be remembered,” observed Lisa Olsen Tait, a historian manager with the Church History Department. She added, “Very few people of the 19th and early 20th centuries, male or female, have left behind such an extensive record of their lives, experiences and feelings.”

Wells’s diaries not only described life in Salt Lake City in a very transformative period, “they also give us glimpses of the wider world, as she traveled to the East and even to Europe. Wells’s diaries are a major American record, not simply a Latter-day Saint one,” said Tait.

The Emmeline B. Wells diaries project has been decades in the making. Historians and editors Cherry Bushman Silver and Sheree Maxwell Bench began working on it about 20 years ago at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Working from a transcription, they annotated thousands of diary entries in the 47 volumes Wells recorded between 1844 and 1920 (primarily after 1874). In 2017, the Church History Department arranged to support completion and publication of the diaries. The online content includes historical introductions, chronology entries, photographs and biographical information about the people mentioned in the diaries.

Church historians said both projects illustrate the Church History Department’s ongoing commitment to women’s history. “Women’s history is Latter-day Saint history. If we are to accurately understand our past, if we want to truly benefit from our history, we need to listen to women’s voices and take seriously women’s experiences,” said Matt Grow, managing director of the Church History Department.

“We believe that scholars and students of Latter-day Saint history will find so much in these discourses and journals,” Grow continued. “We also believe that Church members will find much inspiration and instruction here. And we believe that scholars of broader topics, of American religious history, of the American West, of women’s history, will also find much material here.”

The Church Historian’s Press was announced in 2008 by the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Joseph Smith Papers was the first publication to bear the imprint. For more information, visit the Church Historian’s Press website.

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