The Power of the Word: Lula Greene Richards

Lula Greene learned the power of the word when, at the age of 22, she needed money to travel from Salt Lake City back to her home in Smithfield. To raise the funds, she stayed up all night writing poems, which she then sold to the Salt Lake Daily Herald for $7.50. By that time she’d already been writing verse for years, and she’d even served a brief stint as editor of the Smithfield Sunday School Gazette. These two activities—writing and editing—would shape the course of her life, enabling her to use words to empower women and children in the Church.

A few days after publishing her poems, the editor of the Herald, Edward L. Sloan, wrote to ask if Lula would be interested in editing a paper for women. Her initial reluctance assuaged by encouragement from Eliza R. Snow and Brigham Young, Greene became the founding editor of The Women’s Exponent. In addition to contributing many writings of her own, she faced that ceaseless task of finding contributors, no doubt feeling at times like the man in Jesus’ parable who, finding that the many guests he invited to the wedding banquet all had better things to do, sent his servants into the streets to gather anyone they could.

Greene married a year after starting the Exponent, and in time she decided to step back from her editorial duties in order to raise a family. Even then, she contributed frequently to the paper and continued working behind the scenes to keep it afloat. Her next opportunity for a public role presented itself six years after she resigned, when George Q. Cannon invited her to contribute a column, eventually called “Our Little Folks,” to Juvenile Instructor, the Sunday School paper. This column, which contained short essays both moralistic and amusing, ran for almost twenty years. Lula Greene Richards, no less than Nephi, was engaged in the work of writing to persuade children to believe in Christ. Her poems and essays, like the Song of Moses, taught children the path to walk so that they could be accountable for their actions later.

For the Apostle Paul, all who have the Spirit of God are children of God, and by this standard Lula, too, was a child—one who “anxiously engaged” her spiritual gift. One way she applied her gift was in a long Book of Mormon poem called “Branches that Run over the Wall.” Among the intriguing features of this poem was its inclusion of female characters. This creative choice reveals something important about her character: she seems to have seen the relative lack of women in the sacred text as a problem less to be complained about than to be addressed through inspired creativity. Like the Psalmist, she believed that deliverance would come through treating the divine word as a delight.

May we likewise diligently apply our spiritual gifts to the challenges facing Zion in our time.

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Louisa Lula Greene Richards, writer and editor, 1944

Deut. 31:19-22 (NRSV); Psalm 119:169-76 (Common Worship)Matt. 22:1-14 (NRSV); Romans 8:14-17 (NRSV)2 Nephi 25:23; D&C 58:26-29

The Collect: Beloved Father, whose cherished Son came to us under the name of your Word: grant that we, like your servant Louisa Lula Greene Richards may use the gifts bestowed upon us through the Holy Spirit to lengthen the cords and strengthen the stakes of Zion, using language and all other means to expand our boundaries until there is room for all your children, one people as you are one God. Amen.

For the music, here is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise” (lyrics by Edward Partridge; arranged by James C. Kasen):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY_8krGj-lw]

Sources

Bennion, Sherilyn Cox. “Lula Greene Richards: Utah’s First Woman Editor,” BYU Studies 21.2 (1981): 155-74.

Richards, Louisa L. Greene. Branches that Run over the Wall. Salt Lake City: The Magazine Printing Company, 1904.

Comments

  1. it's a series of tubes says:

    May we likewise diligently apply our spiritual gifts to the challenges facing Zion in our time.

    This is excellent stuff right here. I’m stealing this line.

  2. I had heard the story about her staying up all night to urgently raise funds to be able to catch a train the next morning, but I’d heard it with Eliza R Snow as the woman in question, rather than Lula Greene Richards. Regardless, it’s a wonderful story (though I wonder if I misheard or if ERS ever did the same thing?).

  3. I don’t know if ERS did the same thing. I imagine she was quite capable of all-night writing sessions. The crucial detail here is the connection to the founding of the Exponent.