Along with her close friend (and sister wife twice over) Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young was part of the power duo of Mormon women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Popular wisdom held that Eliza was the head and Zina the heart, complementing each other as they traveled indefatigably around Utah (and beyond) to do the work of the Relief Society. (Picture two women in their late 50s, traveling alone through the deserts of Utah, camping together under the stars when they didn’t manage to reach a settlement.)
Zina’s work was one of hands-on ministration. Encouraged by Brigham Young to receive some brief training as a midwife in the 1850s, she served many women in this way—these women who, like those in Lehi’s family, had to bring forth children in the wilderness. She was renowned for administering blessings to women as they prepared for childbirth, and a major part of her Relief Society work was training other women to give these blessings, too. We all have spiritual gifts, the Doctrine and Covenants teaches, and Zina magnified hers while encouraging other women to find and develop theirs.
As Relief Society President, Zina worked to ease tensions between Mormon and non-Mormon women in Utah and beyond, managing to forge bonds of love even with women who, like Rosetta Luce Gilchrist, had earlier written a mean-spirited book against the Mormons. As Zina said, “[I] felt to carry no malice in [my] heart towards those who were against us.” Her loving openness toward others in the community helped to heal wounds and build bridges of friendship and cooperation—not always easy to do in a society dominated by one religious group. Like Israel in Isaiah’s prophecy, she was a light to the nations, and her light was love, the gift without which all other gifts are meaningless.
Unlike the verbally gifted Eliza, Zina was a quiet soul, “like a weaned child with its mother,” reposing peacefully on the divine breast. She showed, like her eventual successor in the Presidency, Louise Yates Robison, that even quiet souls can magnify the Lord and rejoice in God their savior. May we rise to her example of bounteous love to all around us, whether Mormon or not.
Zina Diantha Huntington Young, Relief Society President, 1901
The Collect: Our Father of love, dwelling in peace and unity with your Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit: grant that we, like your servant Zina Diantha Huntington Young, might be instruments of that love and peace throughout our lives, bringing kindness to people in need and healing to our torn communities, that all of your children may become one as you are One God. Amen.
For the music, here is Ola Gjelo’s setting of that great hymn to God’s love, “Ubi caritas”:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wh0-wFJw2A]
Notes: In writing this post I’ve drawn on Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt, Faith, Hope, and Charity: Inspiration from the Lives of General Relief Society Presidents (American Fork: Covenant, 2008) and Jill Mulvay Derr et al., Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1992). The quote in my third paragraph comes from p. 140 in Women of Covenant. For more on Zina Young’s participation in blessing women, see Jonathan Stapley and Kris Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37.1 (2011): 1-85.