A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier
by Martha Sonntag Bradley and
Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
Hardbound / 533 pages / 1-56085-141-4 / $34.95
BEST BOOK AWARD, UTAH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
BEST BIOGRAPHY, MORMON HISTORY ASSOCIATION
- Zina Baker Huntington
- Zina Huntington Young
- Zina Young Card
- Zina Card Brown
Mother, daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter—it was an impressive line of prominent women, all named Zina. One converted to Mormonism in New York in 1835. The next married Joseph Smith and Brigham Young successively and served as the church’s general Relief Society president. The third assisted her husband, Charles Ora Card, in founding Cardston, Alberta. The fourth married future church apostle Hugh B. Brown.
Collectively this extended family had a significant impact on a large region of the American West. Individually each helped shape her particular era. Zina Young and Zina Card worked tirelessly for woman’s suffrage. In addition, they encouraged women to study nursing and to become involved in industry, while also promoting drama and literature. And they inspired women through speeches and through their expressions of spirituality, including speaking in tongues. It was due in part to their efforts that many Mormon women came to feel good about themselves; in the process, the territory became not only habitable but bearable.
Modern readers will be happy to learn that the four Zinas’s stories have been remembered by two very able chroniclers: Dr. Bradley, an historian, and Mrs. Woodward, a descendant. For many readers, what will be most striking about this matrilineal family biography is the authors relate not only what happened but what it felt like, drawing on the women’s letters, diaries, and reminiscences. For instance, Zina Huntington discloses in her missives to her mother the alternating feast and famine she and her husband experienced on the western edge of New York state. With a stiff upper lip, Zina wrote that “a contented mind is a continual feast,” but then admitted that something besides food was missing from her life. This would be the beginning of a spiritual awakening for her.
Zina’s daughter came to be prominent in the inner circle of Mormonism in Nauvoo, Illinois. When the daughter eventually married Joseph Smith, she expressed her private feelings: “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life,” she wrote, adding that she “never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman.” This emotional trial was offset by the spiritual outpouring Zina Young would find among her “sister wives” in Iowa and Utah, especially through their testimony meetings, where participants would wash and anoint each other and then sing in tongues.
The authors explain what life came to be like for a young girl, “Little Zina,” in Salt Lake City, raised in the Lion House where much of Brigham Young’s family lived. When older, this Zina would become a midwife and healer like her mother. When she also followed her mother’s lead by marrying a polygamist, she was initially heartbroken to spend her wedding night alone. “Well this is a lot worse than I bargained for,” she told her journal. She responded to her husband’s written greetings to his “quorum of wives” with, “I feel to thank God that those to whom I owe the duty of loving are [at least] loveable.”
The next generation’s Zina adapted to new circumstances by becoming a model homemaker. In contrast to her forebears who spent much of their lives away from their husbands, Zina Brown kissed her husband good bye each morning and waved her hanky from the porch as he drove away. She was the anchor to his sometimes varying moods and ill health, a socially active counterweight to his tendency toward reclusiveness.
Of course there are controversies in the lives of each of these women. Treating their subjects with sympathy and understanding, the authors tell readers in a straightforward way how Zina Huntington and her husband lost their home in Illinois due to naive trust in a fellow church member. In Salt Lake City Zina Young arranged to have her friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, address an audience in the Mormon Tabernacle. Although the national women’s leader scandalized the community by speaking not only on suffrage but also on birth control, the two women would remain close. Zina Brown, like her mother, became known for her use of consecrated oil in healing blessings, now considered the exclusive prerogative of male priesthood holders.
In approaching such topics, the authors allow readers to appreciate these women as real people, who were all the more remarkable for what they accomplished in spite of human weakness and insurmountable obstacles. They demonstrate that complexity resides alongside single-mindedness, and that the four Zinas were women whose lives are worth remembering and celebrating.
Martha Sonntag Bradley is a University of Utah Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Architecture. Her numerous honors include the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the Student Choice Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Bennion Center Service Learning Professorship, and the honorary title of “1999-2000 University Professor.” She taught previously in the history department at Brigham Young University, where she received a Teaching Excellence Award. She has also served as coeditor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, publishes often in professional journals, and is the author of seven books on Utah history, including Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights; Kidnapped from that Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists; A History of Kane County, and A History of Beaver County. She has six children and three grandchildren.
Mary Brown Firmage Woodward is the daughter of Zina Card and Hugh B. Brown, and inheritor of her mother’s heirlooms—letters, memorabilia—which in 1976 she removed from boxes, barrels, and trunks to catalogue as the genesis of this book. She attended Brigham Young University in the 1930s, married Edwin R. Firmage, who died in 1986, and later Ralph Woodward. With her husbands she served two LDS missions to London, England, and Nauvoo, Illinois. She has published in the Ensign and Improvement Era.