Guest Post: The Heavenly Mother Poems of Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards

February 5, 2014 | 12 comments
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Guest poster Martin Pulido is a businessman by day, LDS scholar by night, who has extensively researched Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother. He co-authored the BYU Studies article, “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” with David Paulsen, and has organized the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest with Caroline Kline. The “A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest” is currently looking for 2-dimensional visual arts pieces and poems that portray Heavenly Mother. The contest will accept entries up until March 4, 2014, and over $2200 in prizes will be awarded when the best entries are announced on May 11, 2014. For more details, visit www.amotherhere.com. The contest is being sponsored by Exponent II, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, Peculiar Pages, LDS WAVE, and Segullah.

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As part of the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest, we have been examining the literary and artistic works referring to Heavenly Mother created by latter-day saints in the past. While we have created a historical section on our website that explores such works in broad strokes, we want to give a focused spotlight to some of them. One is the Heavenly Mother poetry of Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards (1849 – 1944). That name probably only stands out to a few in the Mormon community. While a poet, none of her words grace our current LDS hymnal, the quintessential source for mainstream familiarity with LDS poetry. And yet Lula was the first woman journalist in Utah, the first editor of the Woman’s Exponent, a popular poet, and wrote three poems that mention Heavenly Mother.

Her Life. Born in Kanesville, Iowa, during a cholera outbreak, her family arrived in Salt Lake City in 1852 after Brigham Young ordered the evacuation of Kanesville and all Pottawattamie County. Lula grew up in an educated household, her father was a teacher and served for a time as the mayor of Provo. At age eighteen, she and her sister Lissa opened a small school, but Lula was frustrated by her impatience with the students and by her own lack of formal education.

It was her desire for learning that in 1869 took her back to school in Salt Lake City, and there her talent as a writer began to develop. Early poems she submitted to the Salt Lake Herald and the Deseret News under the name “Lula” were well-received. A great-niece of Brigham Young, she formed a close relationship with Eliza R. Snow and helped her bring about her second volume of poems by selling advance subscriptions to raise the funds needed for publication.

Her personal initiative and skill with the pen caught the attention of Edward Sloan, editor of the Salt Lake Herald, and in 1872 he selected her to be the editor of a new newspaper targeted for women, the Woman’s Exponent, only days after publishing one of her poems. She was only 23 at the time, and had little experience with journalism. Only briefly in 1869 was Lula the editor of six issues of the Smithfield Sunday School Gazette, a mere four-page paper with two columns gracing a page. It was distributed each Sunday to those who attended the LDS Church Sunday School in Smithfield and who participated reverently.1

Unsure of her qualifications for such a position, and worried about making a career a priority when she was as of yet unmarried, she was hesitant to accept Sloan’s offer. Sloan pressured her by telling her that the periodical would probably be scrapped if she didn’t accept the position. She accepted the position only after receiving Eliza R. Snow’s approval (who convinced her that it was a great duty to cultivate the minds of those already born, as it was to bring new life into the world) and on the condition that Brigham Young officially recognized the appointment. The President of the Church made it an official Church mission for her and set her apart for the calling.

With these conditions met, Lula served as the periodical’s editor for the next five years. Eliza worked with Lula to find printers, figure out how to finance the paper, and determine what content should fill its pages. They decided on something admittedly broad: “every subject interesting and valuable to women,” but attempting to do so without stirring any conflict between men and women.2

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If you read the first issue, you’re first greeted by the news that “Women are now admitted in fifty American colleges.”3 There are sections on a history of the Relief Society, personal development, poems about remembering one’s mother and rearing children, running a household, “Hints to Careless Wives,” “Truly Brave Women,” and “Woman’s Rights and Wrongs.” In her editorials in subsequent issues of the Exponent, Lula argued for the right of women to vote, to obtain an equal educational, to choose their occupation, and to practice their religion freely. The news of the Relief Society, including the local level was consistently reported. Defenses of polygamy, which continued up until the Manifesto of 1890, were published regularly.

As time passed, Emmeline B. Wells took a greater hand in the journal, and after five years’ involvement with the periodical, Lula retired from the editorial position to pass it on to Wells. She told her readership that “my general health is good, but my head and eyes need recruiting, and I have decided to humor them. I have also decided that during the years of my life, which may be properly devoted to the rearing of a family, I will give my special attention to that most important branch of home industry. Not that my interest in the public weal is diminishing or that I think that the best season of a woman’s life should be completely absorbed in domestic duties, but every reflecting mother and every true philanthropist can see the happy medium between being selfishly homebound and foolishly public-spirited.”4 It was no surprise that Lula wanted some more time with her family. Her two daughters had already died in their infancy and she likely felt like the periodical was in contest with the time she should have been spending with them. Nonetheless, Lula wouldn’t resign from her mission on the Woman’s Exponent until she again received the consent of Brigham Young. To him she noted that “In years to come, I hope to be prepared to enter again unto such labors, with renewed energies and increased capabilities.”5

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Lula lived true to her words. She continued to write and edit as her family grew (she had 7 children, only 4 of which reached adulthood; all 3 of her daughters died). After serving dinner, she would often go write poetry for hours, leaving the dishes undone. In 1883, Lula became an editor with the Juvenile Instructor, an LDS periodical edited by George Q. Cannon. She wrote and edited the column “Our Little Folks” until 1907. Her poems appeared in the Woman’s Exponent, Improvement Era, Young Woman’s Journal, Children’s Friend, Relief Society Magazine, and Juvenile Instructor. Her own collection of poetry, Branches That Run Over the Wall, was published in 1904.

Her Heavenly Mother Poems. Lula started writing at the age of 14, and was already incorporating strong female figures in her work. Her earliest work was none other than a “poetical dialogue” between a Princess Aurora and a Mountain Queen.6 Motherhood was also a very important theme in her writing. If you read through Branches, there are over 176 times she mentions motherhood. She wrote imaginatively of the women in the Book of Mormon (“The Mother of Nephi”); of mothers reunited with their children, who died in their infancy, in the Millennium (“Mary and Her Mother”); of the labor and love and reward of motherhood (“Mother’s Bread,” “The Mother Love True”); and at least three times about Heavenly Mother.

Lula’s poetry on Heavenly Mother is not referenced often. Surprisingly, Eliza R. Snow’s “O My Father” (originally called “My Father in Heaven”) seems to have eclipsed all of the other poems of early Mormonism referencing the divine feminine, despite not being the first poem mentioning Heavenly Mother, nor being the only hymn in the current LDS hymnal alluding to one.7 Snow’s poem was definitely held in high esteem by her contemporary poets. Emily Woodmansee (1836 – 1906), LDS poet best known today for the lyrics she wrote in “As Sisters in Zion,” published a poem “Apostrophe” that eulogized Snow in the periodical The Western Galaxy. In it, she couldn’t help but reference “O My Father”:

Free from this most “frail existence”—
Free to lay “this mortal by”–
Free to span the starry distance
To the “royal courts on high,”
Ransomed spirit! deathless essence!
Hie thee hence to realms so fair;
Gain thy Father’s radiant presence;
Greet thy noble Mother there.”8

Ellis Reynolds Shipp (1847 – 1939), fellow poet and one of the first female doctors in Utah, couldn’t resist doing so either in her “Our Poets.” Of the late Snow, she wrote:

Whose “O My Father,” grand! sublime!
Is sung in every land and clime;
Her words such holy truths have taught.
With such great inspiration fraught —
That here we find a long-lost key
That opes to immortality!
And oh, the joy! What can compare!
To know we have “a Mother there!”9

In the wake of Snow’s “O My Father,” few other works have received any historical attention. And yet Lula was seen as an accomplished poet by her contemporaries. Shipp, in “Our Poets,” said of Lula:

And Lulu’s words, so strong and brave.
Awaken thoughts, sublime and grave,
So forceful they, and yet so mild.
E’en helpful to the little child.10

Shipp’s reference to children was an obvious reference to Lula’s prolonged work in the “Chapter for the Little Ones” or “Our Little Folks” section written in the Juvenile Instructor. Indeed, Lula was popularly known as the Children’s Poet.

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What is impressive in Lula’s poems regarding Heavenly Mother is their cohesive and impressive narrative structure. Many a poet can throw together some lovely images, but Lula’s stanzas build on one another, satisfyingly linking together as a whole. Lula’s first poem mentioning Heavenly Mother, “A Thread of Thought,” hints at its larger structure in the first stanza: “My thoughts flew back like a shuttle, / To our first known record of time: / And looping that time with the present, I have woven them into rhyme.”11 The poem does form a loop: starting with the first day of creation, moving towards the decisions of God’s daughters to accept the challenge of mortal life, moving to mortal life, and then pointing back to the beginning to a resplendent reunion in heaven, “Where we hailed the First Great Dawn.”12

The poem, written for the Relief Society Jubilee in 1892, portrays a loving Heavenly Mother, particularly interested in the development of her daughters:

When the Morning Stars together
Sang out their joyous praise,
And the new, bright Sun, in splendor,
Sent forth its cheering rays;
Dispelling the night’s cool vapors,
And chasing the clouds away;
That the evening and the morning,
Might complete the grand First Day.

We were there, with God, our Father,
And voted “Thy will be done,”
And our Mother, Queen in Heaven,
Smiled on us every one,
Smiled on each Eve, each Sarah,
Rachel, Rebecca and Ruth,
Elizabeth, Mary and Martha,
Each daughter that stood for truth.13

There is clear similarity to this scene and one written by William W. Phelps. In a letter written to Joseph Smith’s brother William dated December 25, 1844, Phelps chronicled a coronation scene in the pre-existence.14 In it, the Son of God is anointed for his calling, crowned in the midst of his brothers and sisters, while Heavenly Mother (described as the Queen of Heaven) stands with approving virtue and smiles upon her Son that kept the faith as the heir of all things.

Despite similarities, Lula’s scene is also far different. The scene is sublime, but it is far from regal. The focus is less on pomp and circumstance, but on the intimacy the Mother has with each of her daughters. She smiles on each of them, “every one,” and Lula has the faithful daughters (they have already “stood for truth”, presumably in the war in heaven) named individually using traditional Biblical names to increase the personalized angle. The female reader can easily imagine herself at the scene.

The second poem Lula wrote, “A Welcome” (which Richards noted could be sung to the tune, “Sweet Hour of Prayer”) is equally impressive in its structure. The first stanza beautifully describes the greatness of greeting:

Of all the sweet, endearing words,
Poured forth like music of the birds,
From hearts that sing and souls that pray,
In unison, along the way,
Where helpful, gen’rous acts of love,
Make earth akin to heaven above,
The glad word welcome, is among
The kindest that can grace the tongue.15

After praising the act of greeting, the second stanza does just that–it greets its audience: “And this kind word we speak to you, / Our sister-workers, friends most true.”16 The third stanza expresses why they should be glad to greet one another, the fourth noting that the chance to welcome one another may not last due to growth of the church, the fifth encouraging them to enjoy that ability to greet one another while they can, and the last draws welcoming to a heavenly dimension:

Such gatherings as this, perchance,
Are harbingers, which in advance,
Give foretastes of immortal bliss,
Of Father’s blessing, Mother’s kiss,
In that fair home, to which we all
Shall one day gather, at Their call;
And where each faithful child will find
A loving welcome, glad and kind.17

The earthly welcomes foreshadow the “loving welcome” they shall receive on behalf of their Heavenly Father and Mother, which includes “Mother’s Kiss.” This welcome will be given to all when mankind is gathered by both Parents (“Their call”), and it is very personalized for “each faithful child” will receive it. Lula carried the personalized feel of “A Thread of Thought” across to “A Welcome.”

The final poem, “Rest and Progression,” follows the path of a deceased person in the after life, starting at a funeral and moving on to this person’s heavenly destiny, where the veil of forgetfulness is rent:

What knowledge, what mem’ries, forgotten at birth —
(First union of spirit and body on earth — )
Awake, as the spirit to Heaven ascends.
Meets Father and Mother, dear kindred and friends.18

It is lovely that as the person returns to the Heavenly Parents, the recollection of Them returns, making the reunion all the more sweet. The last stanza notes how this journey and reunion is even possible: we have resurrection and eternal life, because the Savior allowed himself to suffer and die. It closes by noting that as he opened up the way for us here, we will follow him in the life beyond.

In memory of Lula’s work, I have created three hymns that incorporate Lula’s poems, placing them to my own arrangements of traditional folk hymns (like “Holy Manna”). The poems are shortened and there have been modifications to accommodate music and meter. There are also some changes to make the poems more gender inclusive, so that both men and women can relate to the words as they sing them, as well as some other textual changes.19 These 3 hymns are part of a mini-hymnal that will include 20 hymns mentioning, addressing, and portraying Heavenly Mother. A print copy of the mini-hymnal will be sent to all those who donate at least $20 to the contest, so if you haven’t done so yet, please do so now. PDFs of more hymns will also be posted online up until May 11, 2014. In the mean time, please enjoy these hymns available in both PDF and MIDI formats:

  1. “When the Morning Stars Together”: [Download PDF] [Download MIDI]
  2. “A Loving Welcome”: [Download PDF] [Download MIDI]
  3. “The Struggle Has Ended”: [Download PDF] [Download MIDI]

FOOTNOTES

1. Bennion, Sherilyn Cox. “Lula Greene Richards: Utah’s First Woman Editor.” BYU Studies 21 (no. 2, Spring 1981), 3. ?
2. The Salt Lake Daily Herald 2 (9 April 1872): 3. As quoted in Bennion, 5. ?
3. “News and Views” in The Woman’s Exponent 1 (no. 1, June 1 1872), 1. Ed. L. L. Greene. Salt Lake City, UT.?
4. As quoted in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (2011, August 8). Lulu Greene Richards [Audio podcast].
Retrieved from http://www.mormonchannel.org/poets-of-the-restoration ?

5. Richards to Brigham Young, 16 June 1877. Church Archives. As quoted in Bennion, 9.?
6. Bennion, 2.?
7. Contrary to some popular claims, “O My Father” was originally entitled “My Father in Heaven.” When Snow republished the poem as the first poem in her first volume of poetry, it was renamed to “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother.” See Snow, Eliza R. “My Father in Heaven.” Times and Seasons 6 (no. 16, November 15 1845), 1039; Snow, Eliza R. “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother.” Poems, Religious, Historical, and Political, 1-2. London: 1856. The first two poems mentioning a Heavenly Mother (or the LDS concept of the Queen of heaven) that were published are in fact from William W. Phelps. See Phelps, William W. “A Song of Zion.” Times and Seasons 5 (no. 3, February 1 1844); Phelps, William W. “A Voice From the Prophet: Come to Me.” Times and Seasons 6 (no. 1, January 15 1845), 783. 2 other hymns in the LDS hymnal allude to Heavenly Mother. See the last verses of hymn #286 “Oh, What Songs of the Heart” and hymn #311 “We Meet Again as Sisters.”?
8. Woodmansee, Emily H. “Apostrophe.” The Western Galaxy 1 (no. 1, March 1888), 143.?
9. Shipp, Ellis R. “Our Poets.” Life Lines, 204. Salt Lake City, UT: Skelton Publishing Co 1910.?
10. Shipp, 202.?
11. Richards, Lula L. Greene. “A Thread of Thought.” Branches that Run Over the Wall, 191. Salt Lake City, UT: Magazine Printing Co 1904.?
12. Richards, 193.?
13. Richards, 191-192.?
14. Phelps, William W. “The Answer.” Times and Seasons 5 (no. 24, January 1 1845), 758.?
15. Richards, “A Welcome,” Branches, 264.?
16. Richards, 264.?
17. Richards, 266.?
18. Richards, “Rest and Progression,” Branches, 125.?
19. For instance, Lula notes the new Sun on the first day of creation in “A Thread of Thought,” but the Sun isn’t created until the fourth day (Genesis 1:1-19). This has been a common problem for people interpreting Genesis, trying to understand where the light from the first day comes from without the sun, moon, stars, and so forth. Of course, answers have been given to that question, but to be more consistent with the biblical approach of Lula’s poem, I change the first day to the fourth day. I also try to defer to the term Parents or Heavenly Parents more in the hymns.?

12 Responses to Guest Post: The Heavenly Mother Poems of Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards

  1. Old Man on February 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    A wonderful post. Thank you.

  2. Kristine on February 5, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    And now everyone knows why my daughter is named Louisa :)

    Great post, Martin–thanks!!

  3. Richard Gardner on February 5, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Lulu Greene Richards was my father’s mother’s father’s mother. I have heard about her a lot from my (5 yrs deceased) grandma who was way into family history, but I didn’t know all about this poetry, so thanks for this article.

  4. Wade on February 5, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Thank You! Already, this is the most I’ve ever read on Heavenly Mother in one sitting.

  5. Martin Pulido on February 5, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    @Old Man, @Kristine, and @Wade: Your welcome. I am glad you enjoyed the post. If you liked this post, you might also enjoy other art posts on Heavenly Mother that I have posted recently. On Feminist Mormon Housewives, I discussed John Hafen’s “O My Father” paintings, which includes the first painting of Heavenly Mother I know to have been created: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2014/01/envisioning-heavenly-mother-the-o-my-father-paintings-of-john-hafen/

    At The Exponent, I did a three part interview with contemporary poet Melody Newey on her poetry and her treatment of Heavenly Mother:
    http://www.the-exponent.com/heavenly-mother-in-the-life-and-poetry-of-melody-newey-a-dialogue-part-1-of-3/

    I hope to have one up soon on Orson F. Whitney.

    @Richard: It’s fun to see actual descendants of Lula read this. What an amazing ancestor to have.

  6. Craig H. on February 7, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Really interesting Martin; thanks for arranging Sarah. Martin, do you comment more in other articles on the extent to which this theme arose among Mormon women themselves (thus any sense of how widespread such sentiments were within Mormonism?), or to what extent it was connected to wider American movements of the time, religious or social or political?

  7. Martin Pulido on February 7, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    It is hard to draw such widespread sociological conclusions. What should be seen as a key indicator of the proliferation of the sentiment? Heavenly Mother definitely features more highly in the art, sermons, and writing of the period (1890 – 1930) of LDS, and newspapers have anti-lds attacking the belief. The belief is advocated equally by both men and women. Foremost of men would be Orson F. Whitney; of women, Brigham Young’s daughter, Susa Young Gates.

  8. Craig H. on February 7, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks Martin. Do the attacks from outside help explain why the belief was perhaps de-emphasized? Or maybe I should ask, was it de-emphasized within the church after say 1930?

  9. James Olsen on February 8, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Really enjoyed this.

  10. Martin Pulido on February 9, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Craig, I haven’t studied the historical data enough to draw any strong conclusions. But I would say that Heavenly Mother was advocated less strongly during the 1940-1970 period by church leaders (with some notable exceptions, as with Milton R. Hunter and to some extent Hugh B. Brown and Harold B. Lee). As to what caused that, I couldn’t say. The church leaders did largely cease to address the anti-church sentiment against Heavenly Mother head on, as had be done before by the likes of B. H. Roberts and Orson F. Whitney. But there could have been a paradigm shift in how the church addressed its critics during this time period as well, which extends far beyond how they treated Heavenly Mother. We might look at similar somewhat unique Mormon doctrines during this period and how they were handled–divine embodiment, the King Follett discourse, deification, etc.–to learn more about that? My hunch is that church attacks have had little to do with it. Come the 70′s, Heavenly Mother appeared impressively in the writings/sermons of Spencer W. Kimball, and come the late 70′s to early 80′s LDS feminists began to really expand and promote the idea (it hasn’t stopped since). Perhaps they were doing so for before, but there weren’t really the periodical organs for me to examine it (no Sunstone, Exponent II, Mormon Women’s Forum Quarterly, Dialogue was very young). We might also call this latter period the “academic” period, since there weren’t really scholarly examinations (historical, sociological, comparative religious)–theological and doctrinal yes–of the belief before then.

  11. melodynew on February 27, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    This is wonderful, Martin! Your devotion to and passion for this vital subject is inspiring. I must admit though, my favorite part of this beautiful post was one simple sentence: “After serving dinner, she would often go write poetry for hours, leaving the dishes undone.” I love her for this.

    Thanks for this well-researched peice. What a gift.

  12. Sarah Familia on February 28, 2014 at 9:31 am

    melodynew, That was my children’s favorite line too, when I read this out loud for Family Home Evening.