Eight of the 420 hymns in the 1927 hymnal were penned by Mormon poetess Emily Woodmansee, among them a rousing celebration of the Relief Society: “Oh the Daughters of Zion, the friends of the poor, should be patterns of faith, hope, and charity pure.” In the 1948 revisions, six of the eight were removed. With the issuance of the 1985 hymnal, all eight of the Woodmansee lyrics that once graced the 1927 hymnal had been removed. However, the new hymnal did not allow the name to be forgotten altogether. Newly included was the now-popular hymn “As Sisters in Zion,” originally a nine verse poem published in the Women’s Exponent, three of which are now included in the hymnal.
Emmeline B. Wells, fifth President of the Relief Society, authored four hymns for the 1927 hymnal. The 1948 hymnal kept one out of the four, Our Mountain Home So Dear, which remains in the 1985 hymnal.
Mary Ann Morton, an LDS woman who we know little about, authored five of the hymns in the 1927 hymnal. Two of these were retained in the 1948 revisions. A single one of the group was kept in 1985, Sweet is the Peace the Gospel Brings.
Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the Prophet, was the author of a single text in the 1927 hymnal, “I Have No Home” (originally titled “Moroni’s Lamentation”). The 1948 revisions removed it.
Even Eliza R. Snow, Mormonism’s greatest poetess, saw her share drop from 22 hymns in 1927 to 10 in 1985. Gone are texts like “Cease, ye fond parents, cease to weep”; “Hark, from afar a funeral knell”; and the beautiful, sad words of consolation in “Your Sweet Little Rosebud has Left You”:
Your sweet little rosebud has left you
To bloom in a holier sphere
He that gave it, in wisdom bereft you
Then why should you sorrow and fear?
Your child in the grave is not sleeping
She joined her dear sisters above
The bright beings now have them in keeping,
In mansions of beauty and love.
They’ve gone where life’s ills cannot find them
They’re safe from each danger and snare
They are happy and free, would you bind them
To years of affliction and care?
Look up and you’ll find consolation
Which God by His Spirit will give
And through faith, sure manifestation
Those gems, your sweet children, yet live.
They’re treasure you’ve laid up in heaven,
Removed for a time from your sight,
To your bosom again they’ll be given
With fullness of joy and delight.
Of necessity, revision leaves some words behind as new voices are introduced. Revisions to the hymnal since 1927 have brought us some wonderful new voices. Women authors of hymn texts introduced since then include Karen Lynn Davidson, Jean L. Kaberry, Penelope Moody Allen, Susan Evans McCloud, and Mabel Jones Gabbott, just to name a few.
But while we celebrate the present, we can remember the past as well. This women’s history month, I’ll be remembering some of the women gone before. And what better way than by reviewing the words of poetesses of the past?
Emily Woodmansee felt strongly about the power of Zion’s women, and her feelings came across in her poetry. Today, we hear her words often, that “the errand of angels is given to women.” Eighty years past, we would have sung:
O woman! God gave thee the longing to bless
Thy touch like compassion is warm and caressing
There’s power in thy weakness to soften distress
To brighten the gloom and the darkness depressing
And not in the rear, hence need woman appear
Her star is ascending, her zenith is near
Like an angel of mercy she’ll stand in the van
The joy of the world, and the glory of man.