“Sisters, we have lost a Mother”: The Decline and Death of Zina D.H. Young

The hallway that leads to the women’s change room in the Salt Lake Temple is lined with photographs of women who have served in general Relief Society presidencies. The last photo on the right hand side is a portrait of Zina D.H. Young. When I was there last, I spent a long time gazing into her dark eyes, trying to imagine what she experienced. Today is the 105th anniversary her death.

Zina is one of my favourite actors on the stage of Mormon history. She has been praised for her obedience and sacrifice, for her generosity and compassion, for her hard work and soft heart . For me, one of the most intriguing things about her was her approach to the gifts of the spirit.

Not too long after she was baptized in August of 1835, Zina experienced strong manifestations of the gift of tongues. She wrote:

…I was somewhat alarmed at this strange manifestation, and so checked its utterance. What was my alarm, however, to discover that upon this action upon my part, the gift left me entirely, and I felt I had offended that Holy Spirit by whose influence I had been so richly blessed. One day while mother and I were spinning together, I took courage and told her of the gift …and how …I had lost it. Mother appreciated my feelings and told me to make it a matter of earnest prayer, that the gift might once more be given me. I walked down to a little spring in one of the meadows, and as I walked I mused on my blessing and how I had turned away the Spirit of God. I knelt down and offered up a prayer to God and told Him if He would forgive my transgression, and give me back the lost gift, I would promise never to check it again, no matter where or when I felt its promptings.

It would seem that she kept her promise. Perhaps one of the most poignant scenes of her honouring her gift occurred shortly before she died. Aging was difficult for Zina — her health failed. She had to have all her teeth pulled in 1889. She habitually overworked herself, administering in the temple. In 1898, her brother noted in his diary, “Zina’s memory was very much broken so that in many instances she appeared almost unsound — a little demented, so that my heart was melted with pity and grief.”

It was at her last public appearance in Cardston, Alberta that her commitment was once again affirmed. Her daughter, Zina Presendia Young Williams Card arose and was moved to speak in tongues before a meeting of women in the Relief Society Hall. Her mother was to be the interpreter. Zina “gave the interpretation, but feeling she did not have it quite clear, humbly knelt by her chair and quietly offered a few words of prayer, then arising gave the interpretation fully and beautifully, to the blessing and comfort of all.” She died a few weeks later.

In her final years, Zina wrote, “I have kept this vow, but it is has been a heavy cross at times, for I know that this is the least of all gifts, and it is oftentimes misunderstood and even treated lightly by those who should know better. Yet it is a gift from God.” The image of an eighty year old woman, once so vital and strong, kneeling before a congregation and knowing that age and infirmity are clouding her connection to God humbles me beyond measure. If only all of our spiritual gifts were protected and honoured with such integrity.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    This was a beautiful portrait, Kris (and I write that even though I personally have never been much of a fan of glossolalia).

  2. That is one of the most poignant things I have ever read. The imagery is so…humbling. Thank you, Kris.

  3. What an inspiring woman. Thank you, Kris.

  4. I was just reading about Emmeline Well’s lament for Zina upon her death and how, as she crept into her twilight years, she longed for the comfort of “such women as Aunt Zina, Aunt Eliza, Mother [Elizabeth Ann] Whitney.” These women mean a great deal to me. Thanks.

  5. Rosalynde says:

    You are a daughter worthy of your mothers, Kris. This was beautiful. I have mixed feelings about the early sisters’ exercise of the charismatic gifts, but my love for them as mothers and sisters is elemental.

  6. Wow, thanks Kris.

    I am impressed just that she latched onto the gift. Was certain that it was hers and from God, even though it seems she also felt that people thought it a bit crazy.

    I rarely see sisters these days claim and use their spiritual gifts (even if it’s testimony of Christ or administration)so assertively.

    I do, but my gift is being a punk.

  7. I appreciate your thoughts, Kris. Inspired by your post, I pulled out a copy of a short newspaper article published on August 25, 1901, with the headline reading: “Zina Young is Dying; First Wife of Brigham Young, on a Train Out of Helena, Montana, is Being Rushed Southward in Order to Meet a Dying Request.” The article reports that she “passed through Helena today en route to Salt Lake City. Mrs. Young is in a dying condition from a stroke of paralysis and it is doubtful if she will be able to reach Salt Lake City alive. She was stricken yesterday at the home of her daughter, near the Canadian border, and her last request before losing consciousness was that she be taken to her old home to die.”

  8. I love Zina and maybe want to name a daughter for her. Those interested might consult the book “Four Zinas” by Martha Sonntag Bradley and Mary Firmage.

    another tidbit, there is a late reminiscence (mileage may vary) of the Chandler-Lebolo mummies being hidden under Zina’s bed.

    finally, I am so touched by the tragedy of her first marriage that I sometimes want to comfort Zina and Henry Jacobs for their sacrifices.

  9. Johnna Cornett says:

    Everyone wants to name a daughter Zina but almost no one does.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention perhaps my favorite book from the last decade in Mormon history: Martha Sonntag Bradley and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward’s 4 Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier. This biography of four generations of women named Zina is so beautifully written that it almost feels like reading a novel. Yet it’s also profoundly grounded in historical evidence, primarily an extensive collection of papers (preserved by the family) written by the Zinas. These women are almost certainly not as well known as some of their husbands (who include Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Hugh B. Brown), but maybe they should be. After reading 4 Zinas, I feel that each of these women is a hero of Mormonism; their life stories are beautiful epics of faith and commitment. Probably the best known of the 4 Zinas is Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, the subject of Kris’s beautiful recent post. Get to know her better — and meet her equally amazing mother, daughter, and granddaughter — by reading 4 Zinas. [...]

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