Literary Lorenzo Snow #13: Oh! The Daughters of Zion

July 7, 2013 | 3 comments
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What is the purpose of the Relief Society? While we think we understand its purpose based on what the women’s organization does today, the things that Relief Society does have changed radically since its founding in 1842. And the Lorenzo Snow lesson on the Relief Society shows this change, since his comments reflect a focus on charity and providing for the poor that we don’t hear much today—since that function is now handled by the welfare program. But before the welfare program was developed in the 1930s, the Relief Society WAS the welfare program. It collected and stored foodstuffs for later distribution to the poor, seeing to the welfare of everyone it could serve. This role can also be seen in the following hymn, which appeared in LDS hymnals in Lorenzo Snow’s day.

Its author, Emily Hill Woodmansee, is remembered today for another, similar, hymn, As Sisters in Zion, also known as the Song of the Sisters of the Relief Society. [A couple years ago Julie published here on Times and Seasons the complete text of the original poem, substantially different from what is sung today.] Woodmansee was an English convert who immigrated to Utah with her sister Julia in the Willie Handcart company and somehow survived the tragedy. In Utah Emily first married William G. Mills, who later denounced the Church and abandoned his families. She then married Joseph Woodmansee in 1864 and turned her talents to raising a family and writing poetry for the Woman’s Exponent and other LDS-oriented publications. As Kaimi pointed out several years ago, eight of Woodmansee’s hymns, including the hymn below (but not including As Sisters in Zion) were included in the 1927 LDS hymnal. Two of these survived in the 1948 hymnal, but none of the eight are in our current hymnal. In that book she is now only represented by As Sisters in Zion, which was re-discovered as the compilers sought a suitable poem about the Relief Society.

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Oh! the Daughters of Zion

By Emily Hill Woodmansee

Oh! blest was the day when the Prophet and Seer
(Who stands at the head of this last dispensation,)
Insplr’d from above by “The Father” of Love,
Form’d the Daughters of Zion*s great organization.
Its purpose, indeed, is to comfort and feed
The honest and poor in distress and in need.
Oh! the Daughters of Zion, the friends of the poor,
Are exemplars of faith,hope and charity, pure.

CHORUS.

Oh! the Daughters of Zion, the friends of the poor,
Are exemplars of faith, hope and charity, pure.

 

Oh! Daughters of Truth, ye have cause to rejoice,
Lo! the key of advancement is placed in your keeping;
To help with your might whatsoever is right,
To gladden their hearts who are weary of weeping.
By commandment divine, Zion’s daughters must shine,
And all of the sex, e’en as one, should combine;
For a oneness of action success will ensure,
In resisting the wrongs that ’tis wrong to endure.
Chorus.

 

Oh, woman! God gave thee the longing to bless.
Thy touch like Compassion’s, is warm and caressing;
There is 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.
Chorus.

 

Oh! be of good cheer, far-extending we see
The rosy-hued dawn like a vision of beauty;
Its glory and light can interpreted be:
Go on, in the pathway of love and of duty!
The brave earnest soul will arrive at its goal;
True heroes are crowned as the ages unroll;
There is blessing in blessing, admit it we must.
And there’s honor in helping a cause that is just.
Chorus.

LDS Psalmody, 1889, #354

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Like the comments by Lorenzo Snow in the lesson, this poem reflects the focus of the Relief Society just before the turn of the 20th century, thirty or so years before the welfare program. But still, I think the organizational purpose is similar today, even though the focus isn’t on running an overall welfare program, but is instead on the welfare of those in our wards and stakes. Doesn’t it still seem true when Woodmansee says of the Relief Society:

Its purpose, indeed, is to comfort and feed

Later she observes that this purpose is how to “advance” a people:

Oh! Daughters of Truth, ye have cause to rejoice,
Lo! the key of advancement is placed in your keeping;
To help with your might whatsoever is right,
To gladden their hearts who are weary of weeping.

I like this idea very much; that improving our community comes not from a focus on the economy, but on “helping with your might whatsoever is right.” Woodmansee even ends the poem focusing on this idea:

There is blessing in blessing, admit it we must.
And there’s honor in helping a cause that is just.

I also like her observation that “there is power in thy weakness” — which echoes, at least for me, Christ’s statements in the New Testament that “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” and “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” as well as scriptures about how the weak things become strong.

But, for Woodmansee, in whose promotion of the Relief Society we can easily see the 19th century Mormon feminist, none of this meant that women should take a back seat to men. She makes this clear:

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.

[I’m fairly sure that by “van” Woodmansee means “vanguard.’]

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3 Responses to Literary Lorenzo Snow #13: Oh! The Daughters of Zion

  1. Cameron N on July 8, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    At any rate, minivans these days are too small to stand in Kent.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Just as important as reflection on the present, is learning from the past. Glad to see this at T&S as much as possible!

  2. sam on July 9, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Thanks for this! I am teaching this on Sunday and might handout the text of this hymn. Great context to the lesson.

  3. Kent Larsen on July 9, 2013 at 8:21 am

    The series is meant for exactly that. When I teach I also use these poems in the lessons.