In continuing with the series, I would like to discuss a document that relates to Kris’s and my coauthored article, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism.” This was a project that took more than half a decade to finish, but as I mentioned at the JI, once you start looking, references are ubiquitous and I have located now well over a hundred additional documents since publishing, which relate to the topic.
One of the most challenging of these new documents for me to integrate into the overall topography is a letter written by Quorum of the Twelve President Lorenzo Snow. Lydia Leonora Hatch Savage, wife of Levi Mathers Savage (of willing to die with the handcarts fame), had written to Snow as he was also the Salt Lake Temple President. As such he was in charge of all temple affairs. Savage had several questions related to temple policy. That she included a question about female healing was natural as the temple was a place of special healing where both men and women served as healers. These female healers served to heal, but also to teach women how to heal by example.
Though I do not have Savage’s original letter, we can infer her question from Snow’s response:
In relation to sick children, it is proper to adhere to the revelations, which directs that the Elders should be called in that they may administer the ordinance ordained for the benefit of the sick. It is not improper, however, for sisters to administer to the sick children, but this should not be done by authority of the Priesthood. (1)
What I find peculiar is that this was written in 1898. If it were written just three years later, it would make more sense to me. First, for those unfamiliar with the topic (I encourage you to read the whole article), Church leaders from Joseph Smith to Joseph Fielding Smith encourage female participation in the healing liturgy. However, in 1900, the First Presidency, due to what appears to be pressures from non-Mormon healing groups, cleaved the liturgy in two: priesthood and women. Now Joseph F. Smith continued for the next two decades to widely support women’s authority to administer healing rituals, either alone or with men, but the decision in 1900 really created a fracture in the liturgy that lead to institutional preference for ritual administration by priesthood authority.
To me, Snow’s response anticipates that cleavage by a couple of years. Whereas Brigham Young told women to skip calling on the elders and to administer healing rituals without them, there is a subtle preference in this letter for the elders’ administration. It is also an interesting example of the weight of canonization. While early revelations (1831) indicating that the elder’s should be called upon to lay hands on the sick were canonized, JS’s announced revelation that women were authorized to do the same, like many other Nauvoo revelations, never was.
Lastly, I think it is strange because Snow was the brother of Eliza R. Snow. Eliza R. Snow was perhaps the single most widely known advocate for female ritual healing, though she had by this time passed away. She administered healing rituals to children, other women, men, and apostles alike. It surprises me that Lorenzo Snow would not have been aware of the liturgical history that his sister worked so hard to disseminate.
- Lorenzo Snow, Letter to Lydia L[eanora]. [Hatch] Savage, May 8, 1898, Salt Lake City, holograph, MS 10421, LDS Church History Library.