As Sisters In Zion

November 7, 2011 | 19 comments
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Here are the original words to this hymn. You can see the original here. (If that link doesn’t get you all the way there, you are looking for page 98 of the November 1st, 1874, Women’s Exponent.)

SONG OF THE SISTERS OF THE RELIEF SOCIETY
by Emily H. Woodmansee

1. As sisters in Zion, We’ll all pull together,
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek:
We’ll build up His kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary, and strengthen the weak.

2. We’ll turn from our follies, our pride and our weakness,
The vain, foolish fashions of Babel despise;
We’ll seek for the garments of truth and of meekness,
And learn to be useful and happy and wise.

3. We’ll wear what is sensible, neat and becoming
The daughters of Zion—the angels of light;
We’ll work with a will, while the angels are scanning
Our aims and our actions from morning till night.

4. We’ll bring up our children to be self-sustaining;
To love and to do what is noble and right;
When we rest from our labors, these dear ones remaining,
Will bear off the kingdom and “fight the good fight.”

5. Nor shall our attention be wholly restricted
To training our children or shaping our dress;
The aged, the feeble, the poor and afflicted,
Our labors shall comfort, our efforts shall bless.

6. “The Lord hath established the cities of Zion,
The poor of His people are trusting in Him,”
He makes us a source for His poor to rely on;
Oh! shall we not brighten the eyes that are dim.

7. Oh! shall we not hasten to soothe the condition
Of the humble, the needy, the honest and pure?
Oh! let us remember, whate’er our ambition—
‘Tis our duty, our mission, to comfort the poor.

8. ‘Tis the office of angels, conferred upon woman;
And this is a right that, as women, we claim;
To do whatsoever is gentle and human;
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.

9. How vast are our labors; how broad is our mission,
If we only fulfill it in spirit and deed;
Oh! naught but the Spirit’s divinest tuition—
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

10. Then, as sisters in Zion, we’ll all pull together;
The blessing of God on our labors we’ll seek;
We’ll build up the kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strenghten the weak.

A few things I found interesting:

(1) The emphasis on caring for the poor, which is completely lost in the current version.
(2) The concept of the office of angels conferred upon woman as a right. (The idea of claiming a gift always seemed off to me–you don’t claim a gift.)
(3) The emphasis on departing from Babel’s fashions. I wish there was more of this sentiment in the current modesty retrenchment (it’s not just about nekkid shoulders, my friends.)
(4) The idea that women’s efforts shouldn’t be restricted to children and modesty is nicely articulated.

19 Responses to As Sisters In Zion

  1. ESO on November 7, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I too thought it interesting that the early verses cycle throught the modesty/child care/self-reliant themes I tire of so much in our modern classes. I’m glad it finished up with good old charity!

  2. Apron Appeal on November 7, 2011 at 11:46 am

    on your #2)-Just because you are given a gift doesn’t mean it’s your. Often you DO have to claim it – Like the lottery ;) (but that’s a bad example.) We have lots of gifts available to us but they may not be being used because we aren’t claiming them.

  3. Julie M. Smith on November 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Apron Appeal, I see your point.

  4. Kaimi on November 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    It’s a great poem, isn’t it?

    For a few more musings about the author, and ways in which the hymnal has changed, see http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2007/03/wells-run-dry/

  5. KLC on November 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    In our ward we have the music, playing and conducting, and prayer for priesthood meeting opening exercises done by the young men. The instructions for the song are always to pick a hymn they can play. One Sunday the Deacon leading the music announced with a slight grin that we would all sing As Sisters in Zion. And we did.

  6. Jax on November 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    1)Not just lost in song, lost in many hearts as well.

    2)Another gift that needs claiming is the gift of the Holy Ghost… The gift is made available, but it is up to us to claim it by our obedience and faith.

    3)Oh, but our new ad campaign (I’m a Mormon) makes it acceptable to be just like everyone else now :(

    4)If my wife were just a well-dressed childbearer then my life would be dull indeed!

  7. Bryan Stiles on November 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    “3)Oh, but our new ad campaign (I’m a Mormon) makes it acceptable to be just like everyone else now :(”

    Does that mean you think we should instead be what everyone thought we were to be before? White middle class American cultists from Utah?

  8. jendoop on November 7, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    As I read this long song, it made me feel the same way being a woman in the church does – too much to do in too little time! How long would that take to sing? We’d end up singing the first 4 verses and miss the best parts at the end :)

  9. Left Field on November 8, 2011 at 8:41 am

    For the X-chromosome challenged who like me, may not be familiar with this hymn, I looked up the current lyrics for comparison.

    As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
    The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
    We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
    We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.

    The errand of angels is given to women;
    And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim:
    To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
    To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.

    How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
    If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.
    Oh, naught but the Spirit’s divinest tuition
    Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

    The music in use now is obviously modern. Any idea what the original intended tune might have been?

  10. Jax on November 8, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Bryan Stile,

    I don’t care a whit about “what everyone thought we were to be before”. I do care that we are supposed to “stay unspotted from the world” (D&C 59), we are supposed to withdraw ourselves (1 Tim 6:5, 2 Thess 3:6), we are supposed to “go ye out of Babylon, gather ye OUT from the nations” (D&C 133 5-7). That is our command, but we advertise ourselves now as being just like everyone else like all we expect of people is to change the name of their religion without any accompanying change in behavior or lifestyle. Now we advertise that you can do all the same things that go on in Babylon (same fashions, entertainments, goals, behaviors) but as long as your baptized then it’s no big deal. We don’t even try to be a peculiar people, we try to get rid of that sentiment, which was given as a blessing unto us:

    Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

    (Old Testament | Exodus 19:5)

    For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

    (Old Testament | Deuteronomy 14:2)

    Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

    (New Testament | Titus 2:14)

    That last one hurts a lot. Christ gave himself so that we could be a peculiar people, but we shun it. Its the fantastic example of denying the gifts of God.

  11. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 8, 2011 at 9:38 am

    A fun e-book project would be to recover all the “old” hymns into a volume.

  12. Julie M. Smith on November 8, 2011 at 9:40 am
  13. frente on November 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

    While I have no problem with the lyrics, I’ve always hated the music. It makes me think of lace and doillies and holding still. Meanwhile, the men get to sing hymns to cool marching tunes. How about new music for this hymn?

  14. John AC on November 8, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Jax, I think you’re missing the point of both the new ad campaign and the phrase “peculiar people.” The ad campaign isn’t to show that we’re just like everyone else. It’s to show that Mormons are a) more diverse than most people think, and b) often quite extraordinary people. The individuals I’ve seen represented in the campaign engage in creative, professional, and service activities that are really exceptional. They’re not *just* like everyone else, which is what makes them so magnetic, at least in my mind.

    Also, I’m of the mind that “peculiar” in the KJV should not be understood in its modern sense of “strange” or “curious.” The word comes from the Latin “peculiaris,” denoting private property. My understanding is that when the Lord calls his people “peculiar,” he means that they belong to him, not necessarily that they’re weird (though the two things aren’t mutually exclusive). The NRSV, for example, translates Deut 14:2 as “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; it is you the Lord has chosen out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (And as a side note, I wouldn’t say that this verse, or the others you cite, refer in any simple way to “us” exclusively.)

    I loved seeing the words to this hymn. “Nor shall our attention be wholly restricted … ” That kind of sentiment might get you shouted down in some wards I’ve belonged to.

  15. Bryan Stiles on November 8, 2011 at 10:58 am

    frente,

    I’m trying to imagine a marching song to these lyrics. I’m sorry, I just can’t get it to work. Maybe you will have a better chance.

    Jax,

    I’d give a better reply but I think it would be too much of a thread-jack. Instead I’ll sum it up as, I you would have a point if the people in the ad campaign were dressed up in the highest and latest Hollywood fashion and portrayed doing things that were of the world and not OK with the church.

  16. Miri on November 8, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Seriously, what a shame that verses 5-7 are lost. They’re the most interesting part. I feel like maybe there was an attempt at summarizing them by leaving in verse 9–“how vast are our labors; how broad is our mission”–but in our current state that line might even be read as more ironic than sincere. :)

  17. thelibraryinequality on November 9, 2011 at 1:29 am

    I don’t know where I picked it up, but I’ve always sung “and this is a right” rather than “and this is a gift” whenever I’m singing this on my own. I like it better; I’m glad to see that was the original, and I wish it had stayed that way.

  18. Rachel Whipple on November 9, 2011 at 8:20 am

    I love reading reading through old hymns and old versions of the hymns we now sing. I’m often struck by how much more prevalent themes of death were then than they are now.

    “When we rest from our labors, these dear ones remaining,
    Will bear off the kingdom and “fight the good fight.”

  19. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 9, 2011 at 9:35 am

    The words evoke Nineteenth Century Utah, including the immanence of death for mothers at childbirth or from disease or accidents or severe storms. The words “pull together” appear to invoke the spirit of the handcart pioneers who were still very much alive among the Saints in that time and place. At a time when there was no Church welfare program as now constituted, and no government “safety net”, these sistets really were the ones who sustained life for the poor and those hardest hit by privation or the demands of supporting a husband and father off on a foreign mission. I cannot picture them singing this sitting down; they are standing, holding babes in arms, and baskets of food, and sheaves of the wheat they gleaned from fields to replenish the Relief Society’s storehouses. They are about to go to work.