When the General Relief Society President blessed a lonely pregnant woman

I have recently spoken at several events related to the release of my book, The Power of Godliness. I have opened with several different anecdotes that highlight tensions that I hope I resolve in my work. One of my favorite stories is that of a pregnant woman who received a blessing from a prominent Relief Society leader; a story that also opens my chapter on healing and authority (ch 4). I’d like to describe the processes of reconstructing that story.

Zina’s 1889-1891 Blessing Register

We begin with Kristine Wright. While we were collaborating on the history of the Latter-day Saint healing liturgy, she found one of my favorite documents in the history of Mormonism: Zina D. H. Young’s blessing register from the years of 1889-1891. This small notebook is a stream of data that opens with “Jan 3. 89 Sniderville W[ashed] A[nointed] & B[lessed] Sister Workman for Confinement A[nointed] & B[lessed] Amanda Snider A mothers Blessing A[nointed] & B[lessed] Kate Archibal for her health.” And it continues page after page for a total of 385 blessings. The documentation is generally terse, but there is occasionally interesting details and anomalies. One such notation was something I couldn’t quite decipher at first. Nestled among the litany of names and rituals are the curious symbols:

Louisa Fanny What?

It wasn’t until I had seen them appended to several other names that it dawned on me: U.G. Instead giving a last name, Zina wrote that she had blessed “Louisa Fanny U[nder]. G[round].” for a safe pregnancy and birth. Indicating a last name was too dangerous. But who was Louisa, and how had Zina come to bless her?

From a quick dive into FamilySearch and various biographical items, uploaded presumably by descendants, we glean that there was a Louisa Fanny Newman, who was born in 1865 England, who had married Cyrus Henry Gold in Salt Lake City, 1887, and with whom she had a child on July 14, 1889. We also see that Fanny married Cyrus as a second wife. Cyrus had married Marry Willis in 1871, with whom he had eight children and was expecting another in July of 1889. The inherent unreliability of FamilySearch notwithstanding, this seems a pretty compelling match. The short biography apparently written by a daughter adds that Louisa emigrated without her parents in 1886. She was alone.

Louisa Fanny Newman Gold, ca. 1905, courtesy FamilySearch.

The only evidence that Louisa was even in the underground is Zina’s short note. But we also see that Louisa was one of twelve women and one infant who Zina blessed for various conditions, including “fits” and “paralysis” and several other women for their pregnancies. Why did Zina bless so many people that day?

Zina also kept an occasional journal (which inconveniently spans several different collections), and upon looking, we are in luck. She wrote this month and we see in the days around May 21 that Zina participated in meetings relating to the RS, Primaries, and Young Ladies. On the 21st Zina wrote about being in Lehi, but there are no details about the blessings. Interestingly, the entry for the following day indicates that Zina travelled to Cedar Fort and there blessed six women who she did not include in the memorandum discussed above (indicating that Zina likely blessed far more individuals in those years than the 385 documented in that register). Hoping for more information I then looked at the Women’s Exponent, the de facto RS newspapers, which often carried summaries of General Relief Society business.

Synthesizing what we find:

Louisa Fanny Newman emigrated to the Great Basin in 1886 and a year later married the brother-in-law of the missionary who had converted her in. But she joined her husband as a second wife in an already large family. The next year when she became pregnant at the same time as the first wife, she fled Salt Lake City to protect her husband from being prosecuted for unlawful cohabitation. She apparently found herself in the rural communities of Northern Utah County. It was certainly far from the bustling dockyards of her native New Brompton. She must have felt isolated.

Zina D. H. Young, who the year earlier had been ordained as the General Relief Society President, toured Utah County in late May 1889 as part of her ecclesiastical duties. During travels she carefully ministered to dozens of women who sought a blessing under her hands. The sick and afflicted came to her, but also the pregnant. Zina performed hundreds of blessings in those years, but Louisa only needed one.

Zina D. H. Young, General RS President, courtesy Utah State Historical Society

Not bad for a short, cryptic line in an obscure register. How many more stories are there?

Comments

  1. Bro. Jones says:

    Very cool story. Thanks for this research.

  2. Brilliant work.

  3. This is an awesome look at the toil that goes into producing this kind of great work. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Very interesting. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

  5. This is great fun. Thanks for showing how this arrived in your book.

  6. Jonathan’s book is a must-read.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Way, way cool!

  8. Dog Spirit says:

    I love this!

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, all. I appreciate it. This is the type of work that, Ardis, you do so well, so I’m especially tickled to have your seal of approval!

  10. I love everything about this, J. Thanks for sharing the work that went into that story.

  11. I’m loving the book. Thanks for all your work.

  12. How many stories are there? More than we will ever know. Thank you for sewing up these clues into a little patch that covers our fragmented story. The work Zina performed has a familiar spirit. Maybe someday we’ll see it face to face, amazed that it was ever lost in the first place.

  13. Before this gets too far downstream, I want you to know how moved I was by this account. I know what alone feels like, and this story of Zina D. H. Young blessing a nearly anonymous pregnant woman, and the record of nearly 400 similar blessings in the 3 year period – it warms my heart. The fragments of this history inspire me, and there’s not much else that does. I wonder what Zina and her cohort would think about current conditions among us.

    Thanks for posting this. I know it wasn’t your intent to sell books, but I sent for one.